What is Digital?

Ken McGee, Vice President and Gartner Fellow, Gartner Canada, outlined the lack of understanding current IT professionals have regarding digital business. His opinion is that there is not a single accepted definition of digital, but rather, a vague idea that is meant to fix a company’s problems. While Nicholas Negroponte was able to define digital as the use of technology to replace physical or analog atoms with digital bits, professionals continue to lack understanding of how digital business can change their existing business for the better. Important areas that must be addressed to develop a strong digital strategy were identified primarily as self-diagnosis, asking the question “why do you need a digital strategy?” repeatedly.
IT has historically been used to address expenses, while largely ignoring new revenue opportunities. For the first time in the history of IT, projects are being implemented for the sole purpose of building new revenues. Rather than simply using IT as an “after sale” tool, the data and IT tools are being used as value generators and driving revenue growth. CIOs need to identify this fact in order to appropriately leverage digital business strategies.
Ken outlined that traditional strategy frameworks can be used to develop a strong digital strategy, using classical planning to develop new revenue streams from the new innovative tools being afforded to firms. He outlined key traits of CIOs as people with knowledge of technology (but not necessarily a deep knowledge), with a broad background of marketing, P&L business unit management, and an ability to use business (not IT) strategy to bring about significant change.
Two different ways to look at digital business strategy we identified, first, as a way to “keep the wheels on the wagon” through traditional IT practices, but also to drive innovation through agile and adaptive means, looking for new revenue opportunities.
In conclusion, Ken explained that Digital is a term being used as a catch all for all the new opportunities afforded to firms today. It is important that CIOs and CDOs are able to leverage new skillsets to take advantage of these opportunities. While digital may not have a clear and consistent definition to every firm, it is something that CIOs must attempt to define themselves, while using digital business strategy to drive revenue growth rather than simply minimizing expenses.