Is someone missing at the Digital Transformation Table?

The term Digital Transformation rings a bell inside my head every time I hear it .. .and I hear it (much like you) so (all too?) often these days.

More and more we see that organizations recognize the need to stay relevant within their sector by engaging in a digital transformation. The whole notion of a digital transformation sounds dreamy – it’s a great opportunity to reimagine your organization on all fronts, putting the customer (user?) experience up to the forefront.

One of the hottest debates within the whole notion of a digital transformation is who should “own” it.  There are countless articles and surveys that debate the pros and cons of the “battle” to lead the digital transformation of an organization.

As we all know, the debate revolves typically around whether the digital transformation initiatives should be owned by the CMO or the CIO/CTO. Frankly, every single survey, study or article I have read places the entire onus of the digital transformation on them. Just look at a recent study by Altimeter Group which identified the CMO as the most important person who owns the digital transformation (34%), followed by the CEO (27%) and lastly, the CIO/CTO (19%).

But here’s my question. Are they really the only ones who should drive this initiative?

Candidly, I am actually a little perplexed right now wondering why one person – namely the COO – is NOT regularly included or mentioned within the digital transformation process. Specifically, why is the COO not regarded as a relevant player in this transformation?

In fact, I will argue that the COO is THE most important catalyzer and influencer for a truly successful digital transformation and the fact the s/he is not being mentioned as relevant to said true digital transformation is a massive missed opportunity.

Allow me, if you will, to make my case.

Firstly, let’s start by looking at how WikiPedia defines the roles and responsibilities of a COO…cuz that’s always a source of truth, right? 😉

Per WikiPedia, “The COO is responsible for the daily operation of the company,[1] and routinely reports to the highest ranking executive, usually the chief executive officer (CEO).[2] The COO is usually the second in command at the firm, especially if the highest ranking executive is the Chairman and CEO.”

OK, so the COO‘s core function is to execute on the CEO’s vision and to do it as efficiently and cost effectively as possible … which basically means s/he is responsible for driving cost advantages and driving daily operations of the organization effectively. Isn’t that the whole point of what a digital transformation can/should be???

We know by now that the goal of a digital transformation is to reduce cost pressures by streamlining technology investments, creating synergies and improving utilization all in the name of improving operational efficiency and increasing customer satisfaction.

A COO may also be responsible for planning – meaning prioritizing customer, employee and organizational requirements; maintaining and monitoring staffing levels; and also being the key executive responsible for delivering results on a day-to-day or quarter-by-quarter basis (think about that in the context of publicly traded organizations!).

So given all this context, I will argue that digital transformation has a direct impact on every. single. goal of a COO. Any organization embarking on a successful digital transformation will see its effects on areas of cost cutting, operational efficiency, synergistic productivity goals and customer satisfaction. Aren’t all these objectives core to a COO?

Even though one may argue that a true and meaningful digital transformation is bigger than any one person/role and should be run by a special committee, I will still make the argument that the person who should lead that committee is the COO – because a COO can bring a unique perspective to the table. S/He is an expert in business operations and productivity. Even though s/he should certainly not do the heavy tech lifting, their unique day to day business perspectives can bring a much needed change in the way digital transformation strategies are executed.

A meaningful digital transformation should be about changing the way an organization operates both in terms of internally and externally facing processes/logistics/interactions. So again … why is the COO not at the digital transformation table?

Isn’t it time we started thinking beyond the CEO, CTO/CIO and CMO? When we do that, we will make an accretive change in terms of how an organization functions and how important day to day successes are created by making the COO an important – if not leading –  sponsor of that transformation.


Headshot---MediumPhilippe Winthrop is CSC’s Global Mobility Evangelist. In that capacity, Philippe speaks to clients and industry influencers on industry best practices and CSC’s mobility services and vision.
Philippe is recognized as one of the first true enterprise mobility thought leaders. He has spent the past 10 years working with the some of the largest companies in the world to formulate and execute mobile strategies that have transformed the way people work when they are in and out of the office. He has helped vendors generate millions of dollars in incremental revenue through successful B2B and B2C mobile platforms and has saved end-users millions of dollars by streamlining how untethered workers interact with corporate data.   He is a frequent speaker at industry events and quoted in numerous publications on enterprise mobility. Philippe received his BA in Economics and Romance Languages from Boston College and his MA in International Economics and Finance from Brandeis University.

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