- IMD Business School
Digital transformation & AI

A guide to digital and AI leadership in Asia

87% of digital transformation initiatives fail.

The imperative for capable digital and AI leadership is more pronounced than ever. As disruption continues to reshape the global economy, digitalization now stands as a fundamental cornerstone for organizational resilience and growth.

Consumer giants like Adidas and Lego exemplify a blueprint for success, having woven digital and AI technologies into the very fabric of their business models, culture, and customer experiences. Similarly, B2B leaders like Shopify and Siemens have demonstrated how digital and AI technology, when integrated across the entire business, results in operational efficiency and product innovation.

Beyond brands, this trend is echoed in the public sector as well, with governments worldwide stringing to match the pace of transformation in the private sector. Nations like UAE, Singapore, and Estonia are leaning into digital transformation to redefine public service, aiming to become more citizen-centric and efficient.

The landscape is clear. Transform, or get left behind. However, digital and AI transformation goes beyond merely implementing technology in the organization. Our data shows that 87% of digital transformation initiatives fail. Typically, this is due to a lack of alignment with overall business strategy and goals, and the failure to change organizational culture and processes before bringing technology and tools into the equation.  

With this as a backdrop, the role of the leader is the key to determining which organizations thrive and which become relics of their era. Part visionary, part executor, this role is not just to introduce technology but to embed it within the DNA of the organization – aligning it with strategic goals, cultivating a culture of adaptability and innovation, and orchestrating processes that integrate these tools into business operations. Leading with a digital-first mindset that enables technology, people, and processes to converge ultimately drives performance and generates value for the organization.

  1. Frequently asked questions
  2. What makes an effective digital and AI leader?
  3. Building a digital and AI-ready culture
  4. Four tips for successful digital and AI transformation
  5. Gain a deeper understanding of digital and AI at IMD
 - IMD Business School
Digital And AI Accelerator Singapore

Fast-track your way to digital leadership excellence

30 September 2024
Frequently asked questions
What is digital and AI transformation?

Digital and AI transformation is the integration of digital technology and artificial intelligence into all areas of the organization to fundamentally transform the way it operates and delivers value to customers. This process requires organizations to challenge the status quo and get comfortable with failure, and ranges from automating everyday tasks to leveraging AI to gather insights and make informed decisions. With how fast technology is evolving, organizations should look at transformation as a constant process of renewal and change without a defined destination. Ultimately, the goal of digital and AI technology is to transform the organization, so it becomes more innovative, efficient, and customer-centric.

Which industries are most affected by digital and AI disruption?

While virtually every industry is feeling the impact of digital disruption, some are experiencing more rapid and significant impacts than others. IMD’s biennial Digital Vortex report found that the technology products and services, education, financial services, and telecommunications industries were the most susceptible to digital disruption in 2023.

How do I kickstart digital and AI transformation?
  1. Define your organization’s vision and objectives: Clearly articulate what digital and AI transformation means for your business and what you intend to achieve.
  2. Assess your current state: Evaluate your organization’s digital capabilities and identify the gaps between them and your vision.
  3. Develop an implementation strategy: Based on your objectives and current state, develop a strategic approach to help your organization efficiently utilize resources and overcome potential issues.
  4. Engage stakeholders: Demonstrate the value and impact of the transformation to get buy-in and support from key organization stakeholders.
  5. Start small: Beginning with smaller projects, deliver quick wins with demonstrable value to build a foundation for larger transformation projects in the future.
  6. Build capability: Invest in training your workforce in new tools and technology as well as your leadership team in digital and AI leadership to foster a culture of change, innovation, and continuous learning.
  7. Scale and iterate: With the experience from the smaller projects, you can now scale initiatives across the organization, continuously refining your approach based on your learnings.
Why does digital and AI transformation fail?

Our research shows that 87% of digital transformation initiatives fail to meet their intended objectives. There are varied reasons for this, and some of the most common we’ve observed include:

  • Jumping straight into execution without clear objectives or adequate planning
  • Failure to integrate digital tools with organizational processes
  • Excessive focus on technology over necessary changes in organizational structure, culture, and processes
  • Unrealistic expectations of technology being the silver bullet that will resolve all problems

Here are five tips to make digital transformation work from Thomas Moon, Global Head for Customer Experience Excellence for Shell.

How can I justify the cost of digital and AI transformation to my stakeholders?

Justifying the cost involves demonstrating the value and potential return on investment of the transformation initiative. A strategic approach to this typically includes developing a cost-benefit analysis, using success stories from similar organizations as a benchmark, demonstrating the alignment of the transformation project with broader business goals, and showing how transformation can mitigate risks from competitive pressures, operational efficiencies, and potential market disruptions. Here is a taxonomy of 24 digital transformation KPIs to assess and benchmark your digital and AI transformation journey.

What are the key components of an effective digital and AI leadership curriculum?

An effective digital and AI leadership curriculum should be comprehensive and multidimensional, focusing on the core competencies essential for leading in the age of AI. These include foundational knowledge of disruptive technologies and how they impact the business, as well as how to develop and implement digital and AI-driven strategies that are robust in the face of the evolving technological landscape. To ensure you can apply your learning in real-world contexts, look out for programs that enable learning through case studies and hands-on applications. Additionally, an emphasis on specialized knowledge tailored to diverse business functions would ensure digital fluency across the organization.

What makes an effective digital and AI leader?

Leading amidst increasing digital disruption means being able to navigate a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) landscape. Our turbulent reality today challenges traditional leadership models, pushing boundaries to rethink and adapt previous tried-and-tested approaches. And as technological advancements continue to redefine the dynamics of and between industries, markets, and customers, effective leadership now encompasses a broader mandate to develop digital and AI strategies that drive business transformation and growth.

As a result, agility alone is no longer sufficient for today’s leaders. With generative AI revolutionizing our approach to work despite still being in its early days, today’s transformation goalposts are not just moving – they are constantly being redefined. Beyond being agile, leaders are now expected to be visionarytenacious, and ambidextrous.

Equally important in this digital journey is a leader’s understanding of how people and technology intersect. Successful digital transformation is less about technological adoption and more about how these technologies enhance the capabilities of the workforce. Effective leaders recognize the importance of equipping their teams with the skills and knowledge necessary to leverage new technologies competently. Bridging this digital skills gap will ensure that the organization is not only prepared for current demands but also ready for the emergence of future trends.

Related reading: Seven leadership trends to focus on in 2024


Visionary leaders are adept at identifying emerging trends and positioning their organizations to capitalize on them before the competition does. They are experimenters and risk-takers, questioning existing paradigms to reimagine established strategies and pivot to uncharted paths that leverage new technologies to meet emerging market demands.


Tenacity is essential for leaders to not just recover from setbacks and failures but move forward despite them. The road to integrating new technologies into operational processes is fraught with hurdles, and an effective leader is one who demonstrates their steadfastness in pursuing their vision, in turn instilling confidence in their teams to push boundaries and experiment without fear of making mistakes.


The concept of ambidexterity in leadership refers to the ability to balance operational excellence in the present while also preparing the organization for future growth. Ambidextrous leaders excel in managing the core business efficiently to ensure success while simultaneously investing in new technologies, processes, and business models that drive future growth.

Building a digital and AI-ready culture

Whether an organization can remain competitive in the face of rapid technological advancements hinges on its continued investment in the development of its people, especially those who are on the frontlines of using or implementing the new technologies and tools.

To achieve this, tailored learning and development programs should focus not just on technical training but also on a strategic understanding of how new digital and AI capabilities can further the broader objectives of the business.

This dual focus equips employees to ask the right questions, identify opportunities for technological integration, and anticipate the impact on business models, customer experiences, and the market at large. Ultimately, prioritizing the holistic development of the workforce creates one that is both adept with tools and insightful about their application.

At the same time, it is equally critical to develop the digital capabilities of leaders too. As the change architects helming the transformation, they must possess a thorough understanding of every facet of the digital and AI landscape including digital trends, leveraging data, AI developments, and the regulatory environments in which they operate.

Digital leadership development programs must thus address the unique challenges posed by digital and AI transformation, such as how to leverage large language models effectively or integrate cutting-edge AI into strategic decision-making.

For such development, a learning journey that is as diverse as the digital landscape itself is advantageous. Part of the journey should focus on building or updating core knowledge and skill sets such as understanding disruptive technologies, data analytics, and strategies that drive digital change.

The journey can then progress to focus on refining leaders’ skills in specialized areas that are most relevant to their role, to build functional expertise that enables them to make informed, strategic decisions to steer organizations effectively through the AI era.

However, training and development are only part of the equation. For an organization to be genuinely digital and AI-ready, there must be an ingrained culture that fosters innovation and agility. This cultural shift can be achieved by promoting a mindset of experimentation and tolerance for failure – a critical component of innovation.

Employees should feel empowered to experiment with new technologies and explore innovative solutions without the fear of repercussions should an initiative not yield the expected results.

To facilitate this cultural shift, organizations need to establish clear communication channels that allow for the exchange of ideas and encourage collaboration across departments and hierarchies. By breaking down silos and promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, businesses can unlock creative solutions and drive transformation effectively.

Moreover, aligning the organization’s values and practices with the digital strategy is vital. This involves rethinking traditional workflows, adopting data-driven decision-making, and embracing a customer-centric approach.

An AI-amplified organization harnesses AI technologies not just for automation but also for enhancing human capabilities and decision-making processes. With the right mindset, tools, and training for the C-suite to the front line, organizations can turn the challenges of digital and AI transformation into a competitive advantage.

Related reading: Tackle the tech skills shortfall for successful digital transformation

Four tips for successful digital and AI transformation

With so much investment going into transformation projects, the stakes for success are higher than ever. To maximize the effectiveness of these initiatives, here are four tips to guide you to success:

Understand regional diversity

The key to successful transformation is the ability of leaders to adapt strategies to meet the specific needs and preferences of regional markets. For instance, technological infrastructure and consumer behavior in markets like Vietnam and Indonesia differ markedly from China and Singapore. Recognizing these differences is critical to crafting localized digital and AI strategies that resonate with diverse audiences.

Anticipate digital trends and consumer behavior

Keeping up with emerging digital trends and evolving consumer behaviors is crucial for leaders as they steer their organizations through digital and AI transformation. The rapid pace of change in the digital landscape means that consumer expectations are also constantly shifting, and thus leaders will need to not only react to current trends but also forecast future changes in consumer behavior and technology use. This would enable organizations to meet consumer needs more effectively and create more personalized and engaging experiences.

Keep on top of regulatory environments

Compliance with local data protection laws, cybersecurity standards, and digital commerce regulations is not only a legal requirement but also a critical component of building trust with consumers. As technologies continue to evolve at a rapid pace, so too does the regulatory framework that governs them. As such, what is compliant today may not be tomorrow, and leaders must take a proactive approach to stay ahead of these changes so the organization secures consumer trust and a competitive edge in the market.

Build strategic partnerships

Forming strategic partnerships is crucial for navigating the digital and AI landscape. Partnering with technology firms, regional experts, and various businesses enables organizations to gain access to the latest technologies, insights, and a wider network of opportunities, effectively laying the groundwork for a robust digital ecosystem. This facilitates the smoother integration of new technologies, promotes innovation, and enhances the organization’s ability to adapt to new developments.

Related reading: How can you apply AI in your organization?

Gain a deeper understanding of digital and AI at IMD

You are the driving force behind digital and AI transformation as your organization navigates a complex business landscape. However, rapid change calls for specialized insights and actionable solutions that are not just tailored to your immediate needs, but constantly updated to reflect new developments in today’s fast-paced digital ecosystem.

Continuous learning is an essential part of this journey. Enroll in IMD’s Digital and AI Accelerator and gain a deeper understanding of how to integrate AI into your business model.  

Over five days, you’ll be able to build the exact program you need to quickly bridge your digital and AI knowledge gaps. Mix and match modules that provide in-depth domain knowledge like digital strategy or AI analytics, with modules that explore how to apply that knowledge in your functional role within your organization.

Beyond insights, the program puts you in the room with like-minded leaders who are equally eager to sharpen their digital and AI expertise. As you learn and share, you’ll not only leave with an arsenal of ready-to-apply strategies but also a circle of peers as dedicated to driving digital and AI transformation as you are.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to revolutionize your digital approach. Enroll today and propel your business forward.

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