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Successful digital business transformation requires an operational spirit

Successful digital business transformation is much more than using technology.
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Written by Vala Afshar, Contributor on

Sanjib Sahoo is executive vice president and chief digital officer at Ingram Micro Inc where he is spearheading the digital transformation of the company. His more than 20 years business experience includes stints at XPO Logistics and TradeMonster (E*Trade/Morgan Stanley). In October 2021, Sahoo was one of 10 global leaders named to Constellation Research's Business Transformation 150 Hall of Fame. He is a member of Forbes technology Council and has been a contributor to Harvard Business Review, Wired. He has authored numerous technology models and white papers on Risk and Innovation Leadership, Leadership Development, Innovative Marketing, Open Source Architecture, and Mobile Strategy, and holds several patents on Dynamic Communications and Streaming for Mobile Devices. 

Ray Wang, CEO and founder of a Silicon Valley-based advisory firm Constellation Research and author of 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World,' and I spoke with Sahoo on our weekly show DisrupTV about the role for chief digital officers and future state of digital business transformation. 

We asked Sahoo to discuss the key success factors for business digital transformation. His answer may surprise you because it is less about the importance of technology and more about the importance of philosophy, mindset, mission-led culture and stakeholder success. 

"We often hear and read about digital transformation defined and executed as a strategic process. It has a beginning and an end. But in practice, digital transformation is more an evolution. It starts, but never ends. It's a continuous journey that a company, along with its associates and customers, take together to digitize operations and create and capture value that will: advance the business, enhance the experience, and achieve success at scale for all stakeholders," said Sahoo. 

At Ingram Micro, Sahoo and his team have changed their thinking about and around digital transformation—embracing a forward together mantra grounded in digital operations and a passion for continuous value creation that allows the entire company to perform while they transform. Certainly, Ingram Micro must deploy the right technology in the right sequence, but they must also look at the business with a new mindset.

An Operational Spirit Elevates the Experience

Sahoo and his team believe in the operation spirit of sustained and scalable excellence coupled with continuous improvements. Sahoo told us that digital transformation is not just about technology. In a large organization, transformation is all about continuous improvement that delivers value to all its stakeholders. What is the value that you create for all? How are you capturing value to grow your business? Sahoo and his team are using a combination of technologies like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, customer journey mapping via CRM and advanced analytics to predict buying behaviors, and enhance recommendation engines to enhance the customer experience. 

Sahoo uses the operational spirit to recruit and retain the right people. The most important aspect of digital transformation is the people, this according to Sahoo. It is all about breaking communication silos and enhancing the overall empathy of the organization. We cannot over-automate processes to a point that we ignore the people that matter most - our employees, our customers, our business partners and communities. We must focus on the 'why' behind our efforts. Sahoo rallies his team around the purpose and the why behind the decisions. Only when the purpose is well understood, does Sahoo shift the focus on the what and how. Sahoo starts the design thinking process with the why, what, how and then ends with wow. He believes that at the end, we should deliver superior quality and experiences that wows all the stakeholders. 

"Communicate with compassion, execute with passion," Sahoo. 

"By uniting our efforts and inspiring one another to continuously innovate and improve the experience for everyone, we create a spirit of innovation, not just another solution. This is important because the spirit within an organization is the key or the obstacle to the success of any digital transformation. Sure, bringing in modern and emerging technology including Machine Learning and AI to eliminate headaches and complexity through streamlined services accelerates digitization and time to value. But without the enthusiasm and use of your team and your partners, there is no win," said Sahoo. 

Think and Execute Like a Chief Value Officer

Sahoo believes the employee experience IS the customer experience, and your efforts must enable both, always. One of the faster ways to do this is by approaching digital operations as if you were the Chief Value Officer. What is the purpose and responsibility of a chief value officer? A chief value officer is responsible for: 

  • Design the customer engagement model and take an inclusive, structured, empathetic and creative approach – also known as design thinking - to how you can solve for challenges, bolster engagement and ultimately improve the employee and the customer experience. The chief value officer also rallies the entire company towards a common purpose of always improving the stakeholder experience. The planning process is also a key element to success. It is a balance between value creation and value capture. A balanced execution plan is more than technology delivery, it is about operational delivery planning. The digital transformation plan at Ingram includes three pillars: data, engines and experiences -- watch the video interview for more details about the importance of these three pillars. 
  • Monitor and analyze the customer journey continuously through your entire business operation, including end-to-end process, people and technology analysis. Identify process redundancies, unnecessary roadblocks or process rigor and excess friction. Learn from the data, optimize the processes, and align and focus your talent on the best possible way to drive higher value for your customers.
  • Design organizations to continuously operate digitally in order to accelerate value creation. DigiOps is a new concept that was invented by Sahoo. "We think of digital transformation, but we are in an era where we cannot just transform, we need to learn how to continuously operate digitally." At Ingram Micro, Sahoo design his organization organization accordingly and naming that part of the organization as Digital Ops who are PNL owners starting to operate and create a new digital operating model," said Sahoo. 

The sequence of change is important, but the key is to incrementally create value, without pausing -- or even disrupting -- your current business. Again, the team must embrace an operational spirit and work to perform while we continue to transform. The ultimate goal for any company is to co-create value at the speed of their stakeholder's (employees, customers, partners and communities) needs. The chief value officer collaborates with other line-of-business leaders and designs the value creation supply chain as a team sport. Delighting stakeholders is the job every business leader, and to succeed, a company must have the operational spirit that values culture, people, process and purposeful use of technology. 


This article was co-authored by Sanjib Sahoo, chief digital officer, Ingram Micro.

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