By Craig Wallace, Head of Digital Strategy and Transformation at CGI
A pilot told me what it’s like to land a small plane.
First, you hear your co-pilot counting down your approach:
- “8 miles, 10,000 feet.”
- “6 miles, 6,000 feet.”
- “4 miles, 2,000 feet.”
Finally, he says:
“2 miles to run, 1,000 feet – DECIDE.”
At this point, the only responses you can give are “LAND” or “GO AROUND” (not “Oo-er, I’m not sure – what do you think?”)
You have to DECIDE.
It’s the same when you’re a CEO grappling with digital transformation.
Landing your digital strategy is something you either commit to fully or not at all. There isn’t much wiggle room if you want to stay in one piece.
You also have to ‘DECIDE’ to do it in the right way.
In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright were preparing to fly the worlds’ first piloted aircraft.
They were in a hurry, because a rival – Samuel Pierpoint Langley – was readying an aircraft of his own. Back then, all the smart money was on Langley. He had a small army of staff, and funding from the US government.
Langley believed that if you just attached a powerful enough engine to an aircraft, it would fly. On October 7th 1903, he flew his aircraft for the first time with a mighty – but heavy – 50 horsepower engine.
According to a reporter, it dropped “like a handful of mortar”.
Meanwhile, the Wright brothers had taken the opposite approach: their strategy was to get the balance and the steering perfect before adding any power. So they built a glider – and only added an engine once they were sure it worked.
Their approach of making sure the craft would fly before applying power was the winning idea.
Today, CEOs are trying to get their digital strategy airborne by adding powerful engines to their craft.
They’ve got a website. They’ve got three apps. They have teams working on analytics. They have people working on big data. They’re taking all the latest technology and they’re bolting it into their organisation.
But very few CEOs are asking: “Will this fly, given our current operating model?” The truth is, you can do all the digital activity you like – history tells us that if you don’t start with the right operating model your ambitions won’t take off.
In the last 20 years, we’ve seen three waves of disruption. First the internet. Then, social media. Later, mobile.
Throughout all these periods, start-ups appeared with brand-new operating models designed to take advantage of the new technology. They didn’t have any legacy operating models holding them back – each started with a blank sheet of paper.
Meanwhile, the incumbents tried to stick these new technologies on the edge of their businesses, jerry-rigging the latest technology to their chassis.
Today, the only way to meet the expectations of customers and employees is by redesigning your operating model to leverage all the technology that’s available.
If you just try to bolt powerful technology onto the outside of your organisation, you may find – like Langley – that you come back down to earth with a bump.