Monday, May 16, 2016

IT Leaders’ Digital Acumen

Digital Acumen = Business Acumen + Digital IQ.

IT plays a more significant role in the business’s digital transformation today. Like any C-suite members, IT leaders have to participate in forming the organization's strategy, its implementation, and assessing its performance. They have to make sure that all IT investments are aligned with the organization's strategy with the approved priorities. Within their understanding, they are responsible for highlighting evolving IT technologies, understands what current technology innovations can add business value and transfer this to the business. They not only should have sufficient business knowledge but also need to gain the digital acumen to drive business changes.  

Digital awareness: As we all know the only "Certainty" or a "Constant" now  is "CHANGE." Business is only an extended part of our life and all businesses have to accept change to survive. Uncertainty and ambiguity are a key challenge for business leaders today. The rate of change has accelerated, indicating that business leaders must learn how to strike a balance between managing complex issues today and predicting the uncertain issues of tomorrow. When business is for people, uncertainty is an opportunity; when people are for business it’s a problem. The world has become over-complex with explosive information. In a broader sense, Systems Thinking (a holistic thinking with understanding the interconnectivity of the parts of a system) is a path to build greater digital awareness. It’s important to leverage Systems Thinking in strategic planning in these uncertain times, and it should go hand in hand with contingency planning around “what if” scenario while there is always some remaining uncertainty, or emergent property, particularly if one broadly involves the organization, leads to better decisions, strategic plans, and better implementation. There are so many variables in today's world, it is nearly impossible to quantify one cause and effect. So it’s important to leverage Systems Thinking in understanding the problem holistically. This does not ensure success, but it does raise the probability of success.

Digital strategy-savvy: Digital strategy-execution is an iterative continuum. IT leaders today need to become digital strategists. Digital styles of strategy are unique. What should be the breadth and depth of your digital strategy, how many dimensions should it have? Are IT strategy and digital strategy convergent? Looking at development you can dive deep, wrestle with the material and the result of this is that you not only understand the strategy, you start to feel it. The result is that then during implementation you possess the right flexibility for adjusting in case you have to. If the strategy is more important, and execution is often more difficult. On top of that is the question on how you implement the strategy. Are you doing this in a directive way as linear steps, or take more iterative steps? Should strategy be too detailed or to keep a wide range of options for implementation? Is strategy before structure? How to ensure that all tactical plan by all departments are approved by the strategists for alignment and also ensure that results of tactical plans are fed back to them before periodical strategy evaluation sessions to modify as required. Digital strategy needs to be capability-based, systematic, holistic and multidimensional; an action plan comes with solutions for any changes which may occur during the time frame of execution, and execution is an incremental process that has to well align with change management to deal with frictions and emerging changes. Digital acumen does not mean you only master at either business knowledge or IT expertise, but both and even multiple domains; not just see things from a single dimension but through different angles.

Digital agility: High mature digital organizations can both create changes and adapt to changes effortlessly. From talent management perspective, learning agility becomes a more important leadership trait and professional quality to gain digital acumen. The two most basic systemic structures in the organization are the balancing cycle and the growth cycle; and their emergent characteristics just happen to be balance and growth, which would sort of implying that any system must have emergent characteristics. Therefore, agility is critical to adapt to the emergent characteristics. In an agile organization, self-adaptation is faster if made with the full involvement of people in organizational change, without making "big plans" or "blueprint,” but starting from relations between people. There are heuristics in defining these requirements for the integrated system, as well as the system elements: the human, software, firmware, hardware (automated, semi-automated, and/or manual functions) and the environment; further addressing the system life cycle, to accelerate grow cycle, and keep balancing cycle right as well. Digital agility also catalyzes talent growth via "discovery, autonomy, and mastery" cycle. Thanks to rapid evolution in technology and neuroscience, we are discovering many things about our thought process behaviors, our attitudes, and skills. This “incremental consciousness” about our own digital potentials is changing the way we see ourselves, our roles into a community: a team or a company.

The best IT leaders and professionals always have a strong understanding of what the business does, how it does it, and how it could be better with 360 degrees of view. Digital Acumen = Business Acumen + Digital IQ. With strong digital acumen, they can sense emergent opportunities, and predict potential risks. They've also been excellent at articulating the benefits of making changes to the business' operating model, and showing how IT can make these changes happen. Above all, they've been strategy influencers and persuaders, digital expert and innovators.


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