80% of survey respondents [administered by MIT/Sloan and Cap Gemini] believe that their companies need to go through a significant digital transformation. However, 63% of those respondents also believe that their current pace is too slow.

Sound familiar? Is your company moving too slowly? Are you moving at all?

I heard these stats while attending the recent Digital Leaders Summit in San Francisco. Aimed at those responsible for guiding their enterprises into the new digital future, the summit highlighted trends, best practices and case studies from a number of media and other companies including leaders from The New York Times, The Economist, Turner Broadcasting, Jump Associates, Coca-Cola, The LA Times, Politico, and others.

Digital Leader Summit

While many of the presenters were B2C, with a heavy emphasis on media companies, their messages were very applicable to B2B companies as all of us face similar digital issues, among them:

  • the 3rd screen challenge [customers using multiple screens at once; TV + iPad, for example]
  • ability to best optimize for revenue
  • attracting visitors to their sites
  • personalizing content for the user
  • delivering high customer value …
  • … while simultaneously delivering appropriate returns for the company and shareholders

Large, Medium, or Small Businesses – All Face the Challenge to Shift 

The size of a company can affect its rate of digital adoption, including the speed and degree of innovation and implementation, and the impact it generates. If you’re in a big company, are you envious of small-company speed and agility? If you’re in a smaller or medium-sized company, are you envious of big-company resources or market impact? Each has their strengths and their weaknesses:

small vs large

How to Drive Rapid and Lasting Innovation? 

And of course, innovation and how to improve digital transformation is always a topic of conversation, regardless of company size. Ideas presented for digital leaders to spur innovation include:

  • Co-locate team members for immediate, fluid, ongoing collaboration
  • Give up executive top-down control of the team, and let them drive
  • Refine through experience
  • Rapidly prototype and iterate
  • Quickly kill projects, features, and products that don’t work
  • Hire and recruit great talent – and work hard to retain them
  • Make faster decisions
  • Cannibalize the existing business
  • Develop and present many ideas, then narrow them
  • Start with research, but then add creativity – by knowing your customers and business better than anyone else

Digital Leader

Other Insights for Digital Leaders 

Some additional themes I heard at the summit, which resonated with me, include:

  • To drive innovation, find a catalyst. A problem or opportunity to initiate  change will push adoption faster.
  • Take stock. Assess your strengths as well as weaknesses. (We too often focus on what’s lacking)
  • Ask the tough questions up front – people, process, technology issues will arise, so plan for them.
  • Tie your digital quest to your organizational mission. That connection will add fuel to your efforts.
  • Plan, but allow some room for discovery and insight along the way.

Summary Thoughts on Driving Transformation

It’s always interesting to hear advice and recommendations from others who are leading the transformation to digital, especially those who have experience driving change and earning results.  Some of the ‘parting shots’ I took as bottom-line advice for Chief Digital Officers, in title or in role:

  • Respect the company’s legacy but focus on the future.
  • Change the culture in order to effect lasting change.
  • Earn trust by delivering results today, but with an eye on the long-term play.
  • Run toward innovation, as a way to leapfrog rather than taking a linear journey.
  • Be confident and grow a thick skin, as any major transformation will hit bumps and cause scrapes — but it’s a wild and adventurous journey.

 How Can We Help? 

Here at Cisco, we’re on the journey to transform to more of a digital business in how we operate, as are many of our customers and partners. It’s a fast-moving market, and we’re leading in several areas, maintaining parity in others, and we see many opportunities to evolve and improve over time.  Feel free to share your comments on your own company’s journey, and let us know if we can help your business transform and lead.


Mark Yolton

Vice President of Digital

Cisco Marketing