Dave Aron

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The Difference Between IT Strategy and Digital Strategy

by Dave Aron  |  November 12, 2013  |  Comments Off

I am really enjoying Gartner’s Barcelona Symposium. Having lots of animated discussions around digital strategy, chief digital officer etc. Plenty of differences of opinion; some great exploratory discussions. I would like to share something I said in one of my presentations that a lot of people told me they found useful:

IT Strategy is a technical answer to a business question: “How will IT help the business win?”. It assumes the business strategy is set, then considers how to use IT to make that strategy successful. IT Strategy is usually conducted downstream of/ after business strategy.

Digital Business Strategy is a business answer to a digital question: “How should our business evolve to survive and thrive in an increasingly digital world?” It is not a separate strategy, but instead a lens on business strategy. All aspects of the business strategy should be informed by digital considerations.

Every business and public sector agency needs both an IT Strategy and a Digital Business Strategy. They must be highly aligned with each other, but they are not the same thing.

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5 Facts about Chief Digital Officers

by Dave Aron  |  November 6, 2013  |  Comments Off

My colleague Mark Raskino wrote a very interesting blog today entitled “5 Facts about Chief Data Officers“.

Here is a companion piece – Five facts about Chief Digital Officers (the other CDO!)

I. Our recent global search and early evidence from our 2014 CIO Survey (thank you if you have contributed) have unearthed about 500 Chief Digital Officers worldwide – but they seem to be springing up faster than we can count them.

II. The early survey evidence suggests about 6% of businesses have a Chief Digital Officer

III. The early CIO survey evidence suggests that just under 40% of Chief Digital Officers are strategic advisors to the board and CEO on digital business strategy, just over 40% are digital marketing officers, and the rest have other digital-related roles.

IV. Companies and public sector agencies that have Chief Digital Officers are much more focused on growth (relative to cost efficiency) than their counterparts without one

V. Companies that have Chief Digital Officers are 3 times as likely to do more insourcing next year. (An intriguing fact – will be exploring the causes of this)

The Chief Digital Officer is emerging and maturing as a role fast. We will be discussing and exploring this further at Barcelona Symposium.



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Two Speed IT is Capturing Everyone’s Imagination

by Dave Aron  |  October 31, 2013  |  1 Comment

Emerging from our early CIO Survey results, mentioned in our Symposium keynotes, and elaborated in our CIO Survey presentations at Symposia around the world, the notion of Two Speed IT seems to be capturing the mood of clients – a need to keep some things safe and steady, but be fast and reactive in other areas. This goes beyond just agile software development to two-speed organization structure, metrics, talent, partnering with startups and smaller organizations. IT connects well to run-grow-transform budgeting, and pace-layered approaches.

We will publish more on this in the January 2014 CIO Agenda report, and subsequent research throughout 2014.

I am personally looking forward to discussing Two Speed IT with clients at Barcelona Symposium shortly.

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To celebrate clients’ enthusiasm for digital – some digital poetry!

by Dave Aron  |  October 20, 2013  |  4 Comments

Returning from Tokyo symposium, I was excited that despite being a little more conservative than clients in Orlando with respect to the digital zeitgeist, all Japanese clients I spoke to recognized the shift from a narrower Enterprise IT to a broader digital world, with associated leadership and technology challenges, as both inevitable and exciting.

To celebrate this – inspired by a discussion with my friend and colleague Dale Kutnick about Haiku (俳句) – a Japanese poetry form, I would like to suggest a new form of digital poem – the denshi. (電詩). Haiku are 17 syllable poems, structured in a 5-7-5 syllable format, that tend to be about nature and the seasons, and are normally serious. Senryu (川柳) are similar 5-7-5 structure poems that tend to be about human nature, and may be humorous. I would like to propose a new form – Denshi (電詩) – that are 5-7-5 structure poems about the digital world, that occasionally miss out small words – like text messages, and are intended to make us think. Six examples are below.

Beyond processes/ Broader still than industries/ A digital world

Not just ERP/ All objects electronic/ A digital storm

Digital torrent/ But will IT team lead?/ Somehow ironic

My kids’ IT stuff/ Beats my corporate IT/ Digital surprise

Budget season arrives/ It’s hard to see beyond cost/ Preserve Innovation

Digital excitement/Meets analog inertia/ Legacy bites back

Please feel free to respond with your own denshi.

For those that find this blog entry flippant – I apologize – and would like to blame a combination of jet lag and the informality of blogs.


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Kill Your Digital Ghosts

by Dave Aron  |  March 23, 2013  |  1 Comment

We have kicked off the work for a six month project to investigate Digital Business Strategy (to be published as the September Gartner EXP report) – What is one?  What does it contain? What is its relationship to overall business strategy, and IT strategy? How to create one? etc.

The early stages of the research highlight a worrying issue. Just as traditional enterprise IT has been heavily skewed towards automating internal processes (the back office), it looks like there is serious danger of digital strategies being equally skewed. In the public sector they are commonly skewed toward the issue of digital inclusion – making sure everyone has digital access to government services. In the private sector they are skewed towards digital marketing.

These are important focuses, but not the whole story. Digital considerations can impact the whole of the business model – how we collaborate internally and externally, what our products, channels and markets look like, how we exchange value with clients and partners, how we use information to make decisions, etc.

Bruce Lee, martial artist and movie star, famously said “The best thing we can do for our children is kill our own ghosts.” If Bruce was a digital business leader (or Gartner analyst :)), he might have said “the best thing we can do for our digital business strategies is kill our own biases (as to how and where digital affects our business).”

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by Dave Aron  |  March 8, 2013  |  Comments Off

I am really looking forward to co-chairing The EMEA CIO Leadership Forum “The Digital Enterprise and Beyond” – next Monday to Wednesday – at the Sofitel Heathrow T5.

We have some fascinating external speakers, including Michael Woodford, ex-CEO of Olympus, Sebastian Herfurth, co-Founder of Friendsurance, Rory Sutherland, Creative Director at Ogilvy, and Gerry Pennell, who led technology for the London Olympics. We also have a panel with four top executive search and selection experts. As well as more than 50 great sessions led by Gartner colleagues, around digital leadership issues.

Looking forward to seeing clients and colleagues there.


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by Dave Aron  |  March 4, 2013  |  Comments Off

I just got back from a two week detox. On detox programs you have a lot of time on your hands, and you don’t feel too keen to enter the outside samsara of food, drinks and merriment. Trapped in my austere little beach hut, I did a lot of reading and writing, and reflected on what I have found most interesting and disruptive in the last year. Two things stood out for me:

1. On a positive note, the digital opportunity for win-win. It is quite easy to view the increasingly digital context we operate in as just another aspect of context that we have to deal with (along with macroeconomics, politics, law and regulation, competition etc.) A second perspective is to view digital as a new competitive space, a battle to be won, both in terms of beating competitors, and in terms of getting more profit out of customers. Whilst both of those views are accurate and useful, what is most exciting is digital win-win, where new digital capabilities allow an outcome to be reached that is better for all participants than was previously possible. For example, car insurance that is more accurately priced based on monitoring customer behaviours in a more granular fashion – potentially a win for the customer (cheaper prices), the insurer (higher quality risks), and society (more responsible behaviours). Or alternatively, ‘servicization’, where products are sold as services, serving a higher level need – e.g. I don’t sell you ball bearings for a fixed price, I get rewarded for a service that improves your factory equipment performance (e.g. SKF’s reliability business). Bounty-based crowdsourced markets (such as Topcoder for software, 99designs for design, Innocentive for ideas, Threadless for t-shirts) can also unlock previously unreachable value. I may never have otherwise found the freelance designer in Eastern Europe who can design amazing graphics the way I like for a great price, but a crowdsourced competition can bring us together. Digital can be used to unlock what economists would call ‘deadweight losses’ – sub-optimal equilibria we get stuck in. The overarching exciting concept here is digital win-win. Are there opportunities for your company to unlock some digital win-win opportunities?

2. On a slightly more challenging note, I considered  the lack of digital (re)specialization  at an industry and national level. This may be overly simplistic, but I see the vast majority of countries and companies thinking of digital as a new commodity – where they must play catch up – rather than a new way of expressing their unique meaning/ mission/ message for success and advantage. So many national approaches to digital seem to read very similarly to me – about digital first, digital by default etc. And many company approaches to digital seem to be about making things available electronically, allowing customers, employees and others to do things digitally. This is all well and good, but there are at least two levels of thinking that would be nice to see on top of that. First is how to do things differently with digital. It is not just about doing the same stuff more efficiently/ effectively/ more accessibly, it is about being prepared to do things deeply differently recognizing digital realities. Friendsurance, whose co-founder Sebastian Herfurth will be on stage with me at Gartner’s EMEA CIO Leadership Forum next week, is a great example of this. Second is what will make your country/ agency/ business uniquely different in a digital context. We have seen countries take specific roles in the global economy for periods in the past, but how about in the digital future? Similarly for companies, it feels more of a digital me-too/ catchup game for most. I fear that few are thinking about digital (re)specialization, how will we use digital to amplify our differences/ create new differences. If we can think more like that, we will have a much more productive global economy based on ideas of comparative advantage, rather than a zero-sum game digital future.

I am hoping that Chief Digital Officers, CIOs and all other C-level leaders taking digital leadership roles in companies, public sector agencies and countries will be thinking about digital win-win and digital specialization in 2013 and beyond.

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Clusters being debated on HBR today

by Dave Aron  |  February 1, 2013  |  3 Comments

Last year, as part of the Gartner Maverick program, I wrote about a radical new model for talent – clusters. Today, the idea is being discussed on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.






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A Clustered Future

by Dave Aron  |  November 21, 2012  |  4 Comments

At our symposia in Barcelona, Orlando and Gold Coast – I presented my maverick research called “Stop Hiring People; Start Hiring Clusters”. The core idea behind it is that companies should hire pre-formed teams who have learned to work together and have their own tools and work practices, but to hire that team as a permanent asset of the company. This is different to teams of consultants, in that the team is a permanent part of the company. It is different to conventional employment, in that the company doesn’t have a relationship with the individuals in the team, only with the cluster – based on outcomes. The cluster is entirely self-managing – in the extreme case hiring and firing its own members and apportioning remuneration amongst its members, without the knowledge of the company. (This extreme version will require various legal and regulatory changes to become a reality.)

I noticed that even more than other presentations I gave, people were highly engaged and animated. At the end of one session, I had a group of a dozen clients around me debating vociferously. What became clear is that everyone recognizes that current talent management approaches aren’t really working (and in fact probably aren’t really worthy of that name), and something new is needed. Crowdsourcing holds out hope, but probably isn’t the answer for all work – for example work requiring a great deal of internal contextual knowledge.

Get ready for a clustered future!


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Unearth Deep Digital Innovation By Questioning Industry Assumptions – Education is A Great Example

by Dave Aron  |  November 19, 2012  |  Comments Off

I have spent the last two years researching deeply innovative business models across all industries. One of the findings was that very few companies have been deeply innovative, at least partly because they have mainly used information and technology to tune their existing business processes rather than rethink their business model.

Education is a great example – especially primary and secondary. Most schools are still operating as they were a hundred years ago – classrooms full of kids being taught by a teacher, then doing homework at night. Sal Khan, creator of Khan Academy (free, short video tutorials on maths and other subjects), has written an inspiring book called ‘One World School House’, about new educational business models, including ‘flipping education’, where kids study at night, and do ‘homework’ in class during the day – addressing the issues of not engaging in class, need to learn at different speeds, and the need for help with homework.

In his book, Khan couches much of the discussion around the need to challenge deeply held assumptions about education – for example that learning happens at school, and practice happens out of school. When we are searching for deep innovation opportunities, we need to challenge the deeply held assumptions that prevail in our industries. For example:

  • The assumption that manufacturing has to happen at a factory
  •  The assumption that patients have to be gathered together in a hospital to achieve economies of scale. (It has always seemed a bit dodgy to me to bring all those germs together around all those sick people!)
  • The assumption that we have to do human resource management for our staff. (More on that in my next blog entry.)

Technology changes are coming thick and fast and technologies like 3D printing, sensor networks, telemedicine, crowdsourcing and cloud collaboration can and will change the above assumptions.

Consider running workshops with business and IT staff to uncover assumptions about your industry, and how technology trends could challenge them.

The only slight pity and irony is that “One World School House” itself is so conventional – my Kindle version is a 259 page textual book.

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