Analysts Answer: The Key to a Successful Digital Transformation

August 22, 2018

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

Gartner analysts share why continuous innovation, metrics, and digital business education are the keys to digital transformation

Continuous integration, good data and metrics and knowing what you're transforming into should be top priorities for CIOs looking for successful digital transformation. Ahead of Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2018, Smarter with Gartner reached out to analysts what CIOs must focus on for digital success.

What is the key to a successful digital transformation?

  Andy Rowsell Jones, Gartner analysts, digital transformation

What is the secret of a successful transformation? Knowing what you are transforming into.

  1. The future is CI CD (continuous integration, continuous delivery) — smaller, more frequent releases that contribute less value individually but together, over time, create more value for all of their stakeholders from citizens and customers to firms and their suppliers.
  2. The future is smarter. We know AI is rapidly growing in adoption. We also know it has suffered a number of “AI winters” in its 62 years. This time it looks different— its most common application, according to the Gartner CIO Survey, is for fraud detection, customer experience enhancement and process optimization. At some point soon, AI will combine with CI CD so machines will start to write machines.
  3. The future is more scale-flexible. This confers resilience on firms, enabling them to sail unscathed through economic and political turmoil  that sinks their competitors. We have already seen asset-heavy industries and asset-heavy IT looking for ways to make the assets they must have for competitive or regulatory reasons become redeployable as environmental dynamics dictate. For example, in manufacturing, we've seen the Toyota Production System and flexible manufacturing, and latterly 3D printing. In computing we've seen XaaS, cloud and supplier ecosystems. Scale-flexible, durable enterprises will come to dominate as their less dynamic competitors are killed off in the next downturn.

Paul Proctor Vice President and Distinguished Analyst

The key to a successful digital transformation is good metrics to drive effective decision making. Good metrics are leading indicators with a defensible causal relationship to business processes and desired business outcomes. Gartner research delineates eight ways to categorize digital transformation activities that benefit your current business model, and six ways to benefit entirely new business models.

These categorizations help guide a balanced approach to transformation that influences priorities and investments and creates a defensible narrative for your executives, your board and your shareholders. Good digital transformation metrics aren’t rocket science, but many organizations struggle because they are all over the map. Stop looking for a list everyone else is using, because done properly, someone else’s list won’t apply to your transformation.  

Get your transformation metrics right and improve your ability to succeed and describe that success to your key stakeholders.


The key is to know what you’re transforming into. You should be able to tell me — in under two minutes — what you’re transforming into and why, using no corporate speak (this is hard), in a way that is clear and motivating to the frontline. Your peers should be saying roughly what you just said, even if they’re using different words. This is what I call the “Quick and Dirty Transformation Test for Executives.” All great digital transformations start here.



IT infrastructure is evolving from on-premises applications to a blend of workloads sourced both internally and externally. The concept of global infrastructure delivery is a design model that enables I&O leaders to plan the best combinations of attributes to ensure flexible and effective infrastructure delivery, wherever the resource is needed. By selecting the right partners, enterprises can create infrastructures that can adapt quickly to new delivery models (e.g., cross connects to exchange hubs) and that can implement application-specific cloud services quickly while minimizing network complexity. Essentially IT transitions from a provider of iron to a provider of services.


Digital business education. Use education to improve readiness and drive change management across IT to ensure employees understand their role in shepherding digital business transformation.

Demonstrate knowledge of new technologies. Use your seat at the executive management table to demonstrate knowledge of new technologies and how they can support digital business use cases.

Lead the advanced analytics progression. Provide the right level of knowledge and support. This will help it bloom organically across the organization, generating inventive ideas.


Culture is the greatest barrier to scaling digital transformation, as reflected in the Gartner 2018 CIO Survey. Culture is not created or changed overnight; strong leadership, clearly defined roles and active functions to inspire, communicate and guide the organization through the transformation is imperative for success.

Retail clients who are transforming from multichannel to unified commerce leverage the Gartner digital business framework to ensure alignment between their vision and strategy.  Additionally, it stipulates adequate planning and design before beginning delivery and scaling efforts.

Lastly, transformation supported by a digital business technology platform (which is centered on a core of intelligence and inextricably linked to IT systems), partner ecosystems, customer platforms and the Internet of Things position retailers for scalable success.


Not doing “radio on TV.” Breaking free of limiting beliefs such as traditional industry boundaries or a narrow scope of the customer journey that reinforces incrementalism. Clarifying purpose and embracing a growth mindset to move forward despite the inevitable uncertainty.

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