How Do I as IT Leader Kick-Start Digital Transformation?

July 6, 2017

Most IT Leaders in mid-sized businesses come from a technology background and as such are most at home when they can do tangible projects and keep the lights on.

This is a full-time job after all.

On the other hand, more and more are getting painfully aware that their organisation will need to look at Digital Transformation (DX) and there is usually nobody better placed to start the conversation than the IT Leader.

But where to start and especially how to step out of the comfort zone?


One of our IT Leader Mastermind groups recently tackled this question. Here is a summarised version of the outcomes.

The Mastermind Answer

Before this question can be tackled, it is imperative that the IT platform in your organisation is stable and that the project portfolio is under control. You will also at all times have to keep it that way or it will undermine your credibility for tackling new initiatives. This is your primary day job after all (at least for now).

The next big step is to figure out if there is already a DX agenda in the business. If yes, align yourself to it, but in most mid-sized businesses there at best are a few disparate initiatives by some departments, teams or even individuals.

It is in your best interest to be proactive and figure out how add value through IT (even though the business doesn't realise this yet) as there will be a big opportunity at the end.

Beware, DX is all about changing culture, more than it is about the technology. As such you will have to leave your usual comfort zone. This is a big decision and one only you can take – are you willing to take that next step in your career? What is in it for you?

Take a step back and ask how your personal development plan is aligned with the business strategy / the objectives of the business. If not yet, don’t fret. This is a journey and you will have to take it step by step. But do use the business strategy as a guiding light and try to over time have DX and its initiatives included in your KPIs. This has the twofold benefit of setting you up for growth as well as smoothing out some of the roadblocks you will inevitably encounter.

Now that the mindset is sorted, you will need to look at the first small actions you can take.

IT leaders generally tend to want to see the end picture and work at achieving that, rather than to take the next logical small steps. Don’t fall into that trap as you then likely will never start as it just looks too daunting and you are very likely to fail.

Many small actions add up and even if you do not see immediate change, the outcomes are cumulative.

Practical steps:

  • Read up about DX and get comfortable with the concepts.
  • Create a relationship with the senior business leaders. Have first conversations about DX and innovation. It is very likely that you will be amazed by the positive reactions – most business leaders are very aware about the need, but have no idea where to start either.
  • Identify individuals inside your business who have shown an interest in Digital or who already run their own local initiatives. Forge a closer relationship and partnership; get to understand their departments and how you can possibly help - initially with independent projects and over time all the more integrated in bigger, cross-team or even company-wide initiatives.
  • Beware to not bite off too much and set yourself up for failure. Start with one initiative that can reap big business benefits within one to three months, taking your current state of the business into consideration. You will need to successfully deliver on a few such low-hanging opportunities before you can tackle more ambitious projects.
  • Keep communicating with management and users alike. Celebrate even small successes! Remember you are busy changing mindsets and that does not happen overnight.

Some More Insights

  • It is imperative that you do read up about Digital Transformation before attempting to take a lead for DX in your company. Helping IT leaders in mid-sized organisations to kick-start and drive Digital Transformation is the mission of Xuviate. You will find a treasure trove of articles and links to external sources in the Xuviate blog.
  • Remember that DX is a multi-year, multi-stage exponential journey. This means that it at the beginning might look like you are not really making headway. We tend to overestimate the short-term impact and underestimate the long-term impact of any change. Read about the 5 Stages of Digital Transformation Maturity in Mid-Sized Businesses.
  • The age of the senior business leaders plays a major role. There is a lot more resistance to DX initiatives if senior leadership is close to retirement and averse to any major changes. But even for older shareholders who might want to sell their shares in the foreseeable future there is a very tangible opportunity to increase their business value by demonstrating that the business is agile and can innovate. It will take considerably more effort on the part of the IT leader, though, and your risks are higher. Other allies inside the business become even more critical.
  • Do not only look inside the business. It is especially beneficial to be able to engage and exchange ideas and war stories with IT leaders at other organisations who are in a similar situation. The most lightweight option would be to join an online IT leader forum like Gartner’s CloudAdvice Community. Many bigger cities around the world do also have in-person CIO forums, but unfortunately these are often geared at the enterprise and are of limited value to IT leaders in mid-sized organisations. In the middle of the road Xuviate does offer online Mastermind Groups for IT leaders all over the world.

Pro Tip

  • Why not start off by running a free Xuviate DX Gap Analysis to get an assessment of the current situation regarding Digital in your business, to point out the individuals and departments who are most likely going to be your strongest allies as well as identify some early low-hanging initiatives?

Other Links

  • You might for now be ok to just do your technology job. Beware, however, that through external and internal pressures, the needs of the CEO are (going to be) exponentially increasing in the next few years. You as IT leader need to at least keep pace of these changes in expectation and if possible even outpace them. It is very dangerous to wait for the business leaders to create demand. When the demand is there (and we strongly believe that every mid-sized business will have to employ a Business CIO within the next three years), the traditional IT leader will not be ready. Will you be? Read the Blog Business CIOs Urgently Needed - Most IT Leaders are not ready.

 Picture Credit: Peter Shanks – Kick Start (cropped)

About the author

Business Agility Coach | Abundance Thinker | Helping Mid-Market Companies Evolve by Using the Kanban Methodology
- As trained Industrial Engineer with close on 25 years' experience as IT Professional and Business Executive in the mid-market IT industry, Mathias Tölken loves to share his experiences and expertise with others.

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