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Who should be driving digital transformation?

Kenny MacIver — May 2016

The natural leaders of digital disruption are not technologists but business executives, argues Fujitsu’s CTO for EMEIA Dr Joseph Reger.

From the hotel and taxi sectors to entertainment and travel, industry after industry is being disrupted by digital innovation. For those hoping to be the disruptors rather than the disrupted, the natural tendency might be to hand the challenge to the business’s technology organization. And while that may be a useful starting point, it is not ultimately where a digital transformation project should find its main stakeholders, argues Dr Joseph Reger, CTO for the Europe, Middle East, India and Africa region of global ICT company Fujitsu.

“Digital transformation should be driven by the people who understand what it means to their organization, who understand it may have a technology origin but that it doesn’t end there,” says Reger. Technologists are the right group of people to explore and inspire the initial phases, he adds, but digital transformation processes are likely to be most successful when they are guided by a vision of what the business could achieve, albeit inspired by some of the technologies that make it a reality — from IoT and big data to machine-learning and ubiquitous computing.
Technology-inspired, business-led

“Digital transformation often ends up changing the business and its business model, so it’s a topic that CEOs should drive. The CIO is vital in the process but not in the sense that he or she is determining the direction,” says Reger. Not least of all, he says, “the CEO needs to be engaged and committed because in many cases the transformation process and the technologies that are applied can end up positioning the company in a completely different industry.”

While digital transformation needs the support of the IT department, it frequently exploits technologies that have actually taken root outside of its ranks. Indeed, as the processes of more business departments have become digitally driven, it is hardly surprising to see some CEOs “talking about how they are turning their organization essentially into a software company,” Reger observes.

In many cases, this has led to a reversal of how companies source software development resources. After years of outsourcing, many see a strategic imperative in having such skills in-house. As Reger says, “a lot of companies who do digital projects are actually acquiring the necessary IT and communication capabilities and skills in the market.”

Indeed, he suggests that about a third of companies that are working on digital transformation initiatives have established their own software development groups dedicated to the undertaking. In many cases those software development groups aren’t centred in the IT department; rather they are aligned to business units. That is the only way, he argues, that organizations can be suitably responsive and meet expectations that their digital transformation processes can be “deep and fast.
Blending traditional and transformational ITHis point highlights the two-speed nature of IT today; something that analyst group Gartner calls bimodal IT. While digital transformation is seen as requiring rapid technological change, most companies inevitably have a traditional IT base that is driving the fundamentals of their existing processes.

At some point, Reger argues, those two modes will need to converge in a phase that “ties transformational IT into robust or traditional IT.” The goal of merging the two modes of IT is just one of the key things that companies need to think about as they embark on digital transformation projects, Reger advises.

Dr Joseph Reger will be delivering a keynote address on artificial intelligence at Fujitsu Fourm 2016 in Munich, 16 and 17 November

  • Photography: Enno Kapitza
First published
May 2016
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About: Dr. Joseph Reger
A theoretical physicist-turned-technology visionary, Dr Joseph Reger is a Fujitsu Fellow and the CTO for the ICT company in EMEIA. Drawing on business and research expertise from around the globe, he plays a key role in guiding digital strategy for both Fujitsu and its customers.

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