Learn important strategies for creating a culture that embraces digital innovation

By Michael Bradshaw, Chief Information Officer at Kyndryl

Transforming an organization is challenging work. Most leaders experience similar obstacles when driving change — they often face resistance due to well established structures, ingrained practices and deeply rooted norms.

Though it’s difficult work, CIOs know that organization-wide transformation isn't impossible. Take, for instance, our own company. Kyndryl began its transformation journey in 2021, when it was spun-out by IBM with about 90,000 employees in 60 countries. Most organizations typically transform a company of that size within five to 10 years. But we aimed to complete it in two as part of our separation arrangement.

Sure, we could have completed the work necessary for our spin and chosen to modernize later, but we took the harder path and completed a transition and transformation at the same time, leaving a better solution in its place.

Kyndryl’s CIO office set out to create a simplified and modern technology environment that could support our business and improve the way we engage with customers and employees. After weighing business needs, security considerations, maintenance requirements and operating costs, we began the phased replacement of legacy systems and applications with our newer IT infrastructure. Our technology transformation, which is changing the way we work, will help to reduce our company’s selling, general and administrative expenses (SG&A) by $200 million to $300 million over time.

While the magnitude of this effort has been expansive, successful IT transformations have a few things in common. Here are five strategies every CIO should consider:

1. Senior leadership must be unified

It is important to gain executive buy in right from the start. Without it, a turnaround will be nearly impossible. Our CIO division had to work in lockstep with teams in human resources, operations and finance. We also had to weave our communications and strategy professionals into the process to make sense of our progress to employees, investors and customers.

2. Form a transformation team

To help ensure the success of modernization initiatives, establish a core transformation team that includes experts from across the organization that can help consolidate applications into key business workstreams, manage phase-outs of legacy systems and applications, track progress continually and address risks and issues promptly, and set deadline targets.

3. Map transformation to culture

A strong culture, with clear and compelling core values, gives employees a reason to act selflessly and embrace the transformation journey. Ask everyone — from C-suite leaders to the newest hires — to do what’s best for the company rather than what’s best for themselves. This is an important step at Kyndryl because many of the changes we’re making impact our people in a real and personal way.

4. Start change management early

It is critical to work on your business enablement early, reinforcing at all levels of the organization the importance and value of the work you do. Within Kyndryl, there is a clear understanding that people drive modernization and progress, and that technology enables that work. Early on, we built a technical curriculum for our experts to deepen their capabilities, which includes certification programs, advanced training on technologies and residencies with customers.

5. Don’t let perfection become the enemy of good

Know that transformations don’t always go according to plan, so the key is to roll with the punches, embrace mistakes and be as efficient as possible. At Kyndryl, we have focused a lot on reducing technological bloat, transitioning away from 1,800 inherited applications. Through hard work and determination, we are on track to consolidate our application portfolio by more than 80%.

This work reflected the same complex IT transformation challenges many of our customers face, which is why we consider Kyndryl “customer zero.” Transformation isn’t a one-and-done endeavor. It’s ongoing. Continuous modernization should be a business imperative within every organization. It is at Kyndryl.