Oct 30, 2015

Inside the Roundtable on Digital Strategies

By Kaia Davis T'16

Kaia is a second-year student at Tuck and an MBA Fellow at the Center for Digital Strategies. This post originally appeared on the Center for Digital Strategies blog.

A week ago, I had the unique opportunity to participate in a session of the Roundtable on Digital Strategies.

The Roundtable on Digital Strategies is a membership that meets four times per year and is designed as a thought-provoking, executive peer-to-peer discussion of the major changes and challenges facing corporate IT. At this joint session of the Americas and European Chapters, academics and business executives from around the world representing a variety of industries and companies such as Chevron, Swarovski,Volkswagen, Levi Strauss, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies debated the topic, “A Digital World: Where Will We Lead Corporate IT?”

The topic largely focused on how emerging tech trends are impacting the organizational design and role of corporate IT departments. Surprisingly, my biggest takeaway from the session was not a specific insight or aha moment around a particular technological strategy. Rather, what struck me was, despite representing various industries, corporate sectors, and countries, each organization represented is broadly facing the same challenges in organizing and evolving their IT teams.

We spent a lot of time pondering the question, “Is the role of IT in an organization that of an enabler or a strategist?” To me, this question boils down to: what ultimately shapes a business model - a business strategy OR tech capabilities? What comes first - wanting to do something OR having the tech capability to do something? Are companies employing specific strategies simply because they have the technology to do so? Are companies that solely employ digital strategies digital companies OR are they companies that use digital strategies to execute their key business strategies?

Defining IT’s role as either an enabler or a strategist has large implications for how IT is organized and prioritized within a company - does the IT team make decisions or enable them? After a quick vote, the room was pretty much split 50/50 - half thought of IT as enablers, the other half as strategists. However, everyone in the room agreed that moving forward IT integration is essential. Rather than having a separate, siloed IT team, members of the IT team need to be integrated into all functional teams to ensure that emerging tech trends and digital strategies are embedded in business decisions. To me, as a business student, the necessary integration of IT into every functions makes an even greater argument for the importance of being aware of emerging trends in the tech industry.

Which way would you vote if asked the same question, “Is the role of IT in an organization that of an enabler or a strategist?" We'd like to hear from you.

That's me at the Roundtable sitting near Tim Sarvis, Director of IT Supply Chain Administration Solutions at Eastman Chemical Company.

All the participants gather for a shot on the front steps to Tuck. (Front row, left to right) Steve Plume, Executive Fellow, Center for Digital Strategies; Tim Sarvis, Eastman Chemical Company; Michael Krigsman, Founder,; Roland Paanakker, CIO, Levi Strauss; Mark Hillman, CEO, Lenderful & Co-Founder, Mad Dog Technology; Donna Vinci, Group Executive, Bank of Queensland; John Garing, VP, ViON Corporation; Hans Brechbühl, Tuck School. (Back row) Professor Alva Taylor, Tuck School; Max Braun, CIO, Swarovski; Mark Meyer, Head of Global IM, Tetra Pak; Tim Gude, Corporate Executive Director of IT, Finance and HR, Volkswagen AG;  Volker Laska, CIO, Clariant; Jim Green, CIO, Global Exploration and Production, Chevron; Edward G. Happ, Global CIO, IFRC and Professor Steven Kahl, Tuck School.