2 mins

While it may be well-known for deep-dish pizza and its Windy City moniker, Chicago has been investing in its infrastructure to enable businesses to thrive. So, what can a closer look at Chicago tell us about digital transformation outside the traditional hubs of New York and San Francisco?

Telstra’s latest study by The Economist Intelligence Unit,Connecting Commerce: Business confidence in the digital environment, paints a positive story for Chicago. The study polled executives across 45 cities, including the Chicago Metropolitan Area, to measure their confidence in the strength of their local city environment to support their organisation’s digital transformation. Confidence in Chicago’s digital environment is high in relation to other cities, with an overall ranking of 15th (in comparison, San Francisco ranks 2nd and New York 11th). Similarly encouraging is the city’s ranking for its financial environment (12th), as well as its supply of people and skills where it ranked 11th.

These rankings are backed by a range of other indicators. For example:

  • Chicago was recently ranked among the top five global fintech hubs by Deloitte and the Global FinTech Hubs Federation based on a strong depth of talent and financial
  • Despite once being primarily blue-collar, Chicago has been called the United States’ “best educated big city”with a greater share of adults holding degrees – 38.5 percent – than in New York or the US as a whole.
  • Chicago is home to 13 of the top 100 businesses appearing on the Fortune Inner City 100 list, more than in any other city. When surveyed, none of the Chicago-based CEOs on the Inner City 100 cited their location as a disadvantage.

Cultural challenge in digital transformation.

Despite Chicago’s strong financial environment, the Connecting Commerce report has found that one in five (21%) survey respondents cite limited funding as their toughest challenge.

Yet, perhaps more pressing is the cultural challenge that digital transformation poses for a traditionally industrial city.

Investments in infrastructure, training, and digital partnerships are essential means to equip businesses with the tools to deal with disruptive change. Yet one of the biggest issues Chicago’s executives noted regarding their transformation environment is an inherent internal cultural resistance to change.

Investing in business and talent to overcome resistance to change.

This state of play may not last for long, as Chicago has been steadily investing in its future through digital education and encouraging innovation. Connecting Commerce found that executives there are satisfied with Chicago’s educational institutions, with 54 per cent noting their effectiveness in producing graduates equipped with the right skills. Those skills include big data analytics (28%) and mobile technologies (22%).

The city’s government is proactive in creating this business-friendly environment. According to Mika Stambaugh, a communications director for the City of Chicago quoted in Fortune, Chicago’s success has been driven by a pro-business focus. The city has worked hard to abolish red tape and other barriers to entry for business owners, including reducing the number of business license types from 117 to 49.

This sense of partnership is essential for the city’s success – and the success of its local businesses. Government programs and events are cited by almost a quarter of executives as their most helpful local resource.

For organisations looking beyond the major hubs of American business, Chicago paints an attractive picture. Through governmental investment in education, infrastructure, and partnership, the Windy City highlights a range of digital transformation lessons for us all to follow.


Investing in infrastructure to support digital transformation in the US

Investment in infrastructure is a key tenet of Telstra’s business in the United States, where it has operated for more than 20 years. Telstra has invested in submarine cables connecting to the US, landing stations on the east and west coasts, Hawaii and Guam, as well as multiple points of presence in California, New York, Virginia and Chicago, and soon in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver and Seattle. Our investments have enabled us to serve some of the world’s leading Internet companies and major enterprises out of the US, connecting them to key markets around the world.