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Improve your digital transformation plan: 3 tips from EY's Jeff Wong

EY's chief innovation officer believes a successful digital transformation plan rests on building an ecosystem of internal champions and outside experts who don't think alike.

A digital transformation plan at large, legacy enterprises will almost certainly call for new IT infrastructure. But tech alone is not enough for ensuring digital success, according to Jeff Wong, EY's global chief innovation officer. The success of a digital transformation plan hinges on building what he calls a digital ecosystem and finding the right people to cultivate it.

In part one of this three-part interview series, "Why EY is investing in AI, data and blockchain technology initiatives," Wong talked about how EY's $1 billion investment in technology will help position the London-based firm as a leader in its industry and a problem-solver for the enterprise at large. In part two, "EY exec shares strategy for digital transformation in business," he discussed how EY is reinventing the way it operates, from its recruiting to its training to its business model.

Here, in part three, Wong uses his experience at EY to offer CIOs and other C-suite executives three pieces of advice for building a successful digital transformation plan. He believes executive leaders don't need to have their digital journey completely figured out at the start. Once a digital strategy becomes clear, however, they then need to find champions on the inside and to seek out smart advisors on the outside, Wong said. That "ecosystem" must have one other essential ingredient to ensure digital success, he explains in our interview below.

Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Step 1: Get started

What advice do you have for other CIOs and C-suite execs charged with coming up with a digital transformation plan?

Jeff WongJeff Wong

Jeff Wong: No. 1 is to get started. We did a snap poll [in partnership with MIT] around artificial intelligence in which we asked business leaders how many of their organizations are starting down the pathway of artificial intelligence: 72% of them said they're at least getting started with something and 28% said they're not doing anything [with AI]. I worry about the 28%.

One of the most important things about getting started on a digital journey, whether it encompasses the fancy new technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain, or whether it's simply starting down the path with more basic things in becoming a more digital organization, the first and most important thing is to get started. Get starting even though your plan may be imperfect and even though you don't know exactly what all the steps are. It's important to start down the path and just figure it out along the way.

Step 2: Build an internal and external ecosystem

Wong: No. 2 is really important in this day and age: Build an ecosystem. Build an ecosystem inside the firm to figure out where the problems are and where the solutions can be. Build an ecosystem of champions who are excited about the change process. It's important to build the cultural momentum around change and around doing things differently. Build an ecosystem outside. With how quickly things are changing in the world, you need an outside ecosystem that helps you understand how the world is changing -- not just from a technology perspective, but also from a customer expectation perspective.

For example, I talk to regulators, other government officials, academics and the R&D teams of other large corporations. I also sit on the advisory board for the Oxford Foundry and spend time teaching in universities. So, we do this globally, at all different levels, in order to build a robust internal and external ecosystem because it's important as you're driving this change.

Step 3: Make diversity the cornerstone of your digital transformation plan

Wong: The third thing -- and I think this is incredibly important -- is to drive diverse perspectives. Make sure you bring diversity onto the team when you're thinking about this type of change. It brings a new set of voices, which is just important broadly speaking -- and you need a new set of voices because this is about something new that's happening in the world.

Relying on the consistency of the old ways of doing things isn't going to give you the best answer possible when answering harder and better questions on behalf of your customers or clients. We've done the math and those diverse perspectives lead you to a better answer or the best answer. So, it's incredibly important to drive that in. My team is, by design, diverse. I have physicists, astrophysicists, cryptographers, topologists, project managers, designers and developers. I also have people who have 30 years in the audit business and 30 years in the tax business. Each one of our service lines comes together because it's that diverse perspective that gives us a competitive advantage and strength. I think that that's an incredibly important thing that people lose sometimes in this pathway to evolution.

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