Transforming Culture — Against All Odds
By Kimberly Storin, Chief Marketing Officer at Zayo
I love data. As a marketer, a tech leader — and a runner who loves her Garmin — I obsess over data and insights. And I’m not alone in my obsession.
The race is on to digitize everything; what was once digital transformation has morphed into digital acceleration. By 2023, digitally transformed enterprises will account for $53.3 trillion of the nominal GDP and drive 56% of the world’s global GDP. The rapidly accelerating digital demand is forcing companies to innovate their approach to conducting business, hiring and retaining employees, and planning for the future.
The promise of technology amazes me every day. But I also see how digital acceleration challenges businesses. How can they keep up with the pace of innovation? And, perhaps more importantly, how can they build a culture to enable innovation and position people at the heart of successful digital transformation?
Digital growing pains
Artificial intelligence is an important driver of digital acceleration: IDC forecasts global spending on AI systems will jump from $118 billion in 2022 to more than $300 billion by 2026. We’re now seeing AI, Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) being implemented across industries, especially at the edge, to tackle critical business challenges like risk modeling, environmental threats and cybersecurity.
Despite the hype and massive investments in AI, most AI applications remain innovation infants, fit for early adoption but not mature enough to unlock truly productive results. Digital transformation is underway, but we’re just a few miles into a marathon. That reality plays out in a survey of 51 IT leaders my company ran: 86% of the organizations we talked to are engaged in a digital transformation. But two-thirds of respondents consider themselves in the early stages.
We have many hills to climb to realize a successful transformation. But there are more opportunities than barriers — if we leverage the right resources, like culture.
Digital acceleration is more than a technology problem
When I meet with technology leaders, I always ask them what they are trying to solve with digital transformation initiatives. They often say something like:
- “Moving to the cloud.”
- “Modernizing the platform.”
- Or, sometimes, “Adopting neural networks for complex classification or object detection.”
The common thread? These leaders describe their tasks using the technology itself. They see a business problem and lead with the technology.
Companies earlier in the adoption curve often discuss transformation initiatives through technology. Organizations further along the adoption curve give me different answers:
- “Fraud detection.”
- “Risk analysis.”
- “Threat intelligence and prevention.”
- “IT automation.”
These are use cases. They’re closer to articulating the business challenge but still very technology oriented.
Adopting transformative technology to solve business problems has reached an inflection point: Will hype and experimentation transform into widespread adoption with businesses realizing significant ROI? The key to answering that question lies in leaders articulating the business challenge, but not solely as a technical problem.
We leaders face an organizational and cultural challenge in digital transformation. If we want widespread adoption, we must reconsider how we address the science and art of transformation. Doing so starts with three important steps.
- Articulate the Why
We begin by changing how we articulate the “why” of digital transformation. Instead of leading with the technology or technical use cases, talk plainly about the business problem or customer need the organization should address:
- Grow revenue.
- Improve or digitize the customer experience.
- Maintain security against threats.
- Drive operational excellence.
- Accelerate agility.
Culture is all about people, and this framing puts people first. By laying a clearer foundation for the problem and why you’re driving this transformation — you build stronger consensus faster.
2. Establish a Digital Transformation Center of Excellence
Once we’ve clearly defined the “why,” we must shift our mentality around our role and responsibilities as leaders. To have a seat at the table for digital transformation strategy, we need to be comfortable leveraging our strengths and collaborating with data scientists and functional business leaders. Digital transformation is truly a team sport.
A Digital Transformation Center of Excellence (COE) offers an excellent opportunity to convene that team and accomplish transformation goals. The COE goes beyond the typical R&D or incubation model to include early guidance and engagement on:
- Scalable implementation.
- What the experimentation needs to have in criteria for that implementation.
- What are the resource (people and talent) requirements.
- What should the org design consider.
Some organizations may not be open to a different model of experimentation and implementation, which can happen if your IT department operates primarily as a service model. Shifting IT to a more product management-focused approach can help change your organization’s mindset.
3. Become a culture advocate
Digital transformation equals business transformation — and the same principles associated with culture, organization and change management apply to digital transformation. Leaders must step up and break down silos to ensure a transformation sticks and drives competitive advantage. We must become our organizations’ change and culture advocates.
Advocacy starts and ends with the customer in mind. How will the systems and processes we’re transforming benefit our customers? Your team should ask those questions, but that type of curious mindset requires tending from leadership. Embed that mindset throughout your team and organization — living in the insight economy demands that we ask questions and never assume.
Advocacy also means building the guardrails around change and trusting our teams to execute. Clarify the transformation purpose and mandate, and set a framework of escalation around processes, ways to address gaps and other potential roadblocks. A well-designed framework frees teams to make 80% of the decisions independently and escalate only 20% of the hardest problems. Leaders can then spend their time on game-changing decisions because they’ve empowered their team to manage the majority.
Don’t get me wrong — change doesn’t come easy. Expect and prepare for hard conversations. Digital transformation requires that we be comfortable discussing bias and ethics as much as — if not more than — technology, models and algorithms. Your teams will turn to you for guidance, support, and leadership.
Digital acceleration has quickened the pace of innovation and adoption, but transforming our companies is a marathon, not a sprint. That long-term commitment requires a culture that’s bought in and ready to drive change. It’s a difficult exercise — but the data lover in me is glad to have more data to help address that challenge. It’s our responsibility to use that data to define what matters and help our people work smarter. With clearly articulated frameworks and consistent advocacy, we can support a culture that’ll drive the adoption of innovative technology within our companies.
About the Author
Kimberly Storin is a three-time CMO with three large-scale turnarounds and 25 acquisitions under her belt. She is currently CMO at Zayo, a $2 billion communications infrastructure business, where she leads global marketing, brand, communications, and customer experience as part of the company’s privatization and turnaround. Previously, as Chief Market Officer at RapidDeploy, Kimberly helped secure a $29 million Series B funding round by increasing brand awareness to 35%, contributing to over 100% year-over-year revenue growth, and building a partner ecosystem including AT&T, Google, Apple, OnStar, and ADT. As CMO for IBM Cognitive Systems ($3 billion business), she built a channel-first demand engine that delivered over 100% of revenue targets, contributing to seven consecutive quarters of growth for a previously stagnant business. As AMD’s Global Brand Director, she laid the groundwork for a new customer-brand relationship that ultimately brought the company from the brink of bankruptcy to over 1,000% stock growth. Before moving into marketing roles, Kimberly was an M&A leader in the tech industry at Dell and held a role as a management consultant at Deloitte.