Dear CEO, your head is in the sand!

Are the top dogs of corporations finally realising that the current digital revolution has created, transformed and destroyed many a business and industry?

A recent McKinsey&Company publication, by Brown, Sikes and Willmott reported that; “across most of the C-suite, larger shares of respondents report that their companies’ senior executives are now supporting and getting involved in digital initiatives. This year, 31 percent say their CEOs personally sponsor these initiatives, up from 23 percent who said so in 2012.”

While its great to see progression at the top-level in digital sponsorship, I’m still perplexed by the low percentage, and the apparent unwillingness of senior executives to respond to perhaps the biggest shift affecting business in commerce history.

Dominic Byrne DigiToro Blog - Dear CEO, your head is in the sand

Technology has always changed the world. Just think of the progression from Roman roads to Pony Express then telegraph and phone, or radio, TV, VCR, PC, walkman, camcorder, laptop, mobile and internet. Today’s smartphones and tablets possess all the preceding tech-features in a single device. Technology has always and will always continue to create opportunities for mistakes, even by the brightest:

1. “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” — Western Union internal memo, 1876.

2. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

3. “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” — Jack Valenti, MPAA president, testimony to the House of Representatives, 1982

4. “Do not bother to sell your gas shares. The electric light has no future.” —Professor John Henry Pepper, Victorian-era celebrity scientist, sometime in the 1870s

5. “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night,” Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

6. “The subscription model of buying music is bankrupt. I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model and it might not be successful.” Steve Jobs — Rolling Stone, Dec. 3, 2003

7. “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share……..I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.” Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 2007.

The points outlined above are examples of big mistakes. In contrast to this, I believe it’s the smaller unnoticed, perpetual mistakes that bring down good business, when a decision maker has the opportunity to respond to change but fails to do so. Digital disruption won’t kill in one venomous cobra strike, it will slowly squeeze the life out of you like a boa constrictor.

If you are a CEO, you are the only executive who has the mandate to empower the change across the business. Technology is the easy part; it’s your leadership, aligning technology with your business goals, project management and stakeholder buy-in that determines success.

“About one-third of executives say their companies are spending the right amount on digital, and many worry about under investing in these programs. Still, the responses indicate that companies have a long way to go in accomplishing their digital-business agendas. Fifty-seven percent say their companies are up to one-quarter of the way toward realizing their end-state visions for their digital programs, and just 40 percent say their organizations’ digital efforts have yielded a measurable business impact thus far. Executives who say their companies spend the right amount on digital are much likelier than average to report real business impact (60 percent), as are those who say their companies are at least halfway toward their end-state visions (56 percent), but overall, there is room for improvement.” (Brown Sikes and Willmott)

The majority of CEOs aren’t putting enough muscle into digital transformation; their head is in the sand. You can’t wish for things to remain the same but get better. The digital age has brought on bigger and faster disruption than the renaissance and industrial revolution. The time may have passed for you to acknowledge and react to technology and its impact. Technology, the explosion of product choice, the plethora of customer touch points and the ever discerning, informed, all-empowered consumer are leading the change. Failing to respond equals business atrophy.

The traditional models of thinking have already changed and the focus is now on customer engagement. You need to deploy practices related to this trend, across channels with personalised, localised commitment. Your brand has to sit across all the channels, connect with customers through social media, utilise data to test, fail-fast, learn and improve decision-making. People and devices are always on and always connected, you need to be too.

Dominic Byrne

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Dominic Byrne speaking at the Online Retailer Conference and Expo