CIO Jury: It's possible to undergo digital transformation without a roadmap in place. Here's how.

Flexibility and the ability to embrace unexpected pivots such as remote work are key to surviving change.
Written by Teena Maddox, Contributor
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Digital transformation initiatives are an ongoing part of business, and this year is no different, despite the ongoing pandemic. Some companies start the process of change without a solid plan in place, and they have good reasons. 

When asked, "Do you think companies need a digital transformation plan in place before making major changes?" 10 out of 12 tech leaders, or 83%, said 'yes', while two said 'no'. 

Michael Litt, CEO and co-founder of Vidyard, explained why he voted no. "Digital transformations have a high failure rate, but it's not because people don't plan. It's because companies write a plan and then are inflexible to the inevitable changes (uncontrollable macro variables, for example, such as COVID-19) that occur over the course of what can become a never-ending project. There are often too many cooks in the kitchen and too many suggested variables to change across teams -- tech, finance, etcetera -- to write any sort of rigid/non-flexible, executable plan."

"Instead, make certain to adopt the most up-to-date tools and attitudes about digital transformation," Litt continued. "Pandemic or not, companies that aren't embracing flexible or remote work are already failing to digitally transform, and those companies are already losing talent. Likewise, companies not using video and other collaboration tools to help make that flexibility and opportunity for increased employee autonomy real are going to fall behind. The days of meeting all day, every day in an office conference room are anathema to digital transformation. You have to adopt that new mindset to win."

SEE: Research: Digital transformation plans shift due to COVID-19 (TechRepublic Premium)

Another 'no' vote came from Vantiq CEO and co-founder Marty Sprinzen, who said that while you don't need a plan for digital transformation, you do need a strategy and flexibility to adapt and realign as the project evolves. "First, requirements are going to change every day. So whatever you plan to do today will not be what you need to do tomorrow. Second, you don't have the time. Digital transformation needs to start immediately, even if it goes online in stages. You also need the right development approach and attitude. A low-code, agile architecture allows you to adjust to the evolving requirements of digital transformation initiatives, as well as discovery as the deployments roll out. You need to be able to turn on a dime, not be beholden to a plan that's outdated the day you write it."

Those voting 'yes' include Emil Sayegh, president and CEO of Ntirety, who said, "According to McKinsey, 70% of digital transformations fail. There are many reasons for failure, but lack of proper planning is a key factor, in addition to clear executive ownership. This is compounded by the skilled IT talent drought that the industry is facing. The digital transformation plan has to also encompass a fundamental culture change, as some IT practitioners are wedded to the old ways of doing things."

John Gracyalny, vice-president of digital member services for Coast Central Credit Union, gave a resounding 'yes' to the need for a digital transformation plan, and said tongue-in-cheek, "If you find anyone who says 'no', you can let them know I'll be available to clean up their mess at the low, low, one-time only rate of $1,000 per hour."

Tendü Yoğurtçu, chief technology officer at Precisely, said, "For companies to truly reap the benefits of these new business models, they need a digital transformation approach that begins with new value creation, and a data integrity strategy where real-time business decisions can be powered by trusted data with maximum accuracy, consistency and context."

Fortinet CISO Phil Quade said, "Yes. Digital transformation is a business-critical priority, but if cybersecurity is not rolled in from day one, organizations will leave themselves, their employees, and their customers open to serious cyber risk. Starting with security, rather than leaving it as an afterthought, is how organizations can harness the digital era the smart, safe, and secure way." 
Another 'yes' vote came from Inmar Intelligence's chief transformation officer Spencer Baird, who said, "It is important to have a plan in place before pursuing major changes. We tend to think artificial intelligence, machine learning, neural networks, robotics, drones and more when it comes to digital transformation. In reality, digital transformation requires a shift in the mindset that is critical for real success and change."

Sean Lane, CEO of Olive, said, "Having a digital transformation plan in place before making changes to operations is important, because digital transformation itself is generally a catalyst for major change."

And Noel Calhoun, CTO of Interos, said, "It is probably safe to say that companies need some type of plan before making any major changes to their business, but digital transformation is particularly perilous. Digital transformation is not like physical infrastructure or reorganizing business lines in that it is much harder to see the full picture and what new risks you are creating as you bring in new data, software, and computing hardware. Improvements in efficiency or service delivery resulting from digital transformation can come with new dependencies on third-party organizations. If you don't take the time to plan this out before you start, you won't budget correctly, and you may be unpleasantly surprised by some of the side effects of digital transformation."

Here are this month's CIO Jury participants: 

John Gracyalny, vice president of digital member services, Coast Central Credit Union
Spencer Baird, chief transformation officer, Inmar Intelligence
Kurt Schmidt, vice president of IT, Capital Credit Union
Randy Krzyston, senior manager, IT security and compliance, Brinks Home Security
Simon Johns, head of information technology and computational design, Populous
Michael Litt, co-founder and CEO of Vidyard
Emil Sayegh, CEO, Ntirety
Tendü Yoğurtçu, chief technology officer, Precisely
Noel Calhoun, CTO, Interos
Madhushan Gokool, head of IT (group), Ergonomic Solutions
Phil Quade, CISO, Fortinet
Sean Lane, CEO, Olive

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