Who should lead digital transformation?

The approach brands take when embarking on a digital transformation journey may differ but getting buy-in from the C-suite and communicating what’s happening to the rest of the business is critical to success.


With digital transformation impacting so many different functions there is much debate over who should take responsibility for implementing it.

Blake Cahill, global head of social and digital marketing at Philips, does not think one person should be brought into a business to lead digital transformation, particularly for an organisation of the size and scale of Philips.

“If you hire a digital transformation person and think they can reshape the entire company of 100,000 people, I think you are in a coffee shop in Amsterdam,” he says.

“It’s a massive task because it touches so many parts of the business. The only person who can be the absolute champion is the C-Suite, and specialists in different domains all working arm-in-arm. That has been our approach and that is why we make some speed, with our C-suite supporting us rather than a transformation office in the corner.”

Antonia McCahon, global digital acceleration director at Pernod Ricard agrees that digital transformation shouldn’t be siloed. Although transformation is in her job title it’s not solely her responsibility and she thinks it’s important “to guide, give direction and spearhead that momentum”.

She adds: “I have a very firm belief that ideas have to come from all over the business; it’s not just my job. The onus is on everyone in the company. I look at the big bets, main buckets of work to be done, where we can pack a punch and impact the business for 2020 [but] it can’t just be me, I expect our executive committee to own that road map as well.”

READ MORE: Digital transformation 2.0 – The new challenges and how to overcome them

Collaborative approach

Getting buy-in from the top is absolutely crucial to any digital transformation project, according to Julie Dodd, director of digital transformation and communications at support and research charity Parkinson’s UK.

“It’s important to have a director at the top table who really gets the need to look at the role of technology in organisations like ours – whether the word transformation is in [a person’s title] or not I’m ambivalent about,” she says.

“Whether you are a chief digital officer or technology officer, I don’t think it matters. Sometimes it can be a bit of a barrier because the phrase has some sort of myth and magic around it. But the really important thing is that it’s led from the top and with a degree of expertise.”

However she says she’s “lucky” the chief executive at Parkinson’s UK “is a technology-minded person, who really understands that technology can help us reach more people and supporters with the work that we do”. But she believes the charity “still needed to bring in someone like me who knows how you go about making this happen and to make it a reality in the organisation”.

Taylan Turan, head of transformation, Europe at HSBC urges any brand trying to implement a transformation strategy to ensure they have organisational level commitment as it will be key to success.

However, he warns: “Once you have that commitment and buy-in you can’t take it for granted”. He advises marketers to “keep sharing customer stories, celebrate changes made for customers to show the organisation how transformation has [created] a better outcome for customers”.

“Making sure the story is well known is the key to success,” he adds.

READ MORE: Report – The fundamentals of B2B digital transformation