I was in Australia recently, visiting the beautiful cities of Sydney and Melbourne. I had the opportunity to meet with some of the largest and best-known companies in the region, who just happen to be our customers as well. One of the best things about this is that I’ve been able to have a lot of conversations with IT specialists and business leaders from a range of organizations, hear about their current priorities and concerns, and get a feel for what’s changed since my last visit. A common theme on this trip was the acceleration of business transformation across all industries.
Times Are Changing
What do you think was the most common opening line when I went into these meetings? It generally went along the lines of: “Hello, my name is X. I’ve only been in the job for Y weeks.” This was the case with almost every CIO and CTO I met. At the same time, there was more often than not a new person at the table – the Chief Innovation Officer (or Chief Disruptor in one case). This new role was created to build a bridge between the traditional CIO function and the technology needs of the business. Inevitably perhaps, this means rocking the boat a bit; shaking up the old ways of doing things and driving changes that will support business growth in the digital, hyperconnected world. This move towards what I’d call “Digital Convergence” is underpinned by deploying a digital platform based on Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud, or SMAC (you might know it as IDC’s Third Platform, or Gartner’s Nexus of Forces).
I think this points to a recognition of the generational shift that is occurring in the roles and skills required to drive transformation – and, critically, drive it with velocity. We live in a world where people expect rapid (minutes vs months) service delivery that creates instant impact and gratification. And the demand keeps increasing. As I heard one millennial say recently, "the trouble with instant gratification is that it's not quick enough.” Think about that for a second (but no longer!).
At the same time as the SMAC revolution and the emergence of the millennial-dominated workplace, there’s another game changer making its presence felt: the Internet of Things (IoT). The organizations I spoke to recognize the need to respond to the challenges and huge opportunities presented by IoT. It was clear that the maturation of standards and robust security were key issues. We also noted that when thinking about the edge device and what to do with it you need to start with your information and data, decide what you need the device to do and program the device to do exactly that – more of an inside out vs outside in approach.
One Chief Digital Officer that I met with saw the sea change that all this is going to mean for the way we do business: "I tell my employees that this is the least amount of change they’ll ever see.” That’s quite a daunting thought. But it’s also incredibly exciting.
Transform the Business, Not Just the Workplace
Every organization I spent time with recognized that they need to transform. Where I saw some variability was in how far they’d gone beyond talking to doing. It’s easy to talk about the need to change, harder to make it real. Some trains had left the station so to speak, others had not. It is clear each industry – indeed, each individual company – will be able to gain significant leverage through deploying a SMAC-based digital platform but many of the questions revolved around where to start, how to approach.
The key is to think about it from a business perspective and agree on the desired business outcomes you would expect in deploying a digital platform. For example, reducing cost and increasing business agility; monetizing your data (from insights); winning and retaining customers through a more immersive experience; increasing innovation and productivity through a transformed workplace … and so on. Clearly technology plays a role in helping to address these, as does the often overlooked cultural aspects of change and while it might sound obvious to look at things from an “outcomes” first perspective it doesn’t happen as much as you might think — perhaps one reason we’re seeing the shift in roles and skills I mentioned earlier. It’s easy to look at the changes you need to make and take a technology first approach but you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle to bring in new technologies that end up having little or no positive impact. I saw a number of Workplace Transformation projects that had been focused on the technology rather than the outcome and had not delivered the expected ROI. Instead users have just been bombarded with even more technology and without the correct level of attention paid to the cultural aspect they just suffer “tool fatigue”.
Meanwhile, everyone is still concerned with meeting security, privacy and compliance demands. This is a huge issue, with vast amounts of IT budget — up to 50% in some companies I met with — being spent on regulatory box-ticking that brings little value to the bottom line. The executives I spoke to are all looking to simplify their operations here to reduce time and cost while maintaining compliance and enabling them to re-focus investment on optimizing their security postures.
Challenge the Status Quo
I had the chance to visit some customers housed inside beautiful new office buildings that had been given the Workplace Transformation treatment but found a number of them being held back because of the somewhat dated capabilities and tools being deployed via their outsourcing partners who appear to be struggling to enter this new world. What was encouraging though is that number of this new breed of “Chief Innovation Officers” hadn’t been afraid to break the mold behind the scenes. As resident boat-rocker, it’s their job to challenge the status quo and seek alternatives to legacy systems when they no longer make sense for the business’s new IT needs.
Yes, it might annoy a few people in the short term, and it’ll probably require a few late nights and long meetings to secure board-level support and employee buy-in, but I believe it’s worth it in order to transform the business now, and to enable it to keep re-inventing itself moving forward.
What has been your Workplace Transformation experience? Are you a Chief Innovation Officer with some pearls of wisdom to share?