The 2018 MIT CIO Symposium will take place on May 23. This year’s Symposium will be focused on the challenges of executing a digital transformation strategy. It’s no longer enough to have formulated a digital strategy for the business. As a number of recent reports have indicated, leading edge companies are pulling ahead of everyone else by pushing the boundaries of digitization. And, having a strong digital foundation gives those companies a leg up in embracing data analytics, AI, blockchain, and other advanced technologies, further widening their advantage. “The time for merely thinking digital has passed; the future belongs to the doers,” notes the Symposium’s website.
Why do so many organizations struggle to implement their well formulated strategies, especially transformational strategies like the transition to digital, that encompass new technologies, business models and management practices? This is a question I’ve long been thinking about, having lived through IBM’s near-death experience in the early1990s.
Is it that in spite of all their efforts in strategy formulation, their management was unable to anticipate them and were caught by surprise? Or it is that, as if actors in a kind of Greek tragedy, they saw the changes coming and understood what had to be done, but were somehow unable to execute their strategies?
MIT’s Donald Sull has been exploring these questions for over 20 years. As this 2015 HBR article notes, we know a lot more about strategy than about translating strategy into results. “Books and articles on strategy outnumber those on execution by an order of magnitude… A recent survey of more than 400 global CEOs found that executional excellence was the number one challenge facing corporate leaders in Asia, Europe, and the United States, heading a list of some 80 issues, including innovation, geopolitical instability, and top-line growth. We also know that execution is difficult. Studies have found that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies.”