In today’s challenging economy, customer expectations are high, patience is low, and attention is at a premium. Your customers demand a seamless experience with your products and services, with easy access to detailed, helpful self-service support options. So how do you stay ahead of ever-increasing customer demands? Data. Harnessing numerous customer data points, often scattered across multiple departments, is the key to unlocking a proactive approach to customer satisfaction (and growth).

So your customer success organization is more integral to your brand than ever. And its job is significantly more complex, too. Your customer success team is tasked with ensuring that your customers have everything they need when they need it. And they must also offer a personalized experience that leads to increased product or service adoption and revenue growth.

Essentially, they need to act as a growth engine for your organization. So, instead of simply responding to customer requests, your teams should be proactive and prescriptive. Anticipate your customers’ needs, impressing and delighting them at every turn. The key to this transformation lies in intelligently using the data you’re already collecting.

Predictive insights. Self-service experiences. Highly satisfied customers.

Unifying data in the cloud to visualize it, analyze it, and apply tools like machine learning allows you to unlock new customer insights. Predict when they’ll need support. Better understand when they’re most likely to drop out of your lifecycle. Recognize when they’re most apt to increase their investment. And, of course, doing all this while carefully respecting privacy and adhering to laws regulating the use of data.

Armed with this information, and the right tech platform to glean insights from it, your teams can digitally engage with your customers at the right time with relevant content.

Like any business initiative, scalability is critical. You likely don’t have the workforce to connect with every customer personally. In an already overcrowded digital communication landscape, you’ll achieve greater success by putting the power back in your customers’ hands. Offer the self-service options they want, powered by elegant search experiences that deliver fast access to the information they need.

3 key customer experience drivers

There are three initiatives your customer success organization can implement now to ensure it proactively engages with your customers, offers a self-service experience, and generates continued and repeat business:

Ensure that a customer-first approach is baked into your organization’s DNA.

To position your customer success team as a growth engine, you must have alignment with sales, marketing, product, and other parts of your business.

Make sure everyone in your organization is on the same page about your data collection efforts. And, most importantly, evangelize how all your teams can use that data to set customers up for success and help them grow long-term relationships with your organization.

2. Identify and fill gaps.

What KPIs are important to your customer success team? Are you collecting the right data to report on them?

Ask the right questions of your data based on your KPIs, and you’re likely to uncover gaps or attrition points and identify ways to resolve them. Maybe your customers aren’t receiving enough training or information. Or your team is reaching out to them at the wrong times. Or not at all. When you understand the critical gaps, you can fill them to ensure a smooth road to customer loyalty.

Invest in documentation and metadata.

Your customers need to be able to search for, and quickly and easily find, tools and resources. Your metadata tagging strategy is vital to ensuring they can.

Many companies simply tag their content with internal or company-driven terms, but incorporating the language your customers use to search for information will help them find it faster. Continue to analyze your data over time to see if you’re missing additional content your customers need.

Your customers are at the heart of your organization’s success. And your data is what keeps it beating. When you leverage it strategically to delight your customers, you cultivate loyal customers who are eager to increase their investment in your products or services — a real win-win!

See how Elasticsearch helps foster a culture of customer success.

Rick Laner is the Chief Customer Officer at Elastic.

Data Management

At FutureIT | Toronto, you’ll walk away with insights and tactics that will help your organization no matter where you are in your digital journey. Get ready to ask questions to our experts, participate in discussion groups and learn about modernizing your digital enterprise with cloud, AI and security.

Lights. Camera. Action!

CIO and IDC present a brand-new conference to hit Toronto’s downtown tech leadership scene.  On Tuesday May 9th FutureIT | Toronto will bring local tech leaders, IDC Analysts, and industry experts from the GTA together for an unforgettable day of learning and networking at Vantage Venues in the Financial District at University and King St. West.  With its tagline, “Building the Digital Enterprise with Cloud, AI and Security” you can be sure the conversations are going to yield some very strong outcomes.   All mainstage sessions will be professionally recorded and re-broadcast on Thursday May 11th at the FutureIT | Canada virtual event for those who are unable to attend in person. Details on how to register are found below.  

On May 9th the day opens with a powerful keynote presentation by the Chief Research Officer at IDC, Meredith Whalen. To put this into perspective, Meredith is the head of IDC Research globally. With more than 1,300 analysts worldwide, IDC offers global, regional, and local expertise on technology and industry opportunities and trends in over 110 countries. She truly has her pulse on everything imaginable. With her new presentation titled, “Scaling the digital enterprise with Cloud, AI and Security” Meredith Whalen will explore three pivots technology leaders will be making with respect to technology investment, labor optimization, and building trusted technology ecosystems to run their digital business at scale.

There are lots of opportunities to connect and network during the event. Attendees get a chance to meet each other on a more personal level during the guided networking session involving a variety of interactive elements to facilitate immediate connections.  During the extended networking luncheon, not only will there be a delicious hot buffet to enjoy but you can also get a refreshed profile photo to use on LinkedIn, or your other online profiles, at the professional headshot studio run by Event Imaging.

After lunch we hear from Matt Everson on the popular topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) while he shares, “How to Modernize your Digital Business with AI”.  He will discuss how to assess an organization’s readiness for AI, develop an AI strategy that aligns with business objectives and the skills required to implement AI in a way that ensures responsible use. Attendees will leave with a better understanding of how to leverage AI to modernize their digital business and create new opportunities for growth.

Speaking of growth, it’s not always about growing the business.  This event has some incredible leaders slated to speak and share their stories about leadership in the C-suite with the aim to help personal growth.  We discuss the concept of 360 Leadership and how to lead with strategy, vision, and purpose. Sara Fenwick, VP Technology at Ren’s Pets and Liese Coroy, CIO (Sr. Director BTS) at Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee will sit down with CIO Editor, Lee Rennick in a candid discussion where they will discuss implementing new technology initiatives, managing budgets and board expectations, and what happens when things don’t go as planned.

Another highly anticipated panel discussion will occur between George Y. Al Koura, CISO at Ruby Life Ltd. and IDC Canada’s Yogesh Shivhare, Research Manager, Cybersecurity.  In their session they discuss the role of the modern CISO as a trusted business influencer and head coach.  With George’s background in high performance sports and leadership paired with IDC’s Framework of Trust these two discuss striking the balance between strategic leadership, department and team management and the role as a thought leader-stakeholder for security issues accross the entire enterprise. Digital trust is important for Canadian organizations and this session will discuss how you can build it using IDC’s Framework of Trust to be an effective business influencer as the head coach of your organization.

We also have session discussing cloud workloads and the state of cloud native security presented by subject matter experts from Bell and PaloAlto Networks.

The captivating closing keynote, highlighting the days’ key takeaways, is presented by IDC Analyst and Research Vice President, Software and Cloud Services, Megha Kumar. Digital transformation is moving the needle toward digital business, where the next challenge will be driving revenue and scaling operations without a commensurate increase in costs. No matter where you are on your digital journey, cloud, AI and security are integral to modernizing your systems and creating the essential customer and employee focused organization needed to keep up.

The event concludes with a fun and social networking reception where attendees can make those final connections and strengthen their professional network even more.

If you’re not from the GTA and already thinking, wow, this would be incredible to attend, if only I wasn’t from a different part of the country?!  Well don’t worry, our professional video team is onsite recording the mainstage content which will be featured in a Canada-wide virtual version of this event broadcasting on Thursday May 11th titled, FutureIT | Canada – Building the Digital Enterprise with Cloud, AI and Security. The virtual event also features an informative and engaging networking event where you’ll want those cameras on! (Only if you’re comfortable with that of course – observing is just as valuable.) The networking event allows you to meet other attendees and ask questions to some of our featured speakers.

FutureIT | Toronto will deliver a day packed with insightful speakers, valuable case studies, and enticing sessions on cloud, AI and security from Canadian CIOs, industry experts and leading IDC analysts.

The deadline to register for the in-person experience at FutureIT | Toronto is on Friday May 5th.

For FutureIT Canada, the virtual event on May 11th registration is open. If you are unable to make it during the live broadcast on the 11th you are encouraged to register anyways so you get access to the content on re-play between May 12th – 25th, 2023 in our secure virtual environment.  

So, what are you waiting for? Register today!  

Events, IT Leadership, Technology Industry

Digital transformation has always been a continuous journey, one that should become an organizational core competency, with the introduction of digital services an ongoing imperative to evolve the business and stave off disruption.

While this may remain the case, subtleties are emerging about how digital transformation should be thought of, impacting how it should be undertaken. Within these schools of thought, what was once called digital transformation should now be viewed as business transformation because such initiatives encompass so much of the way organizations operate, and because technology alone does not a transformation make.

It’s that latter point that may be the biggest change in our perception of digital transformations. A framework for thinking about digital initiatives today is part digital strategy (new capabilities, new markets, and new products), part technology aligned with the strategy, and an ability to adapt to and adopt new processes, resources, and ways of working, according to Deloitte.   

“If you can only do one thing, focus your efforts on technologies aligned to strategy because it drives superior market value,’’ the firm says. 

With that in mind, here are five strategies, approaches, and technologies around digital transformation that are hot and two that have gone cold.

Hot: Debate about the term ‘digital transformation’

Depending on whom you ask, the very concept of digital transformation is either still the raison d’être of IT today — or it’s becoming a thing of the past. And while the discussion around this can seem semantic or even pedantic, there are meaningful impacts arising from the debate.

At Schneider Electric, “we don’t even use the term ‘digital transformation,’” but rather, ‘business transformation,’ says senior vice president and CIO Bobby Cain, who came from the business side of the company. “In order to transform how you work, the business has to lead the transformation.”  

Bobby Cain, SVP and CIO, Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric

Melanie Kalmar, corporate vice president, CIO, and chief digital officer of Dow, agrees. Speaking in a recent Gartner webcast, Kalmar said that digital transformation goes beyond technology. Further, IT is not going to drive digital transformation on its own, she said.

“The previous perception of being digitally driven was that IT would lead all of the change and that technology would be the driver,’’ Kalmar said. “Digital transformation is really about how people do their work differently and understanding IT wasn’t going to drive this on our own.”

She referred to digital transformation as “a team sport.” At Dow, each business now owns its digital strategy, and digital leaders have been placed in the business units to ensure data quality.

But Isaac Sacolick, founder of digital consultancy StarCIO, believes business transformations are more about mergers and acquisitions and outsourcing, and that digital, AI, and analytics fall under the purview of IT, so CIOs are expected to continue leading digital transformations. Results from the State of the CIO survey concur, as 84% of IT leaders say CIOs are more involved in leading digital transformation initiatives compared to their business counterparts. Moreover, 72% of line of business leaders agree.

Jim Ruga, CIO of Fictiv, a quote-to-order manufacturing provider for mechanical parts, says a lot of businesses in the manufacturing industry struggle with digital transformation because business leaders view it in the context of buying a big ERP system and expecting it to solve a problem.

Melanie Kalmar, CVP, CIO, and chief digital officer, Dow

Dow

“It’s the threading together of these systems [and] processes where decisions are made by humans, and you have to introduce machine learning and AI and glue them together to make these things effective,’’ he says. “It’s no longer just buying the software and ‘Wow, we’re digital.’”

Instead, IT needs to take these large systems and make them smart to realize the gains and benefits of labor or cost reduction, Ruga says. “You don’t get that by implementing systems off the shelf.”

Cold: The how of hybrid work

The concept of hybrid work, new for the majority of organizations when the effects of the pandemic reached a point where people started returning to the office on a part-time basis, is far less novel of late, and as such initiatives aimed at making it work have cooled since their apex just a year or so ago.

“People have figured it out based on the resources they have and the tools they have to support it,’’ Cain says. “Honestly, it’s becoming a tiresome conversation. I think it’s losing its relevancy.”

This is not something people need to learn; employees have figured out how they work best, he says.

Future work is focused on what people are doing and how they’re providing value, whereas hybrid work is about how do we continue operating when people won’t be in the office 100% of time, adds Sacolick. Yet, “what’s interesting is over 60% of companies in the tech space remain hybrid.”

In other words, if you haven’t figured out how to make hybrid work by now, you’re still likely not ramping up solutions to address it. In fact, enhancing hybrid work technologies was the No. 1 decreasing priority for IT leaders, according to the State of the CIO survey, and many CIOs have long been unraveling the ‘pandemic debt’ incurred by investing in digital productivity solutions during the height of the pandemic.

Hot: Digital trailblazers and micro transformations

With the CIO role changing to be more business-oriented and focused on both internal and external customer needs, CIOs need more of what Sacolick calls “digital trailblazers” who can act as “lieutenants.” These are people who “understand the lane they’re working in, whether it’s apps or security.” It’s incumbent upon CIOs to groom them to become leaders with “outside-in learning,’’ through a combination of attending nontechnical industry events and finding mentors outside the organization.

The trailblazers should be branched out into the business to run smaller transformation programs, he says.

Dean Kontul, executive vice president and CIO of KeyBank, is also a proponent of implementing micro transformations alongside large-scale transformations. 

Dean Kontul, EVP and CIO, KeyBank

KeyBank

The bank uses a pilot test-and-learn approach wherever possible. Along these lines, KeyBank uses consulting and outsourcing partners to accelerate the process. 

“Our most successful transformations rely on leadership across KeyBank and on speed of delivery with multiple impactful components delivered in parallel, versus waiting on a big-bang approach delivered all at once,” Kontul says.

This may not be bleeding edge, he notes, “but we certainly are forward-thinking and adopt new tools quickly and proactivity look to apply lessons learned from small initiatives with emerging technologies to broader use cases.”

Instead of the conversation being about a big, monolithic ERP transformation, CIOs should think about agility, Schneider Electric’s Cain says. “Do you think agile or are you agile? Look at [digital transformation] on a micro-scale and transform the way you work with a modular approach.”

Hot: Business-IT partnerships

Similar to Dow, Schneider’s IT group has been structured to be aligned with specific business domains “to better enable the business and be a better business partner.”

Not everything has to be enabled by technology, Cain adds. “You don’t want to just automate a crappy process — change the process.” Schneider uses an approach called a “power couple,” which pairs a domain or business leader and a digital leader together. They are responsible for the ‘what’ and ‘why’ and the digital leader is responsible for the ‘how’ and the ‘when.’

“When you partner those two people together … it’s very, very powerful and you don’t burn a lot of calories in solutioning and trying to do other people’s jobs and overwhelming people,’’ Cain says. “We utilize [them] in a dual delivery leadership model — the same people, the same rank, the same level and we put them together.”

Hot: Embedding AI in enterprise systems

There was a time when embedding AI and machine learning into enterprise and SaaS platforms fell to data science teams, but now, organizations are expanding those programs, Sacolick says.

“They’re looking to use AI and MI in ways that deliver value … beyond what marketing is saying [these platforms] can do. It’s not about the science but the application and getting the value without having to invest in the skillsets to build the models,” he says.

Take recommendation engines. They have been around for many years inside ecommerce and content management systems, he notes. “The CIO and IT have to make sure the information is presented to [the recommendation engine] in a way so it will make better decisions,’’ Sacolick says. “That often means expanding the context and data available to it.”

Ruga agrees, saying that applying AI or machine learning with “data inputs that make sense” makes large systems more valuable. At Fictiv, IT is doing that for quotes for manufacturing parts.

“Now you have something that has been educated by machine learning that has seen lots and lots of similar examples and can infer the conditions that are necessary to say, ‘This configuration or this design will cost you X dollars to make,’ and makes recommendations,’’ he says. “We are seeing that everywhere.”

Hot: Digitizing the manufacturing supply chain

Digitizing the entire supply chain is at the forefront for BSH, a Munich, Germany-based global provider of home appliances, says Berke Menekli, senior vice president of digital platform services, whose digital strategy tackles four pillars: enterprise processes, manufacturing processes, products, and the consumer journey.

BSH’s approach incorporates Industry 4.0, or I4.0, an IT-fueled strategy for improving efficiency using automation and data-driven operational decision-making.

Berke Menekli, SVP of digital platform services, BSH

BSH

To achieve this, BSH is investing in inbound/outbound logistics flow to maintain the continuity of production and supply chain automation “to ensure value creation toward our products can be transferred to our consumers,” Menekli says.

Initiatives such as these have become hot, he says, thanks to the advancement of supporting technologies such as machine learning and data lakes, which have become fast and strong enough to be operationally reliable in a manufacturing environment.

Taking that a step further, Ruga says it’s become more important to insulate the manufacturing supply chain, given global socioeconomic conditions.

“If I’m faced with a scenario like COVID or the war in Ukraine, and I have tons of people I employ and tons of vendors that depend on me and all of a sudden COVID hits, my supply chain collapses,’’ he says. Or “maybe I had a manufacturer in Ukraine that was producing unique parts for me, and … that factory got blown up and now I have to find a new vendor, which costs me time and money.”

A new trend is for manufacturers to vet their networks to insulate their supply chain and have the work managed for them, Ruga says.

“It’s not about whether I put Oracle in, it’s whether the collection of systems I’ve put in place insulate my business from risk,’’ he says. “An outsourced insulated supply chain de-risks things like supply chain disruption when COVID hits and a machine shop shuts down.’’

Cold: Traditional RPA

Some IT leaders are finding that robotic process automation is a lever-based approach involving the time-consuming process of collecting financial and operational data, and detailed process mapping, and doesn’t have enterprise scale. Many of the initial bots developed focused heavily on process efficiency, and this has limited opportunities for scalability, observers say.

Organizations must rethink how work is being done with bots that are broader in scope, or the investment in them will underdeliver.

Sacolick thinks RPA has become a band-aid. “I think what we’re doing is scripting on top of broken processes, in some cases, data technologies, and in many cases, a lack of APIs to get a backdoor into digital capabilities.” This is leading to an accumulation of bot debt because “any time I build a bot I have to continue to evolve and support it.”

He believes organizations will soon be talking about RPA more as a set of integrated tools, or what Sacolick calls hyperautomation, using low code and machine learning.  

“A bot is a piece of a solution, not a complete one,’’ he says. A lot of what they do is fill out forms and ‘screen scraping.’ In invoice processing, for example, you can either outsource the work or build a bot that will do some data entry internally instead of having people key the information into an ERP system.

That saves time and money and avoids mistakes and the need to change vendors, he says. But when a vendor changes their system or the company updates its ERP system, the bots will have to be changed, and that causes the debt, especially when the vendor doesn’t have an API the company can use, Sacolick says.

Another approach is to build a low-code system that flows into the ERP system through an API. “RPA is a tool to orchestrate a workflow, low code is a tool to build a workflow, and machine learning is tool so my workflows can be triggered based on analytics,’’ he explains. “RPA will shift from being a platform to a tool. It’s providing one capability; it’s not that powerful alone.”

More on digital transformation:

What is digital transformation? A necessary disruption10 ways to accelerate digital transformation7 secrets of successful digital transformations8 reasons why digital transformations fail7 digital transformation mythsDigital KPIs: Your keys to measuring digital transformation success

Digital Transformation, IT Leadership, IT Strategy

The room was abuzz. People were standing, talking intensely, mingling, and meeting new people. This was our first in-person conference in 2023, and it was going exactly as planned: Participants were engaged and networking. In all of our surveys, networking is always one of the top two reasons attendees come to our events (the other is the content), but often we don’t see them doing it. So we’d put a structured networking exercise on the agenda, introduced the session, and presented some sample questions they could use as conversation starters. Voila – off they went. Later, our survey results indicated it was a highlight of the event.

Welcome to FutureIT, our new event brand debuting in five cities in 2023. We’ve focused on leveraging what’s special and important about meeting in person again, with keen attention paid to creating the best – and a memorable — attendee experience. A fresh take on content, networking and experiences means it’s not your father’s IT event – as one attendee enthusiastically told us.

That’s right. Our focus covers three areas: leadership, technology and personal development. The program starts with a workshop to heed the call of deeper learning, networking and personal growth;  features an inspirational, non-endemic keynote, followed by interviews with and panels of exceptional CIOs; and includes not just the aforementioned structured networking but active discussion groups led by our sponsors.

The program also features content aimed at attendees’ careers, by looking at the latest job requirements for senior IT and security executives. This session includes information that will help managers recruit for open positions – a big pain point across so many and IT security teams – as well.

As such, the agenda checks all the boxes regarding what recruiters and our research indicate are the most crucial skills for success in today’s volatile business environment. Sound exciting? We have programs coming up in Washington, D.C.; Toronto; Chicago; New York; and Southern California. Join us.    

Digital Transformation, Events, IT Leadership

Stéphane Garneau, the president of Quebec-based Micro Logic, still sees the same forces driving private sector enterprises and public sector agencies to seek out sovereign cloud solutions now that he witnessed nearly a decade ago.

“We first made the commitment to create and offer sovereign cloud solutions and services in 2014,” says Garneau. “At the time government agencies wanted to embrace technologies and the flexibility and performance they offered, but feared being subjected to a competitive country that potentially could leverage their legislative power to unilaterally force local and international cloud providers to grant access to critical, classified or otherwise strategic information. Today, those same motivations and same concerns have only grown stronger.”

Today, Projet Cirrus – Micro Logic’s suite of sovereign cloud solutions, including private, community, public, and hybrid offerings – is relied on by hundreds of organizations in the public and private sectors organizations that require all data to reside in Canada at all times. Not only that, but data is required to only be accessible by fully vetted Canadian citizens – or in the case of international companies doing business in Canada, to be subject to the data protection regulations of their home country.

“High profile incidents as well as the widespread collection and use of data have led to a growing preoccupation with what happens to the information we share or upload online,” adds Garneau. “This is particularly true for sensitive and private data used in certain industries and by the government. It is more important than ever to control and secure this data at all times, which is exactly what the sovereign clouds solutions in Projet Cirrus do.”

The sovereign cloud offerings within Projet Cirrus also include robust backup and disaster recovery services, as a well as a Fortified Cloud that features encryption and data protection measures that exceed the most stringent guidelines for government agencies and highly regulated industries. All services are provided from two distinct and independent Tier-3 certified data centers in Quebec and Montreal.

Notably, the entire Projet Cirrus suite is supported by the more than 300 sovereign cloud experts at Micro Logic. This includes a dedicated team that is specifically focused on building and developing locally owned and operated international alternative cloud products that are designed to address the unique, bespoke needs of specific enterprises and institutions.

“Flexibility is one of the key attributes of the cloud, and that same concept extends to sovereign cloud solutions and services. Our dedicated Projet Cirrus team is comprised of certified and highly skilled experts who strive to push innovation forward and who are ideally qualified to address each customer’s unique cloud journey,” says Garneau. “Our clients benefit from this expertise and a sovereign cloud that is not only built around the latest technology and hardware, but which is also based on agnostic technology that empowers them to avoid vendor lock-in at all times.”

Garneau also stresses that the company’s strong relationship with VMware and reliance on its proven and trusted technologies offers enterprises additional peace of mind. He notes it is also of importance to prospective customers.

“The VMware Sovereign Cloud distinction is an important recognition for Micro Logic because it highlights our commitment and shows that we have made the extra effort to ensure that their data is hosted in known and trusted facilities sheltered from foreign political or legislative influence,” he says. “The breadth of our expertise allows us to address the full spectrum of IT challenges organizations and businesses face today. We took our extensive experience in on-premises computing and in years of service expanded it to encompass the sovereign, hybrid and multi-cloud environments our clients depend on and need today.”  

Learn more about Micro Logic and its partnership with VMware here.

Cloud Computing, IT Leadership

Data is the powerhouse of digital transformation. That’s no surprise. But did you know that data is also one of the most significant factors in whether a company can achieve its sustainability goals? 

Business leaders are at a crossroads. On one hand, a perilous financial landscape threatens to stall growth, with companies of all sizes retreating to more well-established profit drivers. On the other hand, environmental stewardship has swelled into a legitimate consideration underpinning nearly every business decision, underscored by the severity of recent climate reports and a surge in consumer activism.  

This begs the question – as digital and environmental transition both hit the top of corporate agendas, what are the most important changes needed to achieve this dual transition?  

In this webinar, Microsoft’s Rosie Mastrandrea, TCS’ Jai Mishra, and Equinor’s Vegard Torset explore the crossroads of data and digital transformation — and how the right approach can unlock your sustainability goals. 

Watch the webinar.  

Digital Transformation, Financial Services Industry

Vince Kellen understands the well-documented limitations of ChatGPT, DALL-E and other generative AI technologies — that answers may not be truthful, generated images may lack compositional integrity, and outputs may be biased — but he’s moving ahead anyway. Kellen, CIO at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), says employees are already using ChatGPT to write code as well as job descriptions.

OpenAI’s text-generating ChatGPT, along with its image generation cousin DALL-E, are the most prominent among a series of large language models, also known as generative language models or generative AI, that have captured the public’s imagination over the last year. The models respond to written requests to generate a variety of responses ranging from text documents and images to programming code.

Kellen sees ChatGPT-generated code as a productivity-enhancing tool in much the same way that compilers were an improvement over assembly language. “Something that produces libraries and software is no different than searching GitHub,” he says. “We also use it to write job descriptions that are sensitive to our content and formatting. You can then move on to editing very quickly, looking for errors and confabulations.” While the technology is still in its early stages, for some enterprise applications, such as those that are content and workflow-intensive, its undeniable influence is here now — but proceed with caution.

Ready for the right applications

Generative AI is ready for use in coding, administrative workflows, data refinement, and simple use cases such as pre-filling forms, says Oliver Wittmaier, CIO and product owner at DB SYSTEL GmbH, the wholly owned subsidiary of DB AG and digital partner for all group companies. And in the transportation industry, he says, “AI can directly or indirectly impact the avoidance of transport, the steering of transport, and the management of transport.”

Oliver Wittmaier, CIO and product owner at DB SYSTEL GmbH

DB SYSTEL GmbH

Content generation is also an area of particular interest to Michal Cenkl, director of innovation and experimentation at Mitre Corp. “I want contextual summarization and refinement via dialog, and that’s what these large-language models deliver, he says. Currently his team is looking into two use cases in the knowledge and expertise domains. “The first is if I want to write an email to one of our sponsors that summarizes the work we’ve done that’s relevant to them—and write it in the context of communications we’ve already had with them. That’s incredibly powerful.”

The second is for project staffing. Normally Cenkl reviews résumés and searches by skills tags to find the right people for a project. Generative AI can facilitate that. “For example, I might want to ask, ‘What can Michael do on this project,’ based on what he’s doing now, and get a summary of what he could do without me having to construct that from a résumé.”

And over at used car retailer CarMax, they’ve been using generative AI for over a year, leveraging OpenAI’s APIs to consolidate customer review text to summaries that are more manageable and readable. But CIO Shamim Mohammad says his team has expanded its use of the technology into other areas as well.

One application, in vehicle imaging, was conceived as a way to improve customer experience. AI optimizes images for every vehicle the company adds to its inventory, which at any given time includes between 50,000 and 60,000 vehicles, he says. “We make every image as realistic as possible without losing the validity of it,” he says. For example, its data scientists created a “digital sweeper” model that replaces a photo of a car sitting on a dirty floor with an image that shows the car sitting on a clean one. “It’s still the same car, but looks better and it’s a better experience for the customer,” he says.

Similarly, Nike has been using generative AI to generate product prototype images, says Forrester analyst Rowan Curran. “You can use a text-to-3D modeler, test in 3D space, and get a much more visceral feel for how it will look in the real world — all with very little effort,” he says.

Applications with the greatest potential payback

Creating code and improving customer experience are the main areas companies can take advantage of today using generative AI, and they have the greatest potential payback in terms of efficiency gains, Mohammad says.

Shamim Mohammad, CIO, CarMax

CarMax

Gary Jeter, EVP and CIO at TruStone Financial Credit Union, says these are areas his developers have also pursued with GitHub’s implementation of OpenAI’s Codex. And, he says, using generative AI for coding has worked well. Cenkl adds that generative AI models work better on coding than on human language because programming languages are more structured. “It can tease out that structure, and that’s why it works,” says Cenkl.

CarMax is experimenting with GitHub’s Copilot, where he says engineers in some cases could potentially generate up to 40% of their code. “This is evolving quickly,” Mohammad says. “But you have to make sure there’s no copyright infringement, fake content or malware embedded if you’re using it to create software.” You can’t just plug that code in without oversight.

Other areas ripe for enterprise applications, says Curran, include generating marketing copy, images, designs, and creating better summaries of existing data so people can consume it more effectively. “Some people are even using these large language models as a way to clean unstructured data,” he says. And in the coming year, generative AI capabilities may begin to appear in some enterprise software ranging from help desk software to Microsoft Office applications.

Don’t trust, verify

Aside from the benefits, CIOs deploying the technology need to be aware of potential intellectual property issues regarding generated outputs, CarMax’s Mohammad cautions. Generative models, such as DALL-E that trains on data from the Internet, have generated content that may infringe on copyrighted content, which is why Getty Images recently sued Stability AI over its AI-driven art generation tool Stable Diffusion.

Michal Cenkl, director of innovation and experimentation, Mitre Corp.

Mitre Corp.

The technology also needs human oversight. “Systems like ChatGPT have no idea what they’re authoring, and they’re very good at convincing you that what they’re saying is accurate, even when it’s not,” says Cenkl. There’s no AI assurance — no attribution or reference information letting you know how it came up with its response, and no AI explainability, indicating why something was written the way it was. “You don’t know what the basis is or what parts of the training set are influencing the model,” he says. “What you get is purely an analysis based on an existing data set, so you have opportunities for not just bias but factual errors.”

Wittmaier is bullish on the technology, but still not sold on customer-facing deployment of what he sees as an early-stage technology. At this point, he says, there’s short-term potential in the office suite environment, customer contact chatbots, help desk features, and documentation in general, but in terms of safety-related areas in the transportation company’s business, he adds, the answer is a clear no. “We still have a lot to learn and improve to be able to include generative AI in such sensitive areas,” he says.

Jeter has similar concerns. While his team used ChatGPT to identify a code fix and deploy it to a website within 30 minutes — “It would have taken much longer without ChatGPT” — and he thinks it’s useful for drafting terms and conditions in contracts, it’s not entirely proven. “We will not expose any generative AI to external members,” he says. “TruStone will not be bleeding edge in this space.”

Gary Jeter, EVP and CIO, TruStone Financial Credit Union

TruStone Financial Credit Union

When TruStone eventually starts using the technology for the benefit of its members, he adds, it will monitor conversations through human and automated review to protect its members and the brand.

Today, the key to successful deployment is still having a human in the loop to review generated content for accuracy and compliance, says UCSD’s Kellen. “Making sure the machine makes the right decision becomes an important litigation point,” he says. “It’ll be quite a while before organizations [use it] for anything that’s high risk, such as medical diagnoses.” But generative AI works fine for generating something like review summaries, provided there’s a human overseeing them. “That slows us down a bit, but it’s the right thing to do,” he says. Eventually, he adds, “We’ll find automated ways to ensure that quality is good. But right now, you must have a review process to make sure the content generated is accurate.”

Vince Kellen, CIO, UCSD

UCSD

Another well-documented risk, in addition to accuracy, is the potential for bias in the models introduced from the data used to train them. This is especially problematic when generative AI is using content from the Internet, as ChatGPT does, but that may be less of an issue when training the model against your own private corporate data that you can review for potential bias, Kellen says. “The more you get to the enterprise, where the class of data is more constrained and more mundane, the more generative AI shines,” he says.

The thing to understand about large-language models, says Cenkl, is these machines are to some degree savants. “They don’t understand, but they’re very good at computing,” he says.

Changes in job responsibilities, roles

“Technology has made things better, but it’s also created a lot of extra work for us,” says Mohammad. However, he believes generative AI is different. “It’s exciting because it’s going to take away some of the stuff we don’t like to do and make us more intelligent,” he says. “It will augment humans.”

But Curran points out that there’s no expectation that generative AI will completely replace any role in the short term. “It may reduce the number of people needed to execute a role, such as in content development, product information management or software development,” he says. “But there will always be the need for a human in the loop.” And Mohammad adds that even if the technology can write and summarize, human intelligence will always be needed to ensure quality, and to control what’s been generated to make it better.

Steps to get started

Now is the time to get up to speed on generative AI technology and start experimenting, says Kellen. “CIOs have to get their heads inside this puzzle before they’re bamboozled by vendors who are embedding the technology into their enterprise software offerings,” he says. “If you spend the next year procrastinating, you’ll be behind the curve.”

It’s important to get educated and go deeper than the public discussion on ChatGPT in order to understand that this technology is much more complex than one application, says Curran. Then start considering use cases where generative AI might improve the efficiency or quality of existing processes. Finally, ask what types of capabilities you’ll need and whether you should acquire that from a vendor or build it yourself.

From there it’s a matter of testing the technology and consider potential use cases. “A lot of your systems, whether they use structured or unstructured data, will have at least some component of natural language and conversational interface,” says Cenkl. “Think about the data you have and what parts of that can be augmented by these technologies,” and then demonstrate the potential. For example, Jeter says he generated a template of terms and conditions and sent it to his compliance department to show how they could use it.

Generative AI models are large, and training them from scratch is expensive, so the best way to get started is to use one of the cloud services, says Curran. CarMax, for example, uses Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service with GPT 3.5. “The data we load is our own — it’s not shared with others,” Mohammad says. “We can have massive amounts of data and process it very quickly to run our models. If you have a small team or business problem that might take advantage of generative AI technology, give it a shot.”

Application Management, Artificial Intelligence, CIO, Emerging Technology, IT Leadership

The economy may be looking uncertain, but technology continues to drive the business and CIOs are investing big in 2023. At the same time, they are defunding technologies that no longer contribute to business strategy or growth.

It’s not a stretch to say that across the board, CIOs are continuing to invest in some form of AI. Upgrading cloud infrastructure is critical for deploying broad AI initiatives more quickly, so that’s a key area where investments are being made this year.

Fifty-two percent of organizations plan to increase or maintain their IT spending this year, according to Enterprise Strategy Group. This includes spending on strengthening cybersecurity (35%), improving customer service (32%) and improving data analytics for real-time business intelligence and customer insight (30%).

The numbers are higher from Foundry’s 2023 State of CIO survey, which finds that 91% of CIOs expect their tech budgets to either increase or stay the same in 2023. CIOs anticipate an increased focus on cybersecurity (70%), data analysis (55%), data privacy (55%), AI/machine learning (55%), and customer experience (53%).

Here is a look at five hot technology investments CIOs and other IT leaders are making in 2023 and two that have grown cold.

Hot: AI and VR/AR

With digital transformations moving at full throttle, and a desire to stay innovative, it should come as no surprise that use cases for virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence continue to grow in several verticals. For example, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, which has a network of hospitals and about 2,600 beds, is deploying over 150 AI and VR/AR projects this year across all clinical specialties.

In one use case, AR and VR are being used to re-create people’s spines in a model so that surgeons can look at them in advance of surgeries to help them perform better, says Peter Fleischut, group senior vice president and chief information and transformation officer.

Besides surgery, the hospital is also investing in robotics for the transportation and delivery of medications. Massive robots are being used in pharmacies to automate processes such as pulling pills, ointments, and creams, putting them into packs, sealing them, and transporting them to floors, he says.

The hospital is using automated voice and AI technologies to deploy virtual chatbots in its call centers and is making “significant investments in Salesforce” to better understand its consumers from a CRM perspective, Fleischut says.

In obstetrics, the hospital has invested in a platform that uses AI to monitor and inform a doctor about any fetal issues a mother or baby is experiencing for faster and quicker intervention.

Other organizations are equally bullish about continuing their investments in AI this year. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say AI, AI, AI,” which “will probably accelerate faster than anyone can think,” says Chris Nardecchia, chief information and digital officer at Rockwell Automation. The company is embedding AI into each level of the tech stack it sells to customers, he says.

“We run factories and help companies run them and optimize them” and AI is used to optimize everything from getting more throughput to better quality to preventative maintenance, productivity, and cost optimization, Nardecchia says. “It’s all about uptime and input. And there’s a labor shortage in those industries so [the focus is on] more automation and more AI.”

This applies to his IT group as well, specifically, in using AI to automate the review of customer contracts, Nardecchia says.

Dental company SmileDirectClub has invested in an AI and machine learning team to help transform the business and the customer experience, says CIO Justin Skinner. One of IT’s first big projects is embedding AI into its SmileMaker platform to access its user database “to create an educational experience for our customers and show them what SmileDirectClub can do for them. This technology will help our customers get started quicker and will also allow us to reach more people.”

AI is also enabling users to do a quick 3D scan of their mouth with their mobile phone, so they can see their potential new smile in a matter of minutes, Skinner says. 

The company will also shift investments toward using AI “as an outsourcing model” to free up human capital, Skinner adds. That way, employees “can focus on creative ways to move their respective areas forward. We need to reduce investment in projects that require transactional workforce attention.”

Modern-day CIOs or CTOs have to start thinking like business owners if they are to be successful, he says. The idea is to “free up as much of our team members’ time as possible to be more strategic, customer-focused, and value-driven.”  

Hot: Zero trust and other security initiatives

In 2022, the College of Southern Nevada moved its data center to the cloud to implement cloud access security broker (CASB) technology to secure all student email traffic and mitigate trusted identity breaches.

Now, as more faculty, staff, and students are accessing information on-premises and in the cloud, IT has a borderless network and the team is implementing a zero-trust network architecture, says CIO Mugunth Vaithylingam.

“This adds additional context to our security layer and allows us to grant access to just what our users need — and no more — when they need it,’’ Vaithylingam says. “These network, security, and cloud changes allow us to shift resources and spend less on-prem and more in the cloud.”

New York-Presbyterian will also invest in zero trust this year, adding a security operations center (SOC) for 24/7 network monitoring as well, Fleischut says.

Cold: On-prem infrastructure

As they did in 2022, many IT leaders are reducing investments in data centers and on-prem technologies.

“We will continue to reduce our investment and presence at our on-prem data center,’’ says Raju Seetharaman, senior vice president of IT and transformation at life insurance company Legal & General America. “We have been moving our workloads to the cloud while we create new cloud-native digital business capabilities.”

At the same time, Seetharaman says not all legacy technology is cold, and LGA is embracing legacy systems that enable continued business growth. “We are investing in modernizing and migrating our legacy [systems] so we can leverage the cloud-managed services,’’ he says. “This should secure our business strategy for the next five years and longer.”

On-prem infrastructure will grow cold — with the exception of storage, Nardecchia says. Some storage will likely stay on-prem while more is pushed into the public cloud, he says.

Vaithylingam says the College of Southern Nevada will shut down its on-prem data center — one of the largest in Nevada — and plans to fully move all workloads and infrastructure to Microsoft Azure.

Hot: Data and cloud infrastructure

At New York-Presbyterian, using technology to reduce friction for patients and providers in the short term means increasing investments in multimodal data, Fleischut says.

For example, the hospital wants the ability to look at imaging and pathology data so staff can better diagnose patients faster and quicker, he says. That also requires investing more in cloud infrastructure for storage and compute power resources so data scientists can process data, understand it, and be able to translate it “for benefits at the bedside,’’ Fleischut says. 

Data is also critical in the insurance domain, and LGA is continuing to invest heavily in secure, scalable, high-performing data operations to foster business innovation and transformation, says Seetharaman. “We are working to transform ourselves into a data company mindset, finding newer ways to leverage data to support business growth.”

Hot: Low-code/no code

For most business teams, the time it takes to go to market with product updates is key to success and the quicker they can do it, the better, Seetharaman says. “Low code/no code solutions give business teams the ability to deliver changes quickly,” he says.

For example, pricing and underwriting are two key areas where life insurance carriers can bring market-differentiating product offerings to customers, Seetharaman explains. “At LGA, we have been good at continuously improving our ‘time to market’ KPI through multiple technology solutions and one key area of focus is the low code/no code capabilities that we have built within our digital platform.”

LGA will continue to invest in custom-built low code/no code systems to enable the company to deliver changes without hand-crafting code and time-consuming deployments, he says.

And it’s not just applications development where such tools are having an impact. Businesses are exploring new ways to apply low-code data science to unlock insights on how to improve processes, says Matt Mead, CTO at tech modernization firm SPR. “AI and machine learning will be leveraged to continue making enterprises more efficient and although still in its infancy, its application for specific use cases will separate the technology leaders from the laggards,” he says.

Cold: Legacy telecom

Legacy telecom and paging systems that New York-Presbyterian owns have been “deconstructed, defunded, and taken out of the infrastructure,” Fleischut says. The hospital has instead invested in between 20,000 and 25,000 mobile phones for its workforce.

Australian experiential tourism company Journey Beyond recently revamped its contact center as part of a customer experience transformation. Madhumita Mazumdar, GM of information and communications technology, replaced six different telecom systems, along with its contact center, in favor of cloud-based unified communications platform RingCentral.

“The different communication solutions were unable to provide an integrated 360-degree customer view, which made it difficult to ensure a consistent, unrivaled customer experience across all 13 tourism ventures,” she says.

There are indications the voice market is slowing. IDC is forecasting a 5.1% decline year over year in worldwide spending on fixed voice services in 2023. Still, worldwide spending on all telecom services (fixed, mobile, voice, and data) is forecast to increase 2.3% in 2023, the firm says.

Enterprise communications services saw slow but steady 1.6% growth in 2022, according to Gartner. That is not expected to last.

“The unified communications market’s meager 1.6% growth in 2022 masks the massive conversion in the telephony market from premises-based delivery, which will suffer a 7.6% decline, to cloud-based delivery, which will post 12.9% growth,’’ the firm wrote in a newly-published report on worldwide IT spending in Q4 22.

“Across communications markets, we expect to see a slowdown in legacy solutions like enterprise fixed voice services, premises-based telephony systems, and legacy contact center solutions,’’ Megan Fernandez, director analyst, at Gartner, told CIO.com. “Premises-based telephony will see the most significant slowdown in investment as businesses decide to defer their upgrades and replacements.”

The legacy/fixed voice services market segment is expected to decline at a 4.3% CAGR through 2026, Fernandez notes. Further, long-term projections are not expected to improve, she adds, since many businesses will migrate to cloud-based approaches for their communications needs when they do decide to make a replacement decision.

Hot: IT talent

IT talent acquisition is still a priority this year, with 41% of IT leaders planning to ramp up hiring, according to the 2023 State of the CIO. New hires are anticipated in cybersecurity (39%), app development (30%), and data science/analytics (30%) positions in the next six to 12 months, the report says.

Fleschut says he will also hire more IT personnel this year, especially data scientists, architects, and security and risk professionals.

IT talent is a hot area for Rockwell Automation as well, says Nardicchia, who will invest in user experience and QA developers, as well as data engineers, and AI/analytics and cyber talent.

Increasingly, businesses are realizing they need to invest in skills development to leverage emerging technologies, agrees SPR’s Mead. They will also invest in director-level leadership to help lead the charge on new business opportunities, he adds. “Whether it be security, data science, or cloud, it all ties back to your people’s abilities, so reskilling and upskilling will see momentum,” he says. 

Related: 6 tips for making the most of a tight IT budget

Budgeting, IT Leadership, IT Strategy

For many of today’s global enterprises, it’s a struggle to adapt quickly to emerging challenges.

With supply chain issues and the impending recession, digital transformation remains a pressing strategic imperative. However, key digital transformation milestones remain out of reach for far too many teams. To make real strides in each of these areas, Value Stream Management (VSM) has emerged as an urgent demand.

Earlier this year, Broadcom commissioned extensive industry research to learn how VSM adoption is evolving and which key trends are emerging in 2023. Conducted by Dimensional Research, this survey polled more than 500 IT and business leaders. Respondents came from five continents and represented a wide range of industries.

The findings from this survey are now available in a report entitled “2023 Value Stream Management Trends.” We’ll offer critical insights from this report in the following sections.

#1. Enterprise leaders are more focused on the customer than ever

When asked about their top strategic business focus for 2023, 58% of respondents cited “increasing customer value,” the highest-rated response. This objective was ranked third in a similar survey conducted the previous year.

The report’s authors state, “It now seems companies are shifting focus from rushing products to market that risk decreasing customer value with defects, bugs, or quality problems to a clear focus on maximizing customer delight with value and quality.”

#2. A disconnect between business and IT is impeding the attainment of key objectives

As they look at their challenges heading into 2023, senior leaders can be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu. More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents say their businesses continued to be plagued by a long-standing issue: the disconnect between software development and business strategy. An even higher percentage of technology teams, 72%, are frustrated by business leaders’ constant changing of business priorities.

Since the advent of the pandemic, supply chains have presented challenges for businesses in a range of industries—and supply chains remain the highest-ranked challenge as teams enter 2023. Forty-nine percent of respondents said ensuring their company has reliable supply chains is a top challenge.  

#3. VSM adoption is widespread and growing

Today, the consensus around VSM is nearly unanimous: 92% agree that VSM can help optimize the product lifecycle. Further, 86% have adopted VSM or plan to. By the end of 2023, 60% of organizations will be shipping products using VSM.

The survey also revealed that digital transformation initiatives are tightly aligned with VSM. Ninety-five percent of organizations currently pursuing VSM initiatives are also pursuing digital transformation.

#4. VSM is delivering significant benefits for digital transformation

For teams that have implemented VSM, a vast majority of respondents, 95%, report that VSM has helped deliver key benefits. When asked what benefits VSM has already shown, six responses were selected by one-third or more survey participants. Topping the list were increased transparency (42%), improved organizational alignment (39%), faster delivery of solutions to customers (38%), and enhanced data-driven decision-making (37%)—which can all be integral to advancing digital transformation.

The research shows that those building VSM capabilities are seeing an improved ability to measure and track customer value, which, as outlined earlier, is the top strategic imperative for leaders.

Conclusion

This recent survey offers some compelling proof points of the power of VSM. As we head into 2023, the businesses that have established VSM practices are better positioned to achieve their digital transformation objectives and deliver more value to customers. To learn more, download the report “2023 Value Stream Management Trends.”

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Explore ValueOps Value Stream Management, built to manage what you value most.

Digital Transformation

The need for efficient software development has taken on greater importance as enterprises introduce more and more digital services and add automation capabilities to enhance business processes. Managing software projects might not be at the top of CIOs’ priority lists, but it is something that IT leaders will have to master.

There are plenty of challenges involved in managing software projects, and IT executives who learn how to address these hurdles can help their organizations build better applications to drive business growth and enhance customer experience.

Here are some of the more likely challenges IT leaders and teams face with software projects, and how they can address them.

Delivering on time and on budget

Completing software projects in a timely manner while staying within

budget is a long-time challenge of software development. Any number of things can happen to cause delays and drive up costs.

One possible solution is to embrace the agile methodology of software development. Agile calls for collaboration among cross-functional teams as well as end users, and promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, continual improvement, flexibility in responding to changes in requirements and early delivery of products.

“Agile software development projects iterate the cycle of plan, do, check, adjust — and the end user or representative sponsoring [the project] is key in all these stages,” says Ola Chowning, a partner with global technology research and advisory firm ISG.

The waterfall method of gathering all the requirements, designing the entire software capability to meet all the requirements, building all the needed capabilities and reviewing and obtaining buy-in from end users is rarely used today, Chowning says. “This older method, by the way, is where on-time, on-budget challenges were the most onerous, because of the guessing game created when the software team had to estimate large bodies of work and assume some level of acceptance or rework by end users,” she says.

Agile enables the software team and end users to “collectively learn to plan better, work better and adjust more quickly, and outcomes become far more predictable as the way the team works becomes more predictable,” Chowning says. “On time and on budget are much easier to judge with the finger on the pulse of expectations of both the users and the developers.”

Creating and maintaining an agile culture

While adopting agile makes sense for software development at many organizations, it can come with hurdles. And many IT leaders who think their organizations have instituted agile practices fail to understand that what their teams are undertaking isn’t, in fact, agile.

“The intersection of agile software development practices and ‘traditional’ project management remains a challenge for many organizations,” Chowning says. “By now, you would think we would have cracked this nut, but it still seems to stymie many of our clients.”

Whereas software development is approached with a strictly agile way of working — repeated sprints, stories, and multiple releases that build up the end software product in an iterative manner — many organizations continue to struggle as they attempt to manage projects in a waterfall manner, Chowning says.

“This often begins during the project’s business case for funding, where we are typically asked to estimate the total outlay to be reported against in a traditional waterfall-phased framework of requirements, design, build, test and deploy,” Chowning says.

More mature organizations are turning to a project management approach that instead lays out the estimate of overall cost to overall value in a more steady approach across time, Chowning says. “Those who are using this agile project management approach are able to reap some of the real key benefits of agile, [but] it may require some adjustment of investment decisions or even financial practices in terms of project spend.”

A huge challenge for IT organizations is driving the agile model at the enterprise level, says Christian Kelly, managing director at technology consulting and services firm Accenture. “Agile at the team level is now widespread, but recent data suggest that it’s not going as well at the enterprise level, as most organizations struggle to connect strategies to the work their teams are doing,” he says.

This limits organizations’ ability to prioritize portfolios, plan for capacity, manage dependencies and connect goals to outcomes, Kelly says. “To deliver on the promise of agile, organizations need to implement the agile culture, systems, and best-in-class tools needed to better connect strategies to outcomes,” he says.

Aligning projects with overall organizational goals

“IT projects cannot be done in a bubble,” says Chetna Mahajan, chief digital and information officer at analytics platform provider Amplitude. “If your initiative is not aligned with business priorities, you are not set up for success from the outset and you will be swimming against the current at all times.”

To ensure business alignment and buy-in, all software projects should have a business executive sponsor, Mahajan says. When her previous company was implementing configure, price, quote (CPQ) software, the executive sponsors included Mahajan and the chief revenue office.

“This provided us with an escalation channel for both business and technical decisions and deliverables,” Mahajan says. “It was no longer perceived as a technology initiative and it got the visibility and attention it needed across the company. We not only came in under budget and on time, but also were able to increase automation 30% and reduce sales cycle by a couple weeks.”

Most technology projects fail because they lack concrete key performance indicators (KPIs), Mahajan says. “I categorize project metrics mainly into two buckets, one that monitors project execution and the other that measures business outcome,” she says. “What we can’t measure we can’t improve. While it is important to stay the course on budget, scope, and timeline, we must keep a constant eye on the business KPIs.”

The KPIs for a project should be specific and linked to company goals. “This not only helps create a culture of accountability, but also allows for companies to validate their business case to inform future investment decisions,” Mahajan says.

Winning over stakeholders and sponsors

Culture is often a key challenge in the ability to manage software projects in an agile fashion, Chowning says, because sponsors and key stakeholders of the project need to be comfortable and willing to work in the manner most suited to agile.

“Many may still want, instead, to try to work in a more traditional manner—build all requirements, design the entire end state, and only then build and deploy the entire end state,” Chowning says. “This can present a dilemma, as the software development practice and the project management practice try to proceed in two completely different and disconnected approaches.”

Educating the sponsors and key stakeholders in an agile project management approach, and helping them adjust behaviors, is key to managing expectations and enabling software development to proceed in the most effective and efficient manner, Chowning says.

It’s important to engage user representation up front and then continually throughout the iterations of the software development, regardless of the methodology being used, Chowning says.

“Gone are the days when it is sufficient to talk to users up front, and then not engage them again until some mystical user acceptance testing towards the end of the project,” Chowning says. “Users, or user representation [should] be engaged in all aspects of the software development and designs. Small feature developments, prototypes, trials and showcases are all useful means of ensuring users are both engaged and feedback is obtained constantly.”

Need for new development — and management — skills

“One of the biggest challenges we face [is] how to ensure we are continuously providing a strong developer experience and managing the ongoing upskilling of our employees as technologies evolve,” says Amit Sharma, CTO at financial technology company Broadridge Financial Solutions and former CIO at financial services provider Western Union.

“This means creating [automated] solutions, providing a secure, stable environment to develop and test, and equipping our developers with a suite of tools that facilitates a simple, manageable experience and alleviates the overhead and burden of heavy administration,” Sharma says.

With the rapid pace of change in software development, companies need to  train software engineers and others to adapt to new technologies, languages, and development processes. IT and product leaders need to acknowledge that there might be interruptions in projects because of the need to develop new skill sets, Sharma says. They also need to value the people involved in software development.

“It is critical that we recognize that our technology teams have built solutions over the course of many years, and as a result have become the subject matter experts not just of the system, but of the product as well,” Sharma says. “It is [vital] to bring them with us into the next generation of our product, no matter the technology it is founded on.”

In addition to the need for new developer skills, many IT leaders need to hone their own skills.

“Many IT leaders suffer from a massive talent gap in the ability to understand user needs, to create software roadmaps that meet business needs, to drive trade-offs against these roadmaps, and to move from process-based thinking to customer value and customer journey thinking,” Accenture’s Kelly says. “This is why concepts like value stream mapping, customer jobs/value propositions, and design thinking have become so important.”

Agile Development, Project Management, Software Development