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Digital Transformation Trends 2019-2020

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on December 11, 2019 by Erika Van Noort

Softchoice’s Innovation Executive Forum (IEF) is touring North American cities once again – learning first-hand how IT leaders are driving transformation and delivering outcomes in their organizations.

In this third post of the Digital Transformation Trends series, we bring you the key insights from our events in Boston, Halifax, and Washington.

3 ways IT is adapting to its new role as a business leader:

Less talk, more rock. That seems to be the motto for IEF leaders, as IT leans into its new role as a business visionary. IT leaders from Boston, Halifax, and Washington all had a lot of advice, concerns, and questions about the topic of realizing IT’s full potential in the business-led, technology-driven enterprise.

  1. Envisioning the Art of the Possible:. From the cloud to 5G and everything in between, IT is enabling new business models, new customer experiences and new business operations. In Boston, the IT leader at a law firm said the cloud is opening up a new world for tracking documents and delivering subpoenas, drastically cutting costs. In Halifax, an energy company executive said cloud-powered smart meters are giving consumers the power to make informed decisions on consumption, in real-time. And over in Washington, a construction firm sees a bright future with 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), including remote-controlled cranes powered by professions at distance (like a video game).
  2. Focusing on people, first: Digital solutions provide the “how.” But the true value of innovation is in the “who.” Which is why IEF members know the best place to start with a new initiative is not the solution, but the people behind it. In Washington, one business makes sure IT understands the entire business, from the user perspective. Shadowing call center employees led to a major overhaul of business applications and greatly simplified the life of workers. In Halifax, IT at a municipal government agency starts every project by asking end-users in each department a simple question: “What do you want to be doing better, differently?”
  3. Aiming at outcomes: If people are what drives change, outcomes are what prove its success. This is why IEF leaders propose we all adopt a “business outcomes framework” before, during and after new initiatives. In Boston, IT is adopting net promoter scores (NPS) as a yard-stick. Another IT leader in Washington says he begins all projects by asking “where do you want the business to go?” instead of “how do you want to get there?”

Making cents of the cloud:

For IEF members, it’s time to prove the real value of cloud, and overcome the complexities. This was made clear in our recent roundtable events in three distinct ways.

In Boston, one IT leader said the unanticipated costs of managing the cloud were starting to stack up. His team has had to hire a full-time resource to keep up with the continual changes to key platforms, such as Microsoft Azure. In Washington, it was a similar story with cloud initiatives putting pressure on IT to hire professionals with new skill sets, as they move away from traditional three-tiered architectures.

Another key cloud challenge is one of politics and perception. While the board is continually asking IT about the latest buzzwords, such as “what is our cloud-first strategy,” IT is being forced to turn vague directives into concrete strategies. IEF members agreed IT plays a pivotal role in making clear the real value of the cloud – and the costs – before an enterprise invests too deeply.

Finally, in Halifax, IEF said it’s hard to get the full picture of cloud costs. Making the switch from licensing to subscriptions is only one piece of the larger total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis. IT leaders must strive to understand how cloud impacts workloads, productivity and security, as well as staffing, energy consumption and even real estate to clearly understand the dollars spent or saved.

Security is underpinning everything:

As digital transformation continues to change the way we work and do business, cybersecurity concerns are on the rise. In Boston, for example, the IT leader at a non-profit organization said data security is the top concern as his firm adopts new, cloud-based fundraising solutions. In Halifax, another IT leader said employees and customers are expecting faster, more seamless experiences online. But delivering those experiences cannot come at the cost of safeguarding data and information access.

To tackle these new security obstacles, IEF members are adopting a few useful techniques. We again saw a “people first” mentality in Halifax. If users are the weakest link, they are also your greatest asset when it comes to security. Making security user-friendly and aligned to a modern workplace helps balance the risk, without putting productivity on the line. There is also a growing demand for security to be included early and often in all strategic planning. Security must be represented to the board. It must also be included in the design, delivery, and support of new business applications and services. Anything less, and you are leaving yourself exposed.

Putting shape to data strategy: 

Data is the new fuel, powering the digital economy. So, it was a surprise when the room went silent in Boston when the table was asked: “what is your data strategy?”

That’s not to say data hygiene and monetization aren’t top of mind for IEF leaders. Far from it. In Boston, one healthcare company is aiming to use data to build better products and deliver better patient outcomes. In Halifax, an IEF leader said data isn’t a technology discussion, it’s a business one. Peers in that city marveled about the unintended consequences of making government data publicly available – leading to innovative, creative use cases that would have never been possible in the past. In Washington, one IT leader in the legal space said data and artificial intelligence are being used to quickly analyze hundreds of years of judicial precedent, to shape new and creative legal strategies.

But the fears surrounding data management are equally powerful. In Washington, the specter of global privacy laws and losing consumer trust is causing pause when collecting and using personal information. In Boston, IT is struggling to hire people with the right skill sets, needed to analyze and leverage data.

Putting Teams to work: 

Collaboration is key for the members of the IEF, with platforms such as Microsoft Teams allowing IT leaders to drive results and push the business forward. But it’s not without its challenges. Here is just a sample of the key points raised in our recent IEF events:

  • Third-party collaboration: A major new use case for Teams is enabling secure collaboration with customers and outside partners. It’s not just about internal users anymore.
  • One team, many departments: In Boston, cloud platforms are being used to unify sales, support and marketing to obtain a consolidated, unified view of the customer – improving service and unleashing new revenues as a result.
  • Industry templates wanted: Teams is still out of reach for many highly-regulated, niche industries. These businesses think industry-specific templates are needed to overcome adoption hurdles.
  • Design thinking: Don’t look at Teams for the features. Look at it for how it fits into your workers’ daily lives. Start by mapping workflows and conducting interviews about daily challenges and let that guide your solution design and change management plans.
  • Simplification: Teams is helping reduce overhead by eliminating redundant solutions. Meanwhile, new partnerships with Cisco also promise to make the hardware environment more standardized and easier to upgrade.

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

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