From left to right: Greg Solomon from McDonald's, DiData's Bruce Taylor, TIBCO's Maurizio Canton, MTN's Mophethe Moletsane and Telkom's Len de Villiers.

From left to right: Greg Solomon from McDonald's, DiData's Bruce Taylor, TIBCO's Maurizio Canton, MTN's Mophethe Moletsane and Telkom's Len de Villiers.

The chief executive officer should be driving digital transformation in organisations, according experts speaking in a panel discussion at the ITWeb Digital Economy Summit in Johannesburg yesterday.

Bruce Taylor, group technology director: group information services at Dimension Data, said digital transformation often ends up changing the business and its business model, so it's a focus a CEO should drive.

Taylor, however, noted that for transformation to be successful there have to be supporting actors across the business.

"I don't think it's an individual that will support the CEO in driving the digitisation of the business model. I think marketing, your internal IT environments, as well as your operation environments will be involved."

It was fundamental that there be an accountable owner of the digitisation process inside the business, he asserted. Although the CEO is accountable to the business overall, there is normally someone within the company who takes operational execution accountability.

Greg Solomon, CEO at McDonald's South Africa, said the digital lead needs to have a place at the table in the boardroom and the C-suite table.

The digital strategy had to start with the CEO: "He or she needs to believe in it and sets the direction and obviously it needs to be empowering."

Maurizio Canton, CTO Europe, the Middle East and Africa at TIBCO Software, noted that although there are different people driving innovation and digitisation inside the business, the CEO remains an important figure in the process.

Canton said the CEO is key in digital transformation success because he or she is the person who has the responsibility to create the platform for innovation for the line of business, to prevent it from buying unsanctioned software that will create shadow IT.

Len de Villiers, chairman of the CIO Council of South Africa and group CIO at Telkom, believes it's not one single individual who should drive digital transformation:  it should be a collaboration between C-suites.

"The leadership team of an organisation – if I call it the C-suite – they are all accountable for the journey. It's not something you give to an individual and say you are accountable because digital connects everything in the company to everything else.

"Where I saw it best executed is when the whole team reporting to the CEO signs up and is part of the group's strategic plan to execute it at every level, from the top to the bottom, from the front end and backend."

Solomon agreed, saying if innovation happens only at C-suite level, the business will be limited to a few ideas, but if it's unlocked to take place at the ground level, where the people who are actually working with the customers are, then a company can get thousands of great ideas every day.

The question therefore becomes whether a business can execute those ideas, he commented.

On the other hand, Mophethe Moletsane, general manager, digital commercial management at MTN Group, said in the telecoms industry the chief digital officer is the one driving transformation.

In organisations where digital transformation is more about optimising the existing business processes, that scenario becomes a lot more complex for the CIO or chief marketing officer to lead, said Moletsane.

"Telcos before, were selling airtime or a little bit of data. Now we are moving in a situation where there are new business streams altogether like gaming, video and the like. In those types of environments, having a chief digital officer to come drive the agenda is a lot easier or a little less complex."

Taylor pointed out that a collaboration style of leadership is key to digital transformation. "There needs to be a culture of lot inclusiveness and collaboration, not just among the C-suite, but all through the organisation."

He believes the chief information officer is an important individual in driving the collaboration culture and delivering customer insight because of his ability to play in the tech, as well as in the business space.

"If you cannot get that collaborative style working you will struggle to drive change in the business."