Leading in the age of disruption

Updated: 2013-12-17 07:15

By Dominic Barton (China Daily)

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Translators are essential to complex transformation efforts that cross many business functions. Universities are quickly adapting to meet the swelling demand, and many have launched interdisciplinary programs that combine analytics and business expertise.

Rapid advances in technology are also making it easier to realize the impact of analytics. One of the biggest challenges for many companies has been to convert insights from statistical models into real changes in day-to-day operations. Individuals on the front lines have lacked intuitive tools that link insights to action. But advances in data visualization, faster development cycles for applications, and the steady consumerization of technology are changing that, putting customized, easy-to-understand solutions in managers' hands.

For example, the Climate Corporation, recently acquired by Monsanto, combines more than 30 years of weather data, 60 years of crop-yield data, and multiple terabytes of information on soil types. With that reservoir of historical information and sophisticated algorithms, the company offers fee-based advice to farmers through an intuitive online portal.

As organizations pursue these opportunities to innovate, boost revenues, or increase productivity, leadership teams will also need to adjust. Defining new data-driven strategies, managing massive new stores of information, reaching out to new partners, managing across functions, and energizing the organization around a new mission will likely require new management capacity.

Firms innovate organizationally all the time. In 1961, Ampex, a California electronics manufacturer, became the first company formally to use the term "Chief Financial Officer." Today, that role is ubiquitous.

Leading in the digital age may require creating new roles such as Chief Digital Officer, Chief Analytics Officer, or Chief Data Officer, though relatively few companies so far have taken such steps. In the future, an organization's overall success will require that the leader responsible for such capabilities be a trusted member of the top management team.

Few leaders have ever developed management muscle in completely new fields while assembling teams combining previously unknown types of talent. The strategic options confront equally fresh terrain, perhaps similar to when mass media opened a new era of marketing, or globalization required radical reshaping of organizational footprints.

In 2014 and beyond, CEOs and their boards will need to establish new priorities, invest wisely, and be willing to support experimentation. In times when major disruption is certain, the enormous potential rewards accrue to those who, while vigilant against risk, are prepared to act boldly and swiftly.

The author is the global managing director of McKinsey & Company.

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