Leading Digital: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: October 6th, 2014 by bobmorris

Leading DigitalLeading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation
George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee
Harvard Business Review Press (2014)

Invaluable lessons to be learned from Digital Masters about how to use technology to achieve business transformation

Why did George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee write this book? They conducted rigorous and extensive research for three years in a collaborative effort to determine how firms around the world and in many different industries work with digital technologies. “We collected data and interviewed people at hundreds of companies. We talked with executives and examined the companies’ performance. We studied both how the companies approach all things digital and the results of their efforts.” They wrote this book to share everything they learned that could be of substantial value to any organization (whatever its size and nature may be) that currently faces the challenges of turning technology into business transformation.

“Our most fundamental conclusion is that the Digital Masters — companies that use digital technologies to drive significantly higher levels of profit, productivity, and performance — do exist, but they’re rare.” Digital mastery can be achieved in one or more forms of business model reinvention driven by digital technology. For example, reinventing industries, substituting better products or services, creating new digital businesses, reconfiguring value delivery models, and rethinking value propositions. There are indeed valuable lessons to be learned from the ones discussed in this book — including Asian Paints, Burberry, Caesar’s Entertainment, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Starbucks — but it would be a fool’s errand to cherry-pick from among their initiatives and then attempt to apply all of it to the circumstances of the given business situation.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of the book’s coverage in Parts I and II.

o Four Levels of Digital Mastery (Pages 15-17)
o What Do Digital Masters Do Differently? (33-34)
o Putting Customer Data at the Heart of the Experience (39-42ast (54-69)
o Incumbents Beware 75-77)
o Reinventing Industries (79-83)
o Reconfiguring Value Delivery Models (87-90)
o Rethinking Value Propositions (90-92)
o What Do Digital Visions Look Like? 101-106)
o How Can You Frame a Transformative Digital Vision? (106-113)
o All Hands to the Pump (122-131)
o Why Digital Governance Is Needed, and, Key Mechanisms for Digital Governance (138-147)
o The Digital Platform as a Leadership Challenge (165-170)

Then in Part III, Westerman, Bonnet, and McAfee provide “A Leader’s Playbook for Digital Transformation” (Chapters 9-12) in which they explain how to (a) frame the digital challenge; (b) focus investment of resources; (c) mobilize the organization at all levels and in all areas, and finally (d) sustain the digital transformation which, keep in mind, is an on-going process, not an ultimate destination.

I commend George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee on the abundance of in formation, insights, and counsel that they provide. Their objective is to help prepare as many executives as possible to become effective leaders in what has become the Digital Age; more specifically, to prepare them to help their organization become and then remain a Digital Master. That is, one that knows where and how to invest in the digital opportunities. “The size of the investment is not as important as the reason — and the impact. Digital Masters see technology as a way to change the way they do business — their customer engagements, internal operations, and even business models.”

They also point out that, for Digital Masters, committed leadership is more than just a phrase buzzing around the C-suite. “It is the lever that turns technology into transformation. Despite the advice of many gurus to ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ in your company, we saw no examples of successful transformation happening bottom-up. Instead, executives in every Digital Master steered the transformation through strong top-down leadership; setting direction, building momentum, and ensuring that the company follows through.”

I presume to suggest that those who are about to read this book begin with “Digital Mastery Self-Assessment” (pages 251-254) and perhaps one or more of the other assessments that appear earlier on Pages 227, 236, 239, and 242. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers but there can be answers that are dishonest, usually the result of denial or delusion. Complete the exercise(s) and then proceed to the Introduction and begin what I hope is a journey of self-discovery. Also, one that provides the aforementioned preparation for turning technology into business transformation. After reading the book, re-visit the responses to the self-assessment(s). The value of what you can learn from those interactive exercises will probably be far greater than the cost of this brilliant book.

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