Like most CIOs you’ve no doubt leaned on ROI, TCO and KPIs to measure the business value of your IT investments. Maybe you’ve even surpassed expectations in each of these yardsticks.

Those Three Big Acronyms are still important for fine-tuning your IT operations, but success today is increasingly measured in business outcomes. Put another way: Did you achieve the desired results for your IT investments?

For more than a decade, IT departments derived business value from cloud computing—public, private and maybe hybrid. Of late, concerns about the public “cloud-first” approach have emerged to challenge business value and skewer ROI, TCO and KPIs. And it drew the curtain on a critical reality: IT profiles are much more complex.

A more thoughtful approach to procuring and managing assets is needed to help hurdle the challenges posed by those diverse estates. To understand how to get there, it helps to first unpack how we got here.

When Diminishing Returns Become Budget Busters

For years enterprises scrambled to build applications in public cloud environments; there was legitimate business value in rapid innovation, deployment and scalability, as well as unfettered access to more geographical regions.

“Cloud-first strategy” became a cure-all for datacenter impediments, as well as an IT leader’s tentpole for digital transformation.

More recently some organizations have reported diminishing returns from their public cloud implementations. Some companies calculated savings after moving from public clouds to on-premises—or cloud repatriation. Others conducted apples-to-apples comparisons of public cloud versus on-premises costs.

In some instances, poor implementation and faulty configurations were the culprits for deteriorating ROI, TCO and KPI values. Collectively these factors have dulled the initial sheen of agility and innovation around the public cloud.

The reality is the decision to put applications in the public cloud or on-premises systems is not an either-or argument; rather, it requires a nuanced conversation, as consultant Ian Meill points out in this sober assessment.

Smart Workload Placement is Key

Meill is right. The real argument about where to allocate applications to generate business value is around the most appropriate location to place each workload. Because, again, IT environments are far more complex these days. They’ve become multicloud estates.

To accommodate an accrual of disparate applications, you’re likely running a mix of public (probably more than one) and (maybe) private clouds in addition to your traditional on-premises systems. You might even operate out of a colo facility for the benefits cloud adjacency affords you in reducing latency. Maybe you manage edge devices, too.

Workload placement is based on several factors, including performance, latency, costs, and data governance rules, among other variables. How, where and when you opt to place workloads helps determine the business value of your IT investments.

For example, you may elect to place a critical HR application on-premises for data locality rules that govern in which geographies employee data can run. Or perhaps you choose to offload an analytics application to the public cloud for rapid scalability during peak traffic cycles. And maybe you need to move an app to the edge for speedier data retrieval.

Of course, achieving business value via strategic workload placement isn’t a given. There is no setting them and forgetting them.

As you navigate the intricacies of workload placement, you face many challenges such as: Economic uncertainty (the market is whipsawing); deficit in IT talent (do you honestly recall a time this wasn’t an issue?); abundant risk (data resiliency, cybersecurity, governance, natural disasters); and other disruptions that threaten to crimp innovation (long IT procurement cycles and slow provisioning of developer services).

You can try to tackle those challenges with a piecemeal approach, but you’ll get more value if you deploy an intentional approach to running workloads in their most optimal location. This planning is part of a multicloud-by-design strategy that will enable you to run your IT estate with a modern cloud experience.

A Cloud Experience Boosts Business Value

As it happens, an as-a-Service model can help deliver the cloud experience you seek.
For instance, developers can access resources needed to build cloud-native applications via a self-service environment, freeing up your staff from racking and stacking, provisioning and configuring assets to focus on other business critical tasks.

To help you better align cost structure with business value, pay-as-you-go consumption reduces your reliance on the rigorous IT procurement process. This cloud experience will also help you reduce risk associated with unplanned downtime, latency and other issues that impact performance and availability SLAs aligned to your needs.

Leveraging such a model—and in conjunction with trusted partners—IT departments can reduce overprovisioning by 42% and support costs by up to 70%, as well as realize a 65% reduction in unplanned downtime events, according to IDC research commissioned by Dell1.

Dell Technologies APEX portfolio of services can help you successfully manage applications and data spanning core datacenters to the edge, as well as the mix of public and private clouds that comprise your multicloud environment. This will help you achieve the business outcomes you seek.

Regardless of where you opt to run your assets, doing so without a modern cloud experience is bound to leave business value languishing on your (or someone else’s) datacenter floor.

Learn more about our portfolio of cloud experiences delivering simplicity, agility and control as-a-Service: Dell Technologies APEX.

[1] The Business Value of Dell Technologies APEX as-a-Service Solutions, Dell Technologies and IDC, August 2021

Cloud Management

Data velocity – how quickly data is generated and moved – is the key to achieving any number of business outcomes. But it’s especially important in customer experience, according to IDC’s Marci Maddox, Research Vice President Digital Experience Strategies, and Aly Pinder, Research Vice President Aftermarket Services Strategies.

“We’re finding that the customer experience is the first or second priority for digital leaders today,” Maddox said during a recent Foundry webinar with Pinder.

Being able to act quickly with data could be one use for generative AI and other emerging tech. Maddox will share insights into how organizations can use these tools at FutureIT Washington, D.C., on May 11 at the Convene conference center in Arlington, Va.

“We need to look at ways the customer experience is more than just a marketing activity, but it becomes everyone’s focus as we move to a more empathetic customer experience and customer-centric organization,” Maddox said.

In addition to Maddox’s talk, the event will focus on leadership, technology, and personal development with speakers from Boeing, Momentous Capital, National Association of Corporate Directors, and more.

Learn more: Register here for FutureIT Washington, D.C. Not in the area? Join us at an upcoming program in Toronto, Chicago, New York or Southern California.

Artificial Intelligence, Emerging Technology, Events

John Meister is the senior vice president and CIO of Panera Bread, a chain of bakery-cafe fast casual restaurants with more than 2,000 locations across the United States and Canada. Over the past decade at Panera, Meister has been instrumental in driving Panera’s customer digital experience initiatives and building an innovative IT culture that continues to stay ahead of fast changes in the marketplace. Under his leadership, Panera’s websites and apps have won numerous awards, including #1 Most Innovative Company in Food by Fast Company and Industry Best in Tech by Restaurant Business.

When we spoke for a recent episode of the Tech Whisperers podcast, Meister shared some of the secret sauce of his leadership, including how he navigates complexity and his passion for delivering on the experience promise, both externally for customers and internally for IT associates and team members. Afterwards, we spent some more time talking about his winning formula and what’s next for his team. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Dan Roberts: IT leaders are always looking ahead to the next big thing. What’s next for you in setting Panera up for continued success? What are you and your team excited about looking ahead?

John Meister: For Panera, everything begins with the guest experience. Recently, we’ve done some great things in our rewards program around choosing your next reward. We’ve traditionally guessed at what it is you’re going to be ecstatic around — our ‘surprise and delight.’ But the reality is, we don’t always guess right — you may want to try something new. So, we’re adding options. Here’s a popular item if you’re in the mood to try something new, or here’s something that people like you typically choose, or you can do your regular order.

We’re also thinking a lot about personalization — creating all these micro-moments that can make ordering a little bit better. If we know, for example, that a guest always takes the onions off their order, then if they forget, we know to ask about it.

We’re also excited about digital drive-thrus and finding ways to improve the guest experience, whether it’s conversational AI ordering or picking up the digital order in the drive-thru. For years we contemplated doing a digital order pickup in the drive-thru, but thought, we can’t train the consumer to do it. Now, everyone’s gone there with COVID. So we return to those moments and think much more deeply about the interaction. We’re seeing very high customer satisfaction scores in those interactions. To summarize, I do think there is room to innovate in our main ordering wheelhouse. From an innovation standpoint, we’re still excited about conversational AI. We’re still excited about automation. Whether it’s accounting tasks, IT tasks, taking orders, or prepping food in the kitchen, there are a lot of exciting things on the automation horizon.

Roberts: There’s another complexity you have to contend with in your business, and that’s the fact that your industry experiences 100% turnover annually in the cafés. How are you addressing and impacting that?

We watch restaurant GM turnover and associate turnover closely, and our operations partners and HR partners have done such an amazing job over the last 12 to 18 months. It blows my mind how much they’ve improved Panera. Our attrition is among the best in the industry, and we’re rated the number one restaurant to work at by Black Box — that’s amazing. Still, you must think about quickly onboarding new team members. How do you segment people that are inspired by more hours? Or learning different roles? Or career growth? How do you think about inspiring team members, and how do you speak to them from that mindset? How do you teach a GM to treat the cafe associates like family? We look deeply at these aspects.

At the same time, we must make things easy — so easy that even I can go into a cafe and make sandwiches for an hour without a lot of training ahead of time. That’s hard to do because I’m not very good at making sandwiches. We constantly think about onboarding and our ease of use as intensely as we think about the guest experience.

Roberts: I joke that data is a four-letter word in many companies. How are you thinking about data and using it to address the logistics of the business?

Step one is hiring people smarter than you in any given subject. We have people much smarter than me when it comes to restaurant data. The first part of leveraging data is really understanding what we want to do with it — what is the KPI or the business metric we want to change? Maybe it’s attrition. Maybe it’s store profits. Maybe it’s location analysis for choosing new real estate locations. Then we look at the business situation and come up with a hypothesis around x. Now let’s get the data behind the hypothesis and see if the hypothesis makes a difference. Then, as you approach those learning moments, turn it into a dashboard, so it’s something that can live and breathe across the enterprise. If we look at store profitability, is it labor? Is it food cost? Is it overhead? Is it paper goods? Let’s put all the usual suspects onto a page so that the GM can understand it very quickly. If something starts to veer off our normal, the GM should be able to find it quickly and easily.

So, you go from thinking about a hypothesis, proving it, creating a dashboard, and then the next thing you know, you’ve got a million pieces of data screaming for attention, and you’re overwhelmed. Then you decide to make the data proactive. If something veers off course, send a proactive alert. Make the data much more interactive: It looks like there’s something going on with x, do we need to pay attention to it — yes or no? Even if it’s a no, let’s take that back and learn from it. Was there something else that we can look at over the long haul? Or, we have ten no’s and we don’t understand why. Let’s call some restaurant GMs to educate us. In the end, we come away smarter, and we discover new things we can do with our tools, and our end goal is to always make life better for the GMs.

Roberts:  We talked a lot about the culture you’re building and how you help your folks think about their value and show up differently. For example, you have your people out in the cafés and connecting with that broader purpose. Can you talk a bit more about that and how that impacts customers and associates?

I loved working at MasterCard — top of the technology game, amazing talent — but it was very hard to see what you did every day translate to the real world. Here, it’s just the opposite. I can finish coding something and test it today, put it in the cafe for a prototype or proof of concept, and then go into the cafe and watch our associates or customers use it. If I coded something to help us make sandwiches better, I can go make sandwiches myself or watch others make sandwiches. You get to experience it and live it.

Every new support center associate must go work in the bakery-cafe for a few days — it’s part of our onboarding process. That’s phenomenal, because you come away with ideas to improve our business with technology to make life easier for our employees and our customers. In the moment of working in the cafe, you might dread it because you are nervous, but then you get immersed and love it. You’re going to spend the next five years wishing you could do it again. And then when you finally get that opportunity, you’re so happy to have all these new insights. You want to do something that makes a difference. We really try and walk the walk.

Roberts: As leaders we are always being watched. People read how we handle ourselves in situations, especially the more challenging ones. How do you think about that in terms of how you show up and take ownership in the hard times?

I always say, mood is contagious. You must not take yourself seriously. Laugh at yourself a little bit. At the same time, think about the big picture, understand how your role resulted in this situation and remind people how we got here. It’s so easy to beat yourself up when things aren’t going well. Remind yourself of the big picture, why I’m here, what’s the difference I’m trying to make.

And look for ways to refresh and inspire others. There’s times I have to remind everyone, we’re here selling soups and salads and sandwiches, and we’re making a difference in people’s lives. Go out and look at some of those customer stories about how we helped the mom or dad who had cancer or made this other person’s dream come true. Those stories melt your heart and remind you why you’re here. But always try and have as much fun as you can. Because mood is contagious.

Roberts: Speaking of showing up, could I get you to share the ‘toasted bagel’ story, which speaks to the commitment your leadership team has to continuous improvement? I also see it as the story of a CIO who is seen as a business leader first.

This was in around 2014 or so. Every morning, the CEO would use our new mobile app to order breakfast and get it on the way to drop his son off at school. He’d stop at the light and send his son in to pick up the order. If his son could come back with the order before the light turned green, I had a good day. If he had to pull into the parking lot, I had long morning.

The CEO always ordered the same thing: a Green Passion smoothie and a toasted plain white bagel. It’s an order that we can’t leave on the shelf for too long, so there was no way for me to beg the GM to make my life easier. I would go about a week without hearing from the CEO and think, we’ve finally got this experience down. It’s 25 seconds from the time you get out of the car to get your food and get back in the car. I would time myself over and over. But it had to be that way every time. The CEO would change cafes and sure enough, I’d hear something again. Eventually, I went about three weeks without hearing from him and I thought, maybe this is it.

Then I started to get these text messages: ‘This is the toasted bagel I got this morning at this location. Then I went to a different location, and this is the toasted bagel there, and I went to a third location, and this is the toasted bagel there.’ In the pictures, one bagel was dark, one was light, and one was barely toasted. One had toast marks on it, one didn’t. The inconsistency was terrible.

That’s when I knew I’d arrived as a business leader, because I’d owned this experience so much that now he wanted me to fix our toasting. I laughed, because I thought, I can go out and buy $100,000 AI-enabled toasters with cameras in them, but that’s not what the CEO is going to want. I went to Boston for my standing Friday meeting with him, and he had a poster with bagels from about 30 cafes, organized from light to dark. What are we going to do?

I went back to the Operations Services team, who are much smarter than I am, and asked for help. They suggested looking at the factory settings on these toasters. Let’s get a color guide out to the cafes. If a toasted bagel matches this color, turn it down a notch, if it matches that color, let’s turn it up two notches, etc. We needed to go out and adjust the toasters and get back to the basics on the equipment. That’s when I knew the technology was no longer our challenge — and that our little Rapid Pick-Up® channel had arrived.

For more from Meister’s leadership playbook, tune into the Tech Whisperers podcast.

IT Leadership, IT Strategy

Today’s consumers are accustomed to smooth, frictionless online shopping – and they increasingly expect the same kind of digital experiences from their banks. Insider Intelligence found that 89% of U.S. consumers use mobile banking channels, and 70% said mobile banking is now their primary way of accessing their accounts.  

“Most people do not want to go into a bank to do banking. They want to be able to do everything on a mobile phone or a smart portal,” says Nilendu Pattanaik, Global Head of Business Applications Practice, Microsoft Business Unit, at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).  

Once they open an app, customers expect an intuitive UI rendering smooth capabilities, an interactive, immersive experience that understands their preferences, and seamless connectivity between services, whether they’re checking a balance or applying for a new mortgage or a credit line/card. One of the key priorities of the modern payment sector is to build an e-payments society with seamless interoperability among e-wallets. 

Creating a first-rate, secure digital customer experience is a top goal for leaders across the financial services spectrum, from retail banking to commercial lending, investment banking, and wealth management. But achieving success isn’t easy in a highly regulated industry saddled with legacy technology and applications. 

“Most banks have very old infrastructure that doesn’t produce the data they need, to effectively engage with customers,” Nilendu says. In addition, banks struggle to maintain customer data privacy, security, and compliance amid changing regulatory requirements.  

By moving services to the digital platform and offering the whole nine yards of end-to-end fabric of data, process, AI, apps, and industry solutions on Microsoft Cloud with native persistency and interoperability, financial organizations can analyze customer data in one place and quickly develop the responsive capabilities their clients are looking for. 

At the same time, financial institutions must maintain secure and compliant environments while preventing fraud, giving bankers more time to focus on customer needs. According to a recent Microsoft blog, organizations can use identity, security, and compliance solutions in Microsoft 365 to have visibility into their threat landscape and leverage built-in AI and machine learning in Microsoft Sentinel and Microsoft Defender for Cloud to proactively manage threats and reduce alert fatigue.  

Modernization priorities 

Since legacy technology is often spread throughout the organization, bank leaders need to prioritize their goals and develop a rollout schedule for digital services. One quick win, Nilendu says, is digitizing as many paper processes as possible. Another priority involves improving services for retail customers, whose churn rate is often high. Delivering differentiated and customized services to customers is a key need for financial services institutions; AI enables this capability effectively with proactive analysis and feeds of behavioral trends monitored through machine learning algorithms. Banks can give customers a hyper-personalized experience by embedding AI into consumer applications. For example, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Copilot, the world’s first copilot in both CRM and ERP, brings next-generation AI to every line of business.

“As they analyze customer data, chatbots are becoming more intelligent and capable. AI-enabled Microsoft Dynamics 365 can help financial services institutions enable faster and accurate processing of large volumes of data powered with predictability for market sentiments and better investment options or portfolio rationalization for investors,” Nilendu says.   

In addition to responding to questions with information geared to customer preferences, today’s AI-enabled apps can initiate processes, such as opening or closing an account, credit card applications, etc., during online interactions. They can also assist bankers on phone calls, analyzing customer conversational data in real-time and recommending appropriate products and services. Some banks have added an app feature that allows clients to videochat with a live relationship advisor with the press of a button. Services like these can reduce churn, decrease human error, and provide real-time guidance for the lines of businesses. 

With the help of TCS and Microsoft Cloud, financial services organizations can develop these and other digital capabilities with low-code tools, quickly rolling them out across services. 

“Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services and AI-enabled apps of Microsoft Dynamics 365 powered with Microsoft Power Apps, Microsoft Azure OpenAI, Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft Fraud Protection allow financial services organizations to efficiently build new applications and AI services and scale them across their customer relationship management and sales platforms,” Nilendu says. “AI-enabled smart banking services are revolutionizing fraud detection and risk assessment in financial services institutions by checking financial status, document verification, and risk-related activities of the borrower, and significantly reduce the non-performing assets by enabling early detection of possible non-payment of loans.” 

Microsoft Cloud also provides robust security controls and helps financial organizations manage compliance in an industry where local rules are proliferating and frequently evolving. 

“For regional regulations, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act or the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the platform’s applications are intelligent enough to understand which specific documents and contracts are impacted and recommend actions proactively” Nilendu says.  

By securely developing the right digital capabilities, financial services organizations can provide better service to more customers, enhancing their reputation and gaining a competitive edge. Working together, TCS and Microsoft can help CIOs select and implement the technologies their organizations need for success. 

“TCS is partnering with Microsoft to create secure and compliant next-generation solutions on Microsoft Cloud catering to the needs of financial services institutions across all segments of businesses globally,” Nilendu says. 

Learn how FSIs benefit from digital transformation on Microsoft Cloud led by TCS

Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Financial Services Industry

Though three-quarters of U.S. employers now offer hybrid work, some retailers have been slow to embrace emerging hybrid work models, even for corporate employees. We spoke with Ashok Krish, Global Head of Digital Workplace at TCS, about how hybrid work will impact employers – and their employees – in the retail industry.

Do you believe hybrid work is here to stay?

Hybrid work is absolutely here to stay. While retail has always had a sizeable frontline workforce, there has always been an asymmetry in technology investments. Knowledge workers in a traditional office setting have historically been more invested in technology than frontline workers. But the pandemic has forced a rethink. Digital enabled frontline workers are more crucial to the organization’s long-term success than ever before.

How will hybrid work change the employee experience in the retail industry?

In the context of retail, where one might argue that a hybrid model of work has always existed (frontline workers vs. knowledge workers), the transition required now is more subtle. The focus now is on technology investments that allow more fluidity between frontline and knowledge work and slowly blur the distinction between these roles. Retailers that invest in workplace technologies that allow anyone in any role to work effectively in both a frontline as well as a traditional office/home capacity will succeed.

Empowering frontline workers with better real-time analytics, decision support, and devices that help them spend less time doing boring, repetitive work is a crucial investment for retailers to make.

What are some of the challenges hybrid work poses for employers in the retail sector?

One of the biggest challenges hybrid work poses for retail is churn. Retailers employ a large number of transient/temporary workers who need to be onboarded and offboarded rapidly, while enabling others’ contextual knowledge to be delivered to them and simultaneously capturing their tacit knowledge while they are working. This means that traditional ways of managing knowledge and enabling collaboration simply do not scale for this workforce. The investment in AI-backed continuous skilling and just-in-time training experiences for frontline workers will be crucial in overcoming this particular challenge.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index found that 48% of employees and 53% of managers say they are burned out at work. What can employers do to improve employee engagement and reduce stress in the hybrid workplace?

Employers need to rethink the rituals of work. Retail organizations need to rethink how their frontline workers collaborate in real time with the rest of the organization. Employees waste time finding information, finding people, setting up meetings, and cleaning data. Everyone spends more time looking for information than acting on information. It’s a discouraging, stressful environment. To change it, managers must transform their processes and their culture. They must embrace new technology stack metaphors (such as Microsoft Teams vs. email) to become more efficient. They must learn to become effective facilitators of digital processes and distributed teams.

How can retail organizations use technology to improve communication, collaboration, and productivity, while maintaining security and preventing fraud?

Companies can no longer expect employees to attend town hall meetings and read company newsletters. Technology can help them target the right messages to the right demographic in the right form factors. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to reduce a 900-word report to a 50-word summary or generate a video, which you can send on a mobile phone.

Tools like Microsoft Teams break down silos and enable collaboration across the organization. Once managers set access controls, the platform worries about security, freeing people to exchange ideas without constraint. But at the same time, the design and configuration of these collaboration systems will make the difference between creating a noisy, unproductive culture of collaboration and a personable, productive one.

Automation, AI, and the cloud can save employees tremendous amounts of time. Instead of attending two-week training sessions, employees can receive nudges from a virtual assistant to acquire new skills as they work. In the near future, knowledge assistants powered by large language models, purpose-built for specific industry domains, will augment every employee’s productivity by providing contextual knowledge on demand.

Retail companies have historically been early adopters of technology and will need to continue to increase their momentum of change. The traditional dichotomy between build vs. buy has given way to a “no-code vs. pro-code” approach – employees will expect new capabilities to delivered quicker than ever before.

With cloud-based software, front-line employees can see back-end customer information in real time, increasing upselling, cross-selling, and client satisfaction. Bringing business tools into the flow of collaboration will create more frictionless experiences and enable more agile collective decision-making.

These capabilities can help to eliminate workplace pain points, greatly improving the employee experience. Without a great employee experience, you cannot create a great customer experience.

At the same time, companies must maintain secure environments and prevent fraud. Companies must invest in newer tools that give them wider and deeper visibility into their threat landscape and leverage built-in AI and machine learning to proactively manage threats and reduce alert fatigue. The future of security is to largely automate responses to standard threats while investing in education and change management to prevent social engineering and attacks on individuals.

How does TCS help organizations reimagine the future of work for their employees?

We provide a comprehensive solution combining infrastructure, applications, and human resources expertise into a single package that helps retail organizations deliver an outstanding hybrid work experience. My group includes people who do everything from designing applications to mapping workflows to managing the inner workings of a cloud framework, including reinventing productivity and the future of work with AI using Microsoft 365 Copilot.

TCS also invests in behavioral science research to help organizations prepare for the workplace of the future. How can retail companies accommodate gig work? How should AI collaborate with human beings? No one knows the answers to these questions yet, just as no one knew until recently how to manage hybrid work. By peering into cutting-edge technology, we can pass along insights that keep our clients ahead of the curve.

Discover how you can transform meeting culture, help managers to be more effective, and drive employee engagement.

Tata Consultancy Services

Ashok Krish Global Head of Digital Workplace, TCS
Ashok Krish is the Global Head of the Digital Workplace unit at TCS, which helps customers reimagine the future of work for their employees. His team works at the intersection of design, technology, and behavioral science, and helps conceptualize and implement modern, persuasive, and immersive employee experiences. Outside of work, he is a columnist, musician, and a food science enthusiast.

Employee Experience, Remote Work, Retail Industry

You heard about a nightmare scenario playing out for peers at other companies and hope it doesn’t affect yours. Trouble tickets are rolling in, and there’s a lack of qualified people to address security alerts and help desk issues right when customer demand, supply shortages, and potential threats are at their peak.

Even with flexible remote work policies, the most seasoned employees in roles such as customer support, data science, business analysis, and DevSecOps move on to greener pastures and leave—just when they finally seemed to figure out how everything works.

Why is an exodus of skilled knowledge workers becoming a recurring pattern in customer-oriented organizations, and what can IT leaders do to improve their digital employee experience (DEX) to convince them to stay?

The great hybrid office migration

A few lucky “born on the web” companies were built on the premise of 100% remote work. The pandemic of 2020 forced the rest of the world to move knowledge workers out of the office into fully or partially remote work models. 

Migratory employees in technology roles appreciated the newfound ability to work from home in sweatpants and avoid the daily commute. Many idealistically vowed never to return to work for an employer that required them to come back to the office.

Employers benefitted too, releasing some of their real estate for savings on facility costs and reducing travel expenses. Less scrupulous bosses took it a step further, capturing additional hours in the workday by implementing draconian attention monitoring tools or letting employees stay on duty beyond typical office hours.

Now that the pandemic has become endemic, some companies are reversing their position on remote work and asking employees to come back into the office, at least some of the time. We’re settling on a hybrid model of digital work. In 2023, 58% of knowledge workers in the United States will continue to be able to work remotely at least one day a week, while 38% will continue as full-time remote workers.

Despite the initial novelty of having pets and kids hilariously interrupting Zoom calls, this new normal of blurring the lines between work and home life has not turned out to be all unicorns and rainbows for digital employees.

Dealing with digital work friction

Employers used to be able to tell teams to stay late in the office to fulfill a rush of customer orders, or be on-call to respond to issues on weekends. The signs of employee burnout were easy to predict even before “the great resignation” of the 2020s. 

CIOs built or bought applications to allow virtual work, which allowed more team members to be available online to respond to requests through remote access, without coming into the office. This was helpful, but unfortunately the burnout rate has only increased for today’s digital worker who may have lost separation between work and home life, and staffing still couldn’t keep up with workload. 

A Gartner HR study recently estimated that 24% of workers would likely shift to a new job in 2022–and this turnover rate is especially true of knowledge workers who must interact daily with the company’s systems. Compared to pre-pandemic employee sentiment, 20% more respondents cited their digital work experienceas a significant contributing factor to job satisfaction.

Even with some arbitrary job cuts happening at larger companies, skilled team members can find work elsewhere if they are frustrated, and unfilled roles in customer service, SecOps, and engineering positions are still common. 

Potential recruits can check any number of salary disclosure sites to figure out what they are worth on the market, and they can also look on Glassdoor to see why employees are dissatisfied working at a company. In a hybrid work world, a bad employee experience is not always about low pay, long hours or “mean bosses” anymore–it’s about digital work friction that inhibits their ability to deliver meaningful value.

Employee expectations of DEX

All employees want to work for employers with fundamentals, like fair compensation, a harassment-free workplace, and work/life balance. In specific, digital employees have a unique set of concerns about the technology environment they must work within, since in many cases it is their only connection to co-workers and customers.

This is why CIOs spend so much of their time researching the digital tools employees use and spinning up new projects to upgrade that experience.

A successful DEX technology suite can positively impact employee sentiment if it delivers for them on three dimensions:

Engagement: Are employees using the company’s suite of productivity tools, issue tracking, collaboration, and system monitoring tools on a daily basis? Individuals want self-service platforms that will work on their target workstation or devices, but they also need education, documentation, and expert support from the organization to maintain successful adoption.

Companies can measure improved engagement through monitoring and visibility into organizational, team, and individual usage patterns, but more importantly, they should offer mechanisms for a positive feedback loop, so employees can register their preferences and concerns about the suite.

Empowerment: Are individuals, teams and regions authorized for just the analytic, management, and problem-solving tools and data they need without unnecessary friction or distractions? Employee empowerment is a continuous struggle for many companies to deliver, as permissions for analytics, user data, work items, and access privileges are usually highly customized to meet overlapping work, customer requirements, and regulatory regimes.  

Empowered employees proactively identify emerging demands and roadblocks, and effectively take action to collaborate with the right team members to find solutions. 

Efficiency: Intelligent automation triages and prioritizes important customer issues for teams, and helps individuals filter through irrelevant alerts from disparate systems and services. Employees progress through tasks with fewer interruptions, spend less time on pointless root cause analysis, and remediate resolutions with automated actions.

All employees want to make progress on goals. The upside of efficiency is almost limitless because as one productivity constraint is removed, another bottleneck will appear upstream or downstream.

Enterprise expectations of DEX

From the CIO’s perspective, DEX is best thought of as an enterprise-wide transformational initiative that increases the value of critical talent over time, rather than as a project that delivers short-term gains.

The customer still comes first. But let’s face it, there are already enough customer-facing performance metrics in the world. 

DEX turns measurement and metrics inward, then captures even more value from the intentional feedback and non-verbal cues provided by employees.

This virtuous cycle of continuous feedback and improvement of the ‘three E’s’ of DEX will fuel engagement, empowerment, and efficiency for employees and executives–and better performance, not just on meeting revenue and cost targets, but in terms of employee satisfaction and higher retention rates.

The Intellyx Take

Work has changed forever. 

From a morale perspective, remote workers might miss something about the camaraderie of an office: the exciting pre-launch demo, an in-person standup, an informal desk visit, or a coffee break to share ideas about a particular issue with colleagues. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make DEX the best it can be, wherever the team is located.

Therefore, every organization will need to define a digital employee experience that engages and empowers employees, making every working minute a more efficient use of time, including taking some well-earned time off to unplug from the digital world.

©2023 Intellyx LLC. At the time of writing, Tanium is an Intellyx subscriber. No AI chatbots were used to write any part of this article.

Digital Transformation

You’ve had a great CIO career filled with transformational triumphs and award-winning projects and teams. What’s next for your career before you retire? Board service, of course!  

With cybersecurity keeping CEOs up at night and digital transformation all the rage, the number of CIOs on corporate boards is increasing. For experienced IT leaders looking to get out of operations and into the Socratic world of private or corporate boards, this means serious opportunity, as corporate boards are keen on putting CIOs’ transformational experience to work at the next level.

Wayne Shurts can tell the tale of leveraging CIO experience into board work. Shurts was CIO for Cadbury, Supervalu, and then for food distribution giant Sysco when he was appointed to his first board, for Con-Way Freight and Trucking, then a $5 billion public company, in 2015. Unlike many CEOs, Supervalu’s CEO allowed Shurts to accept the board appointment, provided Shurts assure him that that board work would not distract from his CIO role. 

How board service is different

The chair of the Con-Way board gave Shurts sound advice about the difference between executive management and board service. “He said that the board is all about helping management craft a strategy, but letting management execute on it,” says Shurts. “Despite a long career of executing on strategies, I had to let that part go.” 

Soon after Shurts joined the Con-Way board, the company was sold to XPO, which gave Shurts early experience in weighing in on the terms of a public company sale. 

Shurts retired from Sysco in 2019, and then joined the board of Armstrong World Industries, another public company. He was approached on the recommendation of the former Con-Way chair, which underscores the fact that a large percentage of board appointments come from a board’s networks rather than through search firms. 

That same month, Shurts joined his first private board, for a third-generation family import and distribution business. “Unlike the public company boards, this is not a fiduciary board because the family decides what to do with the money,” he says. “But other than that, the board has the same role as public company boards.” 

Since then, Shurts has added two more private boards to his plate, which he enjoys because, “private boards can be more fun than public boards; there is less bureaucracy,” he says. 

Advice for finding a board seat

With all of this board experience, Shurts can offer some advice to CIOs seeking board work. First, given that most board appointments come through your network, “let the people in your networks, and especially people who are on boards, know of your intent,” he says. “And that includes the board of your current company.” 

But before you start calling people, decide what kind of board you want to join, whether public or private, and in what industry. “I’ve spent almost my entire career in food, and my boards are either food distribution, grocery, or logistics,” he says. “I don’t know if I could have joined a board in an unrelated industry.” 

Also, put together your board bio, which is very different from a resume. Rather than a chronological list of your experiences, your board bio is a one-page document that, in a just a few paragraphs, presents a strategic view of your experience.

Shurts suggests that when writing your board bio you read the board section of a few corporate annual reports. These typically have a board matrix with dots next to the expertise areas that each board member checks off. “You will never get a board position if the only box you can check is technology or cyber,” says Shurts, “Make sure your board bio demonstrates expertise in multiple boxes, like finance, supply chain, international experience, or M&A. The broader set of experiences you can represent in your bio, the better.”

Interviewing for a board position

Shurts advises that you bring the same strategy to the board interview. “The board interview is at higher level than an executive management interview,” he says. “You should be prepared to cover your operational experience, but that’s not the point of the interview. The board wants to know that you understand the role of the board and that you can think strategically.” 

With roughly 80% of boards made up of CEOs and CFOs, boards are pushing for diversity of background for sure, but also for diversity of thought, which CIOs certainly bring to the table.

“The boards will not test your technology expertise during an interview,” says Shurts, “because they don’t know exactly what technology expertise they need. Rather than talk about ERP programs or technology spend, you are better off talking about how technology disrupts business models. The board does not want a technologist; they want a full-fledged board member who can service on audit, finance, and nominating committees.”

Once you are on a board, you will find that board discussions are very different from executive committee meetings. “Your job on the board is not just to ask questions,” Shurts says, because most of the time the EC will have good answers. Your job is to question those answers and to encourage senior management to think differently. “We are always asking, ‘Have you thought about it from this angle?’” he says. “The board dynamic is to dig into the issues, look at them from all angles, and talk about them in an intellectual, collaborative way.”

Shurts suggests that aspiring board members check out BoardProspects.com and Private Directors Association, inexpensive resources that provide education on board service and opportunities to submit your board bio, so that nominating committees can find you. 

Now is the time for CIOs to consider board service. Just as Sarbanes-Oxley mandated the need for certified financial experts, new cyber regulations will create demand for technology leaders on boards. 

“I see CIOs joining board all the time now,” says Shurts. “We are still underrepresented, but our opportunities are growing.” 

IT Leadership

Though three-quarters of U.S. employers now offer hybrid work, some banks and insurance companies have been slow to embrace this emerging work model. We spoke with Ashok Krish, Global Head of Digital Workplace at TCS, about how hybrid work will impact employers – and their employees – in the financial services industry.

How will hybrid work change the employee experience in the financial services industry?

It will enable employees to shift from work processes designed for the last century to a fluid environment where they can easily share information, discover a wider range of people to collaborate with outside silos, exchange ideas, and create new products and services. Banks developed the traditional office model, using physical inboxes, outboxes, and carbon copies to transmit information. Early software programs simply digitized these desk-based procedures, and banks still use them.

Modern technology vastly broadens communication modes and enables real-time analytics and immersive experiences. In a hybrid workplace, you need to give everyone access to these capabilities, whether they are in the field, at home, in the office, or in transit. Financial services organizations that succeed with the hybrid model will greatly enhance the employee experience. They will attract a global talent pool, building a highly skilled, diverse, and motivated workforce, which is critical for an industry whose business model is innately digital in nature.

What are some of the challenges hybrid work poses for employers in the financial sector?

Banks and insurance companies carry large volumes of sensitive personal information and are heavily regulated. As a result, they have developed an information-security mindset that focuses on prevention rather than enablement. Systems and departments are very siloed, making it difficult for employees to gain access to the tools and information they need.

To succeed with hybrid work, financial services organizations will have to rethink how information flows. Decision-making cannot be restricted to the top—it needs to happen at the edge, among teams and individuals. To make informed decisions, employees must be provided with better access to corporate analytics, reports, and tools.

Another challenge is legacy technology. Financial companies often have multiple types of hardware and 20 or 30 versions of similar software, each with its own set of tools. Their rate of adopting new technologies is exceedingly slow. This makes it challenging to innovate and provide the seamless, integrated experience employees expect.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index found that 48% of employees and 53% of managers say they are burned out at work. What can employers do to improve employee engagement and reduce stress in the hybrid workplace?

Employers need to fundamentally rethink the rituals of work. Financial services managers spend about 80% of their time in meetings, which aren’t necessarily productive. Every minute spent being muted in a meeting is a minute wasted. Employees waste time finding information, finding people, setting up meetings, and cleaning data. Everyone spends more time looking for information than acting on information. It’s a discouraging, stressful environment.

To change it, managers must transform their processes and their culture. They must embrace new technology stack metaphors (such as Microsoft Teams vs. email) to become more efficient. They must learn to become effective facilitators of digital processes and distributed teams.

How can financial organizations use technology to improve communication, collaboration, and productivity, while maintaining security and preventing fraud?

Financial organizations can no longer expect employees to attend town hall meetings and read company newsletters. Technology can help them target the right messages to the right demographic in the right form factors. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to reduce a 900-word report to a 50-word summary or generate a video, which you can send on a mobile phone.

Tools like Microsoft Teams break down silos and enable collaboration across the organization. Once managers set access controls, the platform worries about security, freeing people to exchange ideas without constraint. But at the same time, the design and configuration of these collaboration systems will make the difference between creating a noisy, unproductive culture of collaboration and a personable, productive one.

Automation, AI, and the cloud can save employees tremendous amounts of time. Instead of attending two-week training sessions, employees can receive nudges from a virtual assistant to acquire new skills as they work. In the near future, knowledge assistants powered by large language models, purpose-built for specific industry domains, will augment every employee’s productivity by providing contextual knowledge on demand. Robotic process automations streamline approval processes and free IT workers from pushing updates and patches.

These capabilities can help to eliminate workplace pain points, greatly improving the employee experience. Without a great employee experience, you cannot create a great customer experience.

At the same time, companies must maintain secure environments and prevent fraud. Companies must invest in newer tools that give them wider and deeper visibility into their threat landscape and leverage built in AI and machine learning to proactively manage threats and reduce alert fatigue. The future of security is to largely automate responses to standard threats while investing in education and change management to prevent social engineering and attacks on individuals.

How does TCS help organizations reimagine the future of work for their employees?

We provide a comprehensive solution combining infrastructure, applications, and human resources expertise into a single package that helps financial organizations deliver an outstanding hybrid work experience. My group includes people who do everything from designing applications to mapping workflows to managing the inner workings of a cloud framework, including reinventing productivity and the future of work with AI using Microsoft 365 Copilot.

TCS also invests in behavioral science research to help organizations prepare for the workplace of the future. How can financial companies accommodate gig work? How should AI collaborate with human beings? No one knows the answers to these questions yet, just as no one knew until recently how to manage hybrid work. By peering into cutting edge technology, we can pass along insights that keep our clients ahead of the curve.

Discover how you can transform meeting culture, help managers to be more effective, and drive employee engagement.

Tata Consultancy Services

Ashok Krish, Global Head of Digital Workplace, TCS
Ashok Krish is the Global Head of the Digital Workplace unit at TCS, which helps customers reimagine the future of work for their employees. His team works at the intersection of design, technology, and behavioral science, and helps conceptualize and implement modern, persuasive, and immersive employee experiences. Outside of work, he is a columnist, musician, and a food science enthusiast.

Financial Services Industry, IT Leadership, Remote Work

The current state of the contact center agent is clear, but for those unaware or overlooking this opportunity for improvement: agent attrition rates currently hover around 40%, the cost of replacing just one agent is between $10k-$20k, and 97% of agents are sometimes or almost always burned out. Unengaged employees (undoubtedly including contact center agents) collectively cost $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, or about 11% of the global GDP. 

Whether your organization has one or two people handling customer service or a dedicated contact center with hundreds of employees, the quality of the experience of these people serving your customers cannot be overstated. A poor agent experience translates into money lost, resources strained, and inconsistent service. The role of the contact center agents spans well beyond merely picking up a phone. These individuals are undisputed stakeholders of the customer experience (CX) and vital contributors to business success.

Can 2023 be the year we start thinking differently? Avaya predicts organizations will double down on the agent experience in three ways this year:

1. Companies will rethink traditional workforce optimization concepts—driven by a focus on strict adherence to rules and procedures—and embrace a workforce engagement approach. 

Instead of being contact answering robots, agents will be encouraged to become creative thinkers, problem solvers, and true brand ambassadors—critical assets for customer experience success. As such, we’ll see workforce engagement (aimed at strengthening the mental and emotional connection agents feel toward the work they do, their teams, and their employer) take its rightful place next to established workforce management solutions in the contact center, which will get their ofaceliftift this year. 

This shift is critical for the future of contact center operations. According to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), engaged and satisfied contact center employees are 8.5x more likely to stay than leave within a year, 16x more likely to refer friends to their company, and 3.3x more likely to feel extremely empowered to resolve customer issues.

2. We can expect to see the continuation of a mindset shift at the managerial level in terms of agent criticality.

The average hourly salary of a contact center agent in the U.S. is $16.62, according to Indeed.com, with this rate being as high as $21.75 in states like California and New York. In California, positions including IT Technicians, Maintenance Technicians, and Certified Nursing Assistants have similar hourly rates. 

The job of a contact center agent requires a highly skilled individual who can creatively problem solve, effectively communicate, and positively influence; an impactful role for those up for the challenge. These individuals must be invested in and supported long-term just as workers in other industries, including targeted, customized training and education and the potential for raises and bonuses. Avaya expects more contact center managers to embrace this perspective and act accordingly.

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be massive for contact center communications over the next 12 months. 

Avaya expects more organizations to apply AI to their contact center operations and customer communications in 2023. Doing so will reduce customer wait times (estimated to have tripled during the pandemic), improve the delivery and accuracy of content knowledge so agents can more meaningfully impact CX and influence next best action, and reduce agent busywork (ex: using AI-powered transcription to auto populate transcribed text files into the notes section of CRM records). 

One of the most hard-hitting statistics comes from Gartner: 10% of all contact center interactions will be automated using AI-powered solutions by 2026, compared to only 2% currently, saving organizations approximately $80 billion per year in labor costs. 

Prepare for the agent experience with these resources from Avaya: 

Time To Think Differently l AvayaHow EX and CX Should Work Together l AvayaHow does CX correlate with EX? l Avaya

Artificial Intelligence

Digital solutions and data analytics are changing the world of sports entertainment at a rapid clip. From how players train, to how teams make strategic decisions during games, to how venues operate and fans engage, sports organizations are turning to software engineers and data scientists to help transform the sport experience.

In Toronto, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), the largest sports entertainment organization in Canada and one of the largest in North America, is facing off with the future with a new digital solutions research and development program.

Created in conjunction with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and unveiled in January, SportsX is an incubator rooted in research, applied sciences, and product development charged with creating innovative digital solutions that give teams a winning edge, create extraordinary fan experiences, and create positive social and environmental impact.

“If we’re able to look into technologies that are going to impact the game, earlier, and we have people dedicated to those and not pulled away for other tasks that are more day-to-day, then we will stay ahead of the curve that’s about to impact us as an organization,” says Christian Magsisi, vice president of venue and digital technology at MLSE. “We want to continue to be at the forefront of the fan experience. And if we have a positive social and environmental impact on our community, then largely the first two things will also come to pass.”

Sports enters the analytics era

MLSE was founded by legendary hockey coach and businessman Conn Smythe in 1927 after he organized a group of investors to buy his hometown hockey franchise, the Toronto St. Patricks. The organization now owns the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL), Toronto Raptors (NBA), Toronto FC (MLS), Toronto Argonauts (CFL), and their minor league and farm teams. It also owns Scotiabank Arena (home of the Maple Leafs and Raptors) and OVO Athletic Centre, and has investments in a number of other sports facilities.

The organization may have 96 years of history behind it, but Magsisi says digital technologies and analytics have been changing the business of sports to an astonishing degree in just the past few years. Magsisi joined the organization five years ago, and it has changed considerably in that time. The organization now has data engineers, data scientists, and is investing in cutting-edge technologies like quantum computing.

“In the early years here, it felt like we were a startup within MLSE because we didn’t operate, look, act like the rest of the organization,” he says. “We didn’t have software engineers, we didn’t have developers here at MLSE prior to us creating MLSE Digital Labs. Now we have a full-scale R&D program. Those were never concepts or job descriptions that were getting posted from MLSE. In a lot of ways, we felt like outsiders within our own organization, but we knew that was going to be the case, that we could usher in this new culture and organization.”

In the past several years, the amount of real-time data available to the organization has increased tremendously. Soccer, football, and basketball are all making use of computer vision for player and ball tracking that can be used to enhance the fan experience and provide actionable insights to coaches and players in-game. The NHL has gone a step further, embedding sensors in players’ sweaters and the puck itself.

“Getting live, real-time data that is actionable, that can provide insight to how we’re trying to execute our game strategy for that day, for that game, is more readily available to us now,” Magsisi says. “With hockey, we finally have tracking of the puck and the player, the XYZ coordinates of the players and the pucks. With that, there’s an almost infinite possibility of calculations that you can do in hockey that wasn’t available less than 18 months ago.”

This analytics advantage in hockey has yet to be fully realized in MLSE’s other major sports, he adds. “In soccer, football, and basketball, it’s computer vision. Latency has gotten a lot better over time, but the data is still challenging to go through.”

That said, advances in the field of biomechanics related to computer vision have Magsisi excited. Computer vision can currently be used to track the position of players and the ball, but new advances will enable computer vision to track the position of players’ limbs. For example, Magsisi says, the organization could track the trajectory of a ball as it’s released from a basketball player’s hands.

Betting big on the future

The idea behind SportsX is to capture, analyze, and build out the best ideas from key MLSE stakeholders, whether coaches, fans, partners, or employees, and the organization has built a dedicated SportsX web portal to support the effort. The solutions will support how teams play, how players stay healthy, how fans connect with teams and each other, and how franchises operate internally.

One of the first concepts developed by the program while under pilot was the NHL Extended Reality Stats Overlay, which uses extended reality to deliver broadcast and video game capabilities to people watching games in-person. Another concept is the Immersive Basketball Experience, which uses optical data to provide fans with a life-size augmented reality experience.

SportsX is leveraging a portfolio of cloud services from AWS, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning cloud services.

All this has required MLSE to build one of the largest technology engineering teams in all of sports.

“That’s not by mistake or without intention,” Magsisi says. “We know that the most successful organizations in the world are investing billions of dollars in R&D. It’s no mistake that these are the same organizations that are constantly coming out with new features and products and stay on top of the revenue line.”

Magsisi says that part of the secret sauce for MLSE has been a commitment to staying forward-looking.

“In the early years [of MLSE Digital Labs], we took 30% of our budget and our resources and focused on projects that were not going to impact our business within that season,” Magsisi says. “That was a large move. That was a big change for the organization because we are a seasonal business and our opportunity to generate revenue is limited in a window. A lot of our focus is three-quarters of the year. For us to take resources that would have been responsible for delivering revenue within that three-quarters and dedicating it to the future is a big risk.”

But that risk has come with a commensurate reward. It’s become a statement by the organization about its priorities. The organization can’t ignore tactical improvements — investing in data availability, reporting, dashboards, and the like — but dedicating staff and resources to examining the business and thinking about where it could be in several years has paid dividends in agility.

“We still have to invest in today; we still have to deliver today,” Magsisi says. “But I think the shift to be able to invest in the future allows you to take a look at your business and ask, ‘Where can we help our organization,’ whether it’s our restaurants, food and beverage teams, or retail team.”

Over the past five years, Magsisi says the organization has launched well above 50 digital products. It’s gone from quarterly or even biannual releases to daily releases.

“Our software engineering development teams and analytic teams now have the ability to make a change and deploy it right into production, whether it’s for a coaching staff, for our players, or fans,” he says. “Those things were long processes in the past with a lot of levels of approval.”

Data Management, Digital Transformation, Media and Entertainment Industry