Digital transformation is more than just having a plan, experts told the audience at the IDC Directions 2017 event held in Toronto on Mar. 28.

In order for an enterprise to truly transform and be successful in the modern technological age, there needs to be a cultural change along with a practical strategy.

Shawn Slack, director of IT and CIO at the City of Mississauga, speaking during a panel at IDC Directions 2017 in Toronto.

“Culture eats strategy all day long,” Shawn Slack, director of IT and CIO at the City of Mississauga, stressed at the event. “It’s not just about modernizing the technology that you use. To effect real change, companies need to break down the established norms within their corporate culture and modernize them as well.”

Continuing the conversation was Steve Heck, global IT director at Microsoft, who said that in particular, executives need to understand this point before they embark on a digital transformation journey.

“Executives need to understand what they have in terms of business culture – and be realistic – and what they want to achieve in the transition, and then how to get from one to the other,” he explained. “If they don’t acknowledge that, or have a plan to navigate around the people in the company who don’t [acknowledge the corporate culture], they lose the ability to enact real change.”

Steve Heck, global IT director at Microsoft, speaking at IDC Directions 2017.

He added that for those dealing with unwilling execs, boards or stakeholders, the first step is “understanding why they may be resisting letting go of traditional business methods and embracing the future.”

“Once you understand the reasoning behind their stance, you can work on changing their views,” he said.

Even in the public sphere, changing an organization’s culture is important. Samantha Liscio, senior vice president of enterprise planning and reporting at eHealth Ontario, explained that the biggest challenge for public leaders is also breaking down cultural barriers.

“Organizational culture is key to digital transformation – everyone needs to be on board for it to work, from ministers and C-suite executives to employees,” she told the audience. “If you don’t do the legwork on making culture changes, no matter how compelling your vision is for change, you won’t get there.”

Samantha Liscio, senior vice president of enterprise planning and reporting at eHealth Ontario.

She said that oftentimes, governance and bureaucracy make the road to digital transformation “bumpy,” but by identifying barriers and where they are in a business or organization, they can be fixed, avoided, or removed altogether.

“Leaders need to make the transition as frictionless as possible internally,” she continued. “When you’re asking employees to fundamentally change what they do and how they do it, you need to be aware of the challenges they will face and offer up a support system to help, as well as keeping an open line of communication.”

In an interesting counter point, Dan Donovan, a technology and cloud strategy consultant and former vice president of technology at Porter Airlines, explained that he actually had the opposite problem while at Porter.

Dan Donovan, a technology and cloud strategy consultant and former vice president of technology at Porter Airlines.

“We didn’t have anyone opposing digital transformation because we were such a young company, we had many individuals and groups who were eager for change and eager to innovate,” he said. “It was great and we liked having people like that on board, but we didn’t have a strong structure on how to prioritize and assign resources to put this transformation in motion.”

He told the crowd that many of the groups went off on different paths and had to be reigned in with assigned roles within the digital transformation process.

“I guess it was part of the process of going from a rapid high growth startup to a mature company,” he said. “The culture for change was there but we needed a foundational plan first.”



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