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  • Writer's pictureRiikka Tanner

Reflections on Digital Finland 2017

This week I had the privilege to join not one, but two events under the theme of digitalization in Finland. CDO – Barometer 2017 was released this week to reflect the state of Chief Digital Officers and their pressing concerns for digital transformation.

Unsplash / Raphael Koh

The first notable research revelation was that the CDO role is still new in Finland as only 73 persons from the whole country were identified to carry this title. Putting the figure into a context, in Finland year 2015 we had 572 companies with 250 or more employees (large corporations), and from this group, the number of CDO’s would make mere 12 %. You are most likely to find a CDO in media, marketing or service sectors, but less likely to do so in heavy industry or public sector. So no surprises there.

CDO’s see themselves first and foremost as leaders of change, changing traditional ways into digital and creating new digital services for customers. I myself, have also come to regard CDO’s role as connector and orchestrator of different functions from sales, product development, marketing and communications to IT. In order to be able to provide the ultimate customer experience, someone needs to connect the dots between all functions to create a truly compelling customer story.

The report also shed some light on how and where digital leaders get their inspiration from. Vast majority is actively following digital networks, blogs and social media for inspiration, more than third are following what the competition is doing and one in four is actively seeking new ideas within their own corporation. Networking, whether in social media or different events seems to be one of the top skills required from a CDO.

Digital leaders in Finland are singing the same tune of customer experience as their top priority. Differences are starting to show in different industries, however. As an example, commerce views data & analytics as an important way to increase customer experience where as heavy industry is thinking how to capitalize the data that is being collected for example from different sensors. Public sector is still very much focused on gaining benefits from optimizing processes and increasing cost savings by scalable cloud solutions.

The report reveals also something interesting about the state of digitalization in Finnish companies. It shows that everything we do to drive digital transformation, is done to keep up with the competition. Only one sector, finance, indicated clearly that they are using digitalization for growing and winning new customer base.

To me, this tells something about the digital maturity of the different sectors. Digitally less mature sectors will still need to use considerable effort in digitizing their own processes and aligning organizations, culture and competence to meet the challenges of new digital landscape and competition. These companies are still very much looking inwards instead of outside the traditional boundaries. Those sectors, which have been digital already since 1990’s have now the advantage and chance to openly view their own position in the market and try out different approaches by new digital business models.

So what’s holding Finnish companies back? According to the barometer and supported by Gartner research from December 2016, the biggest obstacles for driving digital agenda forward is change resistance and lack of resources. This underpins the fact that CDO is effectively a change leader first, tech visionary second. Lack of resources and gaps in competence is a tough one. The skills that a digital organization needs, is altogether something different than what we would assume. Technology you can teach and learn but how to cultivate agile, emotionally resilient, fearless workforce?

This brings me to the other event I participated this week, Digijohtamisen päivä (Digital Management Day). From the many presentations of the day I got confirmation for what I have been contemplating for a while about digital maturity in Finnish organizations. Although there is a lot of buzz around digital, we have only taken our first steps into digitalization. Many companies will still need to learn how to walk before they can run.

“The business environment is becoming more turbulent than companies are becoming resilient.” Gary Hamel & Liisa Välikangas

The common denominator for all digital transformation processes is uncertainty. There are no answers in the beginning, only questions which most probably mid-way through the transformation change into a new set of questions. One could also argue that we will never find the end point or ultimate answers. The world around us is changing so fast that organizations will be in constant flux transforming over and again.

The whole point is to learn how to operate in this uncertainty. Traditional investment based on solid business case is fast losing its meaning whereas vision and exploring opportunities is paving way for more agile, less process bound ways of doing business. Robotic process automation, virtual reality, cyber security, blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual employees – the list of newbie tech is growing longer.

The thing that many CXO’s will not admit, however, is that they have no idea how this new technology will benefit them and where they should start investing their resources. But not having all the answers isn’t necessarily a bad thing, quite on the contrary. Or what do you think about this?

“If everything is clear, you are already late” Zhonglian Hu (ABB)

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