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Companies Not Even 'Fairly' Prepared to Handle Digital Disruption

Old-school leaders partly to blame

March 31, 2017 | Technology

Less than half of marketing executives worldwide consider themselves “fairly prepared” to meet digitally disruptive competition, according to a survey of 1,042 executives conducted in December 2016 by IMD and Cisco Systems. One core problem, these executives said, is that their leaders are not up to the challenge.

Executives Worldwide Who Believe They Are Prepared to Meet Digitally Disruptive Competition, Dec 2016 (% of respondents)

The digital disruption was defined by IMD and Cisco as changes driven by the onset of new “digital tools and business models,” including analytics, cloud environments, machine learning and the sharing economy, among others.

Just 13% of executives said they were very prepared to meet the challenges posed by these changes and advancements, while 39% said they were just starting preparations. And 6% said they were not prepared at all.

While digital disruption has shaken up companies from a technological perspective, it will lead to organizational shake-ups, as well.

According to the study, one of the reasons so few executives feel prepared to take on digitally disruptive competition is that their company leaders are too traditional. The executives challenged the timeworn, knowledgeable authority figure and called for leaders who were more “collaborative and engaging”—traits that lead to quicker innovation and the ability to adapt rapidly to change.

Though digital disruption preparedness depends heavily on a collaborative organizational structure, there’s still a need for a strong leader at the helm, according to Anthony Long, global ecommerce technology lead at Kimberly-Clark. “Tackling the digital transformation is a companywide effort, but it has to be driven from the top down. The leaders are the ones who have to say, ‘We need to transform—let’s make this happen,’” he said.

Typically, the responsibility to transform falls to the CMO, but as companies evolve to meet the demands of the digital environment, that responsibility often cuts across marketing disciplines.

“I have a new position on my team—the chief customer experience officer,” said Stephanie Linnartz, global chief commercial officer at Marriott International. “Digital disruption is ubiquitous. It touches everything, so this position ensures that we’re thinking about the customer experience holistically. This role is the quarterback position of the marketing team.”

Digitally disruptive companies—organizations that either started their business in a digital environment or have effectively transformed with digital channels in mind—are nimble and agile because they empower entire marketing teams to play a role in digital strategy.

When companies figure out the organizational challenges—and their ultimate goals—they start thinking about how to make the most of emerging tools. “While technological advances are a critical component to digital transformation, it is important that leaders have a clear vision of where the company is headed and what the end goal is,” said eMarketer analyst Jillian Ryan. “Technology is a means to an end, but it is not the driver of transformation. Leadership is.”

Maria Minsker

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