Dr Karippur Nanda Kumar works as Professor of Information Technology at SP Jain School of Global Management, Singapore. Dr Kumar is responsible for teaching, applied business research and industry collaborations in the areas of Technology Management and Digital Business across SP Jain School of Global Management Campuses in Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore and Sydney. Dr Kumar has over 30 years of experience as a leader and scholar-practitioner in the regional ICT industry. He was involved in developing several national ICT Master plans over two decades in Singapore and rolled out several national collaborative initiatives successfully for ICT professional development in partnership with leading industry players, associations and Institutes of Higher Learning. Dr Kumar is actively involved in applied research in areas such as ICT Policies, Digital Leadership, Enterprise Digital Transformation, Digital Supply Networks and Innovation Management. Dr Kumar holds a Masters and PhD, from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. In 2018, Dr Kumar has been conferred as a Fellow of the Singapore Computer Society for outstanding contributions and the advancement of the tech profession.
Increasing awareness of digital transformation across Asia is putting a spotlight on how organizations think of leadership and related key practices. The pace of transition to the new digital organization has accelerated especially in this Covid-19 pandemic era. Accelerating digital transformation is marked by enterprises’ increasing interest across Asia to engage customers, digitalize operations, empower employees, and improve productivity. But digital transformation requires a reimagining of business practices to derive maximum value from digital technologies such as 5G, Big data analytics, Artificial intelligence, Internet of things (IoT), and Blockchain technologies. It is about envisioning how organizations bring together people, data, and processes to provide impactful services to their customers and sustain a competitive advantage in the digital world.
Given the constantly evolving nature of digital technologies, digital transformation cannot be a one-time investment and initiative. Digital transformation requires leaders to develop a digital transformation roadmap, make decisions to invest early in digital technologies, and initiate organization-wide changes that pose significant challenges and uncertainties. Organizations also need to put in place both technological and operational foundations that foster constant evolution and cross-functional collaboration. Some of the challenges that businesses face today include organizational silos in storing and utilizing data, legacy business processes, and cultural resistance to change. There are various reports for example on the digital competitiveness index where India is lagging other countries despite being a talent base for the IT workforce. For example, India is ranked 46th in the IMD’s Digital Competitiveness Rankings, 2021. Over 53% of businesses in India are far from realizing their digital transformation goals, according to the results of a study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Dell in 2021.
The digital age requires an urgent re-evaluation of the traditional leadership and command-and-control based governance that has been prevalent for so long in Asia. Digital transformation requires competent leaders, who, with their knowledge and experience, will be able to drive the change to integrate technology and business organizations toward innovation and business transformation to achieve successful outcomes. The role of leadership is crucial throughout the digital transformation journey of an organization. In our study, we assess that there are large leadership gaps as most organizations have not moved rapidly enough to develop relevant leadership attributes and practices. Successful digital transformation starts from the top management and digital transformation is inherently cross-functional and will require new leadership practices to engage with and transform the organization.
With the increased focus on digital transformation, it is imperative for organizations across India to develop and nurture the right leadership attributes and practices.
First, leaders’ ability to co-create and drive a vision that is clear and meaningful for the organization’s digital transformation is critical. In other words, digital leaders need to have the spirit of innovation and the ability to dream big ideas.
Second, it is important for leaders to have the ability to accurately sense environmental change including potential shifts in technology, competition, and customers. Leaders need to be agile and be able to manage uncertainty and ambiguity. They need to set strategic priorities and identify areas for exploration for the organization. For example, they may accelerate the development of smarter and more digitally connected products and services to enhance customer experience.
Third, leaders should take risks and be smart about managing risks while opening the door to new possibilities, new markets, and new customers. Leaders need to nurture innovation culture to support digital transformation and require agility to have a parallel focus on delivering both the big picture in the long run and monitoring daily activities.
Fourth, leaders need to be natural collaborators who proactively connect and collaborate with partners and key stakeholders for innovative digital business ideas and opportunities. In order to realize the digital vision, leaders need to build digital talent with a focus on reskilling existing employees and look at new ways to source and expand the talent pool.
Lastly, leaders should be aware of the growing cybersecurity risks and unethical data practices and enforce security controls to ensure privacy and compliance with data protection laws and practices. Furthermore, with the widespread use of social media, leaders must constantly pay attention to the organization’s online reputation. Leaders must be held accountable for resolving new ethical challenges that have arisen as a result of digital transformation’s dark side, such as unethical data usage.
Organizations hence need to put in place plans to equip leaders with the relevant skills to make ethical decisions in complex business situations, by understanding and demonstrating the sound business principles, needs, and goals of different stakeholders and various government regulations.
With the accelerated investment in digital transformation, International Data Corporation (2020) predicts over 65% of Asia Pacific Gross Domestic Product will be digitalized and spending is likely to reach US$ 1.2 trillion between 2020 and 2023. Countries and enterprises that lack leaders with the right attributes and leadership practices as elaborated in the previous paragraphs will likely slow down the pace of digital transformation and will not enjoy the benefits. Governments, industry leaders, and academia need to work closely together to ensure that their economies and organizations are well-positioned to benefit from digital transformation. Graduates must be prepared to act as catalysts, accelerating the digital revolution and upending old thinking and business structures.
Business schools should accelerate collaborations with industry to align the curriculum, especially in the areas such as digital leadership, customer experience design, and business model innovation, and undertake more internships and digital transformation projects.