5 tips for better communication around digital transformation

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By Jasper Thomas

Many CIOs and IT leaders find it difficult to communicate effectively about the importance of digital transformation.

That was one of the topics of discussion at the presentation “Maximizing Digital Value: Transforming IT Operations for Stakeholder Success” at the 2024 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 14. The session was led by Mikhail Papovsky, CEO of Massaro Consulting, an IT management consulting firm based in Boston.

CIOs need to rethink the way they communicate about digital transformation and close the gap between a CIO’s mindset and the way stakeholders think about company operations, Papovsky said in a TechTarget editorial interview before the presentation .

Involving all stakeholders in a digital transformation is critical as it helps CIOs and IT leaders unite the organization around a common goal. Challenges CIOs might face when communicating with stakeholders about a digital transformation include dealing with different technical expertise, aligning different priorities, and dealing with resistance to change.

Learn more about how CIOs should communicate with stakeholders about digital transformation.

Why use the term “digital asset”?

The term digital value is closely related to digital transformation.

According to MIT researchers Peter Weill, Stephanie L. Woerner and Ina M. Sebastian, there are three different types of digital assets. One of these types is the added value provided by the customer.

“Digital value starts with the customer, and the more you know about the customer, the better,” Papovsky said in the interview.

The other two types of digital value are operational value and ecosystem value. One type of digital added value from operations is, for example, cost reduction. Digital transformation can help companies achieve more digital value.

Digital value may apply differently to different organizations depending on various factors.

“[Digital value for each company] depends on the industry, the maturity of the organization and the capabilities of the organization,” said Papovsky.

Different types of digital assets could be more likely to impact the daily work of different employees. For example, a software engineer might view digital value as the value that comes from a change to the code, while an analyst might view digital value as the value that comes from implementing a new tool during a digital transformation.

Companies’ access to information can determine the type of digital value they can capture.

“[Digital value] depends on the availability of data,” Papovsky said. “If you are a B2C [operation]You have a lot more social media data at your disposal.

A B2C company can use customer information to add value.

The challenges of communicating with stakeholders about digital transformation

CIOs can encounter a variety of problems when trying to effectively communicate with stakeholders about digital transformation.

The most important relationship CIOs must maintain is the relationship with the CEO. This allows CIOs to align IT strategies with the company’s overall business goals. However, establishing and maintaining this connection can be challenging.

“There are these two parties that don’t communicate in the same way, so this one [tough] Conversations end up being difficult,” Papovsky said.

Because they communicate differently, CIOs may be hesitant to take action because they feel their decisions may not be supported by other leaders, he said.

“Often, CIOs [might] say, “Well, me [won’t] “Do anything until the company tells me we have new digital offerings,” Papovsky said.

CIOs must strive to communicate effectively with their company’s CEO. One strategy that can help is for CIOs to position themselves in the state of mind of their CEO.

“Many CIOs don’t think [like] CEOs do it,” Papovsky said. “They don’t think like business people.”

But CIOs and CEOs may have more in common than they think, Papovsky said during the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium presentation. CIOs’ stakeholders often overlap with those of the CEO, such as internal customers, external customers and employees.

5 tips for communicating with stakeholders about digital transformation

Some best practices can help CIOs and IT leaders communicate more clearly with stakeholders about digital transformation, leading to a more successful process overall.

1. Create a relaxed environment

CIOs should build rapport by creating a relaxed atmosphere when interacting with stakeholders.

Creating a social atmosphere, for example through eating and drinking, relaxes everyone, Papovsky said in the interview.

This informal atmosphere can then lead to meaningful discussions as the mood of those involved is more positive.

2. Try “Managing by Walking Around”

Management by Walking Around (MBWA) enables CIOs and IT managers to spontaneously obtain constructive criticism and helpful feedback.

Spontaneous interactions can sometimes lead to more helpful conversations than scheduled meetings, Papovsky said.

“It’s about walking into someone’s office and saying, ‘Hey, Steve, you know what I was thinking? What if we try this?’” he said. “And then you learn.”

3. Don’t be afraid to reach out

Regular conversations with stakeholders can help CIOs foster a culture of cross-functional collaboration.

“It’s about the volume of communications,” Papovsky said.

CIOs should not be afraid to start conversations and ask questions, he said.

This approach can help digital transformation conversations go more smoothly.

4. Expect follow-up questions

CIOs often produce detailed reports with objective benchmarks and are stunned when they present the report at a C-suite level meeting and find that attendees do not unconditionally accept the data.

CIOs must be prepared for the fact that stakeholders may still have questions for them despite the information they present, Papovsky said. Stakeholders may not view the data as the end of the conversation.

CIOS should learn to anticipate questions about their data, which can help them better prepare for digital transformation presentations.

5. Play the role

Many CIOs don’t like being the center of attention, but communicating with stakeholders about digital transformation requires a more outgoing personality.

“Most CIOs are introverts, but IT leaders need to get out of that comfort zone and be extroverted,” Papovsky said.

CIOs and IT leaders who demonstrate more approachable behavior can also make them appear more approachable.

“The biggest recommendation for CIOs is to be more human,” Papovsky said.

Guilliean Pacheco is an Associate Site Editor for TechTarget Editorial’s CIO, ERP, and Sustainability and ESG sites. Pacheco graduated from the University of San Francisco with an MFA in writing.

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