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Elizabeth Hackenson, Chief Information Officer at Schneider Electric, explores the skills and lessons that are required for CIOs to successfully digitalise their teams, companies and industries.

There’s no question about it. The role of today’s CIO in the digital world is changing faster than ever. As CIOs, we no longer just manage IT systems and services across an enterprise. Instead, we’re key contributors to shaping and driving a company’s digital transformation (or DX) strategy. And what an exciting role that is to take on! After all, digital inherently is a customer-centric value proposition, so we’re instrumental in ensuring that every level of an enterprise hinges around the customer.

As the Global CIO of Schneider Electric, which is leading the digital transformation of energy management and automation across key markets, here are some of the concrete lessons at the forefront of this journey:

Define the evolutionary leaps: digitisation vs. digital.

Let’s start at square one. CIOs have been grappling with the terms “digitisation” and “digital,” sometimes without pause to clarify any confusion or conflation of these very different concepts. Jeanne Ross, principal research scientist for MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research offers a clear explanation. We may understand the strategic difference, but does the rest of your enterprise?

We can look to the airline industry for a strong example. Remember a decade ago when we had to interact with a human ticket agent to get a boarding pass, waiting for the agent to feverously type something in order to pop out the printed pass? Now, airlines have digitised the process (i.e., it’s automated). But they didn’t stop there. Most carriers have gone digital as well, meaning that they’ve created a user experience that gives customer value to digitization (i.e., creating apps, providing customer-friendly kiosks that eliminate the mystery and complexity of getting a pass, etc.). Digital is a business imperative in most industries, and digitisation is an important enabler of digital. Digitization on its own, however, won’t make a business a digital company. It’s critical that we communicate what these terms mean to the teams driving these transformations behind the scenes.

Launch a digital strategy roadshow.

Communicating your overarching digital value proposition throughout your company is vital. Doing so empowers and inspires your employees, allowing a true digital journey to unfold. The moment you have a well-defined, strongly governed digital strategy and plan, connect the dots across your enterprise. And don’t be concerned about sharing the message multiple times in varied ways.

In my experience, regional visits are a priority to ensure that our enterprise IT organization has the knowledge and tools to support end-to-end digital transformation (e.g., merging disparate applications and systems into a more seamless, unified experiences such as our CRM and collaborative work tools such as Microsoft Teams and Box). During your own roadshow, take the time to engage your employees in order to:

  • Question business as usual
  • Go from global to local to learn from within
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify!

Transform your people so your business can, too.

Every company is facing a unique digital maturity curve across operations. Make sure your enterprise IT organization can lead the pack. Given the constant evolution of technology, continuous learning and training are critical. Upskilling keeps your IT professionals ahead of the curve — while sparking their curiosity to soak in the excitement around new tech such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, chatbots, virtual assistants, robotic process automation, and more. Aligning training to your enterprise digital strategy will empower employees to carry the DX torch.

With this approach, something amazing starts to happen:  you drive people to think differently by respectfully challenging the “why?” in a relevant way. In short, you’re cultivating a culture of empowerment to accelerate your company’s digital transformation, led by your group’s digital evangelists who are motivated to seize the art of possibility.

Writing the DX textbook

For us, digital transformation isn’t just vaporware or marketing jargon. In reality, we’re quickly writing the textbook of what “digitising” and “going digital” really mean — built around solving specific customer problems. As a CIO, I hope you are as enthusiastic as I am about both doing things differently (digitisation) and doing different things (digital). More important, we hope your customers are, too.

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