Dell EMC: Observations on the challenges of digital transformation
I recently spoke on a panel discussing the trials and tribulations of digital transformation alongside other CIOs and technology leaders, on the launch of a new piece of Dell Technologies research on the topic. We had a fascinating discussion on the state of digital transformation, trying to get to the bottom of why nearly four in ten UK business leaders are uncertain what shape their industry will be in over the next three years or so.
That statistic surprised the room; of course, everyone knows there's change afoot, but for that many business leaders to be concerned that they can't read the changes going on in their industry is alarming. It brought home the reality of what digital transformation means for many: a big, scary, disruptive change of their sector.
There were a number of key themes that emerged during the course of the discussion that I wanted to draw out.
The pain of legacy IT… and business models
One of the key themes discussed was how it was difficult for technology leadership to invest in truly disruptive innovation when they not only had legacy IT to support… but legacy business models. Not many organisations leap wholesale from the pre-transformation world to a new world order (and it's only the disruptive start-ups that emerge with no legacy debt!). There's no easy answer to this one but the key theme we see engaging with IT leaders is the move to automate and simplify the administration of as much of their legacy IT (and business models) as possible to free up the time and resources to build on the next generation of applications and services.
Senior support and the 'vision' problem
The challenge with quarterly reporting cycles, and boards that are brought in to deliver short term performance outcomes, is that it can be very easy to sideline or mask longer term challenges behind localised boosts. After all, not every sector’s disruption begins with a bang: many start with a long, slow, barely perceptible decline. And the top challenge faced by businesses in the UK around digital transformation was a lack of senior support and sponsorship. A great deal of discussion was focussed on the need for boards to gain an understanding of how to enable digital innovation, and key to that is understanding its potential for shifting business models. IT is the fulcrum on which a business can completely change, after all.
We still need to cater for different customer contexts
As someone that lives in the rural South West of England, complete with idyllic countryside and mediocre (at best!) local broadband services, I have a unique perspective on the need to cater to a wide range of audiences. You could have the most digitally transformed business model there is; but if I don't have the connectivity to interact with it… well, suffice it to say that one size does not yet fit all. Of course, there needs to be more investment in connectivity infrastructure and we need to bring along the digitally marginalised - but we'll never get 100 percent of people fully committed to digital interactions with every kind of business.
Steve Macpherson, the CTO of London-based visual effects firm Framestore, discussed how that - despite being perceived as a creative industry, his CEO had always described the business as a technology one. To a point now where, to address the constraints of software licensing at scale, he has a development team helping the company shape its own software. The trend of exclusively buying off the shelf software to solve your business problems is fading as the tools and platforms for software development have become so much more accessible and more powerful. Of course, not every business is equipped to pivot its teams to deliver this in this way.
The accelerated rise of open innovation
For a long time, the notion of 'open innovation' - where companies, individuals, academics - work together collaboratively on innovations has been rising. Today, as traditional businesses become software businesses, there is a greater urgency about finding ways to tackle the problems of the business. If you can't build your own development team in house rapidly enough, you might support a start-up, work with an incubator or VC partner to find someone working on the solution, fund a team of academics working on the problem and actively collaborate with these teams to bring something to market more rapidly. Land Rover BAR, for example, is working with a range of experts from far beyond the sailing sector to design and optimise its boats in its efforts to win the Americas Cup. This type of collaboration and innovation will only become more commonplace as the pace of change continues to increase.
By Rob Lamb, Cloud Business Director at Dell EMC
Read the November issue of Business Review USA & Canada here
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.