The Growing Demand for Digital Leadership

As organizations increasingly rely on digital technology, there is a growing demand for digital leaders. These are leaders who are both business and digital savvy. They are capable of quickly using technology to come up with business solutions.

However, the best digital leaders know there is another important element to their role. They never lose sight of the digital platform: the technologies, business processes, and data that each organization accumulates over time. The best digital leaders address both immediate local needs and longer-term enterprise objectives by developing solutions that complement past solutions and facilitate future ones. They avoid creating “spaghetti.”

Who are these digital leaders? Given that digital technologies are available to and used by a broader set of stakeholder groups—both to operate more efficiently and effectively and to innovate products and services—digital leadership is no longer solely the responsibility of the CIO. Rather, it’s up to the entire senior management team.

A key question then becomes: What does it mean for the CMO or CFO to be an effective digital leader? Clearly, having access to the latest technology or having a social media account may help, but that alone does not constitute digital savviness.

Effective digital leaders foster collaboration and learning across a variety of boundaries—
geographical, occupational, organizational—in pursuit of synergies enabled by digital technologies across traditionally independent business units (by tyler). The results are things like a more coherent customer experience or shared services that enable business units to focus more on innovating and less on operating. Such leaders learn to identify and manage interdependencies between technologies, as well as trade-offs between solutions that are best for a specific situation and those best for the digital platform.

As we continue to research this area at MIT CISR, we’d like to hear from you. What is your organization doing to ensure it has the digital leaders it needs? What is it doing to build the business savviness of IT leaders and digital savviness of the rest of the business? You can email me examples at nilsfonstad@mit.edu.

Based in Europe, Nils Fonstad has returned to MIT CISR as a research scientist from INSEAD eLab, where he served as associate director.