CIO strategies: Learning just as important as cloud technology to build a digital-first enterprise

The CIO Conversations roundtable at CIO100 Awards & Symposium 2020, in association with AWS, highlighted how a comprehensively trained workforce, coupled with a culture of innovation can put an organization on the fast track towards digital transformation.

CIO Conversations roundtable at CIO100 Awards & Symposium 2020
IDG/AWS

Cloud computing has proven to be the bedrock upon which organizations have built the foundations of digital transformation. IDG’s 2020 Cloud Computing research in June indicates 92% of global organizations' IT environment is at least somewhat in the cloud today, as only 8% say their total IT environment is all on-premise. There are dollars to be spent on cloud tools as close to one-third (32%) of the total IT budget will be allocated to cloud computing within the next year.

amit mehta IDG/CIO100 Awards & Symposium 2020

“As a result of COVID-19, digital transformation strategies that were planned over quarters and years had to be rolled out in days and weeks. Cloud, therefore, became the go-to solution. And skilled employees are necessary for businesses to accomplish their goals with the cloud.”

-- Amit Mehta, Head of Business Development, India at Amazon Web Services (AWS) Training and Certification

The rapid adoption of cloud computing in the Indian enterprise has been further catalyzed by the sudden shift towards remote working in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. As Amit Mehta, Head of Business Development, India at Amazon Web Services (AWS) Training and Certification points out: “As a result of COVID-19, digital transformation strategies that were planned over quarters and years had to be rolled out in days and weeks. Cloud, therefore, became the go-to solution. And skilled employees are necessary for businesses to accomplish their goals with the cloud.”

Adding to Mehta’s point, Anand Hadgaonkar, VP & CIO-Asia at Whirlpool India cites how the pandemic has helped in working as an accelerator. “The adoption of cloud and digital technologies have stemmed from the shift in the mindset of business leaders. Everybody was concerned about adapting to the new norm, but over time, they realized that business operations can be successfully managed remotely,” he explains.

Cloud is changing the way businesses innovate

While a lot of companies are now beginning to open up to a cloud-first strategy, DBS Bank has gone a step further and set sights on a cloud-only strategy. Amit Kanodia, VP at DBS Bank, says that the firm is aspiring to establish itself as a technology company and has adopted open-source, public cloud-leveraging capabilities in addition to cultivating a continuous learning mindset.

Sanjay Kotha, Group CIO at Adani Group, on the other hand, illustrates how the conglomerate has taken a step beyond the cloud-first/cloud-only conversation: “The pandemic has fuelled our drive towards an 'innovate and disrupt’ mode. We have been talking to our hyper scalers to start building edge datacentres to mitigate the problems faced by our ports due to natural calamities like cyclones,” he says.

Sharing the transformation journey at Bennett, Coleman & Co., VP-IT Dilip Kukreja says that the media house leveraged cloud – both on the infrastructural side, as well as on the cognitive technology aspect. He also reveals how Bennett, Coleman & Co.’s brand engagement solutions were slashed down to a fraction of the cost using serverless technologies.

CIOs play a pivotal role in building a learning-driven organization.

As is the case with the majority of small and large enterprises, Philips Dayanidhi, CIO at Robert Bosch Engineering & Business Solutions says that in the beginning, people were not ready for digital transformation. To overcome the hurdle, Robert Bosch in India started an executive digital transformation program in partnership with IIM-B in which employees above a certain level were mandated to go through the training.

philips dayanidhi IDG/CIO100 Awards & Symposium 2020

“In addition to covering the fundamentals of digital transformation, such as cloud, mobility and security, the digital fluency initiative at our end enables employees to identify areas that can go digital within their own sphere of work. Based on this, we identify 10% of the trained workforce as digital evangelists.”

Philips Dayanidhi, CIO, Robert Bosch Engineering & Business Solutions

To make the program more effective, Robert Bosch, India has now started a digital fluency initiative that extends to all associates across the organization. “In addition to covering the fundamentals of digital transformation, such as cloud, mobility and security, the program enables employees to identify areas that can go digital within their own sphere of work,” explains Philips Dayanidhi. Based on this, the company identifies 10% of the trained workforce as digital evangelists.

Back in the day, most organizations in India drove training as an HR-mandated module. Some, to this day, haven’t yet changed this approach. “At Robert Bosch, India, we removed this mandate and entrusted a certain amount of money to each employee for training. Then made available a plethora of courses from EdTech companies for our employees to choose from,” shares Philips Dayanidhi.

While Robert Bosch takes on a democratized approach to learning, Future Generali India Life Insurance opts to approach skill-building in three distinct factions – developing a digital mindset, driving digital skillsets, and acquiring the right digital tools to drive the change.

CTO Byju Joseph says that the insurance major helps its employees develop a digital outlook through continuous communication and empowerment. “However, we realized that training employees in next-gen technologies is not the complete solution – they need to adopt cohesive business technology models, which include legacy and modern technology platforms and processes, and that’s the reason we’ve now adopted a hybrid model of learning,” he explains.

-- Byju Joseph, CTO, Future Generali India Life Insurance

Imparting theoretical knowledge is one thing, but enabling employees to acquire hands-on experience is quite another. Subramanyam Putrevu, CIO at Mindtree, was able to solve this problem by helping create a “digital orchard” on the cloud. “It’s not just a training platform, it also enables employees to get a hands-on experience with new tools and technologies,” he says. As a result, experience and expertise on the cloud come natively as the whole training platform exists in a cloud environment.

Why learning and organizational culture matter?

Amit Mehta, Head of Business Development, India for AWS Training and Certification, observes that companies that have emerged stronger are the ones with a cloud-first mindset and had a culture of innovation and a continuous learning environment. 

Many leaders see technology as the biggest challenge for organizations aiming for the cloud, but CIOs and tech leaders have now begun to realize that the workforce and organizational culture are also prime movers of cloud adoption.

It’s important to note that a change in organizational culture does not happen in a jiffy. “You can’t have IT infra, storage, or compute specialists suddenly turn into cloud architects. The focus now should be on upskilling the workforce to fulfill the cloud agenda,” explains Mehta.

While organizations can initially build capability, agility and flexibility with cloud technology as the vehicle, it’s people skills and culture that will be the sustainable drivers of evolution in an organization. The criticality of learning and development has driven CIOs across sectors to foster a culture of innovation to match their organizations’ technological prowess.

IDC's 2016 CloudView Survey corroborates the impact of training on cloud adoption – organizations that were "comprehensively trained" were 80% faster to adopt cloud technologies than those that were inadequately trained. The benefits of learning and development have also been observed to directly impact business goals and revenues – comprehensively trained organizations are three times more likely to meet cloud ROI requirements and are four times more likely to overcome operational concerns.

sanjay kotha IDG/CIO100 Awards & Symposium 2020

“The drive towards innovation cannot take place without a shift in the organizational culture as it’s equally important to bring in transparency around newer technologies and get every last person in on the conversation. If we don’t start right now, we will fail in our digital transformation journey as don’t have the leeway to bank on five-year plans.”

Sanjay Kotha, Group CIO, Adani Group

Kotha, of Adani Group, underlines the fact that the drive towards innovation cannot take place without a shift in the organizational culture. “The executives today need to have a fair bit of awareness around digital technologies irrespective of his/her line of business as they become digital transformation leaders of tomorrow,” he says.

In addition to awareness, he believes it’s equally important to bring in transparency around newer technologies and get every last person in on the conversation. “If we don’t start doing this right now, we will fail in our digital transformation journey for sure. We no longer have the leeway of banking on five-year plans,” opines Kotha.

While CIOs believe transparency plays a major role in getting buy-in from other lines of business in an organization, A CIO at a luxury automotive manufacturing MNC located in India explains how it’s important for companies to extend transparency to their customers as well. “We believe transparency of data should be given to customers as well – right from the beginning,” he shares.

He goes on to highlight how cloud computing plays a very important role in their organization– its connected car technology, breakdown assistance, safety measures, and predictive maintenance – all run on the cloud.

Building a well-trained, innovative workforce is an all-hands effort

While CIOs are fully invested in helping foster a culture of learning in their organizations, solution providers also play an equally important role in building a future-ready workforce.

Amit Mehta of AWS echoes Byju Joseph’s earlier point on taking a three-pronged approach to learning. “First things first: aligning to business goals – you need to understand how many people you need and the skills they need to equipped with. Evangelization through informal sessions and involving everyone also goes a long way in working towards the objective.”

Coming to the second part: Mehta observes that when courses are made freely available to people, the uptake is less. “What worked very well for us was a milestone-based achievement approach. You define the learning path for an employee – from a practitioner, to associate, to professional. Linking an employee’s career development to getting trained and certified has paid off in our experience,” he reveals.

-- Amit Mehta, Head of Business Development (India), AWS Training and Certification

The milestone-based achievement approach has proven to be effective at Mindtree as well. Putrevu shares that his company has adopted the practice of creating a career roadmap for its employees.

At this point, after having onboarded the right people and adequately enabling them, the next question CIOs need to answer is: how do I sustain the momentum?

The sustenance, in Mehta’s viewpoint, can only be achieved when organizations appoint evangelists and champions. Not doing so will only result in the company training a specific group of people on a specific technology to cater to a specific digital business outcome – and that does not help create a continuous learning environment.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.