The CEO in digital transformation: leading the new era of ecommerceby Jesús Maceira, August 18, 2022
The role of the CEO in digital transformation requires an active and focused commitment, otherwise the chances of success for the business will be very low or none. Basically this is because a digital transformation is a reinvention of the business model. That demands coordinated work from different areas of the organization, and large-scale investments to build new capabilities.
The person called to meet this sustained challenge is the CEO. In this article, we will share some common ideas and principles to help CEOs maintain the focus of their intervention during a digital transformation process, clearly understanding that each process has its own particular context.
What is digital transformation?
There are many terms that have become a trend. Like: Big Data, Machine Learning, Headless Commerce, Cloud Computing or Industry 4.0. “Digital transformation” is one of those terms that has been on the market for a long time and companies generally think that it is just about technology, but it is much more than that.
Digital transformation is a process that involves reorienting —in many cases reinventing— a company based on the use and application of emerging technologies. Obviously, technology by itself does nothing, which is why in the digital transformation process it is necessary to adapt technology to the particular needs of each business and, of course, to increase its profit.
If we want to think about what the pillars of a digital transformation process are, we can say that they are: cultural change, training in digital skills and abilities, organizational change and the implementation of technology.
As you can imagine, the challenge of leading and coordinating this process in companies has fallen entirely on the shoulders of CEOs. A digital transformation process that became urgent for many companies, after the impact of the pandemic and the new realities of the markets. In fact, according to the IDC consultancy, 84% of European CEOs consider investment in digital innovation to be crucial.
CEOs’ business priorities areas for 2022-23
In a survey conducted by Gartner, more than 400 CEOs (from different industries) were asked about their priorities for 2022-23 and their relationship to technology. The results reflect a radical change in their priorities, which, they say, had not been seen for 15 years. But they can represent a lasting approach in digital transformation processes. Let’s see the summary of those priorities below:
- Growth remains the most frequently cited priority (51%). Although this year has faded. Gartner's analysis links this decline to the impact of supply chain issues. Because CEOs may not push as hard to increase demand if they can't supply.
- Technology-related topics such as digitization, ecommerce, and cybersecurity rank second in priorities (34%). For CEOs, the pandemic highlighted the value of remote work, ecommerce and other digital mechanisms. They are prepared to maintain their technological focus.
- The priority of workforce issues, such as talent retention, hiring, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), increased substantially for the second year in a row. Placing it a close third (31%) and significantly ahead of financial troubles. Such as profitability, cash flow and equity financing, and corporate initiatives such as strategy change and restructuring.
- Environmental issues are placed in ninth place. 9% of respondents mentioned it as one of the top three priorities. That may be a relatively small absolute number, but this is the first time the category has cracked the top 10 and reflects a very significant increase in interest. (It was in position 14 just three years ago and in position 20 seven years ago). Business leaders are now under pressure from customers, investors, regulators and employees to do more for environmental sustainability, and sustainable business is seen as an opportunity to drive business forward. Efficiency and revenue growth.
- Inflation is a sudden problem for many CEOs. With 62% that in the fourth quarter of 2021 they already expected it to be a persistent or long-term concern. At the time, pandemic-induced supply chain shortages and social spending by governments to help people during lockdowns and furloughs were driving inflation. Then the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting economic sanctions have exacerbated the situation. The disruption to the region's supply of staples such as oil, gas, grain and neon will drive up prices in a range of industries, from restaurants to semiconductors.
How the CEO can lead in digital transformation and drive the company to success
Leading the digital transformation successfully is said to be easy, but it is not easy to know how to do it. And as technology grows in complexity, it's hard for CEOs to take direct leadership in that transformation. So what can you do if you are a CEO facing these challenges?
Although each digital transformation is unique in its circumstances, it is possible to learn from other experiences. Below we want to share common principles that CEOs from various industries around the world are using to lead the digital transformation processes in which they are involved, based on different levels of ambition to achieve this transformation and increase the chances of achieving the goals and results you are looking for.
Define the ambition of the transformation
The goals and objectives of digital transformations vary significantly. Some involve implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, for example, while others move the entire organization to the cloud, start leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), develop marketplaces, or focus on new mobile applications customer oriented.
But the CEO's ambition for digital transformation should go far beyond implementing new digital tools because they are readily available or trendy. CEOs today understand how transformation adds real value to the organization. So one question the CEO needs to answer is: How broad is my ambition for our digital transformation?
The chart below, produced by Deloitte, can help answer the question, visualizing the five levels of ambition that characterize digital transformations.
An incremental digitization
Level 0 transformations are foundational initiatives that digitize existing processes with minimal changes to other aspects of the business. Much of the work involves taking analog processes (like filling out paper forms in a doctor's office) and making them digital (switching to office tablets or pre-registering online).
While these efforts are not necessarily “transformative” in the broadest sense, they are often essential incremental changes that lay the groundwork for more ambitious transformation.
CEOs often initiate Level 0 transformations, but typically delegate much of the execution, supporting their team only when needed (they're called Level 0 because the CEO typically doesn't need to be heavily involved). That's appropriate considering the transformation's limited scope of change.
In addition to clearly articulating the imperative for change and ensuring proper communication and collaboration within the executive team, the CEO's most frequent task may be to remove roadblocks rather than personally participate in executing the effort.
Advanced digitization, entering new markets and creating new products
Levels 1 to 3 go beyond incremental digitizing. They aim to expand existing business offerings to seek new sources of revenue and value creation. These transformations affect all parts of the organization and require intense collaboration. Also, they often require extensive and ongoing change management throughout the organization.
While existing key performance indicators (KPIs) will not need to be changed, a transformation within one of these levels will require new mechanisms to track its execution.
Radical business transformation
Level 4 transformation fundamentally changes the business model: how an organization operates or makes money. In Level 4 transformations, the role of the CEO changes from simply championing the transformation to embodying it. The CEO's vision of change becomes the rallying cry around which the organization reconstitutes its structure and culture.
All transformations require relentless advocacy, commitment, and inspiration, as they are often fraught with obstacles and pockets of resistance. But since level 4 involves broader changes to the organization, these challenges require more involvement from the CEO to address.
Doing so is not always easy, but it is entirely possible.
Leading the digital transformation in the new era of ecommerce
Understanding each level of ambition in the transformation, many CEOs find themselves leading processes that are critical and determining. As can be those that have a direct impact on ecommerce. Either because the transformation involves reinventing the business for the digital age or because it involves bringing current ecommerce to modern technologies with global scaling.
At Orienteed we think that the transformation in ecommerce should be more exciting than terrifying. Most companies can exploit the possibilities that are fully available for the new digital age.
While the transformation may seem like it's meant to make life easier for business users, it's really the framework for reinventing the user experience for customers. Something that usually starts behind the scenes, for example, with new headless integrations with ERP-type systems.
Ease and agility in ecommerce
Digital transformation facilitates the knowledge and understanding of the entire company of the processes that are being carried out throughout the organization. Within a digital environment, workers can take advantage of real-time information to improve decision-making in business processes.
While on the customer side, the transformation can be as simple as updating product access across all of your channels into a single shopping experience. In this scenario, ecommerce website software, as well as inventory, accounting, and ordering, must be seamlessly and seamlessly integrated to ensure a great customer and worker experience.
Digital transformation for products and services
On the other hand, digital transformation in the ecommerce sector is not reserved for product-based companies. Service companies can also enjoy the benefits of digital transformation. Even if they don't have a product to manufacture, ship and deliver. Offering reservations for attractions, lodging, vehicles or restaurants through a website or an application extends the reach of a company and improves the customer's ability to do business with your company, in multi-language and multi-currency environments.
Modern ecommerce technologies make it easy to create an integrated user interface, with the ability to display available options in an elegant and intuitive way that customers will want to interact with. Overlaying an ecommerce application (such as AirBnB or Uber) on top of a traditional service (such as vacation rentals or taxis) can transform a legacy business into a new business capable of scaling and reaching new markets globally.
The Unique Needs of ecommerce Businesses
Within the process of digital transformation, CEOs of companies with growing ecommerce models find themselves in the difficult position of deciding on platforms that were not primarily developed for their business model. It is at this point that a technology partner specializing in ecommerce may be the best alternative.
Not only to implement certain technology, but to accompany the strategic design that the transformation process demands of the business. Adapting technologies to the specific needs of the organization and not the other way around.
Depending on whether your company responds to a B2C or B2B model or both inclusive, the complexity of the process may require a variety of scenarios to meet all the essential elements of a large-scale ecommerce. The correct accompaniment to address these scenarios is one of the most important needs of CEOs today, especially those who want to achieve their results in the so-called new era of ecommerce.
Now is your turn!
Leading the digital transformation of your company is a great challenge. Remember to assess what level of ambition to achieve that transformation is feasible today. Seeing the process based on those levels will help you maintain focus and how much intervention it requires from you, also keep in mind that it is an incremental process. That it can involve changes in the culture, the organization and the team, and that it is not just a change from one technology to another.
Being honest about what the digital transformation path will be in your organization will undoubtedly provide the best result for your business. With all these elements, in a clear strategy, you will avoid excessive costs in technology without underestimating the enormous impact that it has for unconnected processes, user experience and increased profitability.