The role of the COO in the digital era

Companies that are committed to transforming their business through digitalization must adapt their business model to the changing market. We’ve seen Uber revolutionise the taxi travel in cities the world over, as well as it starting to take the food industry by storm with its Uber Eats service. Meanwhile, mobile-only banking apps, such as Monzo and Atom Bank, have ripped up the traditional financial services world, with many of the high-street banks rallying to catch up and attract new digital-first customers. For companies that are looking to follow suit, the COO should take a lead on this digital transformation. The role of the COO has not changed, but the qualities that clients look for have. They want trust and commitment, and that is exactly what the COO can offer. Because developments are occurring so rapidly, companies need a reliable, trusted partner that can provide them with support. Here, I explore how the COO should respond.

  • Supporting organizations through their digital journey
    The COO should advise companies about how they can take advantage of new technologies and developments, and map out which efficiency gains and which cost savings are possible. They should vouch for the operation, the expertise and the quality of the company, and are the designated person for supporting their clients throughout their digital journey. This requires loyalty and trust, because you will be working together for a long time. Trust is something you must earn by showing openness and making commitments. It also means that, when times are hard, you must be clear about where the problem lies in order to find a solution.
  • Bringing in IT from the beginning
    One of the objectives of digital transformation should be reducing operational costs and streamlining investment in new technology. These are the typical core responsibilities for the COO, who can add their insight on the specific business operations and productivity challenges. IT should no longer only be considered at the final phase of such transitions. It should be involved right from the start when considering strategic problems and finding a solution that will fit.
  • Attracting and retaining top talent
    While the technology is the responsibility of the CTO, it is the COO’s responsibility to find the right people with the right skills at the right time to ensure that everyone can be successful as a team. Today, the temporal workforce is growing, and so the greatest challenge for the COO currently is knowing how to retain their top talent. If they can do this, many new job roles will emerge, such as data scientists. These are people who, on the basis of all available data, tools and processes, can recognize patterns and translate them into solutions to solve the problem at hand. The growing role of big data has brought many new technological solutions to the market, and consequently, has created a demand for professionals who have the tools to take advantage of these innovations.

There is a growing need for people who can think strategically in the business. On the one hand, understanding the needs of the client is very important, but you must also find the people with the right qualities. This means that you must express your trust in your own people and ensure that they are working in a role where their passion lies.

About Martin Schoenmakers

After his Bachelor degree in Business Economics Martin started his career at Siemens in the Netherlands in 1999. In several divisions and functions, e.g. as Business Controller or Financial Manager, he gained strong Financial, Sales and Management Skills. In 2007 Martin took over an international assignment with Siemens IT Solutions and Services GmbH and moved to Germany, to work as Regional Operations Manager and Commercial Project Manager. Following the Atos merger in 2011 Martin worked as Chief Financial Officer for the Global Siemens Account before he moved on as Chief Operating Officer for C&SI Germany being responsible for more than 500m revenue p.a.. In his previous roles he developed deep business expertise, strong execution skills as well as a passionate and clear leadership style. In 2016 Martin joined Atos Benelux & The Nordics as Chief Operating Officer.