Evolution of the Digital Era


In a world overtaken by customer demand, businesses enable technology in ways that answer their unique needs, service-oriented-IT of yesteryear no longer works. In turn, the business needs IT to deliver or, for the sake of the customer (and the livelihood of the company), the business will find another way around the IT pitfalls. We are living in a new time; the digital era is here.

Looking back to the early ‘90s when technology was a behind-the-gates conglomerate, IT’s purpose was to create and deliver systems that expedited process and help the business owners do their jobs easier.  As the keeper of productivity enhancing systems, IT was significant in that we provided the means for improvement – and we were the only ones that understood how these grand systems worked.  We were smart. We were in control. We were indispensable.

What was striking to me from the start was that the business people were being told they needed technology, but the technology gurus were not skilled at explaining why.  Most technologists couldn’t understand why a business person had such difficulty making use of the tools in the first place.

It must have been about 1995 and I remember vividly sitting with the senior executives around an enormous cherry board room table having a deep discussion on this new thing called, “the Internet.” There were a slim few in the room that were looking into the future and realized that we needed to represent ourselves with a website. There were also many in the room that felt quite differently. The question was why anyone in our universe needed a website? It seemed like a no-win risk to many. The answer seems so obvious now, doesn’t it? These individuals were smart, full of integrity, and the best intentions. But game changing innovations are not often obvious. We’ve all been guilty one time or another, of missing the import of some new trend, some new tool, and some new valuable movement in our industry.

Fast forward to 2007 when we were staring squarely in the face of what we now realize is one of the most significant leaps in our digital history. The introduction of the iPhone ushered in the age of the smartphone, opening the door of a power shift from IT to the consumer. Today we are smack in the middle of a customer-focused transformation that is slapping at us from many sides.  Characterized as “digital transformation” technology leaders are working to understand, massage, and take ownership within our own businesses to capitalize on it.

Provocatively, The Guardian has this to say about digital transformation: “Businesses go through transformation when they have failed to evolve.”

How many of us want to say we have failed to evolve our business? But that is actually what our collective industry is pushing; the customer is the focus and we had better change our attitude, processes, and most importantly our vision of what is important if we want to continue to deliver successfully and grow. We find ourselves needing to transform fast because we didn’t incrementally evolve our organizations with the “customer first thinking” along the way. We have failed to some degree or another.

The Guardian goes on to note that there are three factors that make up the need for transformation:

  • Changing customer demand
  • Changing technology
  • Changing competition

Before technology was king, we didn’t truly listen to those we served. We didn’t evolve at the right time. We hung on to what we always had known to be true, whether it was how to manage data, write custom applications, or secure all of these things in our private data centers. But these traditional methods didn’t allow for interactive access and interactive access is exactly what the customer wanted and what consumerization made possible. We struggled to prepare and secure our environments for these new market trends at the speed our business colleagues and customers wanted and so, they found ways to get around our roadblocks.

The digital era calls for IT to understand the business impact of market changes ahead of customer demand and for IT to be equipped to quickly pivot.   How do you see into the future and make strategic bets that win?  For service-oriented IT with a strong history of reliability but little exposure to business innovation, how do you turn your IT army into the headwind and get traction in the digital era?

About the Author

Jessica Carroll

Institute Fellow

Ms. Carroll has over 20 years serving in leadership roles in the technology industry most recently as Managing Director for Information Technologies at the United States Golf Association where she led the infrastructure, business resilience, security, operations, and development disciplines. A recognized leader who develops and articulates vision and solutions from both technical and business perspectives, she has a passion for transforming IT into a customer focused organization. In her tenure she has an established history of building a culture of collaboration, trust, and respect among IT and the business. A speaker on the topic of cloud computing and team culture, she has been published in CIOInsight and BizTech magazine, was named a 2010 Computer World Premier 100 IT Leader, and currently serves as the Executive Vice President on the Foundation Board of NJ Society for Information Management.

About IDT

The Institute for Digital Transformation is a content and media organization, existing in the space between a think tank and an analyst/research firm. Through our network of Institute Fellows, we explore the impacts on organizations and their leaders as we transition from the Industrial to the Digital Era. Producing a wide range of insightful and thought-provoking content ranging from white papers and eBooks to interactive development programs to live events, we help develop leaders for the Digital Era and help them transform their organizations into Digital Enterprises.