Making the shift from project- to product-based IT requires more than just an operational map of capabilities and the cross-functional teams that will own them. It takes an organization-wide shift in mindset that gets people thinking and working in ways that align with the client’s definition of value.

Salumeh “Sal” Companieh, chief digital and information officer of Cushman & Wakefield, has done exactly that since she signed on in March 2022 to lead the global real estate services company’s IT organization in a relentless quest to create better experiences for its clients.

“We have two major client-facing groups of professionals — Services and Advisory,” she says. “What we’re really trying to do, among those colleagues and our technology team, is create a closer proximity to the client demand.”

Many CIOs, for all their zeal in shifting to a product-oriented operating model, get mired in operational logistics at the expense of execution, often because they don’t know how to put the right attitude into action. For any CIO seeking to make good on the promise of product-oriented IT, Companieh offers three actions they can take to drive a client-centric mindset throughout the organization: Get closer to the client, think “experience,” and pivot without pause.

Get closer to the client — and the problem

In her first few months as CDIO, Companieh quickly established herself as a leader with an intense focus on client experience. Each time we spoke with Companieh, she was coming from a client meeting — a somewhat rare devotion from a CIO that we felt compelled to ask her about.

“Sitting in the CDIO seat, it’s very easy to tinker,” she said. “It’s easy to create roadmaps that sound great from a technology point of view, but that don’t take people’s experience or existing capabilities into consideration. The further you are from the ask and the client demand, the less likely you are to make an impact with your technology.”

When CIOs don’t attend important client meetings, they set up business partners to effectively craft solutions without the technology team. Instead, IT leaders and their teams should get closer to clients, Companieh says, in order to get a clear understanding of their problems.

“We get much better collaboration when we hear it from the client ourselves — whether that client is an internal one like an employee or broker, or an external company — and our people get the chance to understand the issue through all of their own lenses,” she says.

This shift is critical to product-oriented success. Organizations must break out of what Companieh calls “self-solve” culture, in which the business is put in a position to decide which technology solutions fit best. Instead, IT can have a more meaningful impact if your technologists have a deep understanding of not only the full spectrum of technology solutions that can address an opportunity, but also the relevant business operations and experiences.

To accomplish this, and establish yourself as a true business leader, you must assert yourself. Ask to join rather than wait for an invitation. The closer you are as a leader to the client or the operations of the business, the more opportunities you will have to solve problems — and those opportunities will always require close partnerships to help maximize the impact of the digital footprint.

Think ‘experience’

Another reason Companieh puts herself in front of clients is because technology increasingly serves as the connective tissue of the entire business. This wasn’t the case just a few years ago.

“When prop-tech first came out, it was about creating a lot of technology touch points,” Companieh says, referring to the technology the real estate industry uses to digitalize the way people buy, sell, market, and manage a property. “Now we’re starting to see many of those touchpoints converge into integrated experiences.”

Managing those experiences requires a tight link between IT and other parts of the business. To achieve this, Companieh has deployed three business information officers (BIOs), two for the revenue-generating Services and Advisory parts of the business, and one for enterprise-level internal efficiencies. Her BIOs operate in a two-in-a-box model, each working closely with a business partner to enhance a specific experience. When solving problems, BIOs pledge no allegiance to a specific tool or technology.

“We use these amazing colleagues and their teams to try to embed an architectural mindset that creates accountability for the experience,” Companieh says. “Tools and data don’t do anything on their own. They should serve the problem you’re trying to solve or the experience you’re trying to create.”

Commitment to experience also requires reassessing how technologies are organized and managed, including decentralizing certain tools. For example, to empower client-facing professionals to solve problems, IT may need to manage data and business intelligence as a service that individuals can access when and how they need it.

Pivot without pause

No matter how carefully you map client experiences or define the products that support those experiences, you undoubtedly will have to pivot, Companieh says, adding that IT leaders should learn to see pivots as a good thing.

“Something we decide today, I have no doubt, will change in nine months. Not because we’re wrong, but because our ability to be agile to our clients’ demands and what’s happening at a macro scale in the market has to be there,” she says. “What we can’t do is be forceful with our thinking and not look back.”

If you’re not pivoting, you’re likely neglecting what Companieh sees as one of the most important attributes of growth-focused CIOs: welcoming and implementing feedback.

Communicating early and often is key to pivoting effectively. “Don’t hide behind the technology,” she warns. “Explain what you’re doing to gain insights for your strategy, how you’re going to communicate it back out, and how you’re going to take action. And learn to balance communication between your employees and your clients. It can be a difficult balance to strike, but it’s a critical one in your first 120 days.”

If instead you work from the safety of your CIO office, far from the client, you will proportionately dilute your impact as a leader. And if you show you don’t care to solve problems holistically or regress to siloed, project-based, tool-oriented thinking when it’s time to pivot, then your employees, consciously or not, will adopt the same thinking to the detriment of the enterprise.

Finally, she says, “Remember that the lack of a decision is far worse for the organization than making a decision of whatever impact.” As a new CIO, it’s easy to overanalyze a situation. For Companieh, it’s important to make a decision and execute, be transparent when you make a mistake, then pivot.

Business IT Alignment, IT Leadership, IT Strategy

Manfred Grossmann has seen the scenario play out over and over.

“I think companies that sell new products in an IT environment don’t always use them themselves,” said the vice president of corporate IT and project excellence for digital service provider Sycor Group. “Like everybody else, they focus on things that are not quite new.”

This was the situation Sycor recently found itself facing.

“When you’ve been using an older system release for years, hardly being able to do any upgrades, you get into a kind of innovation trap,” Grossmann explained.

Prior to 2022, Sycor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was 60% dependent on nonstandard processes, a situation that complicated operations, blocked growth, and reduced innovation.

As a result, application runtimes tended to be long.

The log-on process “was really slow and not state of the art,” Grossmann said. “It was based on on-premises hardware with additional virtualization layers.” Users had to begin by logging on to a virtual private network (VPN) ensuring that all data would be privately transmitted. That often took 20 seconds, then another 20 seconds to start a program.”

“It was very frustrating if you were in a meeting and wanted to demonstrate something on the screen. Everyone would be sitting there, waiting for the data to come up.”

In order to keep pace with its forward-looking philosophy, Sycor would have to simplify and standardize all processes of the company – replacing the unwieldy system with a single platform.

Investing in change

With its main headquarters in Goettingen, Germany, Sycor Group covers the entire range of information and communication technology, including software asset management, concept development, telecommunication services, and IT outsourcing.

The urgency to develop the Sycor Intelligent Business Platform was felt at every level, since two legal mergers were scheduled to occur by New Year’s Day 2022.

The company forged ahead anyway, vowing to have the platform in place when business operations combined. 

“You have to invest in change,” Grossmann said.

Implementation partner Walldorf Consulting assisted on everything from development enhancements and interfaces to program management.

“Implementing public cloud software is completely different to classic on-premises approaches,” Grossmann pointed out. “That’s why we needed a good implementation partner to guide us through the cloud environment and its specific processes.”

With an eye on future innovation and new business model support, the decision was made to reach across the fragmented services and systems by building the platform with seven cloud solutions from ERP leader SAP, including SAP Analytics Cloud, SAP Marketing Cloud & Sales Cloud, SAP Concur, and SAP SuccessFactors.

“Individual software would no longer have to be installed,” Grossmann said. 

Complexity would be minimized by incorporating mobile and other technologies to capture data, allowing users to log on from anywhere and gain support from modern user interfaces.

New horizons ahead

In less than 10 months, 179 services and processes were implemented, enabling Sycor to meet its January 1, 2022 deployment deadline.

Among the achieved goals: a single sign-on across all systems, greater transparency at every information level, and faster response times for internal and customer requests.

The utilization of mobile, user-centric applications for recording and billing expenses dramatically reduced complex administrative tasks of the past, creating more time for innovation.

For its holistic re-design of its entire business platform, Sycor was honored as a winner at the 2022 SAP Innovation Awards, an annual ceremony highlighting organizations using SAP technologies to transform the world.

Meanwhile, modernization efforts continue at Sycor, with plans to use its enhanced tools to improve the company’s HR processes, create new billing models, and widen the cloud and technology portfolio for customers.

“When I think back on the way we developed the platform, there are many minor things we could have changed,” Grossmann said. “But when you consider the methodology and the way we’ve run the project, I would do it again completely the same way.

Learn more about Sycor’s amazing accomplishment that earned them the SAP Innovation Awards here.

Enterprise Applications, SaaS

For years, climate action groups such as the World Green Building Council have been working with businesses, organisations, and governments to deliver on the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The central premise of their mission? If we are to fulfil the landmark pledges made in Paris, we need to rethink our built environments, with a colossal uptake in the number of sustainable initiatives and renovation projects that hasten decarbonization required.  

But the window of opportunity to take action is closing fast. Energy-efficient lighting retrofits within the built environment are pivotal if we are to achieve net-zero — and connected lighting’s role in the sustainable crusade cannot be overlooked. 

Buildings and construction account for 37% of energy-related CO2 emissions. It is self-evident that any government or business ought to be taking steps to introduce measures to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in their cities and set their regions on the path towards a net-zero built environment.  

That’s why major legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the US, the Energy Efficient Buildings program in Canada, and the Green Deal in Europe all include energy-efficient retrofits as a standard component of their manifestos. They understand the problem but need to be doing far more when it comes to implementing proven solutions. 

Connected LED lighting and smart systems 

Upgrading to LED lighting is one of the quickest and least intrusive aspects of the building renovation process. Lighting accounts for 13% of all electricity usage worldwide and up to 50% in cities.  

By moving to energy-efficient LED lighting, lighting-related energy consumption could drop to 8% globally by 2030, even while the total number of light points continues to rise. Pair that with the fact that in most cases LED lighting reduces a building’s energy consumption by over 50% compared with conventional alternatives—and by as much as 80% when connected and properly managed, monitored, and controlled. It’s hard to understand why more forward-thinking leaders aren’t taking advantage of the solution sitting right under their nose. 

Implementing connected lighting in a built environment offers energy savings and a massive reduction in carbon emissions — taking more than 553 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere if all businesses and cities converted to LED. But that’s just the start.  

Connecting LED lighting to a network also lays the groundwork for creating a smart digital framework that lets building owners and managers combine control of their lighting with other services like HVAC, blinds, and space allocation. Connected lighting sensors and controls enable presence detection, scheduling, and other smart capabilities that further enhance a building’s energy efficiency while cutting excess costs and improving functionality. 

Today’s needs and tomorrow’s needs are one and the same 

The need for energy-efficient retrofits couldn’t be starker. The consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are being felt around the globe, kickstarting an energy crisis that is both destabilizing economies and damaging everyday livelihoods across continents. It’s been a wake-up call for many dilatory governments that drastic changes to our relationship with energy are needed. Frankly, they were needed yesterday. 

Still, it’s not too late to make a difference. Acting now in response to the energy crisis by taking steps to boost the energy-efficiency of the built environment will have a long-lasting positive effect on the climate.  

Short-term energy efficiency needs and long-term climate needs are one and the same. The benefits of switching to smart systems and connected LED lighting to slash energy consumption and carbon emissions are proven, measurable, and immediate. There’s no reason not to make the switch now —before we run out of time. 

Words must be followed by action 

The jubilation that accompanied the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 (COP21) was understandable. It was a landmark moment, with pledges made that, if accomplished, would not just shape the remainder of the century but the future of our planet. Which is why it is so disheartening to take stock of the progress that has been made toward those promises in the years since. A new UN report shows we are falling far short of our targets, set to blow past the Earth’s safe temperature threshold by almost a full degree

An analysis by the World Resource Institute found that current promises would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by around 7% from 2019 levels. To limit global warming to the proposed target of 1.5° C, that number would need to exceed 43%. We are not just failing but failing badly.  

But just because we’ve done too little doesn’t mean it’s too late. Yet. The current economic turmoil and energy catastrophe cannot be used as excuses for delaying the sustainable agenda. If anything, they’re further proof of why it’s needed. Thankfully, there are some out there who are taking note. 

Toronto and Sydney set the sustainability example 

Sydney’s city council has unanimously approved new planning rules that aim to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of renewables in buildings. Development applications for new office buildings, hotels, and shopping centres, and major redevelopments of existing buildings must comply with minimum energy ratings from January 2023 and achieve net-zero energy use from 2026. The new measures are expected to save more than AU$1.3 billion in energy costs for investors, businesses, and occupants from 2023 to 2040, and help the city meet its target of net-zero emissions by 2035. 

Meanwhile, Toronto is providing funding to support “deeper-than-planned” energy retrofits in 10 to 16 privately-owned buildings, with the goal of accelerating emissions reductions and identifying pathways to net-zero that can be replicated in other buildings. The initiative, part of Canada’s Energy Efficient Buildings program mentioned above, is seeking to rectify the fact that buildings are the largest source of GHG emissions in Toronto today, generating approximately 57% of total community-wide emissions. 

The economic and energy crises may be seen as today’s great foes, but don’t let them distract from the behemoth of the climate emergency. The dangers it poses are too significant and too imminent to be side-lined. Action is needed and it is needed now, lest we fall short on our crucial pledges. Promises made must be promises kept. Net-zero building renovations are a necessity. Cities like Sydney and Toronto are setting an example that cities around need to follow—and quickly.  

To find out more about Signify’s work on sustainability click here

Business Operations

Written by Pamela Rucker, CIO Advisor and Instructor, Harvard Professional Development

ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) topics have emerged as critical issues for organizations of all sizes. Among those issues, sustainability has seen a surge of interest, rising steadily on CIOs’ priority lists. Via a series of interviews and panels at Schneider Electric’s Innovation Summit 2022, a snapshot of the challenges, triumphs, and next steps shows that IT and business leaders are focused as never before on data center sustainability. But it’s going to require unprecedented cooperation among all stakeholders to drive change.

With a stellar line up of speakers and sustainability topics, Schneider Electric demonstrated recently that they are not simply a leader that sells commercial sustainability solutions. At its annual Innovation Summit in Las Vegas, NV., the company showed that its investments in emerging technology, educational programs, and ecosystem partners are the result of a deep commitment to create competitive advantage for themselves and their customers with an eye squarely focused on the triple bottom line. 

While watching the demonstrations, it was obvious that the sheer magnitude of their sustainable innovation is a feat in and of itself; however, even greater power lies in the fact that Schneider’s products and services make other companies better too. Their theme of “Digital + Electric = Sustainability” represents a real opportunity for companies to pivot away from products and processes that offer profit with a high environmental price tag. And that’s where I found myself mesmerized by the possibilities. 

One of the biggest challenges I see organizations grappling with is having the right capability when it counts. We are living in a world faced not only with the impact of climate change, but also with the impact of a changing demographic. Schneider’s CEO, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, opened with a keynote that declares “The Moment is Now,” and he couldn’t be more accurate in that statement. Numerous studies have found that today’s consumers want to buy products and services from companies that not only care about ESG, but can prove that they’re doing something about it. Panelists at the conference noted that 75% of people would select a company based on their ESG goals, and 85% would stay loyal to them. That’s a staggering statistic, and it means that people want to buy from companies that have similar values as theirs, and they’ll also refuse to bring their talents to places that don’t engage in meaningful change. 

Getting Started: Steps for Meaningful Change

The problem most companies have though, is where to start. This is where Schneider shines. They have published a framework to help leaders know what specific steps they can take right now to make meaningful change. In a great discussion about partnerships, metrics, and redefining data center sustainability, the group noted that data runs the planet, and that is true. We have bigger and bigger data centers because we rely on more and more data to get things done. Our obsession with instant searches, free information, and two-day delivery has come at an incredible cost. Humans can’t work that fast, so we need machines to do it, and those machines require energy. The group went on to note that even when we try to work in ways that use less energy, we are impacting the water supply. So, one definite way to reduce any environmental impact is to tackle the way data centers are managed, and to require a similar type of management from partners.

Look, every company today will build, buy, sell, or service their products using a digital process. That means every company should be capturing data about how they operate. All of that data ends up in a data center somewhere: with you, your partners, or your suppliers. I agree with final thoughts of the panel: You can’t understand and address the full impact of your operations unless you work with partners that are digitized and have similar goals as yours. Even if they aren’t there today, they have to want to get there, and be willing to do the work now.

In a world that’s becoming more digital every moment, we all need ways to understand and address the impact of our desires. The devices we watch, the dances we post, the data we consume all create footprints that must be managed. While Schneider’s tools can’t change the world overnight, they can help keep us honest about our promise to do better. And that’s action we can all be glad about. 

This post is brought to you by Schneider Electric and CIO Marketing Services. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Schneider Electric. 

To learn more about Schneider Electric’s ESG solutions, click here.

Data Center

By Chet Kapoor, Chairman and CEO, DataStax

There is no doubt that this decade will see more data produced than ever before.

But what’s truly going to transform our lives, define the trajectory of each of our organizations, and reshape industries is not the massive volume of data. It’s the unmatched degree to which this data can now be activated in applications that drive action in real time: minute by minute (or even second by second), across work, play, and commerce. Where technology might have been a constraint in the past, it’s now an enabler.

Here, we’ll take a look at why real-time apps are no longer just the domain of internet giants and discuss three ways that your organization can move toward delivering real-time data.

The future is here

IDC predicts that by next year there will be more than 500 million new cloud native digital apps and services – more than the total created over the past 40 years.

We’re already living in this future. We get turn-by-turn driving directions while listening to an AI-recommended playlist, and then arrive at the exact time our e-commerce order is brought to us curbside – along with a cup of hot coffee.

The real-time data powering apps that change industries is no longer just offered by a Google or a Spotify.

Companies like Target excel at it. The retailer delights customers with an app that shows users what they most want to see, ensures no one ever misses a deal, has a near-perfect record of intelligent substitutions for out-of-stock items, and gets users their orders on their terms (and it might just include a drink from Starbucks, another enterprise that is a real-time app powerhouse).

Smaller businesses are making real-time data core to their offerings, too. Ryzeo offers a marketing platform that leverages real-time data generated by events on its clients’ e-commerce websites. An item that a shopper views or searches for instantly results in an AI-driven recommendation through its “suggested items.”  Real-time data – and the technology that supports it – is how Ryzeo makes this happen. 

Inaction isn’t an option

The door is open to you and your organization, too.

The best-of-breed technologies that power winning real-time apps are open source and available as a service, on demand to all. There are tons of proven use cases across industries. When you leverage these use cases and technologies, there’s a big payoff – you increase your organization’s ability to innovate and turn data into delightful customer experiences.

This will not only transform how your business grows, but how your business works.

As consumers, we never want to go back to dumb apps that evolve slowly, don’t know our context, and fail to act intelligently on our behalf. In fact, we desire the opposite.

When you put the customer’s digital experience at the center of agile workflows, make fast decisions, and rapidly iterate, you create a powerful feedback loop. Every win shows the power of a new and more fulfilling way of working. So does every failure – by providing valuable learnings.

The one thing you can count on is that inaction is not an option. And at this moment in time, why would we want to wait?

There is no doubt that real time data can reduce waste, increase safety, help the environment, make people happier and healthier. And we’re only just getting started.

So how do you get started? You can make three important choices right now to set your organization on a path to excel at delivering real-time data.

Step 1: Pick up the right tools

The technology to deliver outstanding, data-powered, real-time experiences has arrived – and we’ve got it in spades. The best of breed tools are open source. They grew out of the “best of the internet” to solve novel problems about scale and data velocity. Apache Cassandra®, for example, was developed at Facebook to manage massive amounts of messaging data.

Joining the open source ecosystem means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. This is important because what sets your organization’s real-time data experiences apart won’t be the infrastructure. It’ll be how you put your domain knowledge to use in new ways that delight your users.

Most of these technologies are available on demand as-a-service to everyone. If you didn’t add them to your data infrastructure yesterday, do it today.

Step 2: Assemble the right teams

When every company is a software company, every executive must also be a software executive. This includes your line of business owners, general managers, and functional leaders.

Winning companies reorganize team structures and accountability to match. The days of data scientists experimenting alone in an ivory tower and developers working under requirements that were “thrown over the wall” to IT are over. “The business” can no longer think of data and technology as “IT’s problem.”

All of your employees need to be trained to identify and capitalize on opportunities for using data and technology to drive business results. Your line of business owners must be held accountable for making it happen.

To empower them, assign your developers, data scientists, and technical product managers to cross-functional teams working side-by-side with their business domain colleagues that own customer experiences. This is a ticket out of “pilot purgatory” and a key to democratizing innovation across your company.

Step 3: Ask the right questions

As you advance on your journey, more and more smart systems will be working every minute of every day to answer your industry’s key questions, like “what’s the most compelling personalized offer for this customer?” or “what’s the optimal inventory for each store location?”

What those systems can’t do is ask questions that only humans can, such as “how do we want to evolve our relationship with our customers?” Or “how can we deploy our digital capabilities in ways that differentiate us from our competitors?”

No algorithm is going to kick out the brilliant and empathetic idea to “Show Us Your Tarzhay,” which turned what might have otherwise been the unfortunate necessity of having to shop on a limited budget into the opportunity to celebrate and share a distinctive personal style. Similarly, it took human creativity to expand the concept from clothing into a new category (groceries).

If you take the first two steps listed above, you will start to free up your people’s time to ask creative questions and improve their ability to deliver on the answers using best-of-breed technology. Equip, challenge, and inspire them to think big about where you want to take your customers next, and you’ll get your organization moving in the right direction to provide the benefits of real-time data to your customers.

Learn more about DataStax here.

About Chet Kapoor:

Chet is Chairman and CEO of DataStax. He is a proven leader and innovator in the tech industry with more than 20 years in leadership at innovative software and cloud companies, including Google, IBM, BEA Systems, WebMethods, and NeXT. As Chairman and CEO of Apigee, he led company-wide initiatives to build Apigee into a leading technology provider for digital business. Google (Apigee) is the cross-cloud API management platform that operates in a multi- and hybrid-cloud world. Chet successfully took Apigee public before the company was acquired by Google in 2016. Chet earned his B.S. in engineering from Arizona State University.

Data Management, IT Leadership