From your perspective, what does the term “digital transformation” mean for businesses in 2017?

Ragu Gurumurthy: The forces of digital change are redefining expectations for how work is done and how value is created or captured in every industry. Digital transformation means taking full advantage of the opportunities created by digital technologies to continuously reassess, reimagine and — where appropriate — reinvent all aspects of a business: what it offers, how it delivers and how it operates. It also means embracing new ways of collaborating and engaging with all of your stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, regulators, prospective hires and employees. This is all enabled by technology, but it’s not primarily about technology. It’s about being nimble in the face of rapid change and creating and capturing more value in new ways.

What digital innovations are you seeing among your clients that excite you?

What’s exciting is that many clients are moving from words to actions. There is a place for admiring the problem and hypothesizing about solutions, but there is no better way to learn than by doing. Companies are building prototypes and running pilots. They are exploring what it takes to implement machine learning, migrating core functions to the cloud and experimenting with blockchain. They are getting their hands dirty to understand how to use robotic and cognitive technologies to automate workflow and augment decision-making. It is great to see clients recognizing the need to start somewhere, to start small, and to get going — allowing ripples to make waves.

Who do you see typically leading digital transformation strategies?

Strategy is set from the top. But it should incorporate input from a broad group of stakeholders, whose buy-in, and even passion, is required to execute successfully. Execution really happens at every level and requires the involvement of every functional area of a company — from marketing and product to finance to technology and operations to human resources. Sometimes a chief digital officer is at the reins. But commitment from the CEO and across the C-suite is critical to executing a digital transformation, which tends to be a multi-year process. I believe that digital transformation is a process that never ends.

How can businesses empower their employees to embrace digital transformation?

This is easier for some employees than others. Younger employees tend to want to work for digital organizations, for instance. Some employees may not be comfortable with digital workstyles. Leaders should communicate vividly about the strategy, the goals and the progress being made. They should give their people the training they need, recognizing that in this era of rapid change, continuous learning is essential. They should create incentives to try new things. You have to encourage and tolerate an appropriate level of risk taking. Employees should know that some level of failure is acceptable. But with this freedom comes an obligation to learn from failures, and to move on quickly.

What approach would you suggest for companies looking to implement a digital transformation strategy?

An organization becomes a digital enterprise by executing a system of digital pivots that enhance its ability to create and capture value. These pivots are centered on digital assets such as data, platforms, infrastructure and security as well as key activities such as calibrated risk-taking, intelligent workflows and a digitally enhanced client experience. Companies ought to approach digital transformation holistically, with a plan to execute on all of the digital pivots. And leaders should be sure to cultivate and reinforce a digital mindset from top to bottom.