Two years ago, analysts predicted that at many organizations, the role of Chief Digital Officer would become obsolete. “As digital drives the business transformation, and ultimately the entire business, the CDO will start to slowly disappear,” one analyst, from Forrester, wrote.

This pending obsolescence would clearly signal that incumbent companies have started successfully transforming into digital economy players, alongside startup-disruptors. The seminal work from Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen on the Innovator’s Dilemma—which argues that long-standing companies will “accelerate their innovations to defend their business” from disruptive newcomers—has now been read by founders and executives from all kinds of companies.


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While we see impressiveand well-deservedsuccesses at startups (one good example is Stripe, which provides payment infrastructure for online businesses), we’re starting to see large incumbents throwing back punches. Think, for instance, about the New York Times (“winning at digital,” read one headline about its recent revival). Indeed, digital transformation is a competitive battle with victories emerging from both fronts.

But how are incumbents taking the lead in this digital revolution? And what are some lessons for stragglers still trying to catch up? Considering that only 16 percent of McKinsey-surveyed organizations say their digital transformations “have successfully improved performance and also equipped them to sustain changes in the long term,” let’s look at three strategies for a better digital transformation positioning.