Emerging technologies such as data analytics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), robotics, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual realities are evolving rapidly and disrupting the existing playbooks of companies across industries. Since CEOs have the responsibility to steer their organizations, it is imperative that they lead the digital transformation initiatives in their respective companies.

Although there exist innumerable combinations of emerging digital technologies to add value to an organization’s digital transformation initiatives, here are five fundamental tenets or principles for CEOs that act as pillars for digital transformation projects, regardless of the company, industry or technology used:

Value data

Going forward, every firm will be a data firm. It will either collect, need, use or generate data. And digital technologies, primarily led by advanced analytics, ML, AI and IoT can generate tremendous value from various data attributes inside an organization. In such a scenario, establishing various touch points to collate data and solutions that can synthesize it, and commissioning teams to derive value out of it through innovative revenue and business models, becomes an imperative at the highest level. It is something that needs to be closely monitored and led by CEOs.

Ensure Data security

There’s a popular saying in the cyber security world—“There are two types of companies: those that have been hacked, and those that don’t yet know that they have been hacked". While this is said half in jest, the fact is that companies such as Sony, Under Armour, Facebook and Orbitz have witnessed data breaches in the recent past. Apart from data breaches, there have been cases of data manipulation like that witnessed in the case of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. Given that data has multiple forms—collected, compiled, derived, generated, profiled, etc.—and the fact that an average citizen is fairly under-educated on all the forms and their potential use (or misuse), it’s the CEO’s office (at least in the early days) that needs to protect a customer’s rights--with a combination of technology and policy framework.

Think big, start small

Since most incumbent players across industries are large, global organizations, they should develop a new long-term vision for themselves and a digital transformation road map to achieve that vision. They should start small by developing and deploying new-age technology-based digital transformation projects within a specific function/business process/geography. Most importantly, they need to act fast by learning from their initial pilot projects and transfer those learnings across departments and eventually across the organization. This needs to be driven top-down by the CEO.

Use skunkworks teams

From a five-member team that worked on the developing the iconic RAZR within Motorola to the six-member team that worked on direct, internet-based streaming of movies at Netflix (while the company was a big player in DVD rentals), small, five-to-eight member teams with varied and complementary skills sets and relatively easy access to resources and autonomy, working in a start-up mode within large organizations, have managed to reinvigorate companies and industries. Likewise, established incumbent companies should adopt the skunkworks model to stay relevant and competitive in this digital age.

Innovate, collaborate

To maintain and grow value, established players need to collaborate more closely with others (especially, young start-ups) in different industries to identify ways to generate value. For large firms, this translates as a process of engaging with external technology solutions, knowledge capital and resources early on in an innovation process.

Often, it involves opening up the organization’s own intellectual property, assets and expertise to outside innovators to help generate new ideas, change organizational culture, identify and attract new skills, discover new areas for growth, and, most importantly, being agile. This can be in the form of incubator and accelerator programmes and venture investing arms.

Jayanth Kolla is founder and partner at Convergence Catalyst.

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