Innovation at the forefront of IDC Directions 2017

I attended the IDC Directions 2017 event in Toronto on March 28.  The event was sponsored by the CIO Association of Canada, ITAC, and IT World Canada. Reports of the event are available here and here and if you are curious enough, the agenda is still here (it’s too late to attend).

The first part of the day consisted of presentations by IDC experts, and these were followed by a panel discussion moderated by Jim Love of IT World Canada.

My initial reaction was that the message hadn’t really changed much in the last year.  The IDC 3rd Platform was referenced a few times.  The “DX Economy,” the “digital native enterprise,” and the rapid progress in technology were referenced; the question of Canadian innovation has been the elephant in the room for years.  There was little said about blockchain and its role in the digital transformation.

However, a few nuggets caught my attention that I will highlight here, in no particular order.

Use cases – The digital transformation applies to a very wide range of use cases; IDC has identified more than 450 use cases across multiple business areas; there is no shortage of evidence that the digital world has arrived but is still accelerating;

Digital infrastructure – The concept of an infrastructure has expanded beyond IaaS to major ecosystem platforms that include massive data sourcing, everything connected to a network, digital supply chains, industry-specific platforms, and digital marketplaces; ecosystems can be infrastructure if your perspective is the overall business;

Cloud computing – Cloud-based solutions have become mainstream – 70% of CIOs have a cloud-first strategy; by 2020 two-thirds of IT spending will be for cloud-based offerings; industry innovation is cloud-first as well; IoT is becoming a key use case for cloud evolution; the idea of “industry collaborative clouds” was mentioned, and this seemed very close to what the standards call community clouds;

Canadian scene – the question of innovation in Canada always comes up, but there are signs of change now with the new budget; many companies are moving forward with innovation centres; Canada has been slow to adopt the 3rd platform but is gaining now;

Canadian requirements – the digital transformation must provide agility, flexibility and scalability to support innovative projects and to allow rapid delivery; however, the top priority for 2017 is operational efficiency and productivity gains (which is really sustaining innovation, not disruptive innovation); at present, not many suppliers are “delighting” their customers;

Customer experience – digital transformation is occurring at the customer interface, especially with augmented reality and smart customer services; new KPIs are emerging for the digital business (e.g. for self-healing processes, etc.); investments in digital are drawing funds away from traditional stores; the retail mission is to provide automated supply and augmented living;

Cognitive computing / AI – “systems of insight/intelligence” are becoming pillars of the digital transformation, but there are different names and overlapping segments, resulting in definitional confusion; AI has an image problem; we are still at early days in this area, unfortunately with all the effort and investment being up-front; IDC speaks of their “Cognitive Solutions Ecosystem”;

Ambient computing – this was a new term for me – Wikipedia says it refers to refers to electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people; an example is connected speakers with intelligent assistants such as Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Bixby;  presence sensors to provide automated assistance in the store and the store that has no check-out are retail examples; again, very early days and dependent on transformation of underlying systems (and lots of smart software).

CIO/Executive Panel

The panel discussion also provided some interesting insights.

Dan Donovan (formerly of Porter Airlines) – says that airlines were disrupted 20 years ago, then were focused on the customer experience;

Samantha Liscio (eHealth Ontario) – billions of data points are associated with health care; need software assisted decision-making to use the data; lots of opportunity to change work flows and move to a digital health approach;

Steve Heck (IT Director, Microsoft) – Microsoft internal IT users are leading edge users of their own digital products; no one can do a digital transformation alone so collaboration is essential;

Shawn Slack (City of Mississauga) – take small steps, use partnerships, and learn how to leverage digital transformation

Overall, the panel agreed that digital transformation is more about leadership and cultural change, not the technology itself; since digital transformation is more about business change than technology, it is essential for it to be business-driven; it was also noted that for every $1 spent on innovation $7 will need to be spent on the underlying technologies.


I don’t think there were too many big surprises during the day, but it was good to hear that innovation is coming back to the forefront, that some leaders are taking up the transformation challenge, and that many opportunities exist for Canadian enterprises to shine both as producers and as users.

This is what I heard and learned – but it’s like blind people describing a digital elephant – each has a different point of view.

What do you think about digital transformation?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Don Sheppard
Don Sheppard
I'm a IT management consultant. I began my career in railways and banks after which I took up the consulting challenge! I try to keep in touch with a lot of different I&IT topics but I'm usually working in areas that involve service management and procurement. I'm into developing ISO standards, current in the area of cloud computing (ISO JTC1/SC38). I'm also starting to get more interested in networking history, so I guess I'm starting to look backwards as well as forwards! My homepage is but I am found more here.

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