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How CEOs can drive digital innovation without learning to code

How CEOs can drive digital innovation without learning to code

Digital TransformationInsightsSoftwareTop Stories

Derrick Harris, Product Marketing Manager at Pivotal Software Inc. discusses how business leaders can facilitate successful Digital Transformation without having a highly technical background.

A slip of the tongue at a recent press conference may have accidentally revealed the launch date of the latest iteration of one of Apple’s flagship products. The 17th major iteration of the device, the ‘iPhone 11’, is now rumoured to be launched on September 20th and is likely to continue the momentum of units sold globally – a number which has grown almost every single year since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.

From the iMac to iTunes to the iPod, the iPhone represented the next major step in Apple’s transformative journey from a niche provider of desktops and laptops to one of the world’s biggest producers of consumer tech.  While the story of its development has been told many times from many angles, two crucial components of the success of the iPhone have always remained constant: 1) Steve Jobs’s vision for an end-product designed around the user’s needs and; 2) his dedication to making sure the finished product lived up to that vision (even if he isn’t always portrayed as the hero). Under his direction, Apple invested significant time, money and energy to create the iPhone. But Jobs was no engineer.

You don’t need to worship at the altar of Steve Jobs to recognise the worth of a CEO who values technology and is actively involved in product development, even if that CEO can’t really be labelled a ‘technologist’. While it may come as a surprise, some of the largest and most successful global companies that are commonly associated with technology are led by individuals with a less than technical background. For example, e-commerce, retail, Internet and technology giant Alibaba Group’s Co-founder and Executive Chair, Jack Ma, famously claimed to have never written a line of code in his life and to have first encountered a computer in his 30s. 

Signalled by the shift from monolithic, infrastructure-based operational business structures to agile, platform-based structures, CEOs from a number of more traditional companies have embraced Digital Transformation and are riding it to new levels of success. That’s because today, software is fast becoming the focal point of many innovation strategies. And when software is the lifeblood of your company, the whole organisation must be aligned around making sure it’s done right. 

If you spend your days in the C-suite of a traditional large enterprise, a new report from Forrester titled, Foster the Software Capabilities That Your Firm Needs, provides useful insight into how you can facilitate successful Digital Transformation – without the need to moonlight as a full-stack developer or distributed systems engineer. The report provides insight for CEOs into reconsidering how a company measures ROI; how it manages technology budgets; and how CEOs should partner with application owners and technology leaders to ensure everyone’s goals are aligned. 

Far from being the ‘Dummy’s Guide’ to Digital Transformation, the report offers pragmatic and business-focused tips in a format which is accessible to a non-technical audience. While the report (which is free to access) is worth reading in full, here is an overview of some of its key takeaways:

‘Digital Transformation is a fancy term for customer innovation and operational excellence that drive financial results – the measure of a CEO’s performance’.

In other words, if the goal is improving upon the status quo, then managing Digital Transformation using legacy approaches can be a recipe for mediocrity. Doing different things for a different era starts from the top. Modern software delivery is a continuous process, therefore everyone from engineers to executives must be on the same page about everything from corporate priorities to tolerance levels for failure (or, as Forrester puts it, freedom to learn).

‘Software metrics don’t focus on business results’

This is critical to understand. While there are good reasons why IT might have followed certain practices and measured certain things historically, those might need to change in order to account for software’s new mandate to help grow the business. It’s easy enough to measure an application’s uptime and release cadence, but more difficult – and arguably more important – is measuring how that application contributes to business goals such as revenue growth and customer satisfaction. 

‘Competitive opportunities usually can’t wait a year for the first release of software to capitalise on them. The same is true of competitive threats’. 

This is a big reason to embrace agile development methods, but also to embrace agile funding models. Given the way modern software is built, application teams can benefit from flexible budgets that take into account current priorities rather than playing psychic and allocating everything up front.

Modern software is a team sport, with the best ideas and results coming from collaboration across disciplines‘. 

This goes beyond CEOs understanding software and developers understanding business priorities; it’s really about opening up lines of communication and transparency across groups and forcing ‘silo-busting’ when necessary. It makes a lot of sense when you consider, for example, the interconnected nature of a modern retail experience that might touch a mobile app, an inventory database and in-store personnel.

Investment in people is sacrosanct in your digital strategy’

Higher salaries and ‘hip’ offices get a lot of attention, but there’s more to attracting and retaining talent than those things. If a company can afford it, opening offices in cities with strong talent pools and cultural appeal can be a good move. Companies looking to expand their digital capabilities by hiring software development teams must make sure these teams have the platforms, processes and tools they need to be productive.

Essentially, CEOs and other execs need to understand the difference between running a company that uses software and running a company that innovates with software. That means knowing enough about modern software development to ask the right questions, measure the right things and give product teams what they need to operate. 

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