episode 356

HBS's Sunil Gupta on Digital Transformation

Sunil is the Edward W. Carter Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and the author of new book Driving Digital Strategy: A Guide to Reimagining Your Business. Prior to joining Harvard, Sunil was the Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business at Columbia Business School and Assistant Professor at UCLA. In 1996, Sunil spent his sabbatical with McKinsey & Co. Sunil received his Bachelor of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, and a Ph.D. Marketing from Columbia Business School. Sunil serves on the board of US Foods. August 27, 2018
  • The four parts of an organization that should be the focus on any digital transformation effort, including business strategy and business model, internal operations, customer touchpoints, and skills and operating model.
  • Gupta believes that transformation should begin with an examination of customer pain points, rather than bigger technology changes.
  • How the blurring of industrial boundaries is forcing companies to ask, “What business am I in,” and develop competitive advantages by creating compliments and network effects.
  • How Best Buy redefined its business to successfully compete with Amazon by changing its cost structure with the store-within-a-store model, and then used that revenue to build out service and subscription offerings.
  • How the New York Times successfully moved to a profitable subscription model, despite traditional media facing challenges in realizing significant online advertising revenue.
  • How John Deere changed its business model and began hiring data scientists after realizing it wasn’t in the business of selling farm equipment, but rather, was in the business of farm management and making farmers more productive.
  • How the nature of competition has shifted from across products to across ecosystems and platforms, and why companies should look to partner externally to succeed here.
  • Why innovation labs alone are not effective, and companies instead need to focus on transforming the core of their business proposition and not just the sides.
  • The responsibility senior management has to retrain employees in order to stay competitive, and how Unilever has done so by pairing junior and senior employees to create a diverse mentorship platform.
  • Advice on how to pitch a multi-year digital transformation to a skeptical management team or board


The World Class IT principles in yellow were the focus of this interview

  • 01 1- People
  • 02 2- Infrastructure
  • 03 3- Project and Portfolio Management
  • 04 4- IT & Business Partnership
  • 05 5- External Partnerships

From strategy to implementation

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