Four questions every CTO should be asking their CEO

Employment & Skills | Reports

The speed and scale of digital transformation initiatives within UK businesses continues to grow rapidly, and as a consequence, the expectations of the boardrooms and shareholders that sign off those investments are heightened in equal measure.

CTOs are under increasing pressure to deliver transformation at scale across organisations, and also at a pace fast enough to catch up with, or stay ahead of, the competition.

Yet industry commentators observe that much of this investment is misplaced or is failing to deliver the quantum of benefits forecast in the original business plan.

But is it fair to lay all of this wasted investment at the door of the CTO? While he or she may be the main architect of the IT strategy, and controls the budget and choices on the main elements of technology spend, it is often the lack of a clear vision and direction on business priorities that leaves the CTO open to making ill-informed decisions.

If the business doesn’t have a clear vision for the future customer experience it aspires to deliver, which all parts of the business are aligned behind, then the CTO is left having to make educated guesses about what future product or service propositions the technical infrastructure will have to support.

This is why so many Digital Transformation initiatives are technology-led rather than customer-led. The CTO is used to working within a three to five-year timeline, but the teams responsible for defining and leading the future customer experience often only operate in the here-and-now or short term. It’s no wonder that the technology choices end up driving the business forward rather than the needs of customers.

So here are four questions that CTOs should be asking the business when thinking about the big bets and long term IT strategies that will help direct the digital transformation investments that the company will make.

Question 1: Are we solving real world problems?

Investments in technology needs to be focused on where we can make genuine improvements to the lives of customers along with making it easier for staff to give better service, operate more effectively, or create efficiencies in organisations through automation or machine learning.

This requires a deep understanding of the end user, and behavioural insights to be gathered to create actionable and measurable improvements to the design of the user experience. This should be imagined, prototyped and tested before the heavy lifting and significant cost of building the solution is undertaken. In this way, we can prove that the solution solves a real-life problem before getting too invested in a product or design that might not be efficient.

Question 2: Is my organisation aligned around a clear vision?

Too many Digital Transformation projects go off course because organisations are naturally siloed and the various areas of the business are unable to align around a common vision of what the end goal is for a particular programme.

Stakeholders from different parts of businesses often have different objectives and look at different metrics when setting their own departmental priorities. However, it is vital that everyone involved in the delivery of change within an organisation has a common and clearly articulated view of what the Customer or Staff experience of the future will look like.

Most businesses recognise the need to create better experiences for their customers, but it is all too common to find a lack of alignment around what the ideal experience actually looks, feels, or acts like from a customer or user’s point of view.

This picture needs to be detailed enough to ensure that the various teams and actors involved are solving problems which all contribute to the intended outcome. Without such alignment teams get distracted in resourcing their own digital initiatives and the organisation starts to suffer from digital proliferation which is spinning out of control.

Having a common vision of the future experience helps to orchestrate Digital Transformation initiatives into a coherent road map of activities leading to a single goal while offering the best way to ensure the commercial objectives are met.

Question 3: Is there a problem with converting strategy into delivery?

One of the most common reasons that Digital Transformations gets delayed or suffers additional costs is that businesses have difficulty moving out of strategy and into delivery.

Having the right business or digital strategy doesn’t necessarily translate into the right execution. It is often in the details of the execution itself that the catalyst for genuine strategic change can be found.

By creating a tangible Proof of Concept for the vision of future customer experience, strategy teams are forced to take the first steps on the road to realising that vision.

Moving through a process of customer journey mapping and creating design concepts means a business can quickly move towards a more concrete, tangible digital artefact of the future, which brings the experience vision to life.

Because this takes a physical form, it challenges the various teams to really think about the detail of how the vision will be delivered. It is not only useful to the design and technology teams to understand what digital systems and interfaces are required, but it can be used to create service blueprints of the future operating model, and what changes to the organisational structure, business processes and culture are needed.

Question 4: Are we creating products that people love to use?

One thing that marks challenger brands out from their more established competitors is that they know the value of creating truly engaging, loveable experiences for their customers.

For example, ask any customer of Monzo, and you’ll find genuine affection and a strongly held sense of advocacy about the brand. But why? The product is no different from a standard current account, there are no branches with award-winning customer service staff, and there are no fancy bells and whistles or incentives. But the customer experience of their app is a joy to use. It is simple, intuitive, and does the job brilliantly and efficiently. It meets a genuine need for people who want to be in control of their everyday spending.

If you are a CTO and about to sign the cheque for a whole stream of Digital Transformation activities, I would advise you to challenge your colleagues in marketing and brand, along with your CEO and board members with this question, “Are we making something that our customers or staff will truly love to use?”

If the answer is no, you won’t be getting the full value that you could out of that spend.

The best way to design something that people love, like Monzo, is to involve those same people in the activities of designing the new experience. Co-create with your customers and staff.

Written by Peter Ballard, CEO and Founder at Foolproof 

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