Introducing the Circle
Dana Hanson and Asheesh Malhotra, senior partners at EY UK&I introduced the round table by emphasising the growing importance of ‘digital’ within the corporate agenda. As with Y2K, the recent pandemic has accelerated spend on digital technologies and digital transformation. Much of the new spend is focused on supply chain, hybrid working and the customer experience all of which are inter-related. Digital leading corporates have benefited disproportionately from this uptake in demand as illustrated by their high equity multiples.
EY stressed the importance of ‘Being digital’ rather than ‘Doing digital’ at this time of rapid development. Business strategies must be aligned with a digital future and should consider key factors such as:
Customer experience in a digital world, including external consumers and internal employees
Purpose and value of an organisation that is fast becoming centre stage for new generations of digital talent
Impact on the planet and on our social agendas such as carbon footprint, diversity and corporate responsibility for local communities
Jenny Harrison, CFO of UK Power Networks shared her perspectives on digital as it is affecting her own organisation. Her advice for the CIO was to remain curious, especially in the present environment where markets and competitors are being subject to increasing volatility and uncertainty. She emphasised the need to retain knowledge within the organisation as well as to share it with external parties such as EY and IBM.
She summarised her main challenges in such a volatile environment as:
Continue to increase efficiency of operations and back-office functions including IT
Assure network reliability and adaptability to meet unforeseen circumstances
Place increasing importance on satisfying the customer base
Ensure that UK Power Networks is a ‘cool’ place to work for engineers
Response from the round table delegates
Discussion centred around strategic, governance and tactical issues facing digital leaders.
At the strategic level, delegate agreed that technology is now at the heart of everything, but it is necessary to differentiate as to whether digital is the business, or digital enables the business. The CIO of Tate & Lyle, an organisation with a 150-year history, stressed the need to evolve if you want to survive. Businesses are living organisms and must follow an evolutionary path. This implies constant reinvention as experienced now by companies such as BAT. In this rapidly changing world strategic partnerships become increasingly important, both trade and technology based.
At the governance level, much discussion centred around the role of functions within a digital organisation. The head of the procurement function for ITV recognised all the same challenges as those of the CIO. Charlie Forte of the MoD describes the future role of the CIO as the Chief Connection Officer, recognising that digital is a ‘team sport’. Delegate agreed that Digital leaders such as the CIO have several key responsibilities:
Developing a digital enterprise architecture that delivers operational flexibility as well as corporate control
Providing the necessary tools and skills to enable the business to deploy digital solutions in an agile manner
Educating the organisation about digital strategies, methods and tools so that everyone can play their part in digital transformation
At the tactical level, delegates stressed that it was important to focus on continuous improvement as well as to adopt more radical plans. Being close to one’s customer is at the centre of such a philosophy as demonstrated by many digital leaders such as Amazon and Google. Faye Roth of retailer, McColl, argued that trust can only be built by showing results rather than promoting new ideas. Boards need to see outcomes to believe in the method.
In a broader context, delegates agreed that every digital initiative needs to be placed firmly within a business context. All recognise that the path to digital can be hampered by factors such as legacy cultures, processes and systems all of which need to be renewed over time at considerable cost. Equally, Cyber is a growing threat to digital developments. A common observation was that incremental improvements can be just as effective as radical changes, especially given the fragility of many traditional organisations.
Topics for future circle events
The following topics were offered by delegates for future sessions:
Evaluating and mitigating cyber risks
Exploiting customer data and insights
Winning the war on talent at team and leadership levels
Defining organisational purpose and values
Building digital architectures and platforms
Tackling the privacy and trust issues
Applying continuous improvement