How to take digital transformation from buzzword to reality in your organization

At VMworld 2018, VMware CIO Bask Iyer explained how certain companies can strategize for innovation across the organization.

Digital transformation: A high-level overview for professionals TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox summarizes why digital transformation is key for companies to stay relevant.

Digital transformation is one of the buzziest of buzzwords in tech today, but there's real value behind that buzz. At the 2018 VMworld conference, VMware CIO Bask Iyer led a breakout session explaining how company leaders can see through the hype and take digital transformation from buzzword to reality.

The important thing to remember with digital transformation, Iyer said, is that most jobs have not significantly changed. HR professionals are still trying to find the right people and pay them well, and finance pros are still running the numbers. The difference is that, although the jobs haven't changed, the value of technology has changed.

But, that means that one sector's jobs are changing almost constantly--IT, Iyer said. Thanks to digital transformation, IT is now taking a front seat in driving innovation, accelerating growth, and shifting core aspects of the business, Iyer noted.

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving digital transformation (Tech Pro Research)

The first thing to remember is that digital transformation isn't something to be scared of. The concept isn't a mystical mantra and it's not just for Silicon Valley tech giants and startups--it should be a focus of anyone in IT, Iyer said.

To lead digital initiatives, IT needs to step up and move beyond just running the data center or building the network, Iyer said. If IT doesn't involve itself in the transformation process, the company will just bring someone else in to do it. Whether that's outside consultants or a third-party firm, those people might be less qualified than you are as an IT pro, Iyer said.

For a digital transformation project to really take hold, it has to impact company culture. However, Iyer said, what the culture shift looks like will depend on the size and nature of your company. At VMware, the culture is engineering-driven. So, leaders must show technical competence to win them over to the vision, Iyer said. CXOs must ask what their dominant culture is, and alter their digital transformation model to speak to that culture.

When the rubber hits the road, start with the basics, and then move up the value chain, Iyer said. When a new employee starts, for example, digital technology has to be integrated from the beginning and barriers must be removed. A newly-assigned laptop should be properly provisioned, the Wi-Fi should work, and the onboarding process should be smooth. Once you handle the basics, you can move on to higher-value initiatives, Iyer said.

One critical foundation of successful transformation projects is making sure that people come first. You must have the right people to help you implement the strategy, Iyer said, and you have to meet them where they're at. One component of this is not using exclusive terms. For example, agile is an IT-centric term, Iyer said. That's good for IT, but you want the whole company to transform. Use language that brings the whole company into the fold.

SEE: America's coolest company: How Big Ass Fans went from cooling cows to a multinational tech powerhouse (TechRepublic cover story) | Download the PDF version

Process comes second. If you get the people and the processes right, the technology will follow suit, Iyer said. In the process, work on failing fast and being comfortable with failure, as long as you can learn from it.

Overall, leaders should prioritize good tools, good managers, and good culture; but they also must have a cause they're standing behind. As younger employees enter the workforce, they value working for a company that works toward a larger cause. By aligning your firm with a nonprofit, or building out a committee that champions social or environmental causes, you can make a big change in the world and attract the best talent in the process.

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