February 10, 2017  1:02 PM

Accenture: AI is the new UI

Nicole Laskowski Nicole Laskowski Profile: Nicole Laskowski

Artificial intelligence will be the new user interface for internal and customer-facing applications — not eventually, but soon, according to Accenture. In its flagship technology report Technology Vision 2017, “AI is the new UI” is one of five trends Accenture predicts will disrupt businesses in the next three to five years.

The overall theme of the report recommends a shift in software design philosophy from programming for the masses to programming for the individual. “The standard way people built applications 20 years ago was you had one interface to serve everybody,” said Michael Biltz, managing director of the Accenture Technology Vision at the Accenture Technology Labs in San Jose. “But as technology becomes more and more sophisticated with artificial intelligence, personalization, different interfaces, data from everywhere … you have the ability to design technology that’s going to specifically adapt to people.”

To get started on the “AI is the new UI” trend, Biltz said CIOs should focus on applications that need to change the fastest or, put another way, that are closely aligned with business goals. That will likely mean customer-facing applications will be touched first, but Biltz believes this will shift quickly to internal apps, where artificial intelligence can make employees more effective and more efficient.

Although AI remains a catch-all term today, Biltz encourages CIOs to consider technologies that make “an interaction or an interface more human or natural, so think voice recognition and natural language processing,” he said.

Accenture’s tech roadmap

Accenture’s 2017 report is based on a survey conducted with 5,000 business executives as well as interviews with internal experts, startups and corporate partners.

In addition to “AI is the new UI,” Accenture’s 2017 trends are as follows:

  • Design for humans: Technology should adapt to humans, not the other way around.
  • Ecosystems as macrocosms: Organizations are connecting with third-party companies to offer new services and attract new customers. But choose wisely: Partnerships forged today will affect what organizations will look like — and how customers will see them — in 10 years.
  • Workforce marketplace: Use platforms to find the necessary skills for a project’s success on demand; teams will be assembled and disassembled as needed.
  • The uncharted: What digital business will look like in three to five years is still unknown; early adopters will have opportunities to define it.

The trends are meant to be a realistic roadmap companies could — and Accenture believes should — accomplish in the next three to five years, according to Biltz.

“There’s a reason why something like quantum computing is not on the list. It’s not because we don’t think it’s important, and it’s not because we don’t think it’s eventually going to be big,” he said. “Rather, for most companies, they’re going to look at that technology and say, ‘Yeah, there’s not a lot for me to do right now.'”

Taken together, the five trends underscore an important directive for CIOs: Employee, customer and corporate goals will become increasingly intertwined going forward. Conversations will veer away from technology functionality toward practical use.

“It’s going to become more a question of who will be using the technology, what are their goals and how do we create technology that’s going to be able to help them reach their goals,” Biltz said.

And the iterative style of work that’s infiltrating IT departments now will become the norm. “How we act and interact with each other is continuously changing all of the time, and if you’re not iterative, no matter how smart you are or how good your initial design is, it’s to become obsolete as the world changes,” he said.

February 6, 2017  3:31 PM

Reporting lines for the CDO role: Context counts

Nicole Laskowski Nicole Laskowski Profile: Nicole Laskowski
CDO, Chief Data Officer

The chief data officer (CDO) role may be gaining influence, but a lingering question that both public and the private sector organizations have yet to answer is: Who should CDOs report to? According to experts, it really depends.

Government CDOs who have few or no staff may benefit from the collegiality of an IT department and a CIO supervisor, according to Jane Wiseman, Innovations in American Government Fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, which is part of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. It also doesn’t hurt that the CIO’s budget is often bigger than a standalone CDO budget, which potentially means extra resources for data projects.

“If you’re part of a CIO shop, you work with people who are more niche technical people,” said Wiseman, who recently published Leading CDOs: A Framework for Better Civic Analytics. “And you’re part of a bigger team that might have expertise [necessary] to help problem solve.”

When a CDO reports to the head honcho — be it a mayor or a CEO — that sends a clear message that “the whole business is run on analytics,” Wiseman said, which has obvious plusses for the person in the CDO role. But that can also mean that the CDO works at the whim of the CEO’s every request.

“Frankly, when a CEO in government …  wants something, they typically don’t want it next week, they want it tomorrow or yesterday,” she said. “And some of these analytics things take a while to get an answer,” she said.

CDOs who don’t answer directly to the organization’s top boss typically have more space “to take on projects requiring more time to demonstrate results, including more methodologically complex analytics projects,” according to the Wiseman’s report.

Research consultancy Gartner, on the other hand, advocates that the CDO role or those who head up data and analytics should live on the business side of the house, and the numbers it gathered suggest businesses and governments are doing just that. In Survey Analysis: Second Gartner CDO Survey – The State of the Office of the CDO, only 16% of the 180 respondents, a mix of CDOs, chief analytics officers and high-level data and analytics leaders, said they report to the CIO. The number was almost double — 30% — for those data roles reporting to CEOs. Four percent of those surveyed came from the public sector.

Jamie Popkin, lead author of report, said he expects to see numbers continue to tilt in the favor of a CDO-CEO reporting structure. “The point we’re making is that this is a new business function equal to IT and HR, finance, supply chain, any of the operations departments,” he said to SearchCIO in November.

Still, both Popkin and Harvard’s Wiseman agreed there are no hard and fast rules here. Popkin said that, for example, at a mining company he worked with, it made sense for the CDO role to be rooted in the IT organization because the business had no interest in being a data steward.

Wiseman also said the CDO reporting line also ultimately depends on the company situation. “I don’t think there’s any one right way to do it. It’s just that there are tradeoffs,” she said.

January 31, 2017  8:36 PM

City CIOs gather to swap smart city experiences

Nicole Laskowski Nicole Laskowski Profile: Nicole Laskowski

A select group of city CIOs and other technology policy makers gathered recently at Harvard University to participate in the 2017 Smart Cities Innovation Accelerator. The order of the day? To report on their smart city initiatives, or the integration of technology and sensors into city infrastructure. The group was encouraged to have frank discussions about what’s working — and what isn’t.

“The goal is that they to leave with deeper strategic insight for their cities,” said David Ricketts, Innovation Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University. “That’s really what we’re trying to accelerate.”

Ricketts said the event was designed to give attendees the space and time needed for active participation and interaction. One of the issues Ricketts put up for discussion was about sensors on streetlights. Smart cities are often implementing smart street lights, which replace old-school bulbs for energy-efficient LED counterparts along with several sensors. The combination of LED lights and sensors on streetlights throughout a city adds up to more than the sum of its parts. As Ricketts put it: “It’s a mini-cellular network.”

Sensors can include Wi-Fi, but can they can also include things like movement detection and weather detection. The question for attendees was, do cities really need to be measuring all of it? Or are they falling prey to vendor pitches? One city revealed it decided to leave off the Wi-Fi sensor because it “already had local service providers providing the dense population with Wi-Fi, so there was no reason,” Ricketts said. The response was an “ah-ha” moment for the attendees who didn’t have Wi-Fi sensors but assumed they needed them.

“That’s why we’re focused on learning and on the bigger strategy picture as opposed to just talking about streetlights,” Ricketts said.

Necessary and rare
Opportunities for frank discussion and the exchange of ideas are rare and important, according to participants. “Frequently, smart city events are hosted by vendors, and the commercial interest drives a good deal of the content,” said Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer for Kansas City. “Harvard came at this from an academic and civic perspective, and the cities drove the content.”

One of the critical components for city CIOs and others is to figure out best practices, according to Bennett. “I can’t do the same type of public health data assessment that Louisville is doing,” he said by way of example, but he can work with his colleagues in Louisville to understand the benefits they gained from their work and bring those potential opportunities to his own city.

As David Graham, deputy COO for San Diego, jokingly put it: “plagiarizing equals iteration.”

“What’s happening in Boston that came from an idea out of San Francisco that’s being implemented in Kansas City that has applications for San Diego — that is how we get to the right solutions for smart cities,” Graham said. “If we’re not working with other cities, then we’re working in a vacuum.”

January 31, 2017  4:30 PM

Net neutrality law: Much ado about nothing?

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
Broadband, Internet service providers, Net Neutrality

Friday I wrote about Ajit Pai, President Donald Trump’s pick for Federal Communications Commission chairman, who will dismantle some internet regulations put into place in 2015.

This has caused real fear among proponents of net neutrality — the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T and Comcast can’t slow down or speed up internet traffic at their whim.

For example, 86% of 411 IT professionals surveyed on peer network Spiceworks worried that ISPs would reduce internet speed for certain types of content should the rules go away. And 84% were afraid providers might choose to block access to certain sites.

But how crucial is the net neutrality law to a free, open and competitive internet?

It’s not, said Johna Till Johnson, CEO and founder of Nemertes Research. Net neutrality, she said, is based on the faulty assumption that ISPs are “bad guys” who if not forced will stifle small startups.

“The logic behind passing [the 2015 rules] was to prevent carriers from doing something they hadn’t ever done before — only out of fear that because carriers could possibly do it and they’re big, bad entities and they might do it,” Johnson said.

Who’s afraid of ISPs?

Hiawatha Bray, technology writer for The Boston Globe, made a similar point. He spoke to Radio Boston host Meghna Chakrabarti on Boston radio station WBUR on Thursday.

“We’ve had this internet argument going on now for over a decade, and I keep waiting for this nightmare in which giant internet companies are seeking to suppress smaller startups and it just hasn’t been happening.”

That is, until AT&T started letting people who use its mobile service view DirecTV, its subsidiary, for free — a clear case of a provider showing favor to its own content. That’s unfair, Bray said, but “this is about the first time that anything like that has happened.”

What new FCC head Pai has made clear he doesn’t like is the reclassification of internet providers as public telecommunications services under Title II of the Communications Act, the law put in place in the 1930s to watch over telephone companies.

The FCC doesn’t regulate what ISPs can charge consumers; mainly it uses the law to police practices it sees as unfair or harmful to consumers — for example, it can target business alliances in which companies pay providers to prioritize traffic. And it has said what AT&T is doing with DirecTV is in violation of net neutrality laws.

A lighter touch on net neutrality law?

But Bray said Title II gives the FCC more authority than it needs to oversee an industry that “has thrived on a very light regulatory regime” before the 2015 rules.

“I think there should be a much lighter regulatory regime in which you would have Congress pass a law that would forbid certain specific unfair practices.”

And Johnson said net neutrality ignores the influence that companies like Google have on internet business.

“Because, hey, Google Play doesn’t carry your app, you’re toast,” she said. “And by the way nobody’s requiring Google Play to carry your app. They just do or don’t and nobody’s looking into that.”

Future tense

Finally, locking in “old-fashioned regulations” doesn’t take into account emerging technologies, Bray said.

Right now, for example, a company called Starry Inc. is testing a service in Boston that would offer high-speed internet — 200 to 300 megabits a seconds — at around the same price as today’s broadband.

If it works, Bray said, the need for net neutrality law would be moot — because more than just a few companies would control the pipes that pump the internet to users.

“You’d have real competition and the need to regulate the internet as a Title II kind of telephone-type monopoly completely vanishes,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s necessary now, and it’s certainly not going to be necessary when the newer technologies become available.”

January 31, 2017  3:34 PM

AI challenges and why CIOs can’t afford to fall behind

Sue Troy Sue Troy Profile: Sue Troy

Automation technologies – including physical- and software-based robots, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other types of “learning” tech – are expected to change the future of work in a massive way in the coming decades. McKinsey Institute recently projected that over half of “worker activity,” or job tasks, has the potential to be automated as early as 2035. This tech will increase global productivity growth by 0.8% to 1.4% annually, the consultancy said.

For businesses, this represents tremendous savings as the cost of producing goods and delivering services goes down. And it’s not too soon for companies to take steps to take advantage of these technologies. Indeed, those that haven’t yet taken steps may be left behind – permanently, said Josh Sutton, global head of data and artificial intelligence at consultancy Publicis.Sapient.

“I do have [a] concern around whether [AI laggards] will be here a decade from now or not,” said Sutton in a phone conversation about artificial intelligence and IT last week.

He points to two reasons: Consultancies like Publicis are seeing a major shift in business success stories toward companies adopting a services-based approach rather than a product-based approach. In addition, the rate of change in industry is increasing and the cost of vendor lock-in is decreasing. “If you take those two things in parallel, what you’re seeing isn’t just a technology wave. You’re seeing a fundamental shift in how businesses and enterprises want to engage from a commercial point of view, and [if you’re] behind that shift, [it’s] going to be … very difficult to catch up,” he said.

Companies that wait for AI technology to develop into what Sutton calls “canned solutions” run the risk of forever playing catch-up – or failing completely — because the rate of change is so fast.

AI challenges: Education plan

He advises CIOs to map out a strategy for AI technologies. But they face a number of potential obstacles, he warned.

The first big challenge is for CIOs to educate themselves on the technology and discern between vendor hype and actual product capabilities. “There’s a tremendous amount of noise in the industry and there’s a very wide gap between what many product companies position themselves as being able to do versus the reality of what they can actually deliver upon,” he said.

Organizational expectations can also complicate a CIO’s efforts to set an AI technology strategy. Business leaders have a range of attitudes about AI, Sutton said, from those who believe it’s the answer to all of a business’ problems to those who are dead-set against investing in such an emerging technology.

“In only extremely few cases does the business leadership of a company have a well-grounded understanding of what’s possible vs. what’s not,” he said. IT leaders need to work to set appropriate expectations.

AI challenges: Single vendor vs. best-of-breed choice

Once CIOs and business leaders have a clear sense of what is truly possible with AI technology, they will face the question of whether to adopt a single vendor’s platform or to take a best-of-breed approach. Sutton advocates the latter.

“I believe the industry is too immature to commit to any single player. And I don’t think any single player provides you the full suite of capabilities you’d want across an enterprise yet,” he said.

Indeed, the decision will be a strategic bet for CIOs. Should they align themselves with a particular vendor in the hopes that its AI technology develops the capabilities that the IT organization needs? Or, should they put together a best-of-breed architecture, which is more complex than the single-vendor strategy but offers more flexibility?

“I have a strong bias that the services-based best-of-breed approach is a less risky road for companies to go down,” Sutton said. “But that’s not to say that some companies won’t make the right bet on the company that does get to that true enterprise-level platform first and standardize around them and have a nice clean, simple architecture as an advantage coming from that. But it’s a big bet to make.”

AI challenges: Data governance, culture shock

The final big challenge that Sutton sees relates to data strategy, because many AI use cases are dependent on data, whether from internal or external sources. Businesses need to have solid data governance policies around their internal data, and understanding how to augment that data with data from external sources is also very important.

“Even your data scientists and data teams that you historically have had on staff might not be particularly equipped to deal with the challenges that need to be addressed,” Sutton said.

That’s not to suggest that there’s a big shortage of people who are prepared to work with AI technology. Sutton said that he thinks there are a lot of technologists who are very interested in working with AI, and the tools are easy to work with. The skills required for AI development can be transferred from skills developed around other technologies, he said.

Sutton said he’s more worried about the cultural changes that businesses will face as AI technology is implemented. AI will increase human productivity, which will inevitably lead to staff reductions. Some of those reductions will be accomplished by attrition, but some of them will be more visible, much like those created by outsourcing in the past.

“Outsourcing was viewed with a very, very negative perception because it was taking jobs away and it created a backlash against the organizations and people within organizations driving that,” Sutton said. “I believe that there’s a risk that that might happen with relation to artificial intelligence solutions as well.”

January 30, 2017  3:29 PM

Waking up to benefits of copy data management software

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
Cloud-Based Services, Copy data, Disaster Recovery, Virtualization

Have you ever spaced out during a meeting only to come to after hearing something arresting — a proposal or possibility that might really affect how you do your job? Rosetta Stone’s Mark Moseley has — and it led to his purchase of copy data management software.

Moseley is vice president of IT at the language-learning company, which overhauled its business from shipping compact discs that teach Italian, French, Chinese and other tongues to offering courses online, which people can access on their PCs or smartphones.

Rosetta Stone’s growing number of online offerings resulted in an explosion in the amount of data that has to be stored. In fact, Moseley said, he was running out of floor space in his data center for servers that could hold all the data.

A big piece of the problem was a profusion of copy data — that’s the duplicate copies of data that backup software and other applications churn out and then stash on physical servers.

Copy that

Meanwhile, Rosetta Stone salespeople were pitching language-learning software to a technology company called Actifio. Its trade? Making software to deal with overflowing copy data. But copy data management software wasn’t the main reason Moseley agreed to a meeting with the Actifio folks.

“It was a favor really to our sales team,” Moseley said. “I didn’t care. I was mostly zoned out of the meeting.”

Then an Actifio sales rep mentioned being able to very quickly create a clone of Oracle Database — a separate copy of the database management system software and the business data — in just a few minutes.

“I’m like, ‘What?'” Moseley said. Rosetta Stone’s enterprise resource planning system runs on Oracle. “The cloning process for us would be days.”

Moseley was rapt, asking questions and imagining being able to swiftly clone his test and development environments, too. That would help his developer team move lithely from one project to the next.

For example, Moseley said, if there’s a problem in an application’s production environment — the one users use — developers could quickly spin up a cloned environment and fix the problem there.

Another scenario: “You’re in the middle of developing something. You hit an anomaly; you blow up your environment. We’ve got a deadline. I can’t wait two or three days I need a new one now.”

Recipe for disaster recovery

Then Moseley saw other benefits the copy data management software could have for his IT operations: Actifio’s cloud-based application lets him virtualize his data, hardware platforms and storage and backup applications. That allows him to store less data.

Actifio also lets Moseley set up disaster recovery sites in the cloud — a huge boon.

“I don’t know how often most companies have disasters, but we don’t have them very often, and we don’t have the money to spend on having a completely new disaster recovery site set up,” Moseley said.

“However, with this platform I can very cheaply and easily have a disaster recovery site set up in the cloud ready to go. It’s costing me almost nothing — until I have to use it.”

That gives Moseley a sense of security that he can then present to Rosetta Stone’s customers, who share their contact information with the company.

That’s now. Back during the sales pitch — after being shaken from indifference — Moseley started piecing together “all of the different things that I can do with this platform and I’m hooked. And really it all started with just talking a little bit about Oracle.”

Mark Moseley talks about Rosetta Stone’s digital transformation strategy in this SearchCIO interview.

January 24, 2017  2:51 PM

The good and the bad of a multicloud strategy

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
Cloud Computing, Multi-cloud

Are two clouds better than one? For many organizations moving part or all of their IT operations into the cloud, they are. Three and four are even better.

Many organizations today follow a multicloud strategy — putting some workloads in Amazon Web Services, others in Microsoft Azure and yet others in IBM Bluemix or Google Cloud Platform. That way, they’re not locked in to one provider, said Donna Scott, an analyst at market research house Gartner.

“So they have options when they are deploying,” Scott said in a recent webinar on cloud computing for CIOs. “Or if they become unhappy with one provider or one provider decides to raise their rates by 50%, they have options — competitive options — to go after.”

Other companies use a multicloud strategy for more than just mitigating risk, sister site SearchCloudComputing reported late last year. They might put different applications in different providers’ clouds because of lower costs or better performance. That’s a shift that has happened as cloud has become more popular.

“Multicloud today is much less about resilience and hedging bets and more about matching workloads to services,” said Melanie Posey, analyst at market researcher IDC, in the article.

But there are pros and cons to a multicloud strategy. The big pro is choice, Scott said. With applications hosted by different cloud providers, a CIO’s eggs are in different baskets, “just in case your partnership with a vendor goes awry, they don’t meet service levels, they raise their prices.”

There a variety of negatives to consider, too, Scott said. Organizations need to learn how each cloud provider they’re working with works. The cloud computing industry still largely lacks standards, so providers have different capabilities and APIs.

And each may require different cloud product managers — a new role for many organizations — to determine what applications to keep on premises and what to move in the cloud and what specific services offered by the cloud provider to use.

So if a company has applications split among two cloud providers, Scott said, “you might find that one product manager can manage both; you might find you have to have more skills and expertise.”

To learn more about cloud product managers and other key cloud roles, read this SearchCIO tip.

January 10, 2017  12:30 PM

Digital transformation strategy is common language at Rosetta Stone

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
Digital business, Digital transformation, partnership

Rosetta Stone knew CDs alone wouldn’t cut it in the digital age. The language-learning company now helps people roll their Spanish R’s and sort out der, die and das in German with cloud software, available to them online and on their smartphones.

It’s something out of the digital transformation strategy playbook, if there were one: Using digital technologies like cloud computing to revamp business and better serve customers. That gives Mark Moseley, who leads IT at the Arlington, Va., company, the responsibility of not just supporting business but helping drive it.

But as cloud and mobile computing have made it easier than ever for business people to create new technology-enabled products and services, Moseley wouldn’t say he leads the company’s digital evolution in the traditional sense.

“I’d say I’m keeping pace with where my internal customers have been going,” said Moseley, vice president of IT at Rosetta Stone. “I lead with the best practices and with the element that guides them in the direction that I want them to go.”

A beacon for business

That direction is one that safeguards the security of the company’s data and its customers’ data, he said. And even the company’s large contingent of software developers, eager to try a new third-party service or get out the next product using the open source container technology Docker need guidelines.

“They may not be thinking about all of the different elements necessary for us to ensure that we’re meeting our corporate and compliance, legal and customer goals,” Moseley said.

Moseley doesn’t like to use the word boundaries — “because when you establish a boundary, it’s going to get crossed.” What he and his team do is make it clear that they are partners with users. IT is there to provide guidelines on cybersecurity and compliance, not slow them down in their quest to improve customer offerings.

That way, he said, “they’ll come and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to look at X service,’ or ‘We’re going to implement Y. How can you help us out to be faster than us just doing it on our own?'”

‘They can do it’

There once was a time, Moseley said, when IT didn’t have to focus on new technology. Instead, it set up the tools it had or ones it knew about. “You didn’t really think about it because you had a locked-down environment, and there were no options.”

Today, in a fast-moving, technology-driven business climate — and in a company where the business model is built on a digital transformation strategy — that’s not the case.

“Now if you don’t partner with your users,” Moseley said, “they’re going to bring in their own [technology]. They can do it. You’ve got to make those partnerships. You’ve got to stay on top of things.”

Mark Moseley talks more about Rosetta Stone’s digital transformation strategy in this SearchCIO interview.

December 29, 2016  4:00 PM

AR/VR, AI tech make list of best-read Data Mill columns in 2016

Nicole Laskowski Nicole Laskowski Profile: Nicole Laskowski

CIOs are on to the next new thing. From virtual reality technology to artificial intelligence to digital business, CIOs are educating themselves on all of it, according to this list of the best-read Data Mill columns in 2016. I take this as a very promising sign indeed, for the new year will almost certainly require new ways of thinking and new solutions to meet business challenges.

This roundup is a curated collection from SearchCIO’s Data Mill series, a column created in 2013 to capture “all things data,” as the tagline used to say, in particular the revolutionary impact of big data on business strategy. Looking back at this year’s greatest hits reveals just how much the big data conversation has changed in the span of a few years.

In 2014, the best-read column was a piece on Hadoop, a distributed file system that has become synonymous with big data. Last year, Spark, which processes big data in memory, ranked best. This year, the interest was more nuanced, with AR/VR and AI tech taking top spots.

1. AR/VR will change the way you work

Collaboration software tends to be a thorn in most CIOs’ sides. It can be intuitive, but if employees don’t use it, the investment is a waste. That pain might be eased with augmented and virtual reality technologies, which are poised to change how work gets done in the enterprise, according to two Deloitte Digital consultants. In this column, they describe the role CIOs will play when enterprises adopt AR and VR tech.

2. Bimodal IT doesn’t go far enough

CIOs who are undergoing a digital business transformation are likely familiar with bimodal IT, a term coined by Gartner. Bimodal describes a strategy that separates IT projects focusing on the delivery and maintenance of reliable, industrialized IT services from those innovative, fast-moving projects that require agility. Last spring, Forrester threw shade at the concept, advising that bimodal IT doesn’t go far enough. This column takes a look at Forrester’s research.

3. Define AI tech before investing

The first thing CIOs need before investing in artificial intelligence technology is to understand what AI tech means. Tom Davenport, renowned analytics expert and President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, says CIOs will need to “disaggregate” the term, especially for C-level executives. He explained what he meant during a fireside chat with Vikram Mahidhar, senior vice president of AI solutions at RAGE Frameworks Inc., at this year’s EmTech, an emerging technology conference hosted by the MIT Technology Review. This column covers the highlights.

4. CFOs on when to renew or replace software

CFOs are changing the way they assess technology investments. Instead of gathering requirements, they’re taking business capabilities such as skills and expertise into consideration. That’s a big change, Leslie Owens, executive director at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research, said at this year’s MIT Sloan CFO Summit in Newton, Mass. This column summarizes the discussion she moderated at the event.

5. The cloud or the edge? Depends on the use case

Basic analysis of the data created by an Internet of Things project is often done on edge devices such as smart phones, but that’s not always necessary. According to experts at the PAPIs event (a portmanteau for predictive applications and APIs), CIOs should first consider the use case. This story covers their discussion.

December 21, 2016  3:43 PM

CIOs take advantage of the digital opportunity

Nicole Laskowski Nicole Laskowski Profile: Nicole Laskowski

Phil Weinzimer has noticed a trend that will no doubt resonate with CIOs: These days, there are a lot more senior IT leaders out there. As companies realize technology is a core part of the business, they’re turning to technology experts like CIOs to lead a digital transformation. In some cases, CIOs aren’t waiting around for permission.

Weinzimer, author and IT consultant, ticked off several examples of CIOs who are proactively taking on the digital opportunity — from those who work with emergency rooms to the CIO of a candy company. They are examples of CIOs acting like business people, as they look for opportunities to integrate technology into customer-facing applications and change how the business interacts with its customers.

Digital opportunity in the ER

Emergency rooms are hammered for their inefficiencies. Patients are shuffled through a hurry-up-and-wait process, undergoing tests and seeing multiple healthcare professionals to get treated, Weinzimer said. The nurses who manage ERs often have limited insight into what’s happening. “The nurse doesn’t know, for example, how long a patient has been in a room without seeing a doctor. They don’t know when they need a certain piece of equipment,” he said. “So managing an emergency room is a very reactive process, although they use technology to manage all of the scripts and the medical tests that need to be done.”

That changed for a hospital in northeast, Pa., when Steve Heilenman, CIO at Computer Aid Inc., developed a solution to rid the ER of inefficiencies. Upon check in, patients are given a pin, a small digital device that records their movements and where they are at any given time. The healthcare professionals also wear the digital device. “Now when a patient gets into a room, the charge nurse knows how long they’ve been there without seeing a doctor,” said Weinzimer, who asked that the name of the hospital not be named.

The hospital uses a set of metrics based on the medical issue that a patient has, and they are triaged accordingly. It also uses a set of standards to ensure patients receive care in a timely manner based on their diagnosis.

The new process, developed by the CIO and his staff, has been in place for a few months, and the ER has found that “patients are being seen more often, that there’s been a significant improvement in the care that’s being provided, and patient satisfaction is going up,” Weinzimer said.

Digital opportunity in tomatoes

Digital transformation of an ER was inevitable. But CIOs are also having an impact at other kinds of companies. Peter Forte, CIO at Analog Devices Inc., a company that makes integrated circuits, has given new meaning to the term IoT: For one Analog project, IoT is the Internet of Tomatoes.

“The way you determine that a tomato has ripened to the right chemical composition is that you’ve got to cut into it,” Weinzimer said. Analog Devices is working with tomato farmers to build a digital platform that tracks the environmental conditions tomatoes are grown in, which affects the quality of the tomato. The platform will provide real-time updates to farmers, informing them if they need to, say, water the plant more or less to ensure optimal growing conditions. “Here’s a CIO who is really coming up with new ways to integrate technology in their products,” Weinzimer said.

Even the candy company Just Born, best known for its marshmallow confections called Peeps, is turning to digitization. “They’re basically a manufacturer, but they’re now starting to want to engage with their customers,” Weinzimer said. In fact, Just Born has just hired a new CIO, Rachel Hayden, whom he describes as “ambitious, smart as a whip, very business focused.” The maker of Peeps may be looking at big changes ahead. On her LinkedIn profile, Hayden, who has an MBA, describes herself as a “transformation IT executive” with proven experience of “shifting the operating model and culture of IT organizations from cost centers to proactive enablers of business growth.”

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