Who Is Responsible for Digital Transformation Success? [CIO, CFO, COO, and Project Manager Roles]

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: December 14, 2022

Accountability is one of the biggest questions that organizations have when preparing for an upcoming transformation. Who is ultimately accountable for the success of our digital transformation? That's exactly what we want to talk about here today.

One of the most important and most frequent questions we get from our clients is “who's accountable for the success of our project and what are the different roles and responsibilities that people should have on the project?”

What we want to do today is talk about project roles and responsibilities but do it in the context of not just what all the roles and responsibilities are but also unpack who's ultimately responsible for the success of your project.

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The first person that often comes to mind when we're talking about project accountability and roles and responsibilities is the CIO or the Chief Information Officer, your IT Director, your VP of IT, there's a lot of other titles that it might be called but basically whoever is leading your IT function within your organization is oftentimes viewed as the person that should be accountable and responsible for the success of the project.

To be clear CIO’s have a very important role and they should have a very important role in any sort of transformation. CIO’s need to lead change, they need to align the organization, they need to work with the business to make sure that the project is successful and that business initiatives and business challenges are being addressed. The CIO should not be ultimately accountable for a transformation because it's typically not an IT driven initiative or it shouldn't be an IT driven initiative. It really should be viewed as a business driven initiative where the business needs come first and the technology comes behind that to enable those business needs. While the CIO's role is very important and the CIO should absolutely be part of the executive steering committee, it's not the CIO's responsibility necessarily to be that one to ensure that the project is successful.

Project Manager

If the CIO is not ultimately responsible and ultimately accountable for the overall success of the project, the next name or title that comes to mind is often the program manager. This is typically the person that might work for the CIO or have been assigned by the executive steering committee to be that internal person to lead the overall transformation and this is a very important role, it's an all-encompassing role that requires a blend of technology capabilities, a blend of organizational change management competencies, understanding of business processes, as well as just a big picture view of how technology can all fit together. 

They also have to be good political players too, they need to be able to navigate the internal politics of your organization and the different personalities and the different components of misalignment that often come from these sorts of projects. 

That's all very important, those are all very important skills and traits that a project manager needs to have but again the project manager has a very important role but ultimately the project manager is not the person that's ultimately accountable for the success of the project. There's a tendency for executives to want to delegate responsibility and relegate responsibility to the project manager and really hold them accountable and there is some truth to that, you need to hold the project manager accountable but when things don't go well and if there's misalignment within the organization or if there's internal politics that are derailing the project for example, ultimately there's someone above the project manager that ultimately needs to be accountable and we need to escalate those situations to them so just like the CIO. 

While the project manager has a very important role, it's not the first and foremost last line of defense in terms of accountability for the project

Project Team

Underneath the project manager, you also have a project team of core team members and subject matter experts and other people that are playing different roles on the project. You have your business process leads, you have your technical leads, you have your change management leads, your change management team, you might have an architect integration specialist, all sorts of people that are on the project team, all very important roles. The organization needs to be aligned and committed to the project. You need these different resources to commit to the project and to ensure that the project is successful but ultimately the project team itself is not enough to ensure that the project is successful. There's too many moving parts and things outside of the project team's control to hold them accountable, not to mention the fact that you can't hold an entire team accountable, you ultimately need one person that everything rolls up to and one person that can hold ultimately accountable for the success of your digital transformation initiative.

System Integrator

Another important party and constituent within a digital transformation is your system's integrator or your technical implementer, your value-added reseller, whatever organization or team is providing the technical competencies focused on the types of technology that you might be deploying. The bad news here is that while this is a very important role, they're not ultimately accountable for the success. In fact, this is the one stakeholder or one group that we'll talk about in this discussion, that we would say is actually very risky to try and hold accountable.

You don't want an outside third party to be accountable for the success of your project. Too many organizations we work with have the mentality that system integrators are the experts, so therefore, we're going to hold them accountable to make sure this overall project is successful and the reality is that no third party is going to make you successful. This is something that needs to be owned internally and someone internally has to be accountable for the success. Primarily, because you don't want the fox guarding the hen house, you don't want the third party that has a lot of money to make off of you to be the one to determine whether or not they're doing a good job, you need someone internally that has a good purview and a good handle on whether or not the system integrator is performing and accountable in the way they should be. So not only is a system integrator not the right party to hold accountable for the ultimate success of your project but it's actually very risky to do so.

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So far we have talked about all the different people that should not be held ultimately accountable for the success of your project. The party that should be accountable for the success of your project is someone that's very senior and high up within your organization but does not come from within the it organization, typically for most organizations we work with, this is going to be the CEO, the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Financial Officer or perhaps the CIO, the Chief Administration Officer. Maybe it's a different C-Suite level person, a different role within your organization, we've also seen VP’s of marketing or VP’s of sales that are leading a sales transformation that might be ultimately accountable for the success of that project. 

Ultimately, it needs to be someone from the business side of your organization and they need to understand the business operations, the people and all the non-technical aspects of the project and they need to work very closely with your CIO and your IT group and all the other technical stakeholders to ensure that they're providing the appropriate inputs and involvement in the project but ultimately that business centric leader, an executive within the organization. It's quite effective to have a CFO or COO be the executive sponsor and the ultimate leader in the face behind much of the change.

Having said that, all the other parties we have talked about that we said are not ultimately accountable for the success of your project, that leader, that person that is accountable, has to have the support and has to have a strong support from those different groups and those different stakeholders. From a project governance perspective you want to make sure that you have that single point of accountability at the very senior level within the organization.

If you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, we would love to give you some insights. Please contact me for more information eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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