One of the central challenges facing corporate leaders today is how to take advantage of new opportunities presented by digital transformation. Pierre Nanterme, chairman and CEO of the global professional services firm Accenture, recently sat down with MIT Sloan Management Review editor in chief Paul Michelman for a conversation about the challenges of digital transformation for Nanterme’s own organization, for leaders of the organizations he counsels, and for society.
So what do top executives need to do to steer their companies in the digital age? In Nanterme’s view, CEOs and other top executives don’t have to become technology experts themselves, but they do need to develop “a basic understanding of technology capabilities.” For one thing, he said, this understanding will enable executives to figure out new business models. For another, it will enable them to find ways to “massively rationalize” their operations using digital technologies.
For Accenture, Nanterme said, digitization has highlighted the importance of five capabilities: interactive, mobility, analytics, cloud, and security. Under his leadership, the $31 billion firm has transformed how it handles functions including finance, human resources, and communications “based on our belief that the digitization wave is the major disruption of our time.”
Nanterme pointed out that it has become “almost impossible” to predict things in the business world -- and that creates a need for agility. As things shift, he said, “there will be new technologies that shape, even transform, the business landscape, so we [CEOs] will need to execute multiple strategies -- or pathways -- in order to make sure we get where we want to go.”
In the future, Nanterme believes, management’s role will revolve less around evaluating people based on how well they meet numbers and more on the ability to lead in volatile and ambiguous environments. “We are at the end of a management cycle that has covered the past 50 years, and we are beginning to write a new book for the next 50,” he said. “There will be no long-term predictability. Leaders will need to learn to manage chaos and to do it in a highly disciplined way.”