The fire and brimstone of digital transformation

Digital transformation is being driven from the top, personally mandated by the CEO, argues Siebel


Embracing digital transformation is no longer an exotic play for corporations. Today, their very survival may depend on adopting and adjusting to the new ways that the digital world demands.

For some, it may just be either embracing the transformation or get sidelined in the process.

One natural evangelist for the go-digital campaign is Thomas Siebel (picture) who runs C3 IoT.

“Digital transformation, with artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), changes everything about the way products are designed, manufactured, sold, delivered and serviced, as well as the underlying business processes, management practices and information systems. No industry will remain untouched,” he told a global technology conference last year.

Here, he challenged CEOs and boards to embrace digital transformation as a matter of competitive survival.

In a statement at the company’s website, Siebel explained that CEO-led mandates for digital transformation initiatives are driving one of the fastest growing software markets in the history of information technology (IT) — the market for AI and IoT applications, estimated to reach US$230 billion by 2025.

Well, one may say Siebel should know a thing or two about this area, and that he has a skin in the game. C3 IoT delivers a complete platform as a service for rapidly developing and operating big data, predictive analytics, AI and IoT software applications.

The warning signs are already out there. In an article he wrote for a consulting firm, Siebel noted that the evidence suggested that the world was seeing a mass disruption in the corporate world akin to the mass species extinction.

“Since 2000, over 50% of Fortune 500 companies have been acquired, merged, or declared bankrupt, with no end in sight. In their wake, we are seeing a mass ‘speciation’ of innovative corporate entities with largely new DNA, such as Amazon, Box, Facebook, Square, Twilio, Uber, WeWork and Zappos,” he wrote.

Legacy Issues
When attempting to bring about the change demanded by the transformation, corporations will face a host of challenges. This may be more so for large corporations that have been around for umpteenth years, with a culture that is embedded deep within its way of doing things.

But there is a way out in managing those legacy issues, suggest experts.

While a digital startup can disrupt the market, legacy companies should not undervalue their own competitive assets or make the mistake of thinking that the disruptors have all the cards, a serial digital entrepreneur shared in an interview with consulting firm McKinsey and Co.

“One of the elements that I think is misunderstood about a digital transformation is that it’s typically a Trojan horse for a much broader business transformation, a time to review many aspects of a business’ operations from top to bottom — the talent, the organisational structure, the operating model, products, services, etc. Some of those are hard changes that need to be made, and some are softer, like language or culture.

“In my experience, culture is the hardest part of the organisation to change. Shifting technology, finding the right talent, finding the right product set and strategy —that’s all doable, not easy, but doable. Hardest is the cultural transformation in businesses that have very deep legacy and cultural roots,” he said.

With the changes taking places in such a hurry, Siebel said the adoption cycle has inverted. “What I’m seeing now is that, almost invariably, global corporate transformations are initiated and propelled by the CEO. Visionary CEOs, individually, are the engines of massive change that is unprecedented in the history of information technology — possibly unprecedented in the history of commerce.

“Perhaps, the most unique aspect of this technology trend is that digital transformation is being driven from the top, personally mandated by the CEO. This is something new,” he said.