With technology today’s fuel for business transformation, IT leaders are increasingly seen as key players in companies’ quests to bolster their bottom lines. But with so many new technologies and management approaches emerging, where should IT leaders put their focus?
We asked a range of tech leads what they’re planning this year and how those initiatives can best be approached to add value to their organizations, based on business priorities. Some involve embracing emerging technologies for improved workflows and products; others involve new approaches to how work gets done.
Here’s what tech leaders think should be top of mind for creating value in 2019.
A number of the sources we talked with offered concerns about the economy in the next few years. A recent Forrester report predicts that slowing global economic growth will dampen the growth of the tech market, from 4.5 percent in 2019 to 3.8 percent in 2020.
“Economic uncertainty will limit new project spending,” the report suggests. “Also, the growth gap between business technology and back-office technology will narrow further as firms upgrade their back-office systems to help reduce operating costs and preserve profit margins.”
The report continues: “The positive forces behind increased tech spending still persist; these forces include rising adoption of cloud, new analytical technologies like artificial intelligence, the need for firms to invest in business technologies to help them win, serve, and retain customers, and a revival of spending on back-office technologies. But weaker economic growth, slowing revenue, and squeezed profits will offset these positives.”
Robert Reeves, CTO and co-founder of Datical, cites a Black Rock report that suggests a recession is highly likely by 2021. His advice? Use budget that’s available now before it disappears.
“Black Rock set their odds of a recession at 19 percent by 2019, 38 percent by 2020, and 54 percent by 2021,” Reeves says. “In light of this, the highest priority any IT department should focus on in 2019 to add business value is getting better. They need to make certain they’re injecting flexibility and speed into their software delivery process. Companies should be able to turn on a dime when the recession hits. However, if it doesn’t, the company will always benefit by outperforming competitors and reaching new markets. If a company hasn’t performed a value stream map for their software delivery process, then now is the time. This will identify areas of weakness and make it super simple to address those before a recession does it for you.”
Focus on people
Jim Fagan, U.S. head of technology and product for global platforms at Telstra, suggests tech leaders focus too much on technology and not enough on relationships, including their own coworkers, and how they work together.
“Technology alone is not the answer,” Fagan says. “While it’s critical to invest in the right technology, placing too much importance on the role of technology in digital transformation can in fact be a barrier to success. To successfully respond to digital disruption, businesses need to have the right people, culture and processes, creating teams that can maximize the new technologies being introduced.”
Wrangle IoT Data
Companies making use of IoT data frequently mention that separating signal from noise can be a challenge. Brent Schroeder, CTO of SUSE, says many organizations are able to capture and analyze data information but don’t necessarily have the infrastructure in place to create, deploy and manage IoT applications.
“If you think back over the history of computing, there hasn’t been a time where new, transformative solutions didn’t require new capabilities in infrastructure and processes,” Schroeder says. “As the edge gets more intelligent, businesses need more efficient processing and storage capabilities to collect, analyze and act on the data coming in, which is ultimately the business value of IoT. Having the right platform will always be central to IoT’s future and should be a priority for all IT teams.”
Adopt AI and ML
Jordan Cram, CEO of Enstoa, promotes what he calls a “holistic” data environment for businesses, with an emphasis on AI and machine learning as key aspects of digital transformation.
“A holistic data environment is a prerequisite for AI, robotics, and IoT,” Cram says, “which gets all your company’s information out of documents and into a single source of truth that’s always up to date. Suddenly, it’s possible to get real-time visibility into budgets and schedules. It also makes your organization more nimble and future-proof because it puts data — rather than static documents or expensive software — at the center.”
Cram argues that adopting a modern organizational model is the single best way to build value for the business.
“Engineer the talent you have to work in the best possible way for the task at hand,” Cram says. “Intensely hierarchical organizational structures can make it more difficult to introduce change. Decentralizing a bit can help to ensure that when you’re rolling out new models and ways of doing things, team members will embrace new ways of working.”
Create better customer experiences
Customers will judge your organization based on the delivery of promises you’ve made about your services, says Keith Farley, vice president of U.S. innovation at Aflac, and your priorities should reflect this reality.
“We see it as our job to make the CX experience as seamless and intuitive as possible,” Farley says. “We’ve launched new online and mobile features for our customers, customer product updates and improvements to the sales teams’ tools, resulting in a more seamless customer experience, higher rates of customer satisfaction and retention, and greater profitability. It’s difficult to sell customer experience projects to corporate with the perceived reward being just technological improvement, but it’s much easier to do so with the perceived reward being consumer trust, satisfaction and retention.”
Eliminate outdated metrics
Andrew Wilson, Accenture CIO, says the company was able to retire half of its legacy reports using data analytics.
“Our organization used to operate on siloed data, pervasive use of spreadsheets, limited sophistication and multiple versions of data,” Wilson says. “By defining an analytics platform that could deliver actionable, data-driven intelligence across our business, we connected more than 20,000 colleagues to more than 120 analytics products which they use in excess of 100,000 times a month.”
Derek Hutson, CEO of Datical, advises bold action, mixed with quick wins, to build value that you can measure and publicize through your organization.
“Make the changes that needs to be made — sometimes small, incremental changes don’t move far enough or fast enough,” Hutson says. “At the same time, you can set a bold vision, but set measured milestones with quick wins and value. Delivering quick value helps accelerate momentum and funding toward the organization’s bigger outcome. Then measure and publicize value.”
Prepare for a mobile workforce
Helping businesses manage mobile workers in 2019 is the top priority for Dan Waldinger, the senior director of B2B marketing at Brother International.
“Almost universally, organizations need help managing a growing mobile workforce where mobile refers to the ability to easily conduct business from a range of locations,” Waldinger says. “Employees, clients, and partners now expect anytime, anywhere access to information. Few businesses are sufficiently prepared for the explosive proliferation of wireless devices in the workplace. The modern workforce demands flexibility in when, where, and on which device they work, but many businesses do not understand that their current wireless infrastructure isn’t sufficient to keep up with this demand. These constraints are avoidable but only with sufficient strategic foresight.”
Secure your data
Waldinger says he sees many companies that are spending too little on IT security, and the reasons may be more complicated — and more alarming — than you might think.
“Many businesses still believe that hackers won’t target their [hardware], or that basic security tools are sufficient,” Waldinger says. “Worse, some businesses refrain from spending on security solutions because of a sense of futility, as even large companies with substantial IT security budgets and resources suffer breaches. Starting with a dedicated IT security team to perform preventative measures is a crucial first step.”
Data is an asset and a liability for every organization, says David Thomas, CEO at Evident ID. “IT leaders can implement solutions that dramatically reduce the risk profile of their businesses while enabling more effective and secure access for lines of business to get the answers they need. Leverage technology to strengthen data security policies and limit exposure to personal information, while optimizing the user experience, reducing friction, and decreasing instances of fraud for the business. The ability to reduce risk while supporting growth across the business aligns with larger business priorities and evolving data security practices and policies.”
Keep service costs under control
Ryan Duguid, chief evangelist at Nintex, says that IT is in a better position now than in previous years, in terms of being able to make calls that reduce risks and improve the bottom line.
“The business gets the tech that it needs and the wider organization can sleep at night knowing that concerns around security, data, and GDPR, etc. are all being managed,” Duguid says. “IT is far better at meeting the needs of the business today. It’s become more supportive and more consultative. IT is proactively engaging with the business — giving advice and providing recommendations.
IT can also help the business understand what questions they should be asking, Duguid says, especially as software as a service has grown. “IT is also helping manage spending across the organization. One of the issues with different business groups buying their own SaaS tools is the cost associated with all the added services. IT is there to help empower the business by helping deploy the right technology, in the right way.”
Create a clear vision
Companies most frequently struggle with getting started as they attempt digital transformation, creating roadblocks all along the way, says Telstra’s Fagan.
“Providing clarity on priorities and clear direction is the No. 1 opportunity for leaders to drive digital success,” Fagan says. “Without the clarity and the right vision at the start of a digital transformation, there’s no foundation for teams to guide execution plans and determine success.”