It’s time for digital to have a seat in the boardroom


Success comes when the board and CEO lead the way, so if digital transformation is core to your strategy then it’s time for digital to have a seat in the boardroom. The CEO and all of the C-suite need to drive the digital agenda, to drive a culture that is customer centric and puts digital at the forefront – not as an afterthought. Extending digital ownership beyond a function or department is key, and having a leadership model that can drive the digital transformation journey is key.

The push into an ambitious digital transformation will challenge the status quo and the equilibrium of the organisation. It will be a journey into unknown territory, sometimes demanding a leap of faith into new business models and/or investments. New skills, approaches, technologies and products will be needed or will emerge. The very culture and balance of the organisation will be tested and/or changed. Success in these situations will only come if the CEO and leadership team are committed and seen to be committed.

Embrace digital, slash the silos:

Organisations still find it hard to categorise digital, fluctuating between a horizontal function and a vertical department; battling with questions of benefit attribution; struggling between traditional and new organisational models. Looking at digital as an eco-system which affects and is affected by the whole organisation, creates a new way of looking at the challenge, a way of opening up collaboration, culture change and new business models. It’s time to stop trying to change digital to t the business and instead look to change the business to accommodate digital.

Digital and innovation are everyone’s responsibility and opportunity. Be prepared to change the people, processes and technology to make this happen. Embracing digital as a silo-slicing collaborative function in the business creates a chance for individuals and teams to work together in new ways and, critically to understand, empathise and respect the different functions that form the foundation for innovation and lasting change.

How to organise for digital has been an on-going question, and remains in flux as organisations change and mature. The most successful models enable a bi-modal operating model, where the business can operate successfully while the innovation and change finds a way to work with it. Whether working in agile, waterfall or somewhere in between, the most effective digital model is one where cross-functional teams come together for projects de-coupled from their reporting lines.

This approach reduces the pressure on getting the perfect fixed structure in place at a time when flux is the only constant and has the benefit of stepping into the fully-integrated nirvana in controlled project situations. There are several factors that can either enable or prevent digital teams working in this way:

  • Shared objectives – collaborative fast-paced teams can’t afford to be pulling in different directions; alignment around a set of shared customer and organisational objectives is essential.
  • Culture shift at the top – in the majority of organisations, the barriers and silos are most firmly reinforced at the top of the organisation.
  • Co-location for collaboration – working together in a shared space with the right tools to involve remote teams and individuals; beats a lab in Shoreditch hands down for innovative digital delivery.

Digital leadership is a team sport:

The appointment of a CDO is becoming increasingly common, especially for organisations in the early-mid stages of their digital transformation, with numbers doubling year-on-year according to the CDO Club. The definition of what this role means is wide ranging and the ambiguity in role, remit and experience is adding to the confusion. Add to that the proliferation of the other C-level roles and the ownership of the various aspects of digital is more unclear than ever.

CEO – the board and CEO cannot delegate digital, they need to overcome the fear of the technology (which they don’t need to understand) and engage in the impacts and outcomes (which they really do).

CFO – a report from EY found that only 50% of CFOs are making the shift to a digital business model a priority over the next three years, and suggest that many simply do not understand the impact digital could have on their business.

HR & Talent – the link between digital and HR is about to get more important by a magnitude, from recruiting scarce resource to owning the cultural change, from delegation to collaboration – it’s currently one of the furthest away from digital.

CDO – having a Chief Digital Officer does not correlate to digital maturity.

While not arguing against the creation of the CDO as a role, it is important to draw the distinction between a seat at the table and a transformational intent. If in doubt, ask yourself, how the does the role fit in the whole model for digital leadership in this organisation? The rise of digital is set to continue, and delivering large scale change using diverse technology takes organisation infrastructure which the CDO sits at the head of. However, that alone will not deliver the DNA level change that organisations need to embrace to make digital part of their business.

Paradoxically, in many ways the rise of the CDO can be less helpful to digital transformation than the investment would suggest, and this has nothing to do with the capability of the individual in question. For digitally mature organisations the appointment of the CDO is a culmination of business strategy and is both an organisational and reputational move.

However, for immature organisations the creation of the CDO, or similarly titled role, can act to reinforce rather than break down the silos – trying to solve the problem of digital through hiring rather than changing. A 2014 Gartner survey of CIOs found that only a third of companies with CDOs were “very clear” on how the role integrates with wider IT needs.

Instead of making digital and innovation part of the DNA of the business, it is hived off to one side, actively invested in but remaining on the periphery of the business. Culturally this can be even more damaging signalling to the rest of the organisation that they are not considered innovative, and valuing the ideas of a special few over the collective brain of the wider business. Locating these labs in high- cost uber-cool locations away from the core business reinforces this.

Bring the boardroom onboard

Following the logic of slashing the silo, of digital leadership as a team sport* it follows that the entire C-suite needs to embrace its role in the digital transformation journey. The C-suite is critical and that’s covered already, but what about the external directors who steer, challenge and influence the CEO?

A Russel Reynolds study of all board members in the ‘Global 300’ companies revealed; only 10% of the boards could be classified as “Highly Digital.” The definition used in this research is any board with 2 or more digital Non-Exec Directors (dNED)**. The study concluded; “while digital is impacting some industries more than others, we believe every company should be preparing for the disruption to come. To date, few companies have established boards that are equipped to guide them through these changes.” This will change, as it must, but in the meantime it leaves a heavy burden on CEOs and the C-level leaders to carry.

This can be made easier with the aid of well applied business transformation techniques.

  • Bring to life the challenge, and the opportunity using digital stimuli to get them thinking responding to rapidly changing customer behaviours and disruptive digital business models.
  • Enlighten those not yet digitally savvy using the external influences they can relate to, that might be industry analysts or innovators, but in language they can relate to.
  • Leverage the strength of the C-suite aligned in a determination to take on the digital transformation journey, such alignment is very powerful in the boardroom.

Be brave, make it a team sport and take the boardroom with you.


*Credit ‘Digital To The Core’ – Mark Raskino & Graham Waller, Gartner Inc.

** Russell Reynolds Digital Board Director Study – definition of dNED

1     Plays a significant operating role in a digital company—an organization with a primary business function based on web-based, social, mobile/device, cloud/SaaS or big data platform

2     Has a primary digital operating role with a traditional company

3     Has two or more non-executive board roles at digital companies

Digital Thinking; raising the bar

I’m still buzzing from a lively roundtable discussion at the digital leadership breakfast I co-hosted this morning. One of the key themes that struck me in what I was hearing from our guest Chief Digital Officers (CDOs), eCommerce Directors and digital Non Execs (dNED) around the table was an emphasis on finding the best way to leverage Digital Thinking in their businesses.

As with any good roundtable the conversation was lively and wide ranging. We talked about emerging methodologies, we talked about disruptive start-ups, we talked about talent development and we talked about examples of best practice in big companies. But ultimately everyone at the table was focused on what we can all learn. From each other, from inside and outside our businesses, and from everything we do. To leverage Digital Thinking.

The shared stories about waterfall vs. agile and the variations different businesses are adopting to fit their needs concentrated not on the technology and methodologies required but rather on what can be achieved in terms of business and customer impact. Digital Thinking: not dogma.

When we compared what each business is doing to develop digital talent more widely – digital boot-camps, requiring staff to have a ‘digital license to operate’, video learning programmes – they all have one thing in common: adapting to what works in the context of the specific business. Digital Thinking: not a sheep-dip approach.

We discussed testing the water to see how working with start-ups can raise the game of the core business and lift digital performance to the next level – speed-dating with start-ups to partner on new online conversion initiatives, employing your own scout in Silicon Valley to benefit from emerging tech, acquiring start-ups and fostering the learnings across into the core business – different strokes for different folks. Digital Thinking: not accepting the status quo.

And we felt collectively that the approach of adaptive strategies for the big enterprise to pivot the core business strategy – a concept much more familiar in the start-up world – is possible now with the pace of digital change and the insights from customer development and data insights. Digital Thinking: not straight line thinking.

All in all, a fascinating session, thanks to all our guests. It’s safe to say that given the right environment this generation of digital leaders is committed to positive change in their businesses. Digital Thinking: raising the bar.

I’m already excited about planning the next in our series of digital leadership breakfasts.

Superhero Training

Even young superheroes need to train to be stronger.

Digital leadership in the boardroom; where is it coming from?


Digital leadership is a cornerstone of the eco-system, and is often the difference between delivering digital functionality and digital transformation. We shared this view in our report – Digital Maturity: The butterfly effect – and it’s a subject we’ve discussed both here at Transform and with digital leaders.

I recently helped to host a Transform/Princedale Partners breakfast event for a group of senior execs where we talked about digital leadership and what it means to them and their organisations. In the room were digital leaders who sit on the board and others who don’t but still ‘own’ the digital agenda. Some felt their digital objectives are integrated within the company strategy, others felt they are fighting to secure boardroom ownership and the support they need to be successful.

Inevitably we spent some time discussing the popularity of the relatively new role, Chief Digital Officer (CDO). I’ve been following the evolution of digital leadership for some time now including the relatively recent emergence of the CDO role, positioned in some organisations as ‘Transformer in Chief’. This approach is understandable and maybe even appropriate for those organisations where digital transformation is finally being put centre-stage. But there are also those using the role to lump together several big strategic priorities such as customer and data under one convenient banner. Unless your CDO is Superman or Wonder Woman you’re unlikely to see great success from this approach.

Looking at the information available from various head-hunters and other observers (and bearing in mind their vested interests) it would seem like the rise of this role looks set to continue. The number of CDOs appointed is doubling year-on-year, with 2,000 in place globally, according to the CDO club. For organisations in the early-mid stages of their digital transformation this is an increasingly common appointment. The evidence certainly backs the general view that many more organisations have put a senior person at the helm for their digital transformation journey.

But what’s actually happening in the boardroom? Most of those 2,000 CDOs won’t be Board Directors so how might this trend help to create more or better digital leadership in the boardroom?

Into the boardroom

The rise in volume of CDOs also seems to be feeding the advancement of a few CDOs into the boardroom, often as CEO. Research from Harvey Nash suggests the rate at which CDOs are being appointed or promoted into the boardroom is rising so rapidly that in the world of PR it is excitedly described as “exponential”.

“The rise of the CDO has been exponentially fast! So fast in fact, no other role comes close in comparison growth wise – not even the CIO,” Anna Frazzetto, Chief Digital Technology Officer & SVP at Harvey Nash, said.

David Mathieson, founder of CDO Club claims that 11 CDOs were promoted to CEO in 2015 and five became board directors/non-executive director (NED). He goes on to say “I don’t know the number of CMOs or CIOs who became CEO last year, but given how new the CDO title is (10 years old), and that there are hundreds of thousands of the former and only a couple thousand CDOs, I think this is a startling, meteoric rise.”

But coming through from the role of CDO is surely not the only route to digital leadership in the boardroom? After all, digital transformation affects every aspect of modern business – so which executive should lead digital strategy here?

The boardroom power struggle

The situation and approach varies quite considerably in my experience across different organisations, and is often driven more by the culture and balance of power than by any templated approach. Most commonly the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is leading the charge, sometimes from a position of strength where they bring the right understanding and skills, sometimes less so. This can result in some very real digital leadership tensions in the boardroom.

Richard Bhanap of Leading Edge Forum makes the point in this article about digital leadership in the C-suite.

“Soon, every member of the C-suite will need to be leading digital. Abdicating digital to a CMO, CIO or even a newly appointed CDO will be the fastest route to executive obsolescence and accelerated retirement.” He goes on to say, “there needs to be a concerted effort to raise the digital IQ of the whole senior leadership team which, in turn, will ensure the broader organisation appreciates emerging digital opportunities and imperatives.”

The highly digital board

In a survey conducted for the World Retail Congress one of the headline findings is that “British retailers lack relevant e-commerce experience on the boards”, with “only five per cent of executive directors at the leading UK-listed bricks and mortar retail companies have an online background.”

Where is the board level digital leadership experience coming from? Some boards are bolstering the digital experience by recruiting what they see as specialist digital Non-Executive Directors (dNED).

But quotes Russel Reynolds research into the scarcity of digital directors claiming “a mere 1% of NEDs at Europe’s top 100 companies have proven digital experience compared with 8% in the US.”

In that same report they claimed that that the FTSE 100 has only four “highly digital” boards, defined as those with two or more directors with serious digital experience.

Who should be leading this? According to Juan Pujadas, PwC, the CEO has to take ultimate responsibility “Digital transformation is comprehensive. It’s not just a matter of transforming part of the business; it’s about transforming the entire business. And who else but the CEO should be leading that charge?”

3 areas of leadership critical to digital success

We agree but we think there are actually three areas of leadership which will be critical to digital success in the next decade:

  1. CEO and top level leadership cannot delegate digital, they need to overcome the fear of the technology (which they don’t need to understand) and engage in the impacts and outcomes (which they really do).
  2. CFO – a report from EY found that only 50% of CFOs are making the shift to a digital business model a priority over the next three years, and suggest that many simply do not understand the impact digital could have on their business.
  3. HR & Talent – the link between digital and HR is about to get more important by a magnitude, from recruiting scarce resource to owning the cultural change, from delegation to collaboration – it’s currently one of the furthest away from digital.

In my opinion, whilst the rise of the CDO may be exponential, there’s a long way to go before digital skills are commonplace across all board members in a way that elevates the strategy for digital transformation to the core of the business.

I’ll continue to follow this topic further, so if you would like to discuss it or share your own thoughts please get in touch. I’m interested to hear what you think.


Proud to work with Public Health England to launch One You


Today sees the launch of Public Health England’s (PHE) One You campaign, the new marketing strategy aimed at adults in England.

One You aims to encourage adults to take control of their health in order to prevent health problems. It specifically targets those in middle age to think about their everyday habits – to nudge them into eating well, being more active, drinking less and becoming or staying smoke free. It will also provide advice on how to reduce stress levels.

The new campaign covers all types of media – including TV ads, outdoor media, PR and digital. Transform was invited to design and deliver the digital products and services that will help people understand the potential health issues lifestyle habits can create and support them as they make vital changes.

Lifestyle choices have a major impact on long-term health. By the time many people reach their 40s and 50s they will have increased the likelihood of falling ill later in life. One You hopes to reverse this trend. It’s all about taking the plunge and making small changes for a happier, healthier life.

Using its expertise, in user-centred design and agile development, Transform was able to design the range of new products around the needs of those using them – identifying the key triggers, motivations, goals and barriers that impact the potential to change.

We combined user research – 1-2-1 interviews, guerrilla testing and online surveys to gather the views of the public – and user interaction design to develop a suite of digital products for the One You campaign that includes:

  • One You website: providing information about the campaign and related health behaviour
  • How are you? (HAY) tool: A light-touch, entertaining quiz for users helping them to understand how healthy they currently are and recommending apps and further content based on their individual results
  • Four One You apps:
    • Couch to 5k: encourage users to start running with ‘coach’ voices provided by the BBC
    • Easy Meals: providing healthy recipes
    • Drinks Tracker: helps people to cut down drinking by tracking activities
    • Smoke Free: a digital assistant to stop smoking

Do you fill up with the wrong fuel?

The TV ad will air for the first time tonight on ITV, during the Coronation Street spot, and will initially focus on the HAY tool which we’re anticipating will see at least half a million visitors during the next 2-3 months.


For more information on One You visit

For more information on Transform’s agile approach get in touch.

Image source: Public Health England.


British Triathlon launch vision for the sport to 2024



Triathlon is a fast growing, modern and dynamic Olympic and Paralympic sport that has seen widespread growth since making its Olympic debut in Sydney 2000. The sport’s new vision which is accompanied by the launch of triathlon’s new visual identity aims to continue this successful growth throughout Great Britain.

To deliver the vision, British Triathlon in partnership with the Home Nation Associations of Triathlon England, Triathlon Scotland, Welsh Triathlon and the Triathlon Trust will focus on seven strategic areas:

·         Winning Performances

·         Inspirational Events

·         Growing Participation

·         Essential Membership

·         Top 5 Olympic Sport

·         Outstanding Governance

·         International Influence

The new visual identity for the sport aims to make triathlon instantly recognisable whether you are taking part, volunteering or watching the sport for the very first time. The new identity is matched by a governance structure that creates a clear journey through the sport for everyone who experiences triathlon, transforming inspiration into participation.

Ian Howard, President of British Triathlon is delighted to share the sport’s vision for the future commenting: “Triathlon has a rich history and the launch of our new brand and vision to 2024 at last weekend’s Annual General Meetings for Triathlon England and British Triathlon kick-starts an exciting future of collaboration between the Boards of British Triathlon, the Home Nations and the Triathlon Trust.  We believe our new visual identity and vision for triathlon provides a great platform for all of us working and volunteering in the sport and will ensure that we deliver not only continued medal-winning success, but also maintain the healthy growth of the sport.”

Bill James, Chair of Triathlon England added: “I’m delighted this year has seen the Home Nations’ Boards become better aligned with British Triathlon in a shared vision and identity for our sport. Moving forward this will deliver a more consistent approach across our key priorities of Participation, Events, Membership and Talent.

“Next year provides an exciting opportunity for us to deliver a landmark triathlon experience that makes a step-change in the profile of our sport and our ambitious plans should see us welcome many new entrants, offer wonderful experiences for existing triathletes and engage new fans.”

Mike Battersby. Director of External Affairs and Interim Chair of Welsh Triathlon, is also behind the new vision and identity commenting: “It has been an exciting few months as the new identity and vision for the sport have evolved into a modern and dynamic representation of triathlon. At Welsh Triathlon we are excited with what lies ahead working with British Triathlon and the Home Nations to enhance the triathlon experience from first-timer to long-term member of Welsh Triathlon.”

Andy Salmon, Chair of Triathlon Scotland added further support: “Triathlon Scotland has seen a continued increase in participation in recent years, and the new vision for triathlon across Great Britain alongside the new visual identity can only add to that growth. The triathlon experience is really important for us here in Scotland and through a new streamlined approach, we have a great opportunity to enhance triathlon’s position in both Scotland and Great Britain as a leading sport.”

Joe Garner, Chairman at the Triathlon Trust added: “The new visual identity is very exciting for the Triathlon Trust. With the triathlon family working closer together, it can only support our aim to encourage more children to become active and adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

CDO role declared ‘Transformer in chief’


transformers-pete-slater-flickr-460x175This insightful report from McKinsey&Co, says “the CDO is now a transformer in chief, charged with coordinating and managing comprehensive changes that address everything from updating how a company works to building out entirely new businesses. And he or she must make progress quickly.


Well, not only must we wholeheartedly agree, but that’s what Transform has been helping CDOs (and CIOs, CMOs, Commercial Directors, Digital Directors and the like) with since we started out back in the nineties. What we actually see increasingly is that the demand on the CDO (or equivalent) basically continues to extend through the spectrum from strategy, through design and into delivery. Those that are most effective and making the most positive impact on their organisations are taking a customer-centred approach and not only do they design and deliver services for those customers, but behind that they are also leading in design and delivery of new capabilities across their organisation. So I can’t and won’t argue with McKinsey’s five focus areas for CDOs:

  1. Make digital integral to the strategy
  2. Obsess over the customer
  3. Build agility, speed and data
  4. Extend networks
  5. Get stuff done

In fact we’re wondering if McKinsey has been peaking over our shoulders whilst we’ve been working with clients. That’s not a bad list, but on the other hand it’s a massive brief.

Digital transformation

The pressure is on; as customers rapidly adapt to the digital world at their fingertips and as organisations adopt new technologies in the scramble to keep up with new competitors emerging all over the place. Hence the growing debate about the value of a new addition to the boardroom / executive management team: the CDO. Some pundits (and plenty of headhunters) insist a CDO is vital to push through rapid change in organisations that have been slow to embrace the new opportunities and threats presented by digital disruption. They argue that CDOs often need to be parachuted into situations where others in the executive team lack the necessary skillset or firepower to implement digital transformation. Others believe CDOs are needed to bring a new understanding and perspective to the digital challenge, to evangelise digital thinking and to apply it across the whole business.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s the CDO

If we step back from this for a moment, we could say that what they are really describing as a CDO could also be called CETNtCaaRoDO (Chief Everything That Needs to Change as a Result of Digital Officer) – or CBtCit21CO (Chief Bring the Company into the 21st Century Officer). Neither of which is particularly snappy though.

The role is effectively re-orienting the whole business around the customer, while aligning the organisation behind this change, and making it everyone’s job. Which is hard when it involves changing the way the organisation does things, and when the CDO is often seen as CEO in waiting.

Realistically, you’ve got to admit that in all five areas listed above, the individual responsible needs a rare combination of analysis, communication and change skills. Very rare in individuals. Even more elusive in organisations faced with a transformation challenge.

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Digital Transformation: Making it work for your business and your customers


I was invited recently to speak at an event in BBC Centre hosted by IIBA UK with BBC Academy. My brief was to talk about some of the challenges organisations typically face in keeping up with rapidly evolving customer expectations while still delivering on commercial priorities: Making it work for the business and its customers. It went something like this…

Transform started out at the very end of the 20th century. We found our way in the places where business and technology collide, working with large organisations looking to respond to change. Helping IT Directors and Commercial or Marketing Directors, doing the things that a CDO might do today.

We built a flexible business, with an associate model at its core, designed so that we would always have access to the best talent for every client project.

When we started out the internet was disrupting big business and the services our clients want from us have evolved; we’ve seen changes in business demand because of changes in customer demand.

Customers don’t exist within a digital only world. They move between digital and physical channels placing digital in the broader omnichannel context. Our annual research into digital maturity highlights the importance of the digital ecosystem. Organisations that operate the 5 areas of strategy, culture, technology, channels and customers as an ecosystem, rather than a hierarchy, are more likely to think beyond just the front-end customer experience or the channel strategy. This is the key to a successful transformation.

At Transform we talk a lot about being customer-centred but what does that mean in reality?

  1. Customer-centred design If we design services with an approach that is truly customer-centred we will understand the impact our actions have on the customer and therefore the outcome.
  2. Customer-centred organisation It needs a customer strategy embedded from the top to the bottom of the organisation, activated at every stage of the process, not just the customer facing experience.

We need an understanding of customer wants, needs, attitudes and behaviours in relation to our organisation to design services, propositions and experiences that work for the organisation and the customer.

What questions might we ask:

  • How can we put customers at the heart of the design process?
  • How do we get the most out of our business infrastructure and capability?
  • Who are the current and target customers (including functional needs, motivations and behaviours)?
  • Which customers will drive the best commercial performance?
  • Where are customers least well served and what are the areas where we can delight them?
  • What are the key missions and journeys that we can own and excel at?
  • What are the propositions that are required to support the experiences & respond to customer needs?

And what does all of this mean in terms of delivery?

At Transform we talk about Strategy | Design | Delivery – in other words Think | Plan | Do.

An effective approach requires a clear link from strategy to action:

  • Strategic priorities that set out your approach to customer, channel, platform and product
  • Experiences & propositions you offer to your customers, colleagues and other stakeholders
  • The capabilities (people, processes, content and systems) you need to deliver them supported by detailed business cases
  • A Roadmap that sets out the plan for change

Leading transformation is a broader challenge. It means getting the right plan and delivering what’s on the roadmap. But it also means taking the organisation on a change journey. This is where progress checking the digital ecosystem can keep you on track for success.

And in a world where the rate of change is accelerating all the time, how do you adapt? Having continuous insight is essential although it can be a tough thing to do. Our DMI report is now in its 6th year and with 5 years of data behind it we’ve been building the topic and defining the key themes. It keeps us, and our clients, on track and up to date with what’s changing.

DMI 2015 will be available in the autumn. I’m already intrigued to see how the trends have developed but I’m confident that the digital ecosystem will still be at its core.

To see a copy of Bill’s presentation please click here

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