Digital Transformation Officer – does every retailer need one?

After the year that we have had (and are still having) there are a fair few retail CEOs, who worry that if the digital transformation of their business fails, their company could go bust. Because more so now than ever before, newcomers to the retail sector threaten the livelihood of existing businesses.

However, it is the lack of customer centricity that is the real threat to traditional retailers, because the disruptors build a business around the customer using digital technology. Many established businesses struggle, not because they do not recognise the need for change and the threat posed by more customer centric start-ups, but because they are hampered in implementing digital transformation (quickly) by legacy systems and historic ways of doing things.

An early example of that could be Blockbuster for not embracing a streaming service, instead trying to continue as a physical rental retailer. A more recent example could be Arcadia scuppered by ASOS?

The retail sector is a good example of a forerunner where digital technology is disrupting the industry.

So what do retail businesses need to do?

Of course we have seen a number of Digital Transformation Officers appointed over the last few years. However, my question always is “How does a lone person secure success if digital transformation effectively changes the business model, which impacts customer experience, how the business organises its front of house and back of house operations, how it markets its goods or services, how it sells them and how it delivers them?” Surely one person cannot take responsibility for all this!?

In my view, true digital transformation is embraced by and is driven by the Board. Top down across all business functions.

So what would be the role of the DTO?

Again, my view is that the DTO coordinates and brings together all digital initiatives from all departments and work streams, whilst also playing devil’s advocate in challenging thoughts and ideas, and being a visionary who keeps a close eye on external developments, opportunities and best practice. This person needs to be as much as a conductor as they need to be a composer, ensuring ultimate harmony in delivering the symphony.

So does every retail business need one? ….or several?

The answer to the question is: absolutely!

Those CEOs who are visionary and who feel comfortable driving wholesale change, will probably perform this function themselves alongside their CEO duties. Others may want to appoint a person who takes this on as a full time role. That said, all senior executives need to be on board to stimulate and manage digital transformation in their respective functions, thus becoming digital transformers themselves.

It takes a brave boss to admit they are overwhelmed to prepare the company for future challenges, however if the CEO is struggling then the appointment of a Digital Transformation Officer could be the way to kick-start and embrace change.

Want to discuss further? Give me a ring!

Maarten Jonckers