Digital Transformation Week 2021 – Day 3 recap

The virtual conference’s last 60-minute session Thursday was all about Digital transformation from the CIO perspective.

The opening remarks for Digital transformation from the CIO perspective were delivered by Philippe Johnston, CIO, National Research Council.  They included a discussion about how technology leaders can take disparate challenges such as those posed by the current pandemic, and develop solutions that they can weave into a strategy that helps drive the business forward.

Tech leaders have a different role now. The position is no longer about simply keeping the lights on and the computers humming. CIOs and CTOs are now driving innovation, and are more closely aligned with the business side of operations than ever before. The transition was happening pre-pandemic, but the past 18 months have definitely accelerated those changes.

We need to take data seriously, perhaps more seriously than we take our own health

Moving forward, in the opening presentation Jason Cassidy, founder and chief executive officer of Shinydocs, focused on how connected data is driving the new digital information era. While Day 2 of the conference featured industry experts elaborating on the practical challenges and opportunities of AI and data in the business world, the CIOs on Thursday dug deeper into the topic to view those insights through a leadership lens.

Screenshot of Shinydocs CEO Jason Cassidy
A screenshot of Shinydocs CEO Jason Cassidy

COVID has completely upended organizations, shredding the best-laid plans and proven to be an absolute wrecking ball of disruption that’s exposed some pretty staggering gaps and vulnerabilities across the enterprise. The past year has necessitated countless tiny concessions, ensuring the continued productivity of a new remote workforce, exposing security models vulnerable to hackers, and creating a staggering increase in the volume, variety, and velocity of incoming information. This last year has been nothing like business as usual, and the responsibility has no doubt weighed heavily on many tech leaders. IDC predicts that by 2025, 175 trillion gigabytes of new data will be created. Right now some data professionals are finding data volumes are growing by 63 per cent per month.

Cassidy reiterated what many technology leaders have shouted from the rooftops for years – understand the data you actually have and figure out what you want to do with it.

“We need to take data seriously, perhaps more seriously than we take our own health,” said Cassidy as he compared data with one’s own health. “Your data fitness starts with a good understanding of your physical fitness, and not with buying a new fitness toy. When you go to Nike, they’ll tell you to buy a pair of shoes and say, ‘Just do it’. When you go to Nordic Track, they’ll sell you a treadmill. In the same way, for data fitness, if you ask a cloud vendor, they will sell you cloud storage…if you ask a repository vendor they’ll sell you a repository.”

He strongly recommends that tech leaders ask themselves the following questions before they jump on the migration treadmill: What is their data fitness, where’s their data, who is using it? What did the data fitness assessment tell them about how they should plan their data fitness program?

“When you lack data fitness the costs are high and increasing every day,” he said.

The average enterprise underestimates its total data by half or more, according to Cassidy. That leaves a lot of risk in our environments, with data waiting to be found by those who should not have access to it. In fact, he said, it is possible that an unscrupulous attacker has already breached your data, and is waiting for the right time to strike. Are you ready?

And the winner of the CIO of the Year 2021: Next Generation Leader Award is….

This year’s winner in the next generation leader category, Rita Lazar-Tippe, is an excellent example of the much-needed innovation first mindset. She has the passion and drive demanded of recipients in the Next Generation Leader award category, as well as the organizational skills to bring innovation to staffing, business planning, and best practice approaches.

Screenshot of Rita Lazar-Tippe
A screenshot of Rita Lazar-Tippe from Day 3 of Digital Transformation Week

Read more about Laza-Tippe here

Go faster, get the right talent, collaborate, and be bold…

Next up was a very timely panel discussion; timely because it’s about building on your pandemic-inspired progress. A talented group of thought leaders across various industries, including finance, construction, and sports and entertainment, discussed what the pandemic has meant to them and how to keep the innovation momentum building.

While the pandemic was horrible in so many ways, overall it seems the world shift is pointing in the right direction. There was a silver lining in the way that it pushed digital transformation faster and harder than anyone could imagine. IDC reports indicate that there has been more transformation in the last 16 months than in the previous 10 years.

Panellists, Humza Teherany, chief technology and digital officer for MLSE; Mark Bryant, CIO for PLC Construction; and Christine Day, CIO for Questrade, explained why they believe that the dust has not settled and there’s still more work ahead of us as they shared lessons learned and some of the business challenges that they had to overcome when the pandemic hit.

“I think the biggest challenge that companies are going to face with continued innovation and continued acceleration of digital transformations is talent challenge,” said Day. “The competition for tech talent is higher than I’ve ever seen. It was always high but now it’s accelerated dramatically. And I think that’s definitely going to be the biggest limitation for companies. They may be ready, they may be willing, they may have the courage to go and do it but then you need to have the talent to go and do it.”

Questrade has hired 140 new tech people over the past 12 months, all onboarded and working remotely, but Day says it’s nowhere near the number that they would like to have hired during that period.

Strength always comes from inside out, she observed. It’s very important for businesses to have clarity about the problem that they’re looking to solve, which needs them to look through a highly customer-centric lens: what is it that they want to get from the digital transformation, what does success really look like? It’s one thing to have the intent and the desire and the willingness to fund, it’s a totally different thing to have the capability. The focus should be on building that capability in-house and being an attractive employer for tech talent because it’s a bit of a vicious circle in that one needs to be best-in-class at tech to attract best-in-class talent, explains Day. These are some of the elements that she says are important to her as she looks at the future and at what’s needed in terms of maintaining the momentum of digital transformation.

Continuous collaboration is key to creating a successful digital transformation and maintaining it, according to Bryant. “Best results come from continuous collaboration, with people doing what people do, and that’s being socially interactive. I think that’s important to any business,” he says.

According to Teherany, businesses can maintain their digital transformations and keep the innovation momentum building by letting their strategy drive their structure and approach, and by working on how they can go faster. “The technology and enablers exist out there. The right strategy to take advantage of some of those things where you can really help drive and power your business strategy and tell yourself to help to grow your organization is the need of the hour,” says Teherany. “The second one is, go faster. And I think too often in corporate cultures, corporations end up working too slow: too much red tape, too much governance, and so there’s a need to find ways where you can collaborate with your peers to work faster.”

And the much-awaited: winners of the remaining CIO of the Year Awards

Congratulations to this year’s finalists and winners. And a big thank you to this year’s judges.

Screenshot of the judges for Digital Transformation Awards
Judges for the 2021 CIO of the Year Awards

The winners:

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Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the river Yamuna on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing fanatic who also loves to prepare delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not. Can be contacted at [email protected] or 647.695.3494.

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