CEO: can your IT platform cope with digital?

digital server racksCEOs recognise the importance of technology in growing their business in the digital age. As a result IT has climbed the list of CEO priorities in recent years and more CEOs are taking a personal interest in how their organisations are using technology. And there is no shortage of advice for them about which technologies they should be using with social, mobile, analytics and cloud dominating the headlines.

But many CEOs are also concerned that the pace of change is too slow within their organisations. So, whilst the vision may be clear and the intent strong, some organisations are just not making the type of progress they want, and need, to make in their digital initiatives. Alongside a lack of digital skills, cultural challenges and organisational issues, the limitation of the organisation’s existing IT systems and infrastructure are often cited as being one of the biggest and most common obstacles to a successful digital transformation.

This is the third in a series of four articles that provide advice and guidance to CEOs and boards to help them assess whether they have the right IT foundations in place to be a successful digital business. The articles are based on my book, Disrupt IT, which defines a new model for IT that meets the needs of the digital business. The first article, CEO: do you have the right CIO for digital, covered the CIO role while the second article, CEO: is your IT function fit for digital, provides CEOs with guidance on assessing their IT function. This article deals with the organisation’s IT platform.

Successful digital businesses have a clear vision for digital and strong leadership to guide the organisation through its transformation. And they also have the ability to make decisions quickly and to change direction at short notice in response to changes in competitor behaviour, a shift in customer preferences or the emergence of a new, disruptive start-up.  They are also able to harness the potential of disruptive technologies such as social, mobile and cloud to drive new revenue streams, enhance the customer experience and create differentiation.

But these technologies can rarely be used on a standalone basis; they have to connect to, and exchange data with, your existing systems. And these connections need to be seamless to create a smooth customer journey, and secure to ensure customer confidence. Over time it is likely that most, if not all, of an organisation’s platform will need to be upgraded or replaced for digital. But time and money is limited; digital disruption is happening now and businesses cannot simply write-off their investment in existing systems and infrastructure even if they had the time to implement a new platform.

So how do you know whether your existing IT platform can support your digital aspirations? How do you know whether your existing systems and infrastructure can cope with the demands and needs of a digital business?

Fortunately for CEOs they do not have to become technical experts to assess their existing IT platform, or get involved in detailed technical discussions with their IT team to determine whether their organisation’s current systems and infrastructure can cope with being a digital business. By asking these three questions about the capabilities of their current platform CEOs will be able to make a quick assessment as to whether that platform will be an obstacle or an asset in their organisation’s digital future:

  1. Can new systems, services and data feeds be easily integrated? Digital businesses do not exist in isolation; they are part of an ecosystem of related and interconnected organisations that each provide components which, when combined, can create an innovative and game changing offering. Successful digital players create new products and services by combining functionality and data from different sources. And increasingly at least some of these systems, services and data feeds are being provided by third parties. Partners, suppliers and even customers are all potential members of the ecosystem who may not only be a source of one of the inputs but also a recipient of the end product or service. Reacting to changes or opportunities in your markets may mean having to integrate a new service, system or data feed into your existing platform to create a new offering or enhance an existing revenue stream. If your current platform is not capable of integrating new systems, services or data feeds using standard protocols with minimal set-up time and effort, and without the need for ongoing manual intervention, monitoring or administration, then you may not be able to react to the frequent threats and opportunities that come with operating in the digital world. And, as a result, you risk being left behind by companies that do have platforms that are designed for integration.
  2. Can data/services be delivered to any location and device? Digital has no boundaries, customers and, increasingly, employees expect to be able to access the services and data they need, whenever and wherever they want and using any device they choose. Originally the device of choice was a desktop, now it is mobile but in the future it could be an item of clothing, an accessory, a car or a household appliance. Your platform needs to be device and location agnostic, it must be capable of delivering functionality and information from any system in a secure and reliable way to internal or external users. This applies even to services and data for which there is no current need for them to made available beyond the organisation’s premises. All services and data hold potential value and could form part of a digital offering in the future. Some businesses will no doubt have services or data that they are either not willing or not allowed to share beyond the corporate network or data centre. The point of this question is not to suggest that these requirements should be ignored. It is, however, saying that there should be no technical reason why such services or data could not be delivered to any device or location. Not making certain services or data available beyond the company network should be a management decision that could in the future be reversed if required and not something that is prevented by the capability of the platform.
  3. Can changes be made to the platform quickly? Digital markets move quickly, they are more dynamic than traditional markets and they can be disrupted more easily. To survive and succeed in the digital world, businesses need to be agile; they need to be able to respond quickly and easily to changing market conditions, customer preferences or competitor activity. And this means being able to make changes to your existing IT platform quickly. Where IT projects used to take months, they now need to take weeks. Whether a change requires in-house or outsourced development, the implementation of a new module of an existing system or a completely new system, your existing platform cannot be the reason why it cannot be done quickly. The need to make changes quickly may mean delivering minimum functionality in the first release of a new service or system, and then adding new features post go-live. It could also mean frequent updates with minor improvements and changes being added in each version. But regardless of how it is achieved, your platform must be capable of supporting the need for quick delivery.

But CEOs should not stop at asking the questions; they should also ask their IT function to run pilots or proof of concepts to demonstrate that the existing platform has these capabilities. As well as validating that the platform can meet the requirements of digital, this will also highlight whether the organisation has the processes and skills required to set-up, run and evaluate pilot projects, which is another key capability of successful digital businesses.

Technology is fundamental to the digital business. It underpins and enables new business models, products and services. But it is not just about the new technology; social, mobile, analytics and cloud are certain to play a key part in the digital transformation of most businesses but so will your existing systems and infrastructure. And, if your existing platform cannot cope with the demands that digital will place on it then your investment in new technology is unlikely to produce the results you need.

Disrupt IT is available from Amazon in print and Kindle formats. Country links are listed below: UKUSAustraliaBrazilCanadaFranceGermanyIndiaItalyMexicoJapanSpain


  1. […] fit for digital, provides CEOs with guidance on assessing their IT function. The third article, CEO: can your IT platform cope with digital provides CEOs with advice on how to assess whether the organisation’s existing systems and […]

  2. […] digital business, organisations need the right type of CIO, the right type of IT function and the right technology platform. The role of corporate IT is changing; CIOs need different skills and experience and the IT […]


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