Digital is not an enterprise strategy, it’s part of the enterprise fabric. Becoming a digital enterprise requires a plan, however. As the digital enterprise mindset unfolds, so does the work to establish and implement a well-curated, holistic, and dynamically transforming digital enterprise. 

The digital enterprise focuses on how the business will be executed, and that is never a solitary target.

At a strategic level, becoming a digital enterprise is like any other major strategic business initiative:

    1. Create a vision
    2. Establish a program
    3. Identify goals
    4. Define guiding principles
    5. Assign roles and responsibilities
    6. Draft a plan
    7. Measure progress and outcomes 
    8. Adjust and optimize through lessons learned

It is not a one-time effort, however. Approaches to executing a digital enterprise must be ongoing and dynamic in order to realize the digital mindset of ever-accelerating business change. There will be continued, iterative shifts in thinking, planning, approaches, and accountability. The digital enterprise focuses on how the business will be executed, and that is never a solitary target.

At a tactical level, delivering the digital enterprise is an iterative practice…most cases can fit into an enterprise digital framework or reference architecture.

At a tactical level, delivering the digital enterprise is an iterative practice as well. Choosing and implementing capabilities to benefit the business is best served at a high-level through adhering to commonly held practices and principles. While some cases may not fit the “pre-defined” mold, most cases can fit into an enterprise-wide digital framework or reference architecture. 

The following Digital Enterprise Reference Architecture (DERA) is a good framework when making digital decisions: 

1. Top-level Activities: refer to the primary activities that are addressed in a digital enterprise plan.

DERA: Top-Level Activities
Digital Enterprise Reference Architecture: Top-Level Activities

2. Digital Capabilities Portfolio: the digital capabilities that support the top-level actions

DERA: Digital Capabilities Layer
Digital Enterprise Reference Architecture Digital Capabilities Portfolio

3. Digital Process Elements: are the technologies that are implemented to fulfill the Digital Capabilities Portfolio

DERA: Digital Process Elements
Digital Enterprise Reference Architecture Digital Process Elements

While most reference architectures address a single technology, the DERA differs in that it is a framework for the digital environment for the enterprise. It places focus on digital as a holistic and interoperating environment. At a high level, the DERA addresses the primary digital activities in an enterprise, Adapt, Deliver, Protect, Govern and Architect. It then delves into the digital capabilities are needed for each activity. Lastly, the DERA illustrates specific technologies that are applied to execute those activities and capabilities.

The DERA serves as a valuable tool to:

    • Catalog current digital capabilities, systems, and technologies to understand how they interrelate or might be leveraged to improve business, work, or information.
    • Identify gaps in digital capacity or capabilities to deliver on business, work, or information needs.
    • Create roadmaps and plans for enhancement, optimization, rationalization, or transformation to a more holistic digital ecosystem.
    • Introduce new digital capabilities and integrate them as part of a holistic ecosystem.
    • Expand enterprise competitiveness, innovation, and responsiveness as the capacity to integrate, innovate, iteratively advance, and align with a holistic ecosystem increases.
    • Make decisions and build cases for exceptions to the digital strategy.

Fail often: A digital enterprsie is an evolution, not a revolution.

Expect setbacks, mistakes, and failures. Nothing this big happens immediately or without some mistakes. Continuous improvement and advancement is the primary goal of the digital mindset. It will take time to develop new digital habits, learn, and grow. Repeatable successes, failures, disproved assumptions, and unexpected discoveries are needed to become a digital enterprise.

Cultural issues and disengaged leadership are the most cited causes of failed digital transformations. Common hurdles include:

Challenges to Becoming a Digital Enterprise
Challenges to Becoming a Digital Enterprise

It’s not an easy task to transition to a digital enterprise and most of the time this work falls onto IT’s shoulders. Remarkable, Technology is the only challenge that IT can effectively address. Yet, the prevailing assumption places much of the burden for digital transformation on IT. This belief guarantees failure.


    • Skip focusing on random acts of digital transformation and build a digital enterprise program now. Create a business case for leadership to engage in digital as a necessary business strategy.
    • Focus on educating stakeholders on digital enterprise concepts, approaches, and their participation in shifting mindsets.
    • Don’t ignore the cultural backlash(es) that will arise. Plan for them at the outset and develop strategies to mitigate them.
    • Focus on using digital to make the business and employees more effective, not just efficient. Effectiveness is the extent to which employees are enabled by the work environment or habits.
    • Design the digital enterprise around intentional goals, using defined guiding principles and frameworks that will aid in its execution.
    • Create a Digital Enterprise task force with a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) that has direct accountability to executive leadership and decision-makers. Include critical business (HR, Business Units) and technology (IT, CISO) stakeholders. Over time this role will evolve to a more common position within the enterprise organization, but begin with much more intention and accountability.

This is the third installment of a multi-part article on the Digital Enterprise. The first article introduces the Digital Enterprise. The second article addresses changing the Digital Mindset.