It’s been the subject of boardroom debates and a bone of contention for ownership in organisations for nearly twenty years, but a large proportion of CEOs are still failing to grasp the importance of integrating digital into their business strategies from the ground up. Many are still favouring a ‘bolt-on’ approach, according to a study by Forrester.

Renowned marketing and media publication The Drum recently summed up the Forrester report as follows:

“In its The State of Digital Business 2014 report, which polled 1,591 senior business leaders in the UK and US during November 2013 to January 2014, Forrester revealed some major disconnects between the marketing and technology sides of businesses, with responses signalling a “digital strategy execution crisis”.

If you assume the position that an integrated approach will align functions that might otherwise conflict with each other, this is something CEOs should consider important for effectively harnessing the value of digital in their businesses.

Although 74 per cent of executives report that that their company has a digital strategy there is a “wide disparity” between strategies according to the report.

Companies like Burberry score highly for demonstrating that its digital strategy is central to its business transformation, yet others regard digital strategy only in terms of adding a new mobile app to their existing business or developing a social media presence – approaches which Forrester categorises as ‘bolt-on”.

It has attributed the bolt-on approach within certain companies to their failure in uniting marketing and technology management on a common path.

In all but the largest firms, CEOs are most likely to set the digital strategy for the business, but as company size increases, the CMO plays a more significant role.

Yet despite their involvement, few CEOs set a clear vision for digital. In firms with more than 250 employees, just 21 per cent of CEOs set a clear vision for digital – a figure which is even worse in larger companies which have between 1,000 and 10,000 employees, where it drops to 17 per cent, leaving a level of “uncertainty” among executives, according to Forrester.

You can infer that more effective sponsorship from the CEO for ground-up integration of digital would alleviate uncertainty among executives, but if there is a knowledge gap, this could be problematic. CEOs should view digital in the same way they view any other implementation in business – you wouldn’t bolt on cultural values for example, you would want that to touch everything.

Meanwhile the report has predicted that education and social services will be the “next big industry” to go digital, not least because of the communication preferences of users of education and social services.

Awareness of the digital “threat” in education and social services is high with 83 per cent of executives in this sector expecting digital to disrupt their organisation in 2014, according to the report.

Key takeaways from NIgel Fenwick – author of the report:

A bolt-on digital strategy will not be enough in 2015 and beyond

While marketing has been the principal driver of digital initiatives up to 2014, going forward firms must take a more comprehensive approach to digital transformation and avoid simply bolting digital onto the existing business.

CMOs must partner with CIOs to transform towards a digital business

Digital business requires both digital customer experience and digital operational excellence. Without the CIO as a digital partner, chief marketing officers (CMOs) will tend to approach digital as a bolt-on approach to customer engagement.

CIOs must embrace digital as a core technology imperative

CIOs must shift their focus toward systems that support the firm’s ability to win, serve, and retain customers. Digital technologies are central to this shift. The ability of the technology management team to embrace digital will shape the future of the CIO.”

When recruiting CMOs or CIOs for companies without the budget for both, CEOs should logically consider the skill sets of each to make sure the level of understanding straddles both disciplines to ensure effective integration, rather than a bolt-on.


The Forrester report was published in May 2014 and was written about by The Drum in May. You can view the original article here.