David Kennedy, Group CIO, Transaction Services Group
Global industries are in a frenzy to adopt new technologies to optimize business processes and outcomes. However, three major challenges hamper their transition to modern technologies.
Roadblocks in Adoption of New Technologies
1. Data integrity: While quality datasets are essential, accruing them is an arduous task. Businesses need to formulate a strategy to maintain the quality of the information and make artificial intelligence (AI) and other new technologies to work for them. They say Information is the new oil. Well if that’s the case then integrity of the information is the service station to deliver the finished product.
2. Cultural change: Many fear that AI-driven solution would replace humans, eating up their jobs. Amid the fears of AI disruption, industries, however, have attained efficiencies in numerous processes. The cultural change revolves around the clarity of the message about technological adoption. The message should highlight the role of technology in fulfilling a business purpose. When companies become resistant to change, obstacles proliferate rampantly. Recently, many businesses in U.K. and the U.S. went bankrupt and one of the reasons for this economical catastrophe, as many believe, is the lack of focus on digital transformation.
3. Rampant technology innovation: Solution providers have been working hard to create products that unleash the potential of cutting-edge technologies (think IBM Watson.) I speak to leaders from many different companies every month, and most of them utilize algorithmic controls and procedures for adding business value to the existing processes. However, selecting a right application from a suite of technologies is a challenging task. My prediction is that the future we will see the formation of industry specific AI and Automation tooling that maximizes the value they create. For example, for an enterprise that seeks to enhance their finance function, it needs a vertical-specific AI tool that is proven to add value. In today’s early adoption period automation tooling is trying to be all things to all verticals. This will change in the near term.
Creating a Ground for Change
I am the chairman of a group (NZ Tech Leaders) that creates guidance for both the government and private sectors. We created a list of Digital Principles that highlight essential factors in creating a winning digital strategy. One of them addresses the needs to create a culture of “Lifelong Learning”. As the role of humans in parts of the organization is diminishing gradually we need to consider that an employee’s loyalty is the new currency. This means that as we see increased fragmentation in the organization through integrations bringing value to the customers we need to ensure the longevity of our staff. It will be the knowledge of the employee which will really ensure that lessons are learnt and taken forward into the new digital era.
As partnerships are important for technological transformation, significance should be given to a vendor’s ability to understand the business. As a business leader, I give utmost importance to how quickly a vendor understands my business model. Utilizing a technology holds less significance than business value generation. It is crucial to understand value exchange that takes place between the companies through B2B or B2C transactions. An enterprise and every employee must focus on increasing the value exchange at every opportunity. This will drive success in the future.
Creating Business Value
My role is to empower people to make their own decisions to allow them to create value. My global strategy for this is published as 6 words: create time, close complexity, think big.
As long as you follow these guiding principles, you can create time while you are doing technology projects. It is about creating efficiencies and identifying when someone is not adding value. For instance, one of our newer developers was spending 35 hours a week producing a report so that the other stakeholders could understand what developers are doing. I asked the individual to stop writing the reports because I had a firm belief that reports do not add value to any process. After three weeks, I asked the person whether he had received complaints about non-receipt of report. Not even a single person had complained. We created time for that individual and we discussed what work he would like to do, what motivated him. He now works on our analytics platform and is loving his role.
It is important to create a trust foundation when asking individuals to identify areas of their role which can be automated or removed to create time. I was very open with all staff and said anyone who created time would be rewarded with projects or work that they could choose, items of interest for them. This created an environment for positive change to occur. Now, everyone is trying to create time and optimize their roles that will allow them to grow and be more inventive.
It is also crucial to check whether a specific work technique eliminates complexity or increases it. If it increases the complexity, then find out a way to create a situation that lowers the complexity across the business. In the last 15-20 years, the complexity has increased to a staggering level because of which we fail to understand our complicated systems. Hence, make sure that everyone has a simple and referential view. Early in my tenure I was presented with business cases and my first question was “does this increase or decrease complexity in our environment”. If the answer was increase, then the individual was asked to rethink their idea through a wider lens to capture other aspects of our business that would benefit from simplification. Creating projects like this reduces the overall complexity in our environment. Now all business cases start with acknowledgment of how they simplify our business.
Transformative Employee Education
Apart from being a Group CIO, I am also the chairman of the Advisory Board for Auckland Universities Strategic CIO program and Chairman of Tech Leaders, a group of leading executives who advise government and the private sector. I am helping the New Zealand education system to alter its practices which will deliver students more equipped to become productive members of society and reduce any future social economic impact. We emphasize on the emotional intelligence of an individual, helping them to understand how they can motivate themselves to pursue a particular subject. The idea is to add value to their life, and inspire them to become a productive member of society and increasing their happiness.
Today, a business’ prospects depend on either acquiring companies that offer next generation technology or creating that innovation internally. Either way it important to help everyone become entrepreneurs, this state of mind helps with the transformation journey we are all undertaking. We need to make sure that the entire organization channelizes the spirit of entrepreneurialism if it wants to create more value and connect with customers.
A New Path for CIOs
The incumbent CIOs have the responsibility of sharing the information and experience with talented people to help them grow. If you want to be successful and have value across the whole business spectrum, then you need to get involved in educating new leadership.
Budding CIOs should consider joining courses conducted by universities. They should understand that businesses are driven by value creation and value exchange between different stakeholders.
At the organizational level, businesses should utilize micro-education, which is to educate people within the organization and empower them to make decisions as long as they are productive.