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Digital leadership to shape India’s C-suite legacy

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By Pramath Raj Sinha, Founding Dean of ISB & Ashoka University, Co-founder upGrad Harappa

The concept of digital transformations and leadership traces its roots back to the 1950s, but its significance has surged in recent years. Fueled by heightened market competition, rapid technological advancements, and the profound impact of COVID-19, digital transformation has become central to organisations worldwide. The global digital market is projected to soar to $1,009.8 billion by 2025, marking a remarkable compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.5% since 2020.

But amidst this exponential growth, do we truly understand its essence today? Digital leadership represents more than a mere adoption of technology; it embodies a fundamental shift in organisational culture and mindset. At its core, digital leadership involves strategically integrating digital technologies across all facets of
business operations to revolutionise customer experiences, streamline internal processes, and foster innovation. It requires a relentless pursuit of agility, adaptability, and a willingness to challenge conventional norms.

The imperative of digital leadership 
Given India’s socio-economic landscape, digital leadership emerges as a very significant step. With a growing population known for its entrepreneurial vigour and a large talent pool ripe with potential, India is uniquely positioned to leverage the transformative capabilities of digital leadership as never before. India’s demographic dividend, characterised by a youthful population forms the bedrock of its digital leadership imperative. Coupled with a thriving startup culture and robust education system, India proves to be a fertile ground for cultivating digital leadership prowess.

It is interesting to note that India possesses a large number of seasoned executives coming from traditional learning environments, who encounter difficulties in navigating today’s digital disruptions. This highlights a notable gap in the leadership skills necessary to drive business results in today’s contemporary landscape.
The gap may seem minor now but could hamper India’s corporate efficiency, affecting economic growth. Companies today face rising costs for new talent, but is it sustainable given the focus on unit economics and profitability? Such evolving circumstances continue to encourage thousands of C-suites and senior leaders to
switch gears to the principles of unlearning and relearning, making a calculated leap to lifelong learning. It’s not just about learning new tools but also honing existing ones to enhance their interpersonal and cognitive skills. It is crucial for these senior leaders, especially those from non-tech backgrounds, to revitalise their skill sets and familiarise themselves with emerging technologies to spearhead the wave of change and optimise their organisation’s operational efficiency.

Key pillars of digital leadership 
Breaking it down to three essential skills, firstly, strategic technology integration. It involves leveraging digital tools across all business operations to enhance efficiency and competitiveness. Secondly, agile decision-making, which entails swiftly responding to market dynamics and leveraging data-driven insights to drive strategic initiatives.

Lastly, building a culture of innovation that encourages experimentation and embraces risk-taking, empowering teams to drive transformative change and stay ahead in the digital landscape. Together, these pillars form the foundation for effective digital leadership, enabling organisations to thrive in an ever-evolving digital ecosystem.

Sectoral transformations 
Going beyond just tech and IT sectors, India’s digital advancements are already propelling its progress towards global leadership. The IT and software services industry showcases India’s strength, with innovative solutions boosting economic growth and competitiveness on a global scale. E-commerce is witnessing substantial growth, driven by increased digital adoption and a growing consumer population.

Likewise, Digital, Green and Care (DGC) economies have experienced massive seismic shifts since the onset of emerging technologies and the industries are
expected to soar because of the surging global demand.
While these transformations lay emphasis on India's adeptness in utilising digital
tools to innovate, they also highlight the potential India holds to remain competitive
and emerge at the top in the global arena.

Challenge or Opportunity? 
Despite the promising prospects of digital leadership, organisations encounter several challenges on their journey towards digital transformation. Legacy systems, organisational silos, and resistance to change emerge as the most common obstacles. Moreover, cybersecurity threats, data privacy concerns, and regulatory
compliance issues present ongoing risks. Another challenge lies in the adoption of these digital transformations. Many companies fail to implement digital transformation strategies successfully. In fact, as per reports, 84% of transformation projects fail due to many different factors, notably a lack of alignment to business goals, outcomes and change management strategy.

However, these challenges also present growth opportunities. By addressing these hurdles head-on and adopting a proactive approach to digital leadership, organisations can navigate the complexities of the digital landscape and emerge stronger and more resilient.

Government’s role in accelerating adoption
While digital leadership mostly stems from the private sector, the government plays a pivotal role in creating an enabling environment for execs and leaders to drive growth. Policies and regulations that promote digital adoption and security, investments in digital infrastructure, and initiatives to prepare a skilled workforce for
global markets are imperative.

Investments in digital infrastructure, such as broadband connectivity and data centres, form the backbone of India’s digital ecosystem, facilitating seamless connectivity and access to digital services. Supportive regulatory frameworks, including the National Education Policy (NEP) and the vision of Viksit Bharat 2047,
lay the groundwork for digital inclusion and skill development, ensuring that all segments of society can partake in the digital revolution. Additionally, the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in India has been a game-changing initiative, displaying the government’s commitment to drive digital transformation across sectors.

In India, with its vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, burgeoning population, and government support, the stage is set for digital leadership to flourish. By fostering a culture of digital innovation and agility, organisations become catalysts for economic growth and societal progress. Moreover, their commitment to digital leadership principles strengthens India’s standing on the global stage, positioning the nation as a hub of innovation and a leader in the digital landscape.

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