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How leaders can effectively start digital shift within their organizations

Execs advise leaders on digital transformation during BusinessWorld Insights

By Adrian Paul B. Conoza, Special Features Writer

From implementing systems for secure remote work to using an online application for meetings, digital transformation has become more present among organizations since the lockdown. While many organizations have successfully started to digitally transform, however, other businesses might have found it difficult to do this.

Nonetheless, an opportunity remains open for organizations to effectively start and ramp up their shift to digital, as long as they are equipped with the necessary knowledge and empowered with great determination.

Those essential insights were shared during the second leg of BusinessWorld Insights Leadership Series held last Jan. 27, wherein another panel of senior executives gave tips on how business leaders can effectively plan and implement digital transformation in their offices.

Strategy first

For Marivic C. Españo, chairperson and chief executive officer (CEO) at P&A Grant Thornton, organizations must first appreciate and understand the role that technology plays in the pursuit of their corporate goals and in making the right decisions.

She further stressed that going digital should not be considered by organizations as their goal. Rather, it should be their means to reach their strategic goals. Thus, digital transformation plans should be appropriately linked to an organization’s strategic plan.

“The first task for companies is to define their strategy, and then define the technology infrastructure that it needs to support the strategy,” Ms. Españo said during the forum. “If there is an alignment, the company will have a burning issue to execute its digital transformation plan. [The strategy] establishes the why of going digital.”

“If they think that they are not equipped enough to define that, I would suggest that they consider getting experts’ help [by] hiring a transformation officer or talking to partners,” she later added.

The CEO also noted that as she has the responsibility of defining the firm’s vision and of drawing out strategies to achieve it, she herself looks at how technology can help them meet their goals. “I look at the best practices not only in professional services but also in other industries and look at possible ways to introduce them in the way we work,” she said.

Also part of her role in terms of going digital, she continued, is looking for the right people to enable the shift and providing necessary training to employees who will be affected by this shift.

Banking on employees’ strength

Empowering employees and leveraging on partnerships as digital transformation takes place was highlighted by David L. Almirol, Jr., CEO and founder of Multisys Technologies Corporation.

Mr. Almirol shared that as a leader of their company, he finds it important to identify the strengths and weaknesses of his employees and leveraging on all their strengths thereafter.

“It’s like playing chess, [wherein] you know where your pieces are and what are their expertise. As they move, you have to make sure they’re doing their purpose,” he said, adding that he also realizes that he needs to learn from his people from time to time.

Mr. Almirol also shared that out of his experience he further realized the value of connection and inclusivity among leaders and employees. “I learned that there are people who can do offline or online leadership. As you see these talents, instead of you asking them to do what you want, you can ask them to do whatever they want [and tell them you] trust them. And as you trust them, they will learn that they can do it,” he shared.

Recognizing that budgets can be a constraint in implementing digital transformation, given the expensive costs of digital tools, Mr. Almirol sees that partnerships can greatly help.

“MultiSys has programs where our partners don’t have to pay us. We do some kind of revenue-sharing with them. In fact, we have like 85 companies that we are supporting now,” he shared. The CEO also noted the company’s increased partnership with other brands as the use of and demand for digital solutions have increased in various aspects such as e-commerce and e-learning.

Furthermore, Mr. Almirol advised business leaders to regard technology as a tool to simplify their processes. “You don’t need to complicate things, and you have to look for a way to simplify the processes. If your processes are 1 to 5, you might think of 1 to 3, or maybe 1 and 2. If there are unnecessary processes that would just elongate those business flows, you might cut them into pieces and then delegate these into multiple departments,” he explained.

In addition, Mr. Almirol stressed that ensuring security must not be overlooked in the digital shift. “You cannot just build something and then you can do cybersecurity thereafter. As you build something, you secure it,” he said.

Agile mindset across the organization

Gwendolyn D. Kelley, first vice-president, chief technology officer (CTO), and head of the Information Technology Division at Insular Life Assurance Company, Ltd., emphasized gearing up organizations with an agile mindset.

“Technical skills are foundational. However, a culture of digital openness and adaptability needs to be pervasive in an organization,” Ms. Kelley said. “An organization — from the rank and file to the CEO — needs to be digitally aware, open, and willing to adapt.

The CTO said that their firm’s adoption of an agile mindset in developing solutions allowed them to build and upgrade their capabilities, as well as to prioritize high-value projects, increase collaboration, and quickly deliver solutions and products.

“[T]here would be instances where you can’t just as easily pivot to another direction,” Ms. Kelley later added. “Fortunately, more and more solutions, especially those offered in the cloud, come via subscription models. This gives an IT org more flexibility to drop old tech and subscribe to new tech more easily.”

Ms. Kelley also shared that organizations should not fall victim to the perception that digital responsibility is the sole responsibility of just one department, specifically IT departments.

“To build a successful culture of innovation, leaders need to drive the change needed in their organizations,” she said.

Ms. Kelley added that everyone in the organization needs to know and agree on the definition of a successful digital transformation strategy, and leaders should make sure that the plan’s objectives are clearly communicated so that everyone has a clear definition of success in going digital.

For the CTO, digital transformation involves developing a goal-oriented map, managing the change needed at organizational and individual levels, and measuring the transformation effort.

“What is the desired end state? How will you measure success? Will it be based on meeting topline goals? Will it be based on people loving your brand? The company needs to focus on the right metrics,” Ms. Kelley said on what questions leaders should ask in pushing forth a digital shift.

“The playbook for a good digital transformation is to craft the strategy and roadmap, making sure that everybody is on board, and ensure that the right initiatives were undertaken, implemented, and supported,” the CTO added.

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