With cloud technology adoption accelerating in the wake of the pandemic, the ability to balance IT and business continuity with digital transformation is a top concern for all CIOs, no matter what industry they are in.
This is something that Kevin Sweeney — currently CIO at Dublin-based Intuition, a provider of e-learning and knowledge applications — knows well from 35 years in IT and from serving as CIO across various industries as diverse as automobile manufacturing, oil and gas, and financial services.
The role of CIO generally involves a type of juggling act between keeping a company’s applications and IT processes up and running smoothly —so they can, in turn, ensure the business runs similarly — and switching things up, adopting new technology and optimizing systems for an organisation’s evolving business needs.
“You’re constantly trying to balance those two together,” Sweeney says. “Because you know you’re going to change — you’re constantly going to change — but you have to ensure reliability as well. “
Crisis sparks technology adoption
This can create some tension within an organization, and sometimes it takes a crisis for a CIO to get employees to embrace the technology available to make doing their jobs and achieving business goals more efficient, Sweeney notes.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Intuition’s staff was sent home to work, Sweeney says, most of them already had registered for Microsoft Teams, which the company uses internally as its cloud-based collaboration and communication tool.
However, before the pandemic, not everyone at the organisation was keen to use Teams to connect and work together with their colleagues, Sweeney says.
Some staffers “were reluctant to use Teams, and there was a need to probably convince people that they should be using the technology,” he says.
However, that changed during the pandemic, when the company, like most others around the world, had to move from an on-premises office to a virtual one.
Intuition found itself generally “in a good spot” to make an easy transition to remote work for a couple of reasons, Sweeney says. One was that nearly the entire staff already had laptops, so they didn’t have to worry about sending hardware home and getting people set up to do their jobs comfortably from there, like some other organisations, he says.
The other was that even if employees weren’t using Teams, all of them already had accounts and were capable of using the application. Teams, then, became the principal way employees working remotely could communicate and collaborate without being together physically in the office.
“Suddenly take up of Teams went nearly 100%,” Sweeney says.
In addition to deploying new technology to meet Intuition’s internal requirements, Sweeney, who has been with the company since 2019, has also had to manage projects to update the company’s own offerings.
Intuition has its roots in providing e-learning materials for the global financial industry. The company over the years has expanded to launch its own custom technology platform for these materials, and produces content and tools for custom e-learning, in-person classroom, or in-person corporate knowledge-sharing.
To help Intuition keep its services and products up-to-date, Sweeney had to face “perhaps the most important” challenge that any CIO faces: How to work with the business side of an organization “in terms of making sure you understand what IT can do for that business,” he says.
Creating value-add with data analytics
Intuition recently expanded its own IT solution set through new data analytics and business intelligence tools that were built by in-house developers to serve not only the company’s internal needs but also to add value to customer offerings.
Sweeney had historical experience in implementing data analytics and reporting at a previous company, and wanted to bring this expertise to Intuition to apply it to the company’s e-learning content and applications.
“We’ve done quite a bit of work for our internal needs and also now for our customers, trying to provide new offerings to our customers to see their learning data,” he says.
The first part of the product was implemented during the six months before the outbreak of the pandemic using a small data-analytics team that Sweeney brought on board. Intuition —a Microsoft shop – used Microsoft Power BI to expand its data analytics and reporting tools to introduce a “world of dashboards” for advanced analytics, he says.
Now stakeholders such as sales and account managers, as well as employees on the finance and operations side, can access “automated, up-to-date visibility” of how customers are using Intuition’s e-learning platforms, Sweeney says. From there they can start a conversation with clients about how they are using the products to optimize their use and better engage with them.
“Instead of thinking that we know how our customers are using our product, we are really trying to shine a light on it,” Sweeney says.
This capability has now expanded over the last year to providing customer-facing solutions that allow them to help themselves get more out of their own data when using custom e-learning applications and content from Intuition, he says.
“We do custom projects where we work with large customers that have tens of thousands of users/learners, and want to analyze and assess those scores through data visualization built into the solution,” Sweeney says. “Now we can tell customers, ‘Don’t just see us as the company that provides your learning solution, let us help you analyze the outcomes and the comparisons from there.’ “
Intuition recently completed a large e-learning project with a multinational pharmaceutical company that included custom development of business intelligence dashboards and data analytics so the company could assess and analyze the results using geographic, demographic and other data related to the employees who participated in the program.
“They had an automated view of the 91,000 learners who took that program across more than 60 countries,” Sweeney says. “We are adding value to existing products with a new service we can provide to customers.”
Core challenges of keeping up with change
The balancing act that CIOs must do, between keeping systems running smoothly and updating technology to add value to the business, is made more complicated by the constantly changing nature of technology itself, Sweeney says. This requires those in charge of information to evolve their own understanding of the latest trends and decide whether a particular new approach or application should be embraced.
“As a CIO I’m not always going to be the expert in every new technology that comes out, but I have to understand it, question it, and determine what value it might bring to our organization,” he says. This is a core challenge “that no matter whether you’re a CIO in Company X or Company Y,” all modern executives in his position face.
Another challenge that all CIOs face, and which also involved the evolving nature of technology, is the security of everything from “corporate assets to the personal data that you’re responsible for,” Sweeney says.
This constant demand to keep a company’s sensitive corporate data secure is getting trickier and tricker given the growing sophistication of cyber-attacks and the “nature of the web world,” he says.
Ultimately, to address all these change-related issue, human resources are key. Recruiting and retaining skilled staffers is something that CIOs “have to deal with every day,” ensuring that they keep the nature of the work interesting for people currently on the job while scouting for new talent to add to the team, Sweeney says.