Decades after the introduction of the microprocessor, the personal computer, and the World Wide Web, digital technology continues to have a significant impact on business across the globe.
According to McKinsey, media/telecommunications, financial, retail, automotive, and high-tech services are anticipated to be among the business sectors most affected by digital technologies.
Arvind Sharma, Ciklum’s Vice President for Retail and CPG, understands the reality of digital transformation. As Ciklum’s Global Solution Leader for Digital Commerce, Sharma has firsthand experience with how digital technology has transformed the retail sector.
Mark Ridley, who leads a CTO practitioner firm that advises CEOs and CTOs, helps leaders across many different industries navigate the path toward a digital future.
As two technology professionals experienced in helping industries adapt to a new digital reality, Sharma and Ridley recently got together to exchange their views on the business sectors undergoing digital transformations and the challenges they face.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Arvind Sharma, Ciklum’s Vice President for Retail and CPG, Global Solution Leader, Digital Commerce
Retail and finance were among the fastest to start upon all sectors. The majority of the momentum 10 years back was with the manufacturing, high-tech industry, and also retail finance side. But, as of late, the maximum income is coming from retail, the CPG side, and the fintech industry.
Mark Ridley, CTO Practitioner
If you look at investment for the past few years, it’s been absolutely dominated by investments in fintech businesses, especially in the UK, in London particularly, but across Europe more broadly. For me, the fastest growing industry behind that is what’s happening in healthcare. Also, in mobility, around sectors like electric scooters and bikes. There’s quite a lot of work that’s being done in there around the development of the sharing economy. Also in retail; in particular, around the disruption to retail through fast-growing businesses that are either working directly in retail or that are adjacent to them in providing services to large consumers.
The fundamental starting point is to look at the organisation’s business strategy first: what the organisation’s goals are, where they want to move, what services they want to try with the customers, or if they want to develop something new.
One of the things for me is making sure you have the right leaders of the change programs in the organisation.
That’s the starting point, and this strategy is closely tied to that business strategy because that’s the first step. The second step is looking across the organisation: What is the best way to create those skills, that culture, to embark on the journey?
You need to appoint the right people to lead that through the organisation; it can often be very cross-disciplinary in the types of skills that they bring to the table. Another issue is around the discipline of how you manage that program.
It’s fluffy to talk about culture, but actually, a change of culture needs to be carefully managed, carefully thought through. Communication is a massive part of that, and it’s not just the communication of change but the education that needs to go with it. You can’t just take a workforce and introduce a new tool and expect them to like it, let alone use it.
For me, there’s a very significant skill that organisations can develop around prioritisation. It’s almost the most important skill that an organisation can develop as an ability because then you can decide how much time do I want to spend on the operational side, the ‘business as usual’. How many sides do I want to spend on innovation? What is the right balance? How do I invest in that?
Even at the executive leadership level, everyone has a different view of the digital strategy and its vision. It’s always surprising that there is a strong desire to embark on this strategy, but when you actually sit down with them individually, they have a different view altogether. They all need to have one common goal to achieve, right?
It just sometimes becomes very idea-driven. And as we all know, that ideas are always busy with in-flight projects, they have limited resources, limited time. They are now under even more cost pressures, right? So, [rather than] putting a new business strategy, another initiative, additional work seen as a burden of the IT department, it should be driven more by the business side.
Creating a different strategy in isolation from the overall business, treating them more as a burden than as a goal, can be seen as another cost, not as an engine to make it more creative. So should we see it more as a business advantage rather than as an additional burden?
You called out something that I’ve regularly heard repeated to the executive teams that I work with. I’m often challenged to develop a technology strategy. And my answer is almost always there is no such thing as a technology strategy, in the same way, there is no such thing as a digital strategy. There is a company strategy. And then there are the plans that make up the steps to achieve that overall strategy. As soon as you start thinking that this is something different and separate, you call it out in your second point, that if it’s seen as something other than the main core of the business, it won’t succeed.
It is a fundamental change in the business. It just happens to use the word ‘digital’, and it has to be driven from value. “This is what we are going to deliver,” whether it’s a benefit to the employees, whether it’s a benefit to shareholders, whether it’s a benefit to the customers. I think all good strategies start with a big audacious goal. And while I would want to see that in a strategy, I would also want to see that in a digital strategy if one existed.
Watch the full interview here: