Every executive interview I do centers around three themes:

  • Digital capabilities are reshaping what a business can be and do.
  • While these capabilities can make a major business contribution, they can also introduce unforeseen exposures if not done well and in a timely way.
  • Digital represents an era change in both IT and the business.
  • Digital enhancement is delivering significantly less than expected – even after more than five years of effort.

I’m an old fogy who has lived through several major DP/MIS/IS/IT era changes. During these transitions, senior executive leadership, as well as business and IT management, demanded and fully embraced formal, quality-time executive education programs related to the management issues of the new era. Universities, vendors and consulting firms offered multi-day to multi-week interactive courses that not only focused on the threat or opportunity of the transition but also, more critically, laid out how to best lead and/or manage in the new era.

When the PC, minicomputer and online era emerged in 1982-83, we were so inundated at Nolan, Norton & Co. with executive education requests that I worked seven days a week for over 75 weeks delivering sessions at all levels of leadership and management. UCLA, Harvard, MIT and many others had over-subscribed courses on not just the “why and what” but also the detailed “what, how, who, when and where,” as well as the resources, processes, awareness, organizational change and enablement required, and the expectations, risk culture change and financials to be managed.

Why the Gap?

Today, however, fewer than 10 of over 200 leaders I’ve interviewed over the past three years have any type of formal program in place to educate all levels of management on how to best conceive, manage, deliver and actually harvest material benefits – at scale – from digital. Many have “let us scare you” tidbit sessions threatening annihilation or disruptive catastrophe if leadership does not demand digital. But senior, business and IT leaders are still left clueless on how to best make digital happen.

If digital is that critical – and senior leaders seem to believe it is – then why aren’t more leadership teams demanding quality executive management education? Do they think having an iPhone makes them knowledgeable enough to “wing it” with managing digital? Are they so busy they don’t have the time to learn what they need to do? Are there no courses on digital management available?

Living, Learning & Achieving

The following short list reflects what executives have told me they wish they’d known this far in their digital journeys:

  • What factors must be considered in assessing digital effort readiness?
  • Which applications or services are best to try first, second?
  • What should be the sequence of digital efforts?
  • What priorities are needed to move forward with digital?
  • What are the real, tangible critical success factors for digital?
  • For each level of leadership and management, what stakeholder roles and responsibilities are required to advance digital?
  • What is the best way to scale successful digital efforts?
  • What are the “audiencing” factors related to digital?
  • What types of resources are needed, and how are they best organized?
  • How much of a consideration should be given to design thinking and user experience?
  • What management processes and practices are needed to ensure digital success?
  • What policy changes are needed to best take advantage of digital?
  • What’s the best way to prepare the company, channels and customers for digital?
  • What are the risks, and how are they mitigated?
  • What are reasonable expectations for digital efforts?
  • What should be the pace and horizons for digital?
  • How should we restructure third-party relationships to take advantage of what digital may allow?
  • What needs to be done to ensure security, continuity, consistency and broad use in the evolving digital era?
  • What are the likely cultural and behaviorial challenges, and how can they be addressed?
  • What changes are needed at the executive and board level to accelerate digital contribution?
  • What are the financial implications and changes needed to accelerate digital contribution?

Developing a Program

I wish I could suggest a number of programs available and enterprises that have engaged them. Unfortunately, of over 150 interviews, only one oil company described such a formal management program, and it had to develop it on its own, in conjunction with a business school.

So, you’ll need to start by identifying the digital management topics that are most critical in your situation. Socialize the need for formal programs on those topics, and try to find resources that can provide quality, focused executive and management education. You may not find a single source for executive and management education on all of your topics.

If your enterprise has such a program, please respond so others can be aware of what’s available. Given the criticality of the shift to digital, an amateur hour approach won’t cut it. But without formal executive education programs, leaders will fall short of turning digital’s upside into true business advantage.

Bruce Rogow

Bruce J. Rogow is a Principal at IT Odyssey and Advisory in Marblehead, Mass. Known as the counselor to CIOs and CEOs... Read more