Delivering On The Digital-First Promise: How To Meet Heightened Demand With Less Risk

Avatar for Chris MacFarlandBy Chris MacFarland|Oct 6, 2022|7:30 am CDT

This article originally published on

Today, the biggest challenge for companies is empowering digital experiences, hybrid work and hyper-automation without jeopardizing security and business continuity in the process. Simply managing technology is no longer enough—it must generate strategic business value without interrupting the status quo. Executives are under intense pressure to drive innovation, but in delivering on the digital-first promise, they must also mitigate the high-stakes risk of transformation—namely costly data breaches and service outages diminishing productivity and revenue. In fact, 76% of CIOs say it’s challenging to find the right balance between innovation and operational excellence.

So, how do leaders empower digital experiences with little negative consequences?

The best digital-first strategies foster a stable IT ecosystem where checks and balances allow new emerging technologies to synthesize with security and the network, paving the way for transformation.

Getting Digitalization Right: Three Key Principles

Strategies that deliver cloud-based digital services with a high level of certainty are very good at cybersecurity effectiveness and global service resiliency, ensuring the two work together rather than against each other. Under this vision, IT leaders work not just in tandem but in front of the innovation strategy, proactively assessing future risk with management plans and controls to both protect 24/7 production and mitigate any new security exposures. In designing this forward-looking strategy, it is important for executives to acknowledge some (sometimes ugly) truths, anchoring digitalization around three key principles:

1. Own Up To Deferred Maintenance And Make IT An Executive Priority

It’s time to address any delayed IT investments of the past five years with a stronger focus on modernization and expanded security coverage. Every company now sees the critical role infrastructure plays in making digital services not only possible but safe. With this perspective, IT initiatives have earned a bigger budget but also a bigger seat at the executive table. Foundry’s 2022 study shows 74% of IT leaders say that the role of the CIO was elevated due to the pandemic. In the world of AI, edge computing, blockchain and perfect user experiences everywhere, security is now a business problem and IT is viewed as leading the competitive advantage.

  • Appoint executive ownership and dedicated resources over cloud-based innovation, cybersecurity and network modernization. Cross-pollinate technologists with business leaders to solve challenges and opportunities together.
  • Don’t look backward. No one is to blame for the rush-ordered changes of years past. Focus on getting back to the basics of IT operational efficiency, as cloud innovations cannot be supported adequately without agile administration.
  • Emphasize governance in building an IT platform that empowers the cloud, artificial intelligence and automation. Prioritize investments in data security and systems that improve the quality of the user experience.

2. With Innovation Run Amok, It’s Time To Rebalance Security

The past two years were all about fast-moving pivots. But the urgency of delivering “the future of work” immediately, created competing priorities. As a result, security was put on the back burner. It is time to rebalance the relationship between innovation and security, patching cybersecurity gaps and making flexible work models secure and sustainable—not an experiment. With security back in the driver’s seat, executives will worry less about “pumping the brakes” on cloud-based innovation.

  • Reevaluate risk with remote work, cloud and digital services as the new permanent.
  • Give IT leaders back the authority to challenge innovation when risk creates recklessness. Business decisions should not overrule risk mitigation.
  • Proactively put controls in place, so security works to accelerate digital transformation. Leverage risk assessments and modern cybersecurity frameworks, including zero trust, to identify necessary practices.

3. A Frictionless Motion Across Collaboration, Connectivity And Cybersecurity

Digital services must actually work well for the business, and yet their core disciplines—remote connectivity, cybersecurity and communications—commonly operate in silos. IT leaders must bring them together as one transformation trifecta, as I explained in my previous article. New interdependencies mean success is only possible when all three disciplines work in triangulation. This requires tighter alignment—gone are the days of separate network, security and customer experience operations. Digital-first companies champion this trifecta by using consolidation to remove complexity:

  • Unite security, network and corporate communications strategies, as well as their operations and support systems. Acknowledge redundant collaboration applications, rationalizing communications strategies around one tool set that does not ignore legacy systems, network transport and security capabilities.
  • Leverage converged technologies. Emerging solutions like SASE (secure access service edge) and SSE (secure service edge) aid in conjoining multiple IT disciplines in the pursuit of security and perfect user experiences everywhere.
  • Improvement programs addressing needs across the broader IT ecosystem can help standardize approaches while also soliciting new talents, processes and technologies.

Delivering On The Digital Promise

The momentum of today’s digital-first innovations will generate the unique ability for companies to outpace and outperform competitors. The result of which will be a strong recovery from past economic threats, as well as protections against potential recessions on the horizon. But delivering on the digital promise requires the right strategy to negate poor aftereffects. The true digital advantage involves transforming while simultaneously strengthening business continuity and proactively warding off inevitable security attacks.

To achieve this outcome with certainty, executives must redirect resources and authority, facilitating the proper checkpoints between innovation, security and the network. In order to make larger strides on their digitalization journey, IT leaders must also create purposeful links among closely correlated strategies, operations and technologies—as this is the key in gaining aggregated benefits. With these approaches, we will witness digitalization drive deeper, more fundamental change far beyond the boundaries of any one digital-first company.

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