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CIOs Share the 3 Things that Drive Digital Transformation


What are the challenges and opportunities facing CIOs today? To find out, the team at Zayo gathered virtually with IT leaders from four organizations. During the course of the hour-long webinar, we discussed trials and triumphs, the technologies they’re investing in now and what they’re eyeing for the future, and more.

This blog will share the three things that drive digital transformation in organizations from the IT leaders’ point of view.

The human side of digital transformation is just as important as the technology side

One of the sentiments echoed throughout the webinar was how critical the talent and culture side of IT is to digital transformation efforts. In order to transform digitally, teams must first collectively adopt a new mindset and prepare for innovation.

This is admittedly a challenge for Craig Williams, the CIO at Ciena, a network solutions provider. “Being a 30-plus-year-old company, we have a lot of tradition and have had a lot of success to get us to this point but in this new digital world, it’s all about change,” Williams shares, “I like to think we have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck is now.”

“I like to think we have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck is now.”

For companies new and experienced alike, employee buy-in can be a tricky hurdle to overcome over the course of a digital transformation. Change management is key to driving the human side of change, something that can often be more difficult to overcome than the technology side.

Pritam Kerkar, CTO at PEAK Internet, an Internet service provider explains, “You want to make sure change is communicated in a way that’s positive. That is one of the challenges we face from a cultural perspective.”

For Kerkar, this means honing into the company’s mission and vision to create a good background for employees to pull from. This focus on culture is critical to effective change: 70% of all change programs – including digital transformation initiatives – fail due to employee opposition and a lack of management support according to research from McKinsey. Retaining employees in the midst of change can be a struggle and losing employees during transformation can slow down the process detrimentally.

Change Management Blog Body

For Steve Adler, CTO at Fan Controlled Sports & Entertainment, a fan-facing platform for fan-controlled sports, the employees his team trains on digital initiatives include football players and coaches that are highly adept sportsmen, but not always as skilled with technology. “Some of these people have never held a tablet,” Adler explains, “It’s constantly a learning experience that takes a lot of focus and discipline to ensure it operates smoothly.”

Whether your team involves football players or IT professionals, getting their buy-in and support for technology initiatives and training them to use the technology you use properly is crucial to a successful transformation.

Customers make or break digital change initiatives

As much as employees determine whether or not digital transformation efforts succeed, so do customers. As Kerkar puts it, “If you want to survive in any industry, you need a good customer experience.”

“If you want to survive in any industry, you need a good customer experience.”

Adler and his Fan Controlled Sports IT team know this all too well. While fans call the plays on the field, they also encourage the choices Adler’s operational and engineering teams make off the field in the app. Adler’s team has experimented with augmented reality, placing fisheye cameras at different locations around the field, virtual scoreboards, and a camera at the 10-yard line, to name a few. Adler depends on fan feedback to determine where to invest in technology.

From a business-to-business perspective, customer experience is equally decisive. For Jeff Yee, CEO at Airwaive which aims to close the digital divide, the overall end goal and what the customers want sometimes collide, “What doesn’t work for our customers are when the buyer is someone whose job you’re automating. People are concerned about software that will take over their role someday. But the way to explain it in a growth industry is that it helps make your job easier, and helps you scale faster.”

The larger mission of reaching the four billion people in the world without Internet at home, Yee explains, requires enormous support from both man and machine. Sometimes this means augmenting or replacing human roles with algorithms and automation. But there’s a way to communicate that kind of change and it’s absolutely necessary to do so in a way that encourages customers’ support instead of deterring it.

Ultimately, if customers are unaligned with a business change, a company itself could topple.

A solid infrastructure and data systems backbone is foundational to the “shiny, new things”

When we think about digital transformation, the technology that comes to mind typically falls under IoT, AI, or another exciting, emerging technology. The perhaps less buzzy but equally important technology component of digital transformation is network technology – things like 5G, SD-WAN, and fiber that help power these new-era technologies.

Williams explains it this way: “You have to pay attention to the fundamentals. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny, new things, but business processes are fundamentally important and so is data.”

Teams must be flexible to changing infrastructure needs as business priorities and contexts change. Williams learned this as Ciena shifted from an office-based to a hybrid workforce, “In a hybrid world, we found ourselves rethinking the network asking ‘is SD-WAN really what we need if not even a half or a quarter of our employees are back in the office?’” Instead, Williams’ team is looking at network-as-a-service options and investing more heavily in security to better fit the company’s new hybrid reality.

“You have to pay attention to the fundamentals. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny, new things, but business processes are fundamentally important and so is data.”

Equally critical to digital transformation are the data systems a company has in place. Unorganized, inaccurate data can put a business in a position where it’s unprepared to take on technologies like IoT and AI that depend on reliable data. Yee explains, “Developing software without underlying data is meaningless.”

To bring digital transformation efforts to the next level, companies must first have a solid network infrastructure backbone to provide the bandwidth needed to support these technologies. In addition, organizations need a firm data strategy to ensure that the massive amounts of data streaming in from these technologies are used correctly and to their full potential.