To transform the enterprise, IT needs to rebrand itself as an innovation and growth engine…
Considered the “father of modern business management,” Peter Drucker believed that the purpose of a business distills down to “creating a customer.” And to do that well, he advised successful business to focus business strategy and resources on two basic functions: “innovation and marketing.” In an era of accelerated AI disruption, on top of rapid digital transformation imposed on companies as the world shut down in 2020, Drucker’s wisdom is worth revisiting, again.
ChatGPT and generative AI seemingly came out of nowhere in late 2022, becoming the fastest-growing tech of all time—faster than TikTok, Instagram, and the iPhone. Achieving 100 million monthly users within 90 days isn’t just a milestone in consumer adoption, it changed the trajectory of every organization for the second time since 2020.
Every CEO is tasking leaders to develop an AI strategy to define not only digital transformation, but also business transformation. According to a report by McKinsey, CMOs are already being charged with driving growth. That leaves CIOs (or CTOs/CDOs) to drive innovation. In my experience however, technology organizations aren’t inherently viewed as innovation leaders. Unfortunately, IT is often viewed as a cost center. But with a mandate to “figure out” generative AI, technology leaders are closer to innovation than anyone can imagine.
This means that technology leaders must become strategic collaborators, alongside CMOs, in driving growth and innovation.
Enhance IT’s Value Proposition and Change the Narrative of the Role Technology Plays in Business Transformation
IT suffers from a branding problem.
Executives commonly mistake it as a cost center that solely exists to manage technology infrastructure, to streamline operations, reduce costs, and improve efficiencies. At the same time IT is continuously expected to do more with less: manage a never-ending pipeline of fixes and improvements, build apps that scale the business, and digitally transform the organization with every new innovation.
But IT is so much more.
I was inspired to write this article following a conversation with ServiceNow’s CMO, Michael Park. At the Knowledge conference earlier this year, Park shared how IT leaders can build internal audiences to gain influence within the organization and earn the support of the C-Suite and important decision-makers.
Technology leaders can borrow a page from the marketing playbook to change the IT narrative from cost-center to innovation factory. IT will benefit from marketing its potential.
AI makes this this conversation necessary as it places every company at a critical juncture.
In what’s quickly becoming an AI-first world, a cost-center mentality is only going to limit the potential business and operational model innovation to better serve customers.
Now’s the time to ask different and better questions about the organization and how it works, to solve bigger problems in new ways, and rethink models that support tomorrow’s enterprise. IT becomes instrumental in driving change that achieves growth and performance within each function and line of business—and across the enterprise.
This is the exact moment for IT to rebrand itself within the company as a partner in not just digital, but also business and operational transformation.
Start by changing IT’s narrative and the story you tell decision-makers about your work and purpose. This is now a story about value-creation and enablement as AI reshapes the landscape.
Rethink Transformation with a Greater Purpose
Generative AI isn’t just another technology to incorporate into the tech stack. It’s the next iteration of business—an industrial revolution—that rivals the internet and mobile revolutions. It doesn’t just automate work or make it better, faster, or more scalable. It invites creative leaders to rethink what a business needs to look like in 2030, 2040, and beyond.
When digital transformation happens with multiple stakeholders working across sectors of the enterprise, the potential outcome can be much more expansive, meaningful, and revolutionary. Your unique viewpoints are valuable and important and cannot be overlooked or presumed.
There are two key steps you need to take to become a catalyst for business transformation in your organization.
1) Shift your mindset
Expand your thinking about your job. Instead of fixating only on your day-to-day tasks, you need to become a system-level thinker focused on the broader goals of your organization.
Russell Lincoln Ackoff was an American organizational theorist, consultant, and Anheuser-Busch Professor Emeritus of Management Science at the Wharton School. He was also a pioneer in systems thinking. As the saying goes, the sum is much greater than the parts. In his work, Ackoff observed that the sum is only as great as the parts in motion together. “Performance of the system depends on how the parts interact, never on how they act when taken separately,” he found.
Once you identify the larger organizational mission, you want to put yourself in service to that broader objective and identify opportunities to bring other functions and lines of business along. For example, someone in marketing isn’t just marketing a product. Instead, they are enabling others, including customers, partners, and internal stakeholders, to have the context they need to take the next step toward solving a problem or unlocking an opportunity. They are providing the right information at the right time. Thus, the information they are providing isn’t just selling a product but also helping others consider a new direction.
By elevating your thinking in this way, you can start to imagine ways your work can enhance the broader goals of the organization and become involved in meaningful digital and, ultimately, business transformation.
2) Put people at the center of your work
The second key is to refocus on who you serve: the customer. Your employee too, is your customer. No amount of AI is going to make your business more relevant to people if you do not know what it is that people value or expect or demand. Ask yourself who you serve, and how you can do it better.
Remember, all topline growth is a function of value creation. For truly revolutionary digital and business transformation, we need to be customer centered, not only in practice, but more so in design.
That means whether you are in marketing, software development, IT, HR, operations, or any other field, you are ultimately helping deliver services to support customers across the spectrum. Focusing on the customer and representing the customer voice in conversations can help you gain influence in digital transformation discussions and ensure the ultimate changes adopted are meaningful.
Make marketing Part of Your Digital Transformation Story
The best ideas have to win. And for these ideas to influence decision-makers, they must first reach them.
Moving forward, think of transformation in three ways:
1) IT-led transformations happen when a new technology or application is introduced and gains significant momentum. As with generative AI, all emergent technologies like spatial computing, edge, quantum and beyond will become more prominent and keep forcing businesses to react. Alternatively, businesses can be proactive and track those emergent trends, then thoughtfully plan forward and future-proof the organization.
2) Business-led transformations happen when visionaries paint a picture of the future that executives can embrace, and collectively, decide on a new direction forward. Gapingvoid Culture Design Studio encourages leaders to articulate a future motivating state describes why people will show up every day to work toward a motivating North Star.
3) Business and operating model innovation is motivated by technological change and shifts in employee, customer, and market behaviors. When digital transformation focuses on the relationship between people and technology, organizations can unlock opportunities for value creation and growth. With AI in particular, automation combined with augmentation will optimize and exponentially scale performance.
Most executives don’t realize this because they can’t see it. They can’t touch it. They might hear about it, but without a concrete plan, costs, potential ROI, and steps, they can’t prioritize anything different.
Someone’s got to tell that story. And the only way to do that effectively and at scale is to become a marketer for your vision and your work. Especially as CMOs are expected to become more cross-functional and experience-driven roles, those want to lead digital transformation should learn from what CMOs are getting right today to engage customers and employees to engage with their brands.
When you think and act like a marketer, you can weave together a vision and narrative that allows you to tell a bigger story. With an empowered IT leader, the conversation shifts from being a cost-center to a partner across the business to enable growth and unlock new revenue opportunities.
This is not Business as Usual at Scale
The role of IT moving forward must now become a co-creator in digital transformation that powers business transformation. As the saying goes, you cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.
Peter Drucker also believed that “innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship.” If there was ever a time for technology leaders to think like startup founders, this is it.
“It [innovation] is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth,” Drucker observed.
This is the exact time to change the narrative because right now, AI has executive-level attention. The timing makes it a powerful catalyst to change IT’s brand and value proposition and the role you play in defining the next chapter of your organization.
To create a customer, one that chooses to do business with you again and again, is the driving purpose of business. If you focus on value creation, service, and innovation, together with strategic marketing, your work becomes an essential catalyst for transformation and growth.