For the majority of larger enterprises not born digital, the transformation necessary to compete on the same playing field with younger, savvier and more agile companies is a nagging source of anxiety. Incumbents across industries are being outrun while their own legacy processes act like a ball and chain to their own digital evolution.

In an interview with TCS MIT principal research Scientist for Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) Jeanne Ross had some useful prescriptions to share.

Digital integration

The key according to her research meant building an efficient integrated digital services backbone allied to more fluid digital services which allowed for experimentation and organizational redesign. What this means in effect is a move away from focused to distributed innovation where innovation is a force multiplier.

Another danger for incumbents trying to play catch up is resistance to change. According to Ross, change is the default where employees are constantly learning and constantly challenged balanced against a culture of accountability and empowerment.

Shut out the noise

One of the biggest lessons for any company aspiring to digital transformation according to Ross is learning to ‘shut out the noise’ and focusing on the essential. To this end she quotes the turnaround created by Lego in 2004 which resolved its supply chain issue through cross functional teams. Not only this, Lego was also able to gain speed by engaging its fan base to develop new interfaces.

‘It’s about being able to leverage multiple parts of your organization. Get on the road, Once you get going, it is easy to pick up speed,’ she states.

Ross emphasizes the importance of analyzing the role of human resources and addressing the new digital agenda from the bottom of the company up: ‘It is about assigning new accountabilities. Break things up so people know what they are accountable for, and have what they need to pull it off.’

Ross admits that one of the fundamental failings of many businesses is the ability to make the most of their existing talent and to develop it rather than seeking for expertise outside. She is nevertheless optimistic that new winds of change blowing into HR and recruitment will yield the necessary results.

Too great a focus on building the operational backbone in her opinion has led to a focus on efficiency but not one of innovation which leads to diminishing returns and denial of access to the digital economy: ‘Doing what you are good at must be complemented by a digital services backbone,’ she concludes.

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