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Digital Transformation Trends: 10 Highlights from Atlanta, Denver, and Toronto

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on January 23, 2020 by Erika Van Noort

In 2019, Softchoice’s Innovation Executive Forum (IEF) toured North American cities once again and learned first-hand how IT leaders are driving transformation and delivering outcomes in their organizations.

In this new Digital Transformation Trends report, we bring you the Top 10 highlights from our roundtable discussions in Atlanta, Denver, and Toronto. These insights were shared by groups of senior IT leaders, spanning industries and businesses of all types and sizes. Not only do they serve to show us what to expect in 2020, but they also offer real, tangible advice for the challenges your IT team is likely facing, today.

1. Getting the board to believe in security

We kicked off our conversation in Atlanta with a new catchphrase for the security industry. “There are two kinds of companies. Those who know they’ve been breached, and those who don’t.” And perhaps nowhere is this lack of understanding more dangerous than at the board level.

In Toronto, our IEF members pointed out that security awareness is actually on the rise. Negative publicity surrounding major hacks have done wonders for getting the board to agree that security is a priority. The problem is, leadership is not always aware of the extent of the risk. And they fail to invest enough, or in the right way, to adequately prepare for the inevitable.

The advice from IEF members in Toronto: Never let a good crisis go to waste. Use the next major headline-grabbing attack to your advantage, showing how the same could happen to your business if the right measures aren’t put in place. Then, get specific and build your business case about what you would do to prevent it.

2. Security must be user-friendly

We spend so much time fretting over the importance of data security that we forget the real goal behind it all: digital transformation. And while security is no doubt imperative, it’s of no use if it breaks the value promised by new and innovative initiatives.

“Security is a must, but it can’t get in the way of productivity,” said a high-level IT expert in Toronto. He mentioned that organizations tend to overcompensate in the wake of a breach, and over-engineer a security solution. This leads to “jail for the users,” or workarounds, making your security investments futile.

No surprise, our IEF members are on the hunt for security solutions that balance the needs of end-users with security. For example, they are looking at multi-factor authentication and modern workplace platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, to deliver an easier way to get work done, securely.

3. Closing up security gaps on the DevOps team

Developers are faced with enormous pressures to deliver new applications and customer services, quickly and efficiently. This situation has led to the rise of DevOps and agile processes across the enterprise.

Unfortunately, it’s also creating yet another gap in our security practices. As developers are given the tools to speed and scale their output, they are also given more ways to create risk. This is why IEF members are now shifting the DevOps conversation into a DevSecOps one. In Toronto, for example, one organization is looking for ways to standardize DevOps tools and processes and build up operational resilience. So, no matter how fast their business is moving, it’s doing so with limited risk and exposure.

4. Show us the monetization

For years we’ve been having the conversation about the need to put your data to use – to monetize it. Otherwise, you are simply paying to store and protect data, collecting proverbial dust on the shelf.

From what we saw in our recent IEF events, this monetization talk is starting to finally pay off. In Denver, we heard about a medical device manufacturer using data to predict failure in its supply chain and optimize packaging and shipping conditions. In Atlanta, a major sporting events company is providing data to suppliers and allowing them to use it to find their own creative ways to evolve and cater services. And, a financial services company in Atlanta is using data to identify its “stickiest” service offerings to guide strategic business investments.

5. The new ethics of data

Data might be the fuel of our digital economy, but it’s increasingly a liability, too. From GDPR-like regulations coming to the United States in 2020, to the increasing demands being placed on industries such as healthcare and banking, our IEF members are getting ready for an expensive journey to data compliance.

But the story doesn’t end with monetary or legal considerations. Our IEF members are also coming to terms with a new, much deeper and more human topic. Collecting and using data from your customers comes with ethical questions, as well. “I have seen the underbelly of the data economy,” said one IEF member, sharing an example of predicting the moves of the economy before everyone else. “What is our role, what is our duty? Can we monetize data ethically?”

This question resonated with multiple IEF leaders, as IT tries to determine its role as data steward or data owner.

6. It’s not about cloud – it’s about outcomes

It used to be that leadership was afraid of the cloud and slow to invest. Now, the opposite is true, according to IEF members. Which is creating a new set of challenges.

“I’m tired of people thinking it all starts and ends with the cloud,” said one senior IT leader in Denver. “Cloud used to be a curse word. Now it’s on everyone’s lips,” said another in Atlanta.

The advice our IT leaders shared is to push these cloud conversations toward a hybrid solution. The key point is that cloud isn’t the destination, it’s a tool to help get you there. Sometimes it will be the right tool for the job. Other times, on-premises technology will be the best fit. It might be an uphill battle to lower cloud expectations. But if we can get leadership to understand the hybrid cloud vision, then IT will be sending the business in the right direction. It’s not about cloud. It’s about the value you want to achieve.

7. Customer experience is the new killer app

You’ve heard it said that we are all technology companies now. But perhaps it’s time to update that maxim. From the conversations around the IEF table, it seems that customer experience is now king – something that will put legacy businesses at risk if they don’t find a way to disrupt their offerings and services before someone else does.

The takeaway for IT is big. IT is now counted on to help design, deliver and sustain those new and innovative customer experiences. As one member put it in Atlanta, “customers are looking for that Amazon experience.” In Toronto, an IT leader echoed this, saying: “Customers want experiences, not stuff. And technology is the place to lead this change.”

8. Culture to the rescue in the talent wars

The technology skills gap still weighs heavily on IT leaders across North America. Not only is talent harder than ever to attract, but retention and engagement are also more difficult to sustain than ever before.

IT leaders in Atlanta, Denver, and Toronto all touched on this topic with similar advice. If you want to really win the war for talent, you have to do more than just offer a bigger payday. Ideas and examples included offering perks that you might expect from a startup, mandating that IT shadow other departments, and getting rid of traditional job titles and hierarchies.  Other members said HR is failing to evolve and that it was important to put the pressure on them to change their traditional views of compensation. In Atlanta, one IT member said they were starting to align compensation to the performance gains of the technology being implemented – a unique and compelling approach to making IT talent feel valued for the work they do.

9. Countering the collaboration tool chaos

As we’ve seen in previous IEF roundtables, there is a growing concern around new collaboration tools. There seems to be a lot of chaos as users adopt their own mix of productivity and communication apps – and IT is striving to make things simpler and more secure.

This was the case in Denver and Atlanta. IT leaders there said it was time to adopt a centralized platform to bring together all the various and distinct collaboration needs of users. They also mentioned the need for global companies to address and plan for distinct preferences across regions. One leader said his plans to roll out Microsoft Teams were hindered when they got to their user base in China, where employees much prefer to use WeChat instead. If IT is to succeed, it will need to find a way to make users happy, without drowning the department in more complexity and operational headaches.

10. The business value of a new workplace experience

Making the workplace more collaborative isn’t just good for employee morale. It actually comes with a major payoff to the bottom line. At least, that’s the message coming from the senior IT leaders of the IEF.

In Denver, IT experts say new collaboration platforms are making the challenges of mergers and acquisitions a thing of the past. As a result, the business can expand more rapidly, with fewer costs. In Atlanta, one IT leader said that collaboration apps are no longer seen as simply an IT challenge. The entire business is invested in making work as seamless, productive and creative as possible.

It’s time we stopped looking at modern collaboration as a nice thing to have. When done right, it can add real, measurable value to your business.

 

To learn more about the IEF and apply to become a member, visit our IEF homepage.

 

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