Digital transformation isn't hard if you follow these 5 steps. Source: Shutterstock

Digital transformation isn’t hard if you follow these 5 steps. Source: Shutterstock

5 digital transformation lessons from Bayer’s CIO

EVERY organization today is trying to digitally transform itself, but the journey is hardly smooth. Usually, it is the CIO who drives the digital transformation agenda from the board to the shop floor.

Obviously, with time, CIOs gain interesting insights into how best to manage such projects and deliver success.

Recently, Bayer Crop Science CIO Jim Swanson shared lessons he learned at his previous job as CIO of Monsanto, providing guidance to IT leaders aiming for success.

According to Swanson, there are five keys to success for CIOs leading digital transformation projects:

# 1 | Measure business acumen

While CIOs are often seen as technology leaders, it’s important for them to make sure that the organization is clear about the skills and capabilities they need to succeed with the transformation program they have in mind.

Further, Swanson highlights, CIOs must also highlight the right competencies early on in order to succeed with their overall digital transformation agenda.

“This is one of those things you must clearly define and champion, or it will get lost in the crowd. We had to tie the competencies we were looking for – things like innovation, digital business acumen, digital thinking – to the capabilities we needed, and we clearly defined what those were.”

At his organization, Swanson also developed a way to measure those competencies and advises CIOs to do the same as it will help identify the right people for the job.

# 2 | Have a vision for the CIO’s role

When organizations embark on a digital transformation journey, they basically have an empty canvas and the CIO needs to take ownership of that role. Doing so will not only help them take their company in a new direction but also ensure that they can drive digital maturity quickly and efficiently.

“When I started at Monsanto, I didn’t care what the job description said. I knew what I wanted to create; I knew I wanted to help shape the business.”

Swanson emphasizes that CIOs need to have a vision for themselves and the role they play in the organization at a time when digital transformation is critical to surviving in the marketplace.

To a great extent, Swanson suggests CIOs evangelize the changes they want to see in the organization. At Monsanto, he did this by partnering with the heads of R&D and supply chain and working together on high-value goals.

“You have to find a few advocates and start small and get them to be amplifiers for you.”

# 3 | Remember to communicate

Digital transformation is hard, and the biggest hurdle to getting things moving is the culture and the people in the organization.

Several experts and analysts have highlighted this and recommended that CIOs must make sure they communicate effectively and transparently in order to get everyone onboard.

According to a recent EY survey, nine out of 10 digital-ready CIOs said that skills such as communication and the ability to influence people are especially important in their role.

“You must educate people and get them on board with what you’re doing, based on continually delivering value and then shining a spotlight on it,” Swanson advises other CIOs.

# 4 | Be prepared for failure

Digital transformation isn’t easy and failure is part of the process. CIOs need to understand this, accept this, and communicate this to ensure that failed projects every now and then don’t hamper future attempts to digitize.

“You can’t do this successfully without a thick skin. You are going to fail along the way. We have made plenty of mistakes to go along with our successes, and you’ve got to embrace and share those failures as part of telling your story.”

While preparing for failure is an important part of a CIO’s job, prior (effective) communicating and efforts to manage expectations across different stakeholder groups can provide a lot of relief in the aftermath of a failed project.

CIOs that get bogged down by failure, Swanson believes, will find it hard to help an organization navigate the digital landscape and transform into a digital-ready business.

“You must be willing to get a few bruises and scars in this process. If you’re not, don’t even bother, because you’ll never survive.”

# 5 | Stop making excuses

A lot of business leaders claim that they feel restricted when it comes to driving transformation programmes in their organization because of (unfavorable) regulations. This is especially true in the pharmaceutical, chemicals, medical, and financial services industries.

However, Swanson feels that CIOs tend to use regulations as an excuse. “You can do amazing things even in a highly-regulated environment.”

According to the Bayer Crop Science CIO, nobody is in more control of IT’s destiny than the company’s CIO, and if that executive can’t think out of the box (in a regulated environment), then no amount of funding or support can help digitally transform that organization.