by Isaac Sacolick

5 things to do in 2019 in digital transformation

Dec 17, 2018
Digital TransformationIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Leaders of digital transformation should realign priorities, dive into artificial intelligence and automation and find sustainable ways to engage the workforce.

number 5 on fire top five five tips
Credit: Getty Images

2018 is coming to an end. You probably have your budget and plan set for 2019 and are getting ready to wind down. But before you close the books on 2018 and take off for the holidays, there are somethings I want you to think about and be ready for in 2019.

I believe that CIO, IT leaders, and digital transformation leaders may hit some speedbumps in 2019. In my recent post, five digital predictions for 2019 I suggested, “While some technologies and transformation programs will see increases in 2019, there will be strong culture and financial headwinds that will challenge CIO, CDO, CEO, Boards and leaders to defend their investments.” In this post, I’d like to share some recommendations on things to do next year to maximize your chance of hitting your transformational goals.

1. Review programs to ensure they are aligned with strategic goals

This may sound elementary, but for those leaders running multiyear programs it may be time to do some recalibration. The financial markets are jittery and that’s likely to add more angst at the executive level on what the organization is focused on and investing in.

What this means, in very practical terms, is that transformation programs better demonstrate some tangible results in 2019. They must show how the workforce is aligning with the strategy and accepting changes. As a leader, you should be communicating how investments in customer experience, analytics, and emerging technology are at least starting to provide competitive advantages.

If you can’t quantify some wins and market results, then it’s time to recalibrate. There are lots of ways to do this, but I would suggest meeting, talking, and surveying customers and end users that are the targets and beneficiaries of transformation programs and investments. Has anything changed in their needs and priorities? Are their pressures mounting or waning? Are there new or better ways to achieve similar results?  These are some of the things to review when considering a pivot or change in the transformation program’s 2019 priorities.

2. Cleanse data that has AI potential

AI has the potential to be highly disruptive to many products, services, and business operations. Consider some of the recent research and proclamations by industry experts. Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services said at the recent AWS reinvent conference, “I don’t know if it’s five years from now or 10 years from now, but virtually every application will have machine learning and AI infused”. And according to a recent report, AI will increase global GDP by up to fourteen percent by 2030. Both of these benchmarks suggest that the battle for who wins and loses with AI will be decided over the next three to seven years. Enterprises should be taking early and bolder bets in 2019.

To get started in AI or machine learning, businesses need to review and catalog enterprise data sources that may be used in AI or machine learning models. If this data hasn’t been normalized, cleansed, and connected to data sources, then it will be difficult to use in AI and machine learning experiments.

While it may take many organizations sometime to develop a strategy, identify partners, find talent, and select technologies to experiment with AI, they can start some of the pre-work by cleansing data and investing in data governance programs.

3. Double down on automation

There’s a growing set of technologies that can be used to automate different types of workflow. In IT, CI/CD tools enable the integration of applications and delivery to the targeted infrastructure. Businesses with significant legacy tools and data-entry workflows spanning multiple tools can look at robotic process automation (RPAs) tools to reduce the number of manual steps. Businesses investing in data science and artificial intelligence programs can look to automate data flows with data integration tools while those investing in IoT should consider data streaming platforms.

Whereas twenty years ago IT was developing web applications, and a decade later focusing on mobile and cloud native applications became the norm, the new IT charter is on automation. Not only does automation reduce costs, it often improves quality and frees up time for key employee to focus on more important work.

4. Listen to your workforce for their frustrations

Organizations often put a lot of pressure on sales, marketing, and operational teams to maintain legacy revenue streams and related businesses processes while supporting changes driven by the transformation program. Some employees being asked to do more will seek technologies to support their new responsibilities while others may struggle with the tools provided to them.

At a recent conference sponsored by SINC, I was on a panel with Darrell Jones, CISO of Ares Management, L.P. where we provided some advice on helping the workforce. My suggestion was to conduct user surveys, a best practice for IT departments looking to understand end user satisfaction and pain points.  I suggested that IT leaders reach out to the most vocal people with negative attitudes about existing technologies to learn points of discourse and identify where new tools or practices may be able to solve their pain points.

Darrell’s offered a second recommendation that starts with reviewing web logs and identifying people using tools not sanctioned by the IT department. But instead of blocking access to these tools, Darrell reaches out to better understand the use case and whether tools supported by IT make reasonable substitutes. In cases where supported tools are not sufficient, he better understands the business need, requirements and drivers to consider adopting new ones.

5. Recognize contributors to the transformation program

Digital transformation leaders like to say that these programs are a journey. Even though digital transformation requires a strategy and blue-sky thinking, the competition, impact of technologies, and changing customer needs implies that the transformation end point isn’t stationary. Leaders have to review, rationalize, adjust and pivot their transformation programs.

This can be fairly stressful to the staff contributing to these programs especially given the pressure to deliver fast and frequently.

Leaders should take note of the contributions of key staff members and look to recognize and reward their contributions. Some ways to do this is to celebrate wins and sponsor learning activities. If it’s a journey, you want to make sure that your key contributors are there with you for the ride.