Five Takeaways from the CTO Forum on Digital Transformation

Innovation Research Interchange (IRI) recently hosted a gathering of chief technology officers for the purpose of finding solutions to one of the greatest R&D challenges to date: digital transformation. This year’s first CTO Forum, hosted by Boston Scientific in May in Maple Grove, Minn., gave participants an opportunity to speak with other senior science and technology professionals who are grappling with this topic in their respective industries.

Digital transformation is the progress of digital usage beyond simply supporting and enhancing traditional methods to inherently enabling new types of innovation, business lines, and business models. The May forum enabled participants to share and discuss how they deal with the issue, as well as learn from one another techniques for managing R&D departments more efficiently and effectively.

The CTO Forum has been proven to help R&D departments advance their competitiveness in this ever-changing economy. Here are just a few of the May forum takeaways, as reported by participants:

  1. Define a Mission and Purpose around Digitalization. “We all know data is very important we haven’t spent enough time thinking about how to use it to our advantage going forward,” says Randy …. He says he now recognizes that companies that are leaders in data harnessing, such as Google, Amazon, and Apple, recognized early on the importance of data and that it has a very high value. “We must define a mission and purpose in order to move forward in integrating digitalization into our operations.”
  2. Don’t Get Overwhelmed. “The topic of data is endless in terms of how it can impact a business,” says Tim Swales, vice president of research and development at Johns Manville. “It’s just phenomenal the changes that are coming, but the real thing is not to be overwhelmed by them.” With that, Swales says he has initiated a routine that helps him maintain a manageable perspective on digitalization in his company: “When I go to a site I try to spend 90 minutes to two hours walking around thinking about opportunities for automation or improved machine learning,” he says. “That’s the rhythm I’ve gotten into. Usually as technical guy you go into a facility for a specific issue, but now I’m trying to spend some time looking at where technology fits in.”
  3. Change Your Perspective. “The forum has caused me to look at a lot of things differently,” says Lou Gritzo, PhD, vice president of research at FM Global. “As a service provider we are now looking for ways that digitalization can improve our services or provide new services.” Having the time to examine the topic in depth helped him to think more innovatively about how digitalization can open new markets for his company.
  4. Map it Out. The forum led Martha Collins, chief technology officer at HarbisonWalker International, and other participants, to the realization that they need a roadmap to guide their work in making the digital transformation more effective and more successful. “We need to sit down and have a brainstorming session with our execs so that we start to think about the implications of how digitalization is going to affect what we do,” Collins said, citing the example of another participant’s presentation of their own roadmap during the forum. This plan, she says, will be the foundation for her company’s digitalization roadmap. Randy Schiestl is now creating one-, three-, and five-year plans to gain a better foothold on integrating digitalization into his company’s strategic plans.
  5. Bridge the Language Gap: The forum also helped Collins to recognize that there is divide between the digital world and the physical world, and that the two rarely meet. She believes that bridging that divide will require a common language with definitions that both worlds can understand. “As a culture, until we get a common language with definitions, we won’t talk to each other,” she says. It’s like going to Spain and we don’t speak Spanish. We need to develop a taxonomy that helps people in the physical world gain a better understanding of what’s happening in the digital world. It needs to be translated into business language.”

The CTO Forum was instrumental in elevating the topic of digital transformation to top of mind for many participants. “This is something that every company will have to deal with,” said Gritzo. “I don’t think anyone is immune from this.”

Each CTO Forum is kept to a manageable size to facilitate healthier discussion relevant to the agenda designed and structured by the scheduled attendees. For that reason, attendance to each forum is by invitation only.

Attendee Companies: Boston Scientific, Crown Holdings, GLOBALCHEMDEV, GAF Materials, Air Liquide, Kennametal Incorporated, HarbisonWalker International, RTI International, Rogers Corporation, DowDuPont, Lubrizol, FM Global, INVISTA, Idaho National Laboratory, Armstrong Flooring, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Timken Company, Regal Beloit, Lincoln Electric, Owens Corning, National Gypsum Company, Pentair, Axalta Coating Systems, NatureWorks LLC, Argonne National Laboratory, Johns Manville, GoJo Industries