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Transformation in Toronto

Posted on July 27, 2017 by Innovation Executive Forum

How IT Leaders are Using Change to Their Advantage

Everything comes down to change.

How well can you transform your data into a valuable business asset?  How will your business handle an evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats? How will your retail business adapt to new customer interfaces? How fast and how flexible will you make your workforce?

These were the key topics raised at the annual IEF meeting in Toronto. And, in every single case, senior IT leaders from across industries shared a wealth of useful knowledge and strategies to adapt and profit in a world consumed with unbridled, unstoppable changes.


Like oil, data needs to be transformed

Data, just like oil, is one of the world’s most valuable resources.

And like oil, once processed, data can spark new insights, new business models and new customer experiences.

According to one panelist, an IT leader at an insurance firm, entire industries will rise and fall depending on how well they assemble and transform data into something valuable. If you wait too long to act, startups and data-savvy competitors will displace you with ease.

“We need to invest 30 to 50 million dollars on data, right now, or we are going to lose our clients,” he said. “Young people are going to be buying their data from Google if we don’t step up.”

“Insight is hard”

The problem isn’t how much data a business can acquire — they have plenty.

Insurance firms know a lot about you already, from your finances to your health status. The problem is doing something strategic with that information, to find a novel way to offer customers a better experience. Unfortunately, many insurance firms are still stuck in the past. “We are still asking for postal codes to mail them a pamphlet,” he said. “It’s embarrassing. No one wants that!”

Another IT leader put it this way: “It’s great to see in a report that our business is growing. But why!? Why is it growing? We don’t have an answer for that,” she said. “It’s easy to make reports. But insight is hard.”

Unearthing potential

One IEF member said the root of the problem lies with hiring people with the wrong set of skills. His company hires dozens of so-called “data scientists,” for example, yet the company is still “drowning in a data swamp.” To fix this? Start hiring people who will know how to take this crude data and turn it into rocket fuel powering innovation and great customer experiences.

Is data the new oil? Join the conversation on Twitter #CIOTableTalk

No proof? No pay: How to deal properly with ransomware attackers

Pop quiz: your company suffers a ransomware attack. What is the first thing you do?

According to one security expert who joined us at the IEF, it’s definitely NOT pay up. At least not yet. The reason is simple: the attackers may not have anything!

“We see a lot of people paying, but there is simply no ‘proof of life,’” he said, using a term borrowed from real-life ransoms, wherein kidnappers must prove their victims are alive.

The best course of action, said Val Pipenko, Systems Engineering Director at FireEye, is to work with an outside firm to verify if the attack is genuine. From there, consider your options. Whether or not you pay will depend on the proof offered, the extent of the attack and, of course, the price.

Unfortunately, he said, many companies are embarrassed when they suffer an attack. For this reason, they rush to pay, hoping to sweep the incident “under the rug” without any public attention. One IEF member said this is a terrible solution. Using his own experience as an example, he said he hates the idea of paying the attackers.

“If you pay, it tees up more attacks,” he said, explaining how his firm simply declined to pay after doing some upfront work with FireEye to contain the damage.

Further Reading:


Evolving the customer experience

From voice-powered artificial intelligence (AI) to virtual reality at home and in-store, everything about the way we shop is changing.

One CIO at the table is addicted to Amazon’s connected smart-home speaker, the Echo. As she uses the intelligent, voice-powered gizmo to do a variety of daily tasks — all without picking up a phone or laptop — she sees this as the future of, well, everything.

 I can’t live my life without Amazon Echo,” she admitted, adding: “Voice (UI) will be our way to interface with technology everywhere.

Part of a larger trend called “conversational UI”, voice assistants are among the frictionless technologies poised to become the next “major technology platform after mobile,” reports VentureBeat.

Augmented and Virtual Reality in Retail

One IEF member at the table described a situation wherein a customer walks into a store. Instead of trying on clothes, they simply put on a VR headset and explores the catalogue virtually. The scenario raises an obvious question: If you are shopping on VR, “why even go to the store?”

Another participant explained how augmented reality is already replacing the traditional way we shop for glasses. Instead of going into a store, you open your computer camera and let software super-impose frames onto the image of your face. To go even further, some retailers are combining AR with 3D printing and AI-produced advice, to create custom, highlyunique frames designed specifically for your face and natural attributes. Now that’s service!

Powered by a lack of privacy

Intelligent assistants such as Siri and Alexa listen to our every word. Marketers are gathering and using those insights to serve up more relevant, tailored offerings. To this, millennials say: “bring it on.”

“My kids are 22 and 19,” said one IEF member, “and they couldn’t care less on what people know about them!”

He explained that this generation doesn’t have the same hesitations toward sharing data as their older counterparts. If companies provide a better user experience or product, they are perfectly willing to part with personal, privileged information.


Building a modern workplace

Just like retail, the workplace is undergoing major transformation in the digital age.

Aside from the death of voicemail, IEF members discussed several crucial ways businesses must evolve to meet their employees’ needs in an era defined by the “consumerization of IT,” crowdsourcing and the need for more purposeful, balanced careers.

If you do one thing to make the new generation of workers happy, make it this: stop wasting their time. According to several IEF members, modern workers don’t have the patience to do things the traditional way when they have a more efficient option.

 There is no toleration for the old way of doing things,” said the senior IT leader of a global asset management company. “If they can use their thumbprint to unlock a phone, there is no way they will want to use a fob to unlock their work computer.

Don’t tell them how to work

Video and instant messaging allow organizations to eliminate the need for employees to travel, saving companies money and giving back more of the precious time workers spend at home. The result is a better balanced, low-stress lifestyle.

Some employees are taking this idea even further, eliminating offices and dedicated desks altogether. Many no longer feel the need to come in to the physical workplace, explained one IEF member. Another said his IT organization is even putting to rest the idea that they need to provide the user with a workstation.

“We are moving away from this notion that it is corporate IT’s job to tell you how to compute,” he said, discussing the merits of BYOD, “We simply won’t do it anymore.”

The liquid workforce

This evolution in the way people work is also creating opportunities for businesses to save. One IT leader, at a major financial consultancy says this has changed the way his company looks at staffing. Instead of looking for full time employees, they can easily outsource shorter-term talent to meet spikes in demand as needed.

He described his company’s shift to a “bidding system.” In lieu of full-time employees, they hire temporary workers to come in, get full access to the business systems, complete a job and then “go away.”

“This approach will be a fundamental part of our business in five years,” he said.

Further Reading:

CIO Table Talk: The Cheat Sheet

Staying still means death in these digital days. The IEF members in Toronto reinforced this point with four major lessons. All IT leaders should heed these warnings:

  • Data is the oil of the 21st century. You need to transform it into something useful, or it is worthless.
  • With the rise of ransomware, all IT leaders should learn the best way to handle this terrible form of attack. Most important: don’t pay until you have proven the threat is real!
  • The future of shopping looks and sounds different from what we’re used to. Artificial intelligence, voice and augmented reality will power user interaction.
  • The modern workplace needs to be fast, balanced and flexible. It’s only way to make employees happy and to protect your profits, at the same time.

Join the conversation: #CIOTableTalk


FireEye is the intelligence-led security company. Working as a seamless, scalable extension of customer security operations, FireEye offers a single platform that blends innovative security technologies, nation-state grade threat intelligence, and world-renowned Mandiant® consulting. With this approach, FireEye eliminates the complexity and burden of cyber security for organizations struggling to prepare for, prevent, and respond to cyber attacks. FireEye has over 5,800 customers across 67 countries, including more than 40 percent of the Forbes Global 2000.