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3 traits digital leaders have in common

Senior business leaders are keenly aware we’re in a new era of digital consumption, one that’s been rapidly accelerated by COVID-19.

If the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that companies must be ready to move quickly to stay ahead of the pace of change. This has familiarized many marketing teams with a new catchphrase: digital transformation.

A company’s ability to quickly scale digital solutions allows it to realize value from digital transformation.

Since 2018, we’ve been partnering with Google to explore digital transformation, as it’s evolved from a relatively nascent concept to a business imperative. Most recently, we teamed up to better understand why some companies can generate significant value from digital solutions — and why so many others still lag.

Our approach was to study the digital proficiency and maturity of 2,000 global companies, and we found that the value companies get from their digital solutions is inextricably linked to their ability to scale those solutions at speed. Achieving scale is what transforms digital pilot programs from interesting experiments into drivers of significant value. Companies that can do this faster than the rest of the market hold a considerable advantage.

This became an important factor for our study; it differentiated the “digital leaders” — roughly 30% of companies generating significant value from digital — from the others. Our research showed that digital leaders achieve three times higher revenue growth and cost savings, and have an accelerated time-to-market twice as high as companies unable to gain value from digital.1

By taking a deeper look at the digital leaders, we were able to identify three key factors that allowed them to successfully scale their digital solutions. Here’s what you need to know.

1. C-suite alignment

Becoming a digital leader begins at the top. Companies are successful when digital transformation isn’t just the remit of one executive, but when the entire C-suite aligns on a common strategy and road map. Once they’ve set the North Star, CxOs must work together to galvanize the entire organization to execute the vision from the top down.

According to our research, 72% of digital leaders say that consistent C-level collaboration is essential,2 and a full 82% claim to align across the executive suite on the digital vision, investment, and other resources to drive the agenda forward together.

82% of digital leaders align across the executive suite on the digital vision, investment, and other resources.

To do this successfully, leaders must embrace agile ways of working. They can’t work in silos if they plan to cascade strategies and targets down to local business units. Flexible planning and budgeting processes are critical, and the whole C-suite must be more involved in tech, data privacy, and analytics to follow a successful digital road map.

2. Build capabilities

With C-suite alignment in place, digital leaders next invest in whatever helps their businesses gain value from digital. To effectively understand this question, companies need to take advantage of first-party data, from their customers and themselves.

Gathering insights from data requires access to the same high-quality data throughout the organization. More than 90% of digital leaders have gained the ability to connect digital solutions to their tech stacks by using APIs and microservices.4 An emphasis on proper data governance procedures paves the way for a continuous supply of high-quality data that teams use appropriately and consistently.

90% of leaders have gained the ability to connect digital solutions to their tech stacks by using APIs and microservices.

Digital leaders also focus on creating agile working environments, powered by productivity apps and AI analytics, which appeal to high-performing employees and aid in recruitment. Fostering a competent workforce — and a more inclusive and diverse workplace — also enables digital leaders to build more resilient business models for the long term.

3. Always-on mindset

Rather than viewing digital transformation as a one-time project, digital leaders steer with an adaptive, always-on mindset to improve and scale pilots as the landscape changes and they prove their ROI. Just as technology, markets, and consumer behaviors constantly evolve, so too will your approach to digital transformation. A cultural reset is required to get comfortable with constant pivots.

Digital leaders continually test and learn, invest in flexible planning and budgeting, and develop cross-functional teams, starting with the C-suite. It’s also clear from our research that digital leaders have embedded these behaviors into their company culture. As C-levels align to invest in a digital foundation, they become adept at using internal data as a decision-making tool for operational challenges.

An adaptive, always-on mindset increases businesses' ability to reimagine customer experiences

This adaptive, always-on mindset also increases businesses’ ability to reimagine customer experiences. By working cross-functionally, digital leaders are better able to determine which customer-centric opportunities to quickly scale and which unsuccessful or slow-moving initiatives to cut.

Digital transformation delivers outsize value to digital leaders. All companies can expect to realize similar value if they are willing to commit to change. By embracing necessary success factors — an aligned C-suite, capabilities-driven investment, and an always-on approach — any organization can become a digital leader.

Think with Google

By Karalee Close and Hrishi Hrishikesh

Sources: BCG, Global, The Keys to Scaling Digital Value, a study commissioned by Google, March 2022.

BCG, Global, The Keys to Scaling Digital Value, a study commissioned by Google, March 2022.

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