Cut through questions to survive digital disruption

Boards need to ask “cut through” questions of management to punch through any complacency and hold it to account on digital strategy.

That is the advice from Damien Tampling, head of digital strategy, transformation and investments at Deloitte, in the wake of the release of a new report from his firm.

Called Harnessing the ‘bang’ ─ Stories from the digital frontline, the report singles out six industries, representing one third of the $1.4 trillion Australian economy that will be subject to the next big wave of disruption. Among these are government services, including health, education, utilities, transport, post, and agriculture.

The report is a follow up to Digital disruption – Short fuse, big bang? where Deloitte mapped how exposed Australia’s key 18 industries were to disruption.

Tampling suggests the following questions for boards to ask management:

 1. What innovations has our organisation developed over the past two years?

    • What innovations have our major competitors developed in the same period?
    • Are we leading, keeping pace with, or falling behind our competitors?

 2. What are the most disruptive innovations in our industry?

    • How can we better test or harness these emerging business models?

3.  Are we sufficiently curious about our customers

    • Do we collect enough data often enough, from our customers?
    • Do we make good use of it?
    • Do we listen to them?

4. How are our customer behaviours changing as a result of digital products and disruptions?

    • What does this mean for our products?
    • How can we respond to and better harness the opportunities these changes present (remembering everything is about the customer)?

5. On an ongoing basis, how do we better sense and shape the trends in our industry?

    • What sensing and sharing tools have we developed?

6. What is our organisation’s innovation culture?

    • Are we willing to take innovation-related risks or is our organisation too tentative and, therefore, in danger of remaining stuck in the ways that it has operated in the past?
    • Do we encourage orthodoxies to be challenged?

7. How agile are our organisation’s IT systems given these are an increasingly important element of a company’s capacity to be innovative?

8. Has our organisation created any innovative partnerships?

    • Are there others we should be forging?
    • In what ways are we adding value into a broader ecosystem that enables us to more quickly learn and better compete?

9. What worked? What didn’t? Learnings from hindsight?

    • Can you see more change on your horizon?

10. Who are considered the brightest and most influential entrepreneurs in our industry?

    • How do we forge stronger relationships with these people?

11. What can we learn from other industries across the world that have been materially disrupted?

12. What’s next? How would we break our own business if we were an attacker?

13. Who on our board would we regard as entrepreneurial, innovative or digital in spirit, reputation and with a successful track record who helps us as board be better at asking the right questions and post the right challenges to management?

In a nutshell, Tampling says:

1. Ask your CEO about the company’s digital strategy. If he or she says “let me ask IT”, you have got a problem. Digital strategies should be integrated with the firm’s vision.

2. Ask for assessments of digital investments. Did anyone track the success of the company’s new app? What’s the data? Or was it just a distraction?

3. How many partnerships, alliances or acquisitions has the firm made in the past three years with innovative small and medium-sized enterprises? If the answer is none, you had better hope you are generating innovations internally.

4. What do your customers and employees think of your firm compared with competitors? Innovation leader? Solid trier? Or musty has-been resting on its laurels?

5. What signs can you see that your firm has an innovative culture?

    • Do people socialise and collaborate?
    • Do they work in flexible teams
    • Do they use the latest technology themselves?

Tampling adds: “In a world where things are changing so rapidly and it is becoming so critical to get your digital strategy right, smart boards are starting to think about how they are reshuffling their board composition to have someone who has that innovative, digital and entrepreneurial spirit and reputation.

“Not only will that person ensure the board is asking the right questions of the executive, but he or she can also be a mentor to other members of the board and help them move up the digital scale.”

While Tampling believes bringing in advisers can also be useful, he cautions: “Digital disruption and digital transformation is not a destination. It is ongoing journey. It affects the business every single day and at a rapid rate. Calling in a consultant once a quarter is probably not going to give the board enough of the information flow it needs to truly deal with digital disruption and innovation. Making permanent space at the board level is more likely to keep the journey going.”

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