Digital Transformation

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An Executive Guide to the Winter 2020 Issue

MIT Sloan Management Review’s Winter 2020 issue explores the dilemmas managers face in using blockchain, machine learning, and marketing analytics effectively; strategies to recognize potential threats to your business; the underpinnings of successful organizational transformation; and meeting the emotional and educational needs of your employees.

You’re Going Digital — Now What?

Plotting digital change is heady, exciting stuff. But success depends less on inspiration at the 30,000-foot level than on the way people on the front lines implement new digital tools. Most leaders aren’t laying a foundation for employees to succeed, largely because they don’t have any idea what really happens at the ground level. To avoid that fate, they must understand the phases of digital adoption and then plan in reverse to create the right conditions.

How Digital Changes the Role of Leaders

Digital transformation often starts with leaders identifying a fundamental change in the competitive environment and moving quickly to counter a potential disruption. But as Jeanne Ross explains, even the most forward-looking strategies are bound to fall flat unless leaders themselves evolve — and in some pretty dramatic ways.

Closing the Innovation Achievement Gap

  • Read Time: 4 min 

What makes a company an innovation leader? To a great extent, it’s a matter of mindset. Executives whose technology-led transformation projects aren’t delivering the expected value must make strategic shifts in terms of their companies’ technology adoption, technology penetration, and organizational change.

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What Does It Mean to Lead?

Are management and leadership entwined in a digital world? Or are they distinct activities, one more important than the other? Can you be closely involved in day-to-day operations, as data-driven tools allow and encourage, without watching and directing employees’ every move? How do you cede top-down control without courting chaos? And how do you eliminate entrenched practices that obstruct change? Experts wrestle with these questions and share their perspectives on how leadership is evolving.

How Tech CEOs Are Redefining the Top Job

About a quarter of high-tech companies are run by CEOs who double as inventors. Through patenting and publishing activity, such leaders contribute their own expertise to their companies’ innovation and production efforts, even as they steer their respective ships. This hands-on approach may sound like a distraction from strategic thinking, but it’s the future for top leaders across many sectors, not just tech — and it is already upon us.

Leading Remotely

Digital tools make remote teams possible, but it’s not easy to wrangle an increasingly distributed workforce. Leaders must grapple with problems in several key areas: communication, project management, talent development and management, and reliable access to technology. Still, those who take steps to harness the strengths of remote work while minimizing the drawbacks will find themselves with a highly motivated, invested team.

Take a Wrecking Ball to Your Company’s Iconic Practices

As they pursue digital transformation, most leaders know they must also orchestrate a cultural shift — from prioritizing flawless execution to valuing more agile learning and experimentation, from doing siloed work to fostering true interdisciplinary collaboration, and from evaluating people’s past performance to enabling their future development. Articulating the ambition is the easy part. Taking a wrecking ball to what’s really getting in the way is a lot harder.

Five Rules for Leading in a Digital World

To thrive in times of digital transformation and rapid change, organizations accustomed to siloed bureaucracy must become nimble and customer-centric; command-and-control models must give way to distributed leadership. Many leaders fear letting go, but they must evolve quickly or risk extinction. Research at the MIT Leadership Center suggests that executives and managers who do five things in particular are best equipped to navigate what lies ahead.

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Seven Key Steps for the Evolving CIO

  • Read Time: 7 min 

As “digital” becomes the competitive priority in every industry, CIOs must lead their companies’ digital transformation — which requires much more than technology leadership. The technical side of operations — communications networks, software applications, and data management and security — must still run smoothly, CIOs must also adopt new practices and missions if they’re to evolve into transformative digital leaders.

The Best of This Week

  • Read Time: 2 min 

This week’s must-reads for managing in a digital age: What the U.S. is getting wrong about the race for powerful AI, why putting culture front and center when managing is important, Facebook faces cryptocurrency hurdles, and why sports analytics fail in the playoffs.

Digital Transformation Should Start With Customers

  • Read Time: 6 min 

Few organizations have the resources necessary to transform operations, business models, and customer experience all at the same time. They need to prioritize. Focusing on the transformation of the customer experience should be first. This is not because it’s necessarily the easiest, but because doing so is far more likely to keep a company viable than changing other aspects of business.

Tell Your Colleagues: MIT SMR Is Unlocked Today Through Thursday

  • Read Time: 2 min 

On Oct. 8-10, MIT SMR is dropping its paywall — all of the content is freely available to visitors. Readers will have immediate access to ideas, research, benchmarks and tools, all grounded in the reality of our technologically driven economy and society. We’re offering some recommendations based on what readers tell us are some of the most pressing problems they’re facing right now.

Navigating the Contested Rise of Fintech

Technology adoption based on the technology alone is bound to miss the mark. Fintech will not disrupt the financial industry overnight, but when it does, it will reflect a larger and more complex social debate than its inherent technological or economic merits. Managers need to get involved in this debate now, so they can navigate the uncertainty, and decide to adopt it — or not.

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What We Publish, and Why

When we consider articles for publication, we look for three things: ideas that will help managers navigate an increasingly digital world, evidence-based thinking, and accessible frameworks and recommendations that readers can apply. We’re eager to hear from our readers about what they value in MIT SMR, what topics they would like to see us explore more often or more deeply, and what we could do better.

The Best of This Week

  • Read Time: 2 min 

The must-reads MIT SMR editors are most excited about this week, including: Why emotion is a key ingredient for getting customer experiences to stick, what we can learn from Germany’s platform economy, the best leader for your digital transformation effort might not be the obvious candidate, and more.

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