Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation

George Westerman, Didier Bonnet & Andrew McAfee

Published by

Harvard Business Review Press





Reviewed by

Jude Umeh FBCS, CITP


10 out of 10

The business world today is inundated with relentless hype about the transformative, disruptive opportunities and challenges of something called ‘digital’.

However, it is very difficult to find any clear, step-by-step guide on how to navigate this digital maelstrom, particularly from the perspective of your typical large, non-tech corporation. That is until now, because the book, Leading Digital, delivers exactly on that promise, and then some. 

Undoubtedly, digital technology has been at the heart of most recent and major disruptive transformation across entire industries, therefore it isn't surprising the amount of attention paid to this phenomenon. However, even experts admit difficulty predicting precisely where, how, and to what extent, it'll impact the future of business and society.

Although a lot has been written about the subject, (for example, there were over 150,000 books with 'Digital' in their title on Amazon alone, as at the time of writing), but not many are directly focused on traditional, non-tech large corporations. This book provides a timely resource for those organisations undertaking the journey from digital novice to master, based on extensive study and observation of the success habits of true digital leaders.    

The authors: George Westerman, Didier Bonnet and Andrew McAfee combine impeccable pedigrees in technology, innovation and business transformation consulting to create this thought leading powerhouse of a book.

Among other things, Leading Digital delivers great insight based on extensive research, surveys and shared experience from two world class organisations namely, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Capgemini Consulting. George Westerman and Andrew McAfee are research scientists and co-founder respectively of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and Didier Bonnet is Senior VP and Global Practice Lead of Capgemini Consulting.  

This book consists of 3 main parts preceded by a crucial scene setting introduction which clearly spells out its intent to: ‘...understand how technology was being adopted by the 90-plus percent of the economy that doesn't do technology for a living.’

The first chapter defines the term ‘digital mastery’ and how it differs between industries. It also describes how digital masters rethink and improve their businesses whilst also building and deploying strong leadership in order to achieve 26% profitability on average over their competition.

The remaining multi-chapter sections each respectively address:

  1. The digital capability (i.e. describes the 'what' in digital capability);
  2. Digital leadership (i.e. describes 'how' to do digital); and
  3. The digital playbook (i.e. the step-by-step 'tool-set' for digital transformation).  

 Although much about this book is common sense, and when combined with its clear style and readability one may be forgiven for thinking it must easy to do, but therein lies its key strength and value proposition, because only when you try to apply those insights to real life organisations do you start to see just how complex and far reaching it can be. 

Suffice it to say the key messages in the book, e.g. the digital maturity quadrant can help stimulate debate and achieve consensus on immediate areas of focus without trying to boil the ocean. My only gripe is that this book could have provided more templates (e.g. for business process and technology architectures), but it’s unlikely they'll fit every organisation, plus such items are usually best developed by those who best understand the organisation.              

In conclusion, I think great value can be found in easy accessibility of the key ideas and messages in the book, but that may belittle the fact that the authors have done such a great job identifying intrinsic patterns and qualities (aka the ‘digital DNA’) of digital leaders across various industries, and have made it easy for other organisations to replicate and achieve similar success. I cannot give any higher praise than to give it top marks, 10 out of 10.   

Further information: Harvard Business Review Press

May 2015