Bhanu Singh is OpsRamp's Senior Vice President of Product and Cloud Operations, with experience leading product innovation, DevOps, and cloud infrastructure. Emerge wanted Bhanu's take on digital transformation and how it’s managed in today’s enterprises.
As far as digital transformation is concerned, some would say that the term is overused and at this point is just standard business practice. What’s your take on that?
According to IDC, enterprises will spend $5.9 trillion between 2018 and 2021 on digital transformation. It’s overused because it’s a huge industry.
Digital transformation, or the digitization of a business and/or industry can be categorized in 3 ways:
- Upgrading and embracing modern technology stacks and processes to improve the operation of an existing business.
- Digital business optimization to improve customer experience and revenue bottom-line through optimization and improvement.
- Creating new businesses and processes to define new markets or business opportunities to enter/disrupt existing markets or create completely new markets. The recent announcement of the AppleCard and Apple Streaming are good examples of an existing leader entering a growing market with differentiated value.
Most often when CIOs say “digital transformation,” they are referring to #1, which is just modernization of their technology stack, migration, and adoption to the cloud services, and/or consolidation of multiple legacy tools and solutions. Improving the customer experience and revenue bottom-line has also emerged as a growth area, as leaders are focused on building a digital workplace, with the application of artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to drive better customer engagement and experience while improving productivity and operating cost. Both of these initiatives are valuable, and the companies that fail to adopt any transformation strategy will fail to compete or survive.
Since CIOs are largely responsible for driving digital transformation, what do you see as the most important factors a CIO should focus on?
A CIO must play a business leader first before playing a technology enabler or facilitator. He or she must understand the ecosystem of his/her industry and market from an outside-in perspective to decide what strategy to create to lead the organization through a digitization journey. They must think about the business first and the technology second.
How would you advise a CIO when things aren’t going according to plan?
It is critical to understand the end-goal before initiating a transformation initiative – ask yourself: What does success look like and what is the journey to get there? Most transformations fail not because of bad strategy or leadership, but because of the leader’s ability to understand the following:
- Organizational and cultural momentum behind transformation initiatives
- The ecosystem that will change from transformation initiatives
- Geopolitical decisions and regulations
- Organizational processes and practices
- Key stakeholder alignment and support
Start from the end. It is very important for IT leaders to understand the results they are looking to achieve through the transformation initiative and to make sure he/she has leaders in the organization aligned to support the execution through a defined, measurable KPIs. It is only through correct measurement, governance, stakeholder buy-in and incremental successes that change will become tangible.
Big things have small beginnings. Many IT leaders create small, independent organizations to drive initial transformation before involving the rest of the organization to drive digital technology enablement and optimization. Once this small team shows promising results of transformation they slowly incorporate bigger factions of the modern organization through the journey.
If things are going wrong, and there are catastrophic issues, how do you advise they react? Should they reboot or shut down?
There will be situations where initial transformation initiatives need major refinement or course correction to drive the value and outcome. That’s why it is key to have the right oversight with clear objectives and measurable goal posts to drive progress. Of course, some transformation may get shut down because of external factors. A good example is Uber.
Uber was forced out of China after spending more than $1B to take 20% stake in Didi, a Chinese government-driven local service. The company didn’t truly understand the ramifications of this investment with the Chinese government, which ultimately shut down the entire initiative. In a case like this, early detection, validation and course correction could have avoided disastrous overspending. This is why agile methodologies, even in the case of digital transformation, are so incredibly helpful. As long as your plans are micro-segmented, it’s easier to avoid panicking and make small course corrections.
On a more personal level, what has been the most challenging digital transformation effort you’ve undertaken?
I was once tapped to build a net-new application platform to enable an organization to enter into a new market vertical for net-new revenue stream while enabling its current customers to leverage added value from their current investment in a modern application platform.
It was challenging to manage and balance organizational and cultural impact during the build-out. I was trying to build an entirely new product while still supporting current products, customers and business. There was always conflict and contention on where and how to invest to keep growing the current business while ensuring that new business can get started on the right footing with quality.
If a transformation has been completed, what do you advise IT leaders to do to prevent backsliding, assure expenses stay in line with projections, and all those things that keep enterprises healthy and profitable?
This is the crux of sustainable innovation and transformation. Transformation is never an end state, it is a journey and it must be defined through the strategic understanding of how the journey is helping the organizational bottom-line, customer experience, and employee engagement. Build micro-goals for check-in and track progress before moving to the next milestone.
Everything from investment to execution should be measured and course corrected with a proper understanding of the internal and external factors to drive healthy balance. There will inevitably be issues with leadership turnover, market/technology shift, demographic/social shift, and government regulation. It is the responsibility of the leadership to be the first to know of emerging issues and to drive actions for growth, sustained innovation, and external disruption.
How do you see your career trajectory? You specialize in digital transformation at the moment but do you see changes in the technology and/or in your career path?
I am an entrepreneur at heart and a change agent as an operator. I believe that emerging technologies like platform-based business models, API driven economies, AI/ML, blockchain and connected IoT are poised to disrupt in big ways. This means that the markets for new skills are just as big. Digital transformation is a story of technology innovation, but it’s also a story of process innovation, customer experience innovation, and most importantly, business innovation. It’s an exciting time to work in the business. The technology landscape is changing faster than we can imagine, disrupting every business and industry. Most businesses are in the race to digitize or die.
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