Digital transformation: Race or relay?

by Simon Clegg 10 September 2019

My colleague Jim recently wrote about how the best thing IT can do for digital transformation is to give up ownership of technology. Jim’s point is that all too often, IT ends up becoming the bottleneck for changes in technology and process within different business units – and that by letting go of its traditional control over all technology decisions, it gives others the freedom and flexibility to pursue their part of the organisation’s broader digital agenda. At Ricoh, we’re already helping business units like People and Purpose and Finance embed analysts and digital strategists to achieve this new state of what Jim calls “digital self-sufficiency”.

I’ve noticed, however, that ownership of technology doesn’t just transfer from IT to lines of business in a one-off transaction. It’s being constantly passed between different teams and even individuals, depending on what’s required at any given time. Although our business functions now enjoy significantly more autonomy in their technology choices than in most other organisations, that autonomy also comes with a responsibility to operate transparently – and, as a result, they still cede to IT’s authority when Jim and our team see that a decision might impact other BUs or initiatives. It’s a trend that we’re seeing across Ricoh as the business transforms – our heads of Marketing and Operations also recently wrote about how ownership of tasks no longer comes down to job description, but who has the competency and capacity at any given time.

Effective digital transformation starts to look less like a race and more like a relay. Instead of vying for resources or talent, different parts of the business are constantly passing the baton of autonomy and responsibility for change in people, processes, and technology to one another. IT, for its part, only takes that baton back when doing so will support and serve the needs of its different intra-business partners all at once – which in turn generates greater advocacy from those partners for IT as that “anchor” of the race. The secret to effective digital transformation may very well be that you pass on control to get it back. That’s the only way we can go the distance.