The Innovation of Digital Transformation

Michael Mayta, CIO, City of Wichita
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Michael Mayta, CIO, City of Wichita

I will be honest (something we are known for in the Midwest), I am tired of IT being treated differently. We are supposed to provide all the innovation, the transformation, the cultural charge to digital stardom! And in support of these concepts, the online media, which is at least scanned by most CEOs, provide in almost every article, email, blog, tweet, infographic and post the words digital transformation, digital leadership, “IT leads innovation” among others. Did all of America just start using technology? Are corporations just figuring out that the systems they have relied on for years are digital? And at the center of it all is the CIO, the person who should be leading this transformation and spearheading the assault of technology into the business. Wait, shouldn’t the business do the transformation piece of this, don’t they understand their operations? Are we selling our business partners short in suggesting that the CIO is the only person with the skill-set to pull this off? Certainly we can engage, partner and consult in the integration of technology for the business outcomes they are looking for. Or, completely re-vision the process into something new and unexpected. Don’t get me wrong, IT needs to be at the table, the earlier the better. But often we should be enablers, change agents and visionaries into rethinking existing processes. Processes that are business partners fully understand and work through on a daily basis.

 In today’s workplace, technology needs to be totally focused on the customer experience which includes organizational staff 

Let’s think about the differences between innovation and transformation. I will use a very high-tech example of a round wooden table. Perhaps we take that table and use it as a wheel. People might say, “wow, that is innovative” and better yet if it does not work out well as a wheel, we can always change it back to the table it was before. With change there is not an absolute commitment to redefining the process and leaving the old behind. With transformation the table is much different, we decide to burn the table and transform it to ash for use in a totally different way. It can never return to its previous state. It is changed forever. This requires much more risk, confidence in the transformation and leadership in the ability not only to be correct but to make sure the transformation happens on budget and on schedule. Depending on the environment this can be daunting task for any CIO and certainly a test of the organization’s culture. This is where the real truth comes to light. Digital transformation is not the product of smart creative people in IT; it is the collective decision to create a specific, directed cultural change within the organization. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Culture is about people, dealing with human beings on a personal level, getting them to understand the need to change, benefits to the organization and the “what’s in it for me” factor. This is a key component in not only digital transformation but also the complete integration of technology into the core business fabric. Let’s be honest, humans are one aspect of IT that makes it so difficult. Yet in today’s workplace, technology needs to be totally focused on the customer experience which includes organizational staff. Where is that perfect Zen spot, the balance between business and technology that fuels growth?

Tell people as much as you can about as much as you know. And always work to connect the dots to understand the implications your desired change may have on the people on the periphery of the change. If you want to drive positive change you need everyone’s buy in and support. The critical path will be engagement, communication and consistent messaging over time.

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