Forget ‘keeping the lights on’. Today’s top IT teams are shining a light on the future.

This year’s State of IT report reveals the world’s leading teams are no longer simply reacting to business tactics and strategies.

Instead – led by a relatively new addition to company boards, the CDO (Chief Digital Officer) – they’re focusing on mastering new technologies, and meeting the ever-evolving digital and mobile expectations of customers and colleagues.

The research indicated that top-performing IT teams are almost four times more likely than their underperforming peers to rank themselves as excellent or above average when it comes to staying ahead of tech trends, such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. (That’s true both on a global scale, and here in the UK.)

Meanwhile, just over three quarters of top teams have increased spending on customer-facing and mobile apps.

Taming digital anarchy in the UK

The picture in the UK? When it comes to implementing digital transformation across a company, the UK’s IT leaders are three times more likely to excel than underperforming teams.

Top UK teams are also a whopping nine times more likely than underperforming teams to excel at digitally engaging at scale. (Worldwide the figure is less than five times.)

Delivering digital transformation strategy in practice

One company grasping the digital and mobile nettle – and thriving – is leading fashion footwear and accessory brand, ALDO.

To reflect changing shopping habits and expectations, the retailer is building a suite of mobile apps, offering everything from the latest style information, to faster collection browsing, and help finding the right shoes to match their outfits.

Such apps don’t just give the customer an even better mobile and digital experience – they also give ALDO the data it needs to serve them even better.

As Todd Dean, ALDO Vice President, Cross-Channel and eCommerce explains:

Mobile bridges the physical and digital world […] When we deploy it at the store level, we’ll be able to learn even more about customers and provide a totally personalized experience.”

With its focus on customer-facing, mobile-friendly apps, ALDO exemplifies another global trend highlighted by the report: in the next 12-18 months, nearly 90% of new apps developed by IT will be created with a mobile-first mind-set.

But ALDO’s app ambitions aren’t solely focused on the customer. It’s also building apps for use in-house, to help staff optimise inventory management, streamline operations, and ultimately save the business money.

The Chief Digital Officer: developing strategy under siege

In times of flux, like those being faced in the retail industry, strong leadership is essential.

Given this, it’s perhaps unsurprising that over half of UK companies (54 percent) now employ a CDO – a position that was virtually unknown just a decade ago.

The Chief Digital Officer often has:

  • A marketing background
  • A good grounding in tech
  • A clear understanding of customer and employee needs
  • A mandate to be super-focused on digital trends
  • A flair for creating and conveying a strategic vision

Their mission? To help their organisation become data-driven, and customer-centric – and ultimately capitalise on the new opportunities being unearthed by the ever-changing digital landscape.

That means bridging gaps between departments, and breaking down data siloes. It also means working out how to use that data to improve customer experience, and organisational performance.

To do this a CDO needs soft skills as well as hard. Indeed, according to Mckinsey – who’ve described the CDO as a ‘transformer in chief’ – some CDOs estimate they spend 80 percent of their time building relationships.

This all adds up to a pretty rare skillset, putting top talent in huge demand – but if you’re still wondering how to respond to digital, and place your customers front and centre, it could be well worth joining that bidding war.

Reimagine the future

The conclusion? It’s time to get proactive about digital. Right now, the most successful IT teams are learning to thrive in their new role at the forefront of business strategy – a strategy they’re helping to imagine, shape and deliver, with the visionary leadership of a new CXO.

To discover how leading IT teams actually overcoming those digital challenges – from bridging skills gaps to keeping up with accelerating innovation – read the full 2016 State of IT Report.