by John Foley
When Oracle CEO Safra Catz discusses the myriad advantages that digital transformation can bring to an organization, she acknowledges the changes required to do it right are seldom easy.
“People say they love change. Actually, they love it when you change,” Catz told an audience of business and technology executives at Oracle OpenWorld 2016. “Even if they hate a process, hate a system, when you try to change something, you have to peel their hands away from it.”
However, for most businesses these days, change is not an option—it’s an imperative driven by customer expectations and the pace of innovation. And Catz is engaged in conversations with business leaders from across industries about how to seize the opportunities and overcome the challenges.
“It’s critical to simplify and run the business in such a way that resources are released to invest in your main business,” she said at Oracle OpenWorld 2016.
Catz knows from first-hand experience the careful planning and collaboration that must happen to bring these projects to fruition. She played a key role in Oracle’s own move to web-based enterprise applications, which saved the company more than US$1 billion in the first year. And more recently, Oracle has adapted its systems and processes to make it fast and easy for customers to procure cloud services via its Oracle Accelerated Buying Experience program.
Profit spoke to Catz to get her thoughts on what works and what it takes to succeed.
Profit: What does the term “digital transformation” mean to you, and why do you think it’s important?
Catz: Digital transformation brings companies into the future, and it enables them to be more competitive. Through the use of new technologies, you not only gain a better understanding of your environment, your customers’ needs, and your own business, you also benefit from putting all your best assets—whether they’re your employees, supply chain, processes, or products—to the newest and best possible use.
For each department, digital transformation provides new insights into its own organization and allows a sharing of information between organizations that empowers better decision-making. So now, organizations can optimize for the whole company, including for employees and customers. Each department is released from doing things the way things have always been done, unshackling it from limitations, whether they’re technical, historical, or even process-oriented.
For example, for a head of human resources, digital transformation provides deep insights into new-hire candidates and current employees. In addition, it enables new and better engagement with those candidates and employees along with the sharing of information cross-departmentally. Imagine bringing your most-important asset, your people, together with your other assets—financial, product, management, and so forth. That kind of interaction and sharing of information is where even deeper insight and new opportunities come in.
The wonderful benefit of an enlightened digital enterprise is, aside from making better decisions and optimizing all your assets, you are also spending less. That’s a superb outcome because you do more and you know more, and yet you spend less, because so much less is spent on things that don’t advance the agenda of the company or empower employees or customers.
Profit: Oracle’s leadership has embarked on several successful transformations over the history of the company. How has Oracle applied modern technologies and taken advantage of the benefits of digital business?
Catz: We look at simplifying our processes, empowering our employees, and using our own systems to help meet our customers’ needs.
The wonderful benefit of an enlightened digital enterprise is, aside from making better decisions and optimizing all your assets, you are also spending less. That’s a superb outcome.”
For example, through the Oracle Accelerated Buying Experience, which we introduced to streamline the procurement of cloud services, we stepped back and reimagined our contracting process—without being bound by how we did things in the past—and used our cloud technologies to meet the up-to-the-minute needs of our customers. With the power of digital technology, we’re empowering our employees, and they in turn are putting that same power into the hands of their customers so they can focus on their own needs and unleash productivity within their organizations.
Profit: What role does the CIO play in this transformation?
Catz: The CIO’s role is more important today than at any time in the past. Now, marketing is interested in technology and wants to take advantage of it to engage more meaningfully with customers. HR managers care about technology, because it enables them to gain greater insights that will help them partner with the business to attract and retain the best employees and manage them for peak performance. And of course the CFO wants not only to keep track of what happened in IT systems, but also to be able to use technology and information about the past together with sales forecasts and marketing to look into the future.
So all of these areas that used to be siloed now need more technology for greater insight. And that is where the CIO has to be the partner of every line of business. Every player on the team is important, but the CIO has to organize it in a way that makes the most sense for the company long-term. You need someone who understands the fundamentals and can orchestrate a company’s success. Plus, the technical decisions required for digital transformation can be complicated and the partnerships and commitments with others often last for many years.
Profit: From your experience handling what many would consider complex business transformations, what words of advice do you give to executives considering digital transformation?
Catz: There are always a hundred reasons not to do something. There are always people who will put off what needs to be done, what should be done. But it’s very important, for the health of the business, to have a culture that brings in new ideas and new technologies.
The hardest part of a transformation isn’t actually the technology. The hard part is managing a business through change. So, start by acknowledging and telling your employees that to be competitive you need to meet your customers’ evolving needs and that means you constantly have to change, to improve. Then, don’t be limited by how you did things in the past. Instead, focus on the best way to meet your customers’ needs.
And this is a unique time in technology. Digital transformation can be done at far less cost and much faster than ever. Cloud technologies allow enterprises to use the power of digital technologies very quickly with very low startup costs, and that’s what makes it so exciting.
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