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How to be a digital-savvy CEO

By SHAUNE JORDAAN, CEO of Hoorah Digital

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Whether your business is focused on auditing, apple farming or architecture, it needs to have a digital arm. By now most business leaders accept that “digital” is – or should be – an integral part of the organisation’s approach to its activities. 

And while it sounds fancy and forward-thinking, the reality is that very few South African businesses are truly embracing and adopting a digital-first approach to business. There’s no denying that it’s a daunting concept, particularly for those CEOs who cut their managerial and leadership teeth in more analogue environments, but ignoring it certainly won’t make it go away. 

As such it is useful to consider digital simply as another area of the business aimed at supporting value creation and operational efficiency, not unlike the production, finance or marketing functions. 

A digital strategy cannot simply be a “nice-to-have”. In companies where digital functions add real, measurable value, the digital strategy is seamlessly aligned to the organisation’s strategy at large. 

In 2020 CEOs need to focus on elevating the strategic importance of the digital function within their organisations. It’s about using digital systems, tools and agile thinking to improve business performance. 

Further considerations in this regard include the following four points: 

Understand what you’re in for

An important first step is engaging with the question around what digital means to your company. In contrast to a more uniform function, such as finance, digital is closely related to the output of the company and thus needs to be uniquely structured to meet the needs of individual organisations. 

The CEO needs to consult, recruit, read, ask questions, talk, listen and find out. Digital moves fast, it evolves all the time. Today’s cutting-edge is tomorrow’s outdated. Accept and appreciate it for what it is. Then commit to staying informed. 

Put somebody in charge

The digitally savvy CEO ensures that digital strategies are present at all levels of the company and that a digital strategy is not an appendix to the overall business strategy but central to it. And while the CEO’s job is to ensure digital integration across all business sectors, they are also smart about recruiting the right person to take charge of the digital arm of the business, as one would with finance, operations, HR, marketing and more. 

A chief digital officer is not a position limited to disruptive startups or tech giants. Every company interested in creating value, making profit and ensuring their own longevity are making room for a digital lead who, ideally, is focussed on pursuing innovation and optimising operational efficiencies across the business.  

Fall in love with data and analytics 

According to research conducted by The Hackett Group, advanced analytics is the most significant digital investment companies can make. At Hoorah we firmly believe that data is the competitive advantage. In fact, we’ve built our business model on the conviction that big data, where it is meaningfully organised, analysed, interrogated and interpreted, is what ultimately allows us to do work that drives measurable results. 

Part of the CEO’s role in individual organisations is to understand the metrics that matter most to the business. This is typically the data that aligns to the organisation’s commercial and client goals, and to ensure this data is strategically incorporated to support the company goals and objectives. 

Data is a central component of a robust digital strategy. As such, it is of utmost importance to prioritise the mining, storing and analysing and application thereof. 

Focus on future proofing the organisation 

In 2020 an organisation’s digital capability is central to its ability to evolve with the market, to stay relevant and to keep adding value to customers in an increasingly competitive global market. 

As such, the digitally savvy CEO’s task is to always be looking to the future, to anticipate the changing needs, to embrace and welcome the new and the unfamiliar, and to recognise the potential within it. 

When business leaders come to associate digital investments with business value, the integration becomes a seamless one. And only when digital enjoys priority in a business will the value, for both the business and the customer, become apparent. 

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