Leading Digital
CIO Straight Talk|Issue 07

Driving digital transformation is not primarily about technology but about leadership. There are lessons to be learned from digital leaders who have transformed large established companies that weren’t “born digital.”

George Westerman

“Digital Masters excel at two essential capabilities. They build digital capabilities by rethinking and improving their business processes, their customer engagements, and their business models. They also build strong leadership capabilities to envision and drive transformation,” writes George Westerman in his latest book, Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation. 

The book, co-authored with Didier Bonnet and Andrew McAfee, grew out of a study of more than 400 large global firms in traditional industries, from manufacturing to pharmaceuticals. The authors’ research was designed to, in effect, sequence the DNA of what Westerman and his coauthors call Digital Masters by studying the patterns underlying successful digital transformations. 

Westerman is a Principal Research Scientist with the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy, where his research portfolio and teaching focus on digital technology leadership and innovation. His previous books include The Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value, and IT Risk: Turning Business Threats into Competitive Advantage, both co-authored with Richard Hunter. The Real Business of IT, which CIO Insight magazine named the best ITbusiness book of 2009, showed CIOs how to change IT’s role from that of order taker to strategic partner by taking charge of the value conversation. IT Risk, one of CIO Insight’s ten best books of 2007, showed CIOs how they can use risk concepts to change the nature of the IT/ Business conversation. 

Westerman is a member of the Board of Directors of the Technology Business Management Council, Co-Chairman of the MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Awards, and faculty director of the MIT Sloan course “Essential IT for Non-IT Executives.” Prior to joining the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2002, George earned a doctorate from Harvard Business School. Earlier, he gained more than 13 years of experience in product development and technology management roles. In the following edited conversation with CIO Straight Talk Editor Paul Hemp and Associate Editor Venumadhav Pandit, Westerman describes some of the attributes of companies that have undergone a successful digital transformation.

How did you go about studying companies that are “leading digital”?

We didn’t go out and look for companies that we knew were Digital Masters. We started with companies that were big, at least $1 billion in annual revenue, and well-managed. We wanted to see what they were doing with technology, as opposed to what the born digital companies, the Amazons and the Googles of the world, were doing. We chose not to focus on born-digital companies because executives in large companies often say, “Yes, I understand that Google does it that way. It’ll never work for us.” What we found was that there are large companies around the world who may not be doing it the Google way but who are doing great things with digital.

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