The industry is moving beyond theory into implementation of digital transformation and this is seeing the most effective approaches starting to emerge.

So what are the secrets of success? 100 CIOs who took part in a and CSC study have revealed the most common tips and trips taken from their experiences when implementing digital projects. Read on for the full story or click here to see the summary.

Digital transformation trips: advice from CIOs

  1. Failing to understand what digital can do for the business
  2. Failing to promote the benefits of investment
  3. Rushing into digital projects
  4. Failing to engage the customer
  5. Choosing the wrong supplier

Digital transformation tips: advice from CIOs

  1. Education is integral
  2. Lay the foundations for business change
  3. Embrace cultural change and new ways of thinking
  4. Implement the new style of IT
  5. Reduce costs by being agile

Digital trips: the five common pitfalls encountered by CIOs surveyed

  1. Failing to understand what digital can do for the business

According to the and CSC study, the barriers to digital transformation do not centre around access to technology.  Failure to understand the revolutionary business transformation that can be achieved with digital was cited by 56 per cent of CIOs as one of the most important pitfalls that must be avoided. CIOs also said firms that fail to distinguish between digital business and traditional technology focused IT initiatives would struggle with digital change, with 35 per cent of respondents citing the issue as a pitfall.

  1. Failing to promote the benefits of investment

Unsurprisingly, lack of investment from the business is a barrier to digital transformation, with 50 per cent of those studied saying this was one of the biggest downsides. When asked what the major barriers are to digital transformation projects, the top answer was the lack of funds available for technology provision.

Adding to complexity, corporate culture is often change-averse, according to 43 per cent of CIOs studied. If they are to encourage investment in digital, CIOs must now convince the board of the area's ability to drive business change.  A financial sector CIO explains: "Gain board level sponsorship, so the initiative is perceived as a business led change programme, rather than a technology led one."

  1. Rushing into digital projects

With digital so high on the agenda, it's no surprise that CIOs are keen to jump into initiatives. Time is often a constraint: failure to implement digital projects in a timely fashion was an issue for 32 per cent of those studied.

But rushing into projects is a common pitfall cited by CIOs questioned. For example, a CIO at a building supplies company says: "I confused digital transformation with designing a new architecture - this nearly caught me out at an early stage. But after talking to a couple of experienced heads, it became clear that these should be separated as the latter will inevitably slow down the former."

An education industry CIO hit a brick wall when he initially did not look at the organisation's digital needs holistically.  "Centralising the digital project has brought this back on track," he adds.

  1. Failing to engage the customer

Another pitfall is forgetting who the end product or service is aimed at: the customer. When asked to share the business benefits of embracing digital, improving engagement with the customer was cited by almost half of CIOs (48 per cent). Meanwhile, nearly half of CIOs (44 per cent) are focusing digital transformation efforts on customer relationship management systems.

One telecoms industry CIO says he made the mistake of not engaging enough with the customer, "letting engineers continue to design solutions that are built for engineers". He adds: "We resolved this through instigating customer insight workshops to gain input, as well as pushing our design teams to think like the customer."

  1. Choosing the wrong supplier

Digital transformation requires a flexible approach - and this is equally important when it comes to suppliers. As some firms have already discovered, choosing a supplier that is not platform agnostic can be a huge barrier to digital. A construction industry CIO warns: "We went with a supplier that failed to be platform and browser agnostic; we're now in the process of removing them from our supplier list."

Tips for digital transformation: advice from CIOs surveyed

  1. Education is integral

Transforming the business can be simply down to the CEO 'getting' digital. Yet 39 percent of CIOs say there is a lack of board level understanding of the digital agenda. This shows a need to educate the business on what digital is and how it can be used to transform an enterprise, according to 82 per cent of CIOs. Knowledge and education are important factors when considering how best to transform and it is the CIO's job to help the rest of the business understand the significance of digital.

A consultancy and research CIO advises: "Help the board understand that digital disruption will happen whether they want it or not.  The role of the CIO is to be aware of the emerging potential disruption, to figure out how to benefit from it and to create disruption in their marketplace."

A CIO at a food manufacturing company adds: "Make sure everyone is speaking the same language and fully understands what is meant by digital. Agree the definition up front that works for your business."

Additionally, says a financial sector CIO: "Mitigate the fear (by the business) of embracing this technology by explaining what can be done, how it can be achieved, in business terms."

  1. Lay the foundations for business change

Amid the huge transformation that is required to embrace digital, it is easy to forget the basics. According to 37 per cent of CIOs questioned, organisations cannot cope with wide-scale change. It is therefore down to CIOs to make sure they have laid the foundations for business change - while not forgetting day to day responsibilities. An insurance industry CIO advises: "Get the basics right in parallel - centralised data warehousing, data sourcing, all the 'non-sexy' infrastructure stuff has to be given attention as well."

A hospitality industry CIO adds:  "Think big but start small: prove the concept with working prototypes that the business embraces and sponsors moving forward."

After all, says a CIO in the leisure industry: "Transformation is transformation, whether digital or not, so make sure implementation, training and communication are just as robust as other changes."

  1. Embrace cultural change and new ways of thinking

New ways of thinking are starting to emerge that are challenging the fundamentals of business. Starting the evolution to being 'more digital' can be as simple as changing the name of the department: one CIO renamed the IT department 'technology' to kick-start the cultural change that all successful digital transformation journeys require.

Some CIOs (63 per cent) advise taking the role of 'digital evangelist' in the organisation, with a large percentage saying it's important to build platforms to enable the business to create new digital initiatives (61 per cent). Meanwhile, 61 per cent of CIOs think it is necessary to pilot new digital schemes across specific and targeted user groups.

A construction industry CIO shares his experience: "Digital transformation needs a different, non-traditional approach to the one most CIOs have grown up with.  Be ready to feel out of your comfort zone, find one or two innovation experts you trust, and try stuff quickly and nimbly.  Be ready to throw stuff away quickly; it doesn't need to be neatly architected on day one."           

An IT security industry CIO adds: "This all looks good in theory, but this type of transformation takes hard work and needs to be driven from the top down.  There are risks involved that require a full business commitment to this type of change, not just in terms of technology but also in the culture of the organisation."

  1. Implement the new style of business technology

The transition to digital has highlighted the importance of redressing the balance between IT that is running the business and technology that is changing the business.

When asked where they were currently focusing transformation efforts, digital systems of engagement was the top answer, with 57 per cent saying this was important. Cloud environments and mobile technologies were also key, showing that transforming legacy infrastructure and applications is widely acknowledged as a way of giving more power to the business.

Take the example of new ‘business led’ technology deployments such as cloud or 'As a Service' that have been acquired as part of a business change not involving IT.  Rather than fighting against such moves, smart technology leaders are using these platforms to transform service delivery, using budgets that sit outside of IT, thus reducing costs and enabling digital transformation.

  1. Reduce costs by being agile

CIOs are concerned about the cost of roll out, with 50 per cent citing this as a barrier to transformation. But if a CIO wants to cut 30 per cent out of infrastructure costs, he or she could, for example use a hybrid cloud environment, exploring business models enabled by embracing next generation technologies delivered using methods such as DevOps. At the same time, it is possible to reduce run costs by using such technology to provide greater automation and system consolidation.

Take the example of internet start ups, such as the new online banks able to take on their bigger and well established rivals despite tiny technology teams and budgets. The key is agility – in business and technology.   In this sector, being agile entails focusing on profitable business models such as digital payments and avoiding not-so-attractive, legacy-heavy businesses such as investment banking.

100 CIOs took part in this and CSC study. CSC prides itself on its long term relationships with clients spanning both government and commercial sectors. CSC works with transformational CIOs, helping them shape strategies and transform their businesses to prosper in the digital age. It does this by guiding their transition to next-generation IT delivery models and by modernising and mobilising their applications, whilst maintaining the security of their information.

To discuss the study further get in touch with Glyn Knaresborough, Senior Managing Partner, CSC.  [email protected] or @glyn_kn