Why businesses struggle to see the art of the possible

The past two years have seen a rapid acceleration in digital transformation across all industries – in some cases organizations have experienced years of change within just a few months.

Yet many businesses are still failing to leverage the power of technology to maximum effect. In many cases, they’re limited in their perception of what technology can offer.

“Businesses don’t appreciate the art of the possible of what they can achieve. They don’t see the big picture; how technology is capable of completely transforming their operations,” says Asam Malik, who leads Mazars’ Technology and Digital Practice in the UK.

The problem is compounded by the ongoing talent shortage in technology. There’s a finite pool of people who truly understand what digital transformation is and how to successfully achieve it in a particular industry.

This means organizations can quickly become lost when undertaking digital transformation without specialist guidance. The pressure is on them to transform quickly – but they’re unsure how to spend their budget to achieve maximum value, or better align talent with their transformation strategy.

The answer is as much cultural as it is technological.

“Digital transformation is not IT transformation. It’s an organizational-wide transformation. If you make it about technology, it’s not going to work. The transformation needs to be about people, processes and technology,” says Malik.

Get tech into the boardroom

To begin, businesses need a fresh approach to hiring talent to helm their transformation programs.

“Just looking for an IT director or a CIO or a CTO just doesn’t work anymore,” says Malik. “You need to say, ‘I need a digital transformation leader, a head of digital, a head of data or a head of data science.’ These are all new roles with specific objectives that are very different from the traditional roles that organizations went to market with.”

This is, without exception, a C-suite concern.

However, a chasm often exists in the boardroom when it comes to tech knowledge and skills. The traditional makeup of non-technical board members is such that they often lack the expertise to inform or challenge any transformation strategy presented to them.

“There needs to be on every board, a technology specialist that can challenge, critique and understand technology at a senior level,” says Malik. “Without that skill set, how do you know what you are looking for and steer the organization in the right direction? How can you challenge those leading your tech delivery to ensure your investment is well spent?”

At the same time, it’s vital that CIOs speak the same language as the CFO and other members of the C-suite.

“If you go to the board and speak about servers and AI and ML, that doesn’t make sense to them. You need to translate the technology into business value and risk,” says Malik. “The true role of a CTO or head of digital is to translate digital opportunities and risks into a language that the board members can understand.”

Without this expertise, there’s a greater likelihood of making uninformed decisions around both the risks and the opportunities inherent in transformation.

“There are many stories about huge investments in technology that never paid off,” says Malik. “If the C-suite doesn’t fully understand the potential of the technology, they’re not going to be geared up to leverage it. The purpose of having that bridge between the technologists and the board is to help them make an informed decision around technology.”

What does a good cyber strategy look like?

Another important factor to consider is that with transformation comes risk – and in the current landscape, cyber risk.

“It’s not a matter of if you have a cyberattack, but when,” says Malik. “Many of our clients feel they’re well protected, but it’s likely they have already been breached and don’t even know it.”

Indeed, Mazars’ C-suite Barometer 2021 shows that most leaders believe cyber risks have increased over the past year and more than a third (35%) expect a significant breach within the next year. However, most businesses (68%) remain confident their data is completely protected.

“That’s a danger because a lot of organizations feel that cyber criminals only target large banks or pharmaceutical companies. The reality is that most are just looking to extract money and will target the organizations which are the easiest to breach, and where they can get the easiest return on their investment,” says Malik.

When it comes to cybersecurity, organizations must adopt a living strategy, adds Malik.

“You will never be able to protect against all cyberattacks. So the C-suite need to define the organization’s threshold –what level of risk are they willing to take? Businesses can spend millions on cybersecurity, but then there are so many controls in place they prevent the organization from operating effectively. So understand what your appetite is, what the risks are and then create a tailored strategy based on that.”

Discovering the art of the possible

Successful transformation calls for a two-pronged approach. Businesses need a digital strategy where they understand the opportunities around digital and how they can transform their organization in a manageable and scalable way. They also need a cybersecurity strategy to ensure that risks are addressed as they go through their transformation.

They should also remember, says Malik, that there’s no single technology that can transform their organization. They need to implement a combination of technologies, in a planned way, that are focused on addressing the business’ specific challenges.

These steps, plus leveraging external specialists insight to fill any talent gaps, can help with them discover the art of the possible.

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The information provided here is for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, legal advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal or other competent advisers.