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Digital Transformation Trends 2019: Multicloud, IT Skills Gaps, Customer Experience, and AI Readiness

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on July 18, 2019 by Karen Bader

In 2019, 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.

To share these insights with you, we’re launching a new blog series. We will be posting regular summaries of the discussions that take place during these exclusive events, featuring stories, anecdotes, and advice from senior IT leaders across industries and businesses of all kinds.

For our inaugural post in this series, we reveal four trends that emerged in our events in Calgary, Ottawa, San Diego, and Vancouver. Want to see what IT leaders in these cities are doing to combat disruption and drive digital transformation?

Trend 1: Helping decide what belongs in the cloud

Multicloud is the new normal, with 86% of organizations saying they are using multiple public and private clouds for different workloads. But as this mass migration continues, a new hot topic has emerged in the CIO realm. What workloads truly belong in the cloud? And which would be better kept onsite? As the IEF members show, the cloud isn’t always better. To make the right decision, IT leaders will need a few useful strategies.

  • Determine readiness with objectivity: An IT director that brings cloud services to government departments in Ottawa uses three factors when making the call: Readiness (of the teams adopting cloud), quality (of the legacy data center and applications) and criticality (of the data being migrated). “We have a lot of ageing infrastructure, a lot of legacy data centers. My goal is to help my partners move to a solution in a more stable way,” he says. The criteria above are helpful, giving him an objective, repeatable approach to decide what belongs in the cloud, and what simply isn’t ready.
  • Target business value: Other IT leaders cut right to the chase. Does moving a specific workload to the cloud add value to the business? As more infrastructure becomes available as a service, IT has an opportunity to focus in-house teams on driving innovation and serving the business. For everything else, outsourcing to the cloud might make the most sense (and cents). “Should we really be in the business of backups? Is that really the suck on our services we want?” asked one IEF member in Calgary.
  • Understand industry barriers: Meanwhile, some industries still struggle to overcome regulatory and compliance hurdles. “For some industries, cloud is still not a fit,” said one member in Calgary. He said some industries are still too highly-regulated for the cloud to be realistic. He also argues that sometimes a move to OpEx is not feasible, saying many IT departments still depend on annual, capital expense budgets to gain access to funding.

Trend 2: Closing IT skills gaps with creative, flexible approaches

The IT skills gap is a ubiquitous challenge, one that most CIOs need to tackle in the months ahead if they aren’t already. Gartner says 75% of organizations in 2020 will experience “visible business disruptions”  due to IT infrastructure and operational skills gaps. No surprise, then, that winning the war for talent is a major topic at the IEF. CIOs are pushing ahead with tried and tested, as well as new and creative solutions, to win this all-important battle for IT talent.

  • Keeping things fresh: When IT leaders in San Diego were asked a show of hands if they were struggling with retaining talent, only one person kept her hands on the table. Surprised, we asked her what her secret was. “Job rotation,” was the IT leader’s two-word answer. She went on to explain her organization has kept IT employee churn at bay by continually rotating employees into new and challenging roles. “We are constantly giving everyone opportunities to participate in exciting projects,” she said. “Service desk folks want to get out there and work with engineering. Rotating service desk with other roles has reduced our attrition over the last three years.”
  • Flexibility first: The same leader also shared two other powerful strategies to keep IT talent engaged and onboard. She says many IT positions begin as four-month temporary contract positions, to give the employee time to sample the organization before committing. She also says her organization puts a lot of attention into the quality of life, offering extra holidays and flexible work hours, to keep employees happy.
  • Thinking outside the cubicle: IT leaders are asking developers to take part in “ride-alongs,” so they can see how people are working. As a result, IT can appreciate the human impact their work is having. Others are starting to leverage virtual teams from outside their city center, putting together top-tier talent, without being limited by geography or commute times.

Trend 3: IT must support engaging experiences

There is no doubt an engaging customer experience (CX) translates into more value for the business. Forrester research shows that CX leaders outperform laggards, five to one. The pertinent question for today’s CIO is: Who owns CX? If the IEF members are any indication, the answer is that the CIO plays a very strong role in delivering an engaging experience. And not just for customers, but for employees as well.

  • Experience pays: From sick patients to sports fans, IEF members understand the value of better customer experience. In Calgary, an IT leader of a healthcare organization revealed the link between better technology and health outcomes. He said his organization is putting in place technology to help doctors and caregivers detect diseases earlier, giving patients better prospects. In San Diego, one IT leader said bringing public Wi-Fi to a major sporting arena was paying dividends, to fans and the business. “Public Wi-Fi has been a game-changer,” he said. Free high-speed Internet access was credited with boosting game times sales as much as 20 percent while giving fans a more engaging, delightful day of fun.
  • Expectations rising: CIOs need to address more than just the traditional technology hurdles. They need to help meet the expectations of consumers today – and tomorrow. For example, an IT leader in the restaurant industry in Vancouver said his organization is focused on building for the restaurant of the future, today. “What does a restaurant need to look like in five years? That 40-minute delivery window will have to change. Consumers will demand more,” he said. With Uber testing out super-fast flying delivery drones, he makes a prescient point.
  • Digitizing the employee experience: Experience pays when it comes to employees, too. CIOs are being tasked with designing workplace technology built for real human users. In Calgary, one IT leader has started to employ Design Thinking methods when developing new technologies, such as Office 365. “We are starting by understanding the personas from a user perspective, not an IT perspective,” he said. Another leader in Vancouver said his team is starting to digitize employee onboarding for his retail company. In an industry struggling with high employee churn, making sure workers are productive and engaged as early as possible is crucial.

Trend 4: AI readiness is a priority   

Businesses who adopt artificial intelligence (AI) first stand to gain the most competitive advantage. But doing so is far easier said than done. According to the members who joined us in the IEF, unlocking the promises of AI won’t happen until their organizations get prepared. They simply do not yet have the infrastructure or organizational resources needed to move forward with this groundbreaking set of solutions.

  • Getting the pieces in place: An IT leader in the retail space in Vancouver says her organization knows AI has potential, but it simply isn’t ready to adopt it. She says her organization must first get the big data and analytical pieces in place before moving forward with intelligent solutions. “Our infrastructure is way too behind to even discuss AI. We are still working on the analytics piece. We still don’t have inventory accuracy or insights we need. We are probably three years away,” she said.
  • Proving the use cases: At the boardroom table, AI is often seen as a fairy tale. Which is why IT leaders must put energy into proving use cases for AI, to have a productive conversation about its place in the business. A senior technologist in a marine shipping company has been doing just that, successfully. “AI can be a tough sell to non-technology people. But if you can show what you can do with it, it’s amazing, and it’s not a tough sell anymore,” he says. He explained how he executed a six-month proof of concept using predictive analytics on a fleet of ships. The AI test was a success and the solution is now rolling out to more ships in the near future.
  • Manage the hype: “Eventually AI will be the panacea of everything. But it’s on the edges right now,” said one IT leader in Vancouver. He suggested CIOs manage the hype, for now. Today, AI can provide real business value and gains – but it might just be incremental cost savings or minor efficiencies. It’s more productive to set expectations for these small, low-hanging wins at the start, tempering expectations for a game-changing transformation.
  • Outsourcing to vendors: AI is such a fast-growing, cutting edge space, IT leaders would be wise to let the major vendors handle the infrastructure and building blocks, while they focus on finding business use cases. Another C-level executive said his business is relying on Google for all its machine learning and AI implementations. “The needs and the tools for machine learning are changing so rapidly, like every three months, it’s hard to keep up any other way,” he said.

What is next for the CIO in 2019?

During the first four events of the IEF in 2019, we uncovered four major trends CIOs everywhere must consider.

With the rush to the cloud, IT must help the business decide which workloads truly belong in hosted environments using a set of strategies and business-focused criteria. Meanwhile, as the war for IT talent rages, CIOs can help close the gaps using new and novel approaches, such as job rotation, virtual offices and “ride-alongs.” We also discovered IT has a role in delivering better experiences, both for customers and employees. Finally, we saw how CIOs must temper expectations for AI and focus on getting the building blocks in place, first, to set up its organization for success.

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

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