A successful digital transformation can be the difference between a flourishing business and one destined to fade into obscurity. On this point, there is a growing consensus across the tech sector and the wider business world. However, confusion still reigns as to who should lead a digital transformation, should it be the CIO, the CTO, the CMO, the CEO, or all the above? Here we look at why the most successful transformations are often led by the CEO.
Before we delve into why the CEO is the natural leader of digital transformation, it's important to note that a digital transformation that is to succeed in the medium to long-term requires the buy-in of the whole C-suite. Digital transformation, by its nature, affects the whole business and without encouragement, promotion, and strong leadership from company
Despite the important role of all company executives in embracing a culture of innovation and driving digital transformation, leadership must come from the top. There are several significant reasons why the CEO is best equipped to lead digital transformation, ranging from the authority inherent in the title, to the typical CEO's broad skillset. Let's look at each in more depth.
The CEO is a Blend of the C-suite
While there are convincing arguments for each member of the executive suite to lead digital transformation, none are quite so well qualified as the CEO.
CEOs are in many ways a blend of their colleagues in the C-Suite. In their capacity as general overseers of the day-to-day running of the business, most CEOs build up at least passable knowledge of each department and its strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge is crucial to a successful digital transformation, which requires careful planning of the changes needed for every aspect of the business, as well as analysis of the unique challenges each department might face.
Of course, no CEO can do so alone—any undertaking needs the input of the other key executives and their expertise, but with their uniquely holistic view of the business, CEOs are simply best placed to lead the process.
Only a CEO Can Change Organisational Culture
A successful digital transformation is rarely a straightforward undertaking and often requires changes to deeply ingrained cultures within the business. To give an example, digital transformation often requires crossing departmental silos: IT
Human beings and, by association, businesses
A CEO Can Manage and Rank Competing Priorities
We’ve all attended interdepartmental meetings in which each department leader puts forward a different business priority, often whatever the priority is for their department at the time—and digital transformation is no different.
Digital transformation affects every organisation differently, but it tends to create opportunities or cause disruption in three key areas of the business: operational performance, digital products and services, and customer service/engagement. For a successful transformation, it’s crucial that key needs and opportunities in each of these areas inform where investment in technology goes. To do that effectively, the decision maker needs to be impartial with a clear vision for the company as a whole. However grand their vision, a CMO is always likely to prioritise customer experience, just as a CIO is likely to prioritise process, whereas the role and perspective of a CEO lend themselves better to a dispassionate assessment of what’s best for the business.
CEOs Carry the Authority to Delegate
This may sound counter-intuitive given this article is about why CEOs should lead, but the beauty of a CEO leading the process is their ability to delegate to an “orchestrator”. In a growing number of companies this takes the form of a CDO (Chief Digital Officer), but regardless of who is chosen, what’s important is that they’re empowered to implement strategy and enforce change where it’s needed.
CEOs naturally carry the authority to empower whoever is chosen to compel change across the organisation in their name. A CEO’s authority over the other executive suite members makes their chosen delegate less likely to encounter friction from heads of
While a successful digital transformation requires the input and collaboration of the entire C-suite, it’s the CEO who is best equipped to lead. CEOs can provide a strategic framework, break down the appropriate boundaries, and engender cultural change in a way that would be difficult
Digital transformation is a fundamental part of