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Poised for Change. IT’s New Normal.

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on December 4, 2018 by Karen Bader

It’s a fact: the speed of business isn’t set to slow down anytime soon. As recent tech history has shown us, the digital transformation of business continues to move apace, as companies in virtually all sectors react to changing consumer demand and technological advancement.

At our recent IEF event in Calgary, we gathered a group of the city’s IT leaders for a broad discussion about what that means for companies today, coupled with a discussion of best-case-scenarios for the future. Suffice it to say, some of what we heard surprised us.

The Importance of Optimizing IT Investments

With the digital transformation of business well underway, our attendees all understood that when it comes to staying competitive, priority one is to optimize the infrastructure they’ve put in place. Why?

5 key insights were identified:

1. Complacency is a killer

With the age of the disruptor firmly upon us, complacency is a killer. Whether you’re in the energy sector or healthcare, sitting back while the marketplace changes around you isn’t an option. This is especially true considering disruptors need only change the technological side of the businesses they displace. One of our guests cited Uber as an example:

“Uber didn’t really disrupt the taxi industry. It disrupted the taxi dispatch. The business didn’t change. People in cars are still picking people up, and driving them somewhere and dropping them off. Digital didn’t change that.”

All that said, we were surprised to learn that some companies seem to be bucking this trend. In fact, for some traditional enterprise organizations, such as those in the oil business, making the transformation doesn’t necessarily mean a company has to be first out of the gate. Rather, it’s better to optimize what is currently there, to ensure the business stands the test of time.

2. We’re dealing with massive amounts of data

For each of our attendees, the volume of data now being collected thanks to digital transformation, both internally or customer-facing is growing exponentially. Across the board, this is raising challenges for IT, (the people who have to collect, manage and store the data), and business strategists, who need to find ways to process that data into profitable chunks that are meaningful to the business.

“We’re moving so much data all the time, that to try and gain access to it for optimization…that’s the big challenge,” a member said. “We need to optimize it [the data], and be sure that I can be the last company standing.”

3. “Different” is the new “normal”

Our discussion over the evening also made it very clear, that when it comes to digital transformation, “doing things differently” has moved from being a nice idea to a mantra of necessity.  No matter which industry or vertical they’re in, IT leaders are having to constantly learn to do things better, smarter, more efficiently and more effectively.

No two companies are the same, so understandably, what “different” means for everyone is well, different.  As a means of illustrating the point, one attendee explained,

We had become too expensive to do business with. Too much customization of technology, and too many different services to suit too many unique customer needs.”

As a result, the company needed to find a way to bring fixed costs down, while maintaining customer service.

He continued, “The result of this situation, is that now, many systems are being replaced with SaaS. We’re simplifying many of the business processes and doing so in a way that minimizes the impact on customer experience.”

4. Our day-to-day is getting too complicated

Other guests spoke about how the rise of the autonomous data center along with AI and Machine Learning were helping their companies learn to be more efficient by simplifying day-to-day processes. We discussed how these advancements are freeing up IT departments to drive infrastructure, and support more self-serve IT for employees of the business.

One attendee, who worked for a company in the medical examination space explained that in the past, they took a hodge-podge approach to technology. Now, they’re taking a Simplify-Rinse-Repeat approach to their infrastructure.

5. IT has more to offer than the day-to-day

As systems get smarter, and IT takes a more prominent role at the company, IT is developing a stronger business acumen. It’s becoming better at understanding workflow controls, with the net result that the company is now focused on disciplined management.”  As the attendee explained, “The things we talked about 10 years ago, are now a reality.” the company is benefitting from a focus on disciplined management.

For another attendee, seeing their company being forced into credit protection changed the way things were done day-to-day. He explained,

Entering into credit protection a few years ago meant that the entire business was focused on survival.  All previous ways and rules were thrown out and the process forced a new way of learning. Prior to this event, IT was a roadblock and drove too much complexity.”

Coming out of this critical situation, this company found that IT needed to be given more of a leadership role, in order to solve problems before they arose. “IT now has a role to continually educate the Business,” he said. “IT has learned to say ‘no’, but in doing so now provides options, along with the ‘what’ and ‘when’ scenarios.”

Clearly, in today’s business environment, problem solving needs to be more proactive, rather than reactive. Doing so can allow a company to grow more intelligently, and more frugally.

Letting IT Drive the Business

After a discussion about the present state of IT, we wanted to take some time to focus on the future. Again, our conversation was illuminating and identified a few strategies for promoting the role of IT as a business driver.

1. Reassigning day-to-day responsibility

For one attendee, increasing the importance of IT’s role within an organization actually meant reassigning certain responsibilities. In their opinion, IT should be able to turn to operations in a non-hierarchical way, delegating day-to-day functions elsewhere within the business, and offloading whatever possible to the cloud.

2. Educating end users

One member spoke about the necessity of educating end users to help speed up internal processes. According to his observations, this has resulted in streamlining service delivery across the board.

“We’re educating users through the lens of how their work impacts others down the chain,” he said. “We’re doing a ton of education into what digitization means. We look into what they’re doing now so they can understand how that might affect somebody else down the chain. Then they can adjust their work accordingly.”

3. Revaluating the C-suite

For many attendees, the role of the CIO within their organization continues to evolve, with some organizations transitioning over to a CDO (Chief Digital Officer) who can oversee digital transformation, and end-user engagement. Around the table, it seemed that not all industries can afford this development, despite the fact it feels like a natural evolution given the volume of data companies are now dealing with.

4. Data science

Speaking of the rise in data, another role discussed around the table was the need for data-scientists – specialists whose role is to oversee data. Attendees noted that the reality is, many companies are really morphing into “data companies”, and the time has come to delegate professionals who can visualize that data, and find ways to monetize it.

As one attendee noted, data science is becoming so critical, that “We are not going to be able to rationalize the data we have today, without it.”

Common Roadblocks

While solutions are there to be found, the reality is that for many companies, the stumbling blocks related to digital transformation are numerous. Around the table, our guests pointed to a number of issues holding back their organizations from driving the efficiencies they needed to stay competitive.

Disruption

Among the standouts was disruption, and how to effectively deal with it. One attendee illustrated this point clearly:

“We are at the point where the top 20% of businesses today will be disrupted.  40% of IT consumption will be consumed as a Service. The questions for IT will be: How did we help through operational efficiency? Shadow IT? Did we support by creating a “cloud like” experience?”

Across the board, workloads are the driver that will truly determine the appropriate response. Companies need to have a plan in place to deal with disruption within their industry, if and when it occurs, with the goal of driving toward an open ecosystem that provides visibility into workloads.

Resistance to change

Another attendee pointed out the inherent danger of employees who are resistant to change.

“Our biggest challenge is that internally there’s a lot of resistance to change,” he explained. “There’s a lack of knowledge in the cloud, a lot of questions ‘why would we do this?’ It’s a real challenge because you have to get them onboard to move forward.”

Clearly, a focus on internal education is going to be a key role of IT moving forward.

Lack of focus

Another issue for companies struggling to maintain the infrastructure they need to evolve was the focus. With so much new technology hitting the market, the need to “stay the course, and not follow the shiny new lights”, can present a constant challenge.

IT gets in its own way

As IT moves to a more prominent role within the business, it can be looked at as a “save-the-day” type of group. IT teams need to ensure systems work, but more than that, they should focus on training users so they can help themselves where appropriate. In this way, IT can free itself up to focus on the sort of larger-picture thinking that can help propel the business forward.

Final Thoughts

After such a varied and intense discussion about the future role of IT, it’s becoming clearer that as more companies make the digital journey, the role of IT is poised for change. Whether we’re talking about data collection and monetization, education or moving business forward, IT leaders definitely have their work cut out for them.

In summation:

  • It’s not enough to collect data, it must be monetized and rationalized
  • The threat of disruption means sitting still is no longer an option
  • Pushback and legacy knowledge needs to be worked through
  • The digital journey requires focus and a steady hand

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