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Sustaining Momentum on the Digital Transformation Journey

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on June 27, 2018 by Erika Van Noort

Digital transformation is about making life easier.

The IT leader strives to make getting things done as easy as possible, whether it’s for customers, internal users or the IT team itself. But this is a challenge on its own.

Every day, security threats grow more sophisticated. The cloud seems less like an option and more like an inevitability. Finding and keeping IT talent gets more difficult. Meanwhile, senior management expects IT to do more with less.

By now, many organizations have taken the first steps on the digital journey. The next challenge is in sustaining the momentum. To do so, the IT leader must learn to optimize technology investments, better enable end users and make IT more agile.

At our recent IEF event, we sat down with IT executives in Denver. Through this discussion they explored the challenges they face today and the ones they see coming next.

We share some of their key insights in the article below.

Preparing for the Road Ahead

IT leaders deploy technology to help organizations grow, adapt and compete in a fast-changing landscape. But clearing the way for digital transformation isn’t always easy. Changing regulations, mergers and acquisitions and rapid expansion throw roadblocks in the way.

To make way for the future, sometimes you first need to contend with the past. For IT leaders, this often means migrating or replacing existing IT infrastructure and services. For one IEF panelist, the biggest hurdle lay in bringing legacy ERP and CRM solutions up-to-date in time for a new greenfield construction.

“The problem is they all integrate with each other,” he explained. “Doing an upgrade on one breaks connectivity with the others.”

One member in professional sports grappled with physical infrastructure that was past its prime. “We’re clearing out our cable trays because they have twenty-three years of crap piled on top of each other.” The move was more than an overdue upgrade. Replacing outmoded cabling removed a threat to the organization’s day-to-day operations. “We have the same thing as [another sports franchise] and one of their trays fell,” he said. “It shut them down for a while.”

Sometimes the biggest roadblock to digital transformation isn’t technology, but people. One member with a not-for-profit detailed his organization’s need to dedicate time to “commodity IT services.”

“When we think about our organization, what we really need is development capability. We have the ability to train for that,” he explained. “What we don’t have is enough staff, or too many staff engaged in manual BAU activities, provisioning and so on.”

The mission ahead lay in automating – or even outsourcing – core IT services. This way, the organization would free up development resources for strategic innovation initiatives.

What about the organization starting small but anticipating rapid growth? One panelist described his role as the first-ever member of his tiny, but fast-growing organization’s IT department. “We’re small. So, there’s a lot of what you would call ‘legacy systems’ that need to be rebuilt, scaled.”

The main challenge: “Figuring out what we’re going to for the next two or three years, before we have to do it all over again – due to growth.”

CIO: The People’s Champion

The modern IT leader is the champion of the users. Every day, they strive to make users more productive, no matter how those users prefer to work.

As one IEF panelist put it, “we try to focus on ‘making their life as easy as possible.” But, he admitted, “it’s a balancing act.” Every organization supports various user personas, internal or external. Each has a different idea of a great user experience.

One member in the mining industry described the ideal approach to allowing employees to work anywhere: “Make it easy.” This may involve initiatives to enable automated or “self-service” IT. In his company, the member also observed a mobile-first trend toward a growing preference for tablets over computers.

Championing end users could also involve migrating key services to the cloud. Several of our attendees in Denver had migrated to the Office 365 suite to support a 24/7, “work anywhere” model. Most found getting the technology in place was only half the battle.

“How do you support that usage and adoption piece,” our host asked the panel. “At the end of the day, that’s going to be your measure of success with the business.”

For one IEF member, a slow-and-steady approach showed some promise. The trick, he found, was to let users know Office 365 and One Drive were available. Then, he evangelized features one-by-one through regular “tech tips”. Before long, users realized the suite offered functionality they had been wanting for years.

“The adoption is not great – yet. But sitting here in a year, we will have had a good impact on the business.”

One member in attendance represented a local university. He found users wanted to adopt and consume tools faster than IT could vet them, creating potential security risks. “Some groups come to us and say, ‘We found Slack. Can we use Slack?’” he explained. “We’d rather you used Teams.”

The Battle for Tech Talent

For digital transformation to succeed, an IT leader needs the right people in place. But attracting – and keeping – strong technical talent is no easy feat.

“It’s like a shark tank,” said one member of the technical talent market. “It’s forever changing and it’s very hard to get good people to stay.”

Sometimes, it’s a matter of money. “With high talent, to keep them is difficult because another organization is willing to pay them more,” said one member. “They’re also looking for that bigger, better deal.” He described recruiting in a previous role with a software start-up:

“I’d say, ‘my owner doesn’t want to give out equity,’ and they’d say, ‘see-ya!’”

The panel also noted a changing attitude toward employment. “You’re no longer going to work for a company for fifty years and get a pension,” argued one attendee. “Companies are starting to adapt to it. There’s this idea that this is the way it is now.”

Many on the panel agreed employers face a generational shift. “People don’t join for life,” explained one member. Instead, they prefer to work project-to-project. When one “gig” concludes, they move onto the next.

Expectations around compensation have also changed within the younger workforce, noted another panelist. “People under thirty or thirty-two aren’t nearly as interested in the benefits. Going to the dentist isn’t something they get super-excited about.”

Sometimes bringing in fresh talent is unfeasible. As the panel agreed, this is the time to reinvest in existing resources through training. One member’s organization took this approach to deepening its bench in security – a difficult and expensive role to staff. “Hopefully we can hold onto them before they go somewhere else and make more.”

In the battle for technical talent, it’s key for an organization to find its unique value proposition as a place to work. Many organizations offer inherent perks that no other employer can offer. It’s critical for technical recruiters to recognize and promote these.

Final Thoughts

Below is a recap of key insights from our Denver IEF event:

–        The first step toward digital transformation is clearing away the obstacles

–        Often, it’s up to the IT executive to identify and tackle technology and personnel challenges

–        Enabling user productivity is key, but driving technology adoption is often a battle on its own

–        Today’s employers face an increasingly tough marketplace for the acquisition and retention of technical talent

Ready to join the discussion? #CIOTableTalk

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