Dean Del Vecchio is the Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer, and Chief of Operations at Guardian Life, roughly 160-year-old mutual company with roughly $10.5 billion in annual revenue. He leads a team of about 4,500 employees. He is a major driver of innovation across the company, but he and his team hoped to open up innovation to the majority of colleagues rather than make it a purview of a single team at Guardian Life. In fact, he has even facilitated a method to engage outside partners and vendors in the process, as well.

Del Vecchio has defined three categories of innovation:

  • Core innovation
  • Adjacent innovation
  • Transformational innovation

Core innovation entails finding a better, a faster or a simpler way to perform everyday tasks of the company.

Adjacent innovation requires monitoring other companies, including innovative ideas driven in other industries and translating them back to Guardian Life. “If there is somebody else doing something out there, it does not have to be in our industry, our segment or our market,” said Del Vecchio. “If somebody is doing something interesting and differently than we are today, let’s copy it.”

Transformational innovation fosters the development of truly big and new ideas for the company to pursue. “It is rethinking a market segment, [for example],” said Del Vecchio. “It could be rethinking how we do work entirely. We have been quite innovative in the way we thought about operating in the cloud, for example. We have been operating in the cloud since 2018. We shut down our data center in 2018. We no longer have an owned operating data center.”

To foster the development of all three types of innovation, Del Vecchio has developed innovation challenges for the team. It involves posing a challenge question of the team and leveraging the wisdom of the crowd to develop creative answers to the question. “We have employees vote on [the ideas], and we have them do pairwise comparisons on [them],” noted Del Vecchio. “Then the good ideas that bubble up, we do a Shark Tank experience. We have people put forth their idea, present it to a group of people, we vote, and we challenge [them with] questions. If an idea gets thumbs up, we move it forward to a minimum viable product.”

In recognizing that the best ideas will come when the net is cast widely, Del Vecchio recognized that he had to grow more technical talent, which is especially a challenge these days when the war for talent is raging at a level not previously seen. He introduced a program called Code for Good, which identifies employees in non-traditional technology roles and trains them to become developers. “It is a six-month boot camp [including] programming and learning, and then they are out on the floor,” he said. “We make sure that there is a job for them and that they have an opportunity to participate in that.” He has had multiple cohorts go through this program, and the value derived from these newly minted programmers has been profound.

Del Vecchio is building on this success with the development of an Automation for Good program. This is geared at engaging employees who work on transaction-heavy processes and engaging them to help design automation to take the place of some of the most tedious and time-consuming tasks. “Employees could be adding much more value and dealing with much more complex issues if they had the time, but because they are dealing with all these transactional things,” he noted. “Why not allow them to be able to self-automate and identify those tasks that they wish they did not have to do in the first place, and then create a much more fulfilling job for themselves?”

There is a broader vision to this. Del Vecchio and his team are mapping out the customer experience journey to understand where there are opportunities to digitize, and where to introduce self-service capabilities. He and his team hope to automate to the point of facilitating proactive and predictive capabilities. “We are doing that in ways of a digital agent, for example,” said Del Vecchio. “We have installed, using AI and automation, the digital agent capability so you could chat with a digital agent and get claim status or get eligibility of benefits.”

Del Vecchio and his team have also focused on each aspect of the relationship and the journey, whether it is the initial onboarding piece or further along in their relationship with the company. “Can we help customers with decision tools to help them select the right products?” he asked. “Ultimately, when they are on board and they need services, can we provide them with all of those avenues?” A key is to serve clients as they wish to be served. If they want to interact with a chatbot, they can do so through their mobile device. If they prefer the web, they can do that. If they want a mobile app, Guardian Life provides that capability. “We are not there yet but that is how we are looking at it, and we are looking at it across all medium, as well as all segments of that lifecycle engagement,” said Del Vecchio. He and his team have the processes and the ideas to drive continued innovation through Guardian Life on behalf of its customers.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Ather Williams III is the Senior Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy, Digital Platforms, and Innovation at Wells Fargo, a post he has held since October of 2020. In that role, he leads corporate strategic planning, defines and manages digital platforms and capabilities, and oversees innovation priorities, opportunities and company-wide efforts to drive transformation.

Williams strategy role cuts across the five business lines at Wells Fargo, three of which are focused on consumer and two of which are focused on enterprise customers. “We work across those businesses, across all of our range of capabilities, covering our 69 million customers, and all of our functions to put together a coherent strategy to serve those clients in an innovative way,” noted Williams.

One of the key strategic pillars that that Williams and his team has defined and is helping to drive focuses on technology and innovation and having a digital-first, mobile-first, though not mobile only, mindset. “Digital platforms are a natural place to sit with me because it is a transformation of how we bring together a consistent consumer experience that starts with mobile across our deposits and payments business, our consumer lending business and our wealth management business,” said Williams. “[This intersection] will easily migrate across our other channels, be it an ATM, a branch or a financial advisor’s office.”

Williams considers the innovation part of his mandate to be the “fuel for the future.” The inspiration for that innovation often comes from interactions with customers and the needs they articulate, and the innovation is then driven by the team he has at his disposal within Wells Fargo together with a partner ecosystem he has curated. By way of example, Williams noted customers’ desire to rethink how they move their money around the world or new ways of investing their money. He also noted working with customers on how best to decarbonize. Wells Fargo makes its innovation channel accessible to customers and the broader ecosystem can help bring those ideas to life.

Williams noted that the pandemic has been a remarkable accelerant for mobile adoption. “All the metrics I look at weekly on our digital platforms, how we are performing and interacting with our clients, they are all up double digits year-over-year, and it is continual growth,” he said. “On the consumer side of the house, mobile is our number one channel. Between mobile and online, we have about just shy of two billion interactions with our clients every quarter.”

Williams is quick to add that these growth figures are not the death knell to Wells Fargo’s branches, however. He offers coin and currency transactions and mortgage initiation as two of a variety of examples of interactions that customers are often more comfortable doing in the branches. Williams describes the strategic approach the company is taking as mobile first but not mobile only. “Making that transition from being what a lot of banks traditionally have been which is a physical interaction first, technology supporting it, to being a technology led, physical supporting it,” Williams highlighted. “That flip is what we are driving from a strategy perspective.”

The company has also flipped the traditional script on how innovation happens. It used to be that companies like Wells Fargo built products and technology internally without outside partners to speak of. Counterexamples include payment networks for credit cards, or for clearing payments internationally, but these were exceptions rather than the rule. “Increasingly, banks are becoming ecosystem orchestrators where we build some stuff, but we enable you to experience it through APIs,” offered Williams by way of example. “That change, going from a very inwardly focused culture to an outwardly-focused culture, meaning engaged in the broader ecosystem for our clients, has been a big change.” Williams underscored that this trend happens both on the consumer and on the wholesale side of the business. Now enterprises bank through their ERP system in their treasury workstation. Wells Fargo has developed a means of plugging into that.

When asked how he measures innovation, Williams volunteered velocity of ideas through the company’s pipeline. “We run a funnel process and I measure ideas in and ideas we push into production, but it is also how quickly we can churn them through,” he noted. “Anything in the cryptocurrency area for example, is changing so rapidly that, I just need to make sure that we are getting enough reps or enough at-bats on things to see what might stick.” He also indicated that he is mindful of patents filed by the company. He also mentions that it is no longer useful to simply benchmark Wells Fargo against other banks, as had been the primary measuring stick used. “We look at some companies that are traditionally very innovative, mostly in the tech space but not necessarily banks,” said Williams. “I do look at how quickly they are launching new products, and how they are driving the industry.”

Each of the line of lines of business has a strategy and innovation lead. Their main job is to help each business think about how they are going to meet those changing customer needs and how the company will respond to competitive forces. Additionally, these leaders investigate problems Wells Fargo is trying to solve and then tap back into that innovation stream of what is happening in the market. There is also a team that is focused on innovation strategy. That team is “focused on thinking about what is five or ten years out that we need to keep our eyes on,” Williams said, “It can be a technology thing, or it could be an industry trend thing that we can see is going to impact us.”

The leaders of each of these teams come together with some frequency to share insights and to identify points of collaboration. The innovation team drives research and development, as well as the pilot and deliver, test and learn continuum to scaled ideas. “We get an idea such as cross border money movement over the distributed ledger,” said Williams. “Here is the client, here is the business case, here is the client scenario, how do we make that happen? You pull it into the lab, you can stand up a prototype and get it to run. Then once you get to a certain place, you can commercialize it and you flip it back into the business.”

This well thought out innovation engine is already bearing fruit, and Williams is confident that the best is yet to come.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Carol Juel has been the chief information officer at Synchrony Financial since the company’s creation, after it spun out from General Electric just over seven and a half years ago. She had worked at GE for the decade prior to that. In the early stages of Synchrony Financial’s existence, Juel had the opportunity to think about new beginnings as to how a modern technology organization should function to best support a new, already scaled and growing business.

Like many CIOs, Juel introduced agile methods as a primary process to develop new initiatives within the technology realm. Like many peers of hers across industries, the iterative approach, engaging the intended audience and users in the process from ideation through to completion ensured a better end product, and it reduced the risk that time and money would be invested only to conclude with a collective yawn from customers, for example. Every project has degrees of uncertainty and risk associated with them, especially if they are truly innovative. If you are batting 1.000, you are not innovating, after all. Therefore, when contemplating scenarios where uncertainty reins, greater degrees of cross-functional collaboration are essential, and they can get the collective batting average higher for the technology and digital teams as a result.

Come March of 2020, we all entered perhaps the greatest period of uncertainty as the consequences of the pandemic on our personal and professional lives began to be reconciled. The progress Synchrony Financial IT had made in instituting agile gave Juel an idea. Why not make the executive team (the chief executive officer and his reports) an agile team of sorts? One of the key aspects that Juel thought would facilitate setting a path during unprecedented times was the concept of the daily stand-up meeting. “Agile stand-up meetings, for those who have never been to one, are a very specific meeting,” said Juel.

“Once or twice a day, the team gets together to communicate information. You’re talking about what you need, you’re making decisions and you’re talking about blockers. [By the conclusion of each meeting], everyone is clear about the actions that need to be taken, who is accountable and what’s going to get done by the next agile standup meeting.”

This was the new way of working for the Synchrony executive team, but those executives already had seen the great strides the technology team had made in leveraging the same methods, and this made the case very easy for Juel to implement this among her peers and with her boss, the CEO. “It was a conversation on an afternoon, and by the next morning we had our first executive-level stand up meeting.” Juel served as the scrum master for the team, helping the team streamline the methods used to achieve their goals.

The advantages were legion. Issues were discussed as soon as they were identified, common approaches to rectify those issues were developed almost immediately and with broad buy-in from across the team, the consequences of those decisions were monitored real-time and any course correction could be made quickly. The speed of decision making hastened and the pathway to value shortened just as fast.

“There was so much uncertainty at the outset of the pandemic. What consumer spending was going to look like? How would the job market evolve? Having tools as a leadership team that allowed us to work differently to respond to this unprecedented set of challenges was exciting.” This fostered a broader agile cultural change across the company. As the executives learned more about these methods, they began to deploy them with their own teams. Thus, the speed of all teams began to hasten in ways akin to the change that the technology team had experienced in the early stages of its agile journey. Juel credits these changes as critical factors in allowing Synchrony Financial to launch both Verizon’s and Venmo’s first ever credit card programs. Both happened in record times remotely.

The agile approach led to creative thoughts on how best to enhance the experiences of employees during trying times. As it became clear that normalcy would not return by the time schools let out for the summer, it also became clear how disruptive it would be for many to have kids at home all day without typical summer outlets like camps. This is where the immersion of the executive team in the agile principles shined. The leaders of Technology, Marketing and Human Resources worked together to design the camp. “The goal was to help school age children to have engaging activities that would be inspiring,” Juel said. “Older kids could help design programs for younger kids. Employees served as mentors for all, and different employees took responsibility for developing different modules.” These would include everything from learning how to do a cartwheel to STEM classes.

Not only did this fill a need that was a source of anxiety for employees, but it strengthened the community across Synchrony Financial, as employees helped other employees’ children.

A little more than a year into the pandemic, in April 2021, Brian Doubles was named chief executive officer of the company. As with any leadership change of this magnitude, it provided a reason to rethink Synchrony Financial’s operating model. One of those would bring technology and operations together under Juel’s leadership, as she took on the role of chief technology and operating officer. As technology became more pervasive across the operations, the tie between the two became clearer, and in a period of dramatic change the value to be derived by linking these functions in a new way was profound.

As her influence inside of Synchrony Financial grew, so too did her reputation outside of the company, as well. She would be asked to join the board of Brighthouse Financial in the fourth quarter of 2021, joining a select but growing group of enterprise technology leaders who have been asked to join boards.

By thinking more expansively about her role as a technologist, Juel fostered resilience in the business operations (eventually taking over responsibility for business operations), resilience in the families of employees, and became a board-level tech executive in the process. This is a great example of the great work done in IT finding broader applications and increased value through the creative thought process of a strong leader.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Amala Duggirala has joined USAA as executive vice president and enterprise chief information officer. Founded in 1922 by a group of military officers, USAA is among the leading providers of insurance, banking and investment and retirement solutions to more than 13 million members of the U.S. military. USAA has offices in seven U.S. cities and three overseas locations, with a headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. The company employs more than 37,000 people worldwide.

In her new role, Duggirala will lead a team of 6,000 colleagues, and her purview will include technology, data, security and third-party management. She will be a member of USAA’s executive council, and she will report to the company’s president and chief executive officer Wayne Peacock. USAA was founded in 1922, and Duggirala has been tasked to lead USAA’s technology transformation to strengthen the company for its second century in business.

“Amala is one of the leading strategists in technology, and we are thrilled to leverage her industry expertise and passion for developing people to lead USAA’s technology transformation,” said Peacock. “Her enthusiasm and innovative spirit are the perfect match for USAA as we continue to build innovative products and services for our members and teammates into our second century.”

“I’ve admired USAA for its accomplishments in technology throughout my career, and I look forward to maintaining its reputation as a technology and innovation leader in the financial services industry,” said Duggirala. “It’s my honor to serve the military community as well as our 37,000 employees worldwide.”

Duggirala spent her prior five years at Regions Bank. For the first two years, she was the chief information officer and chief technology officer of the company and for the last nearly three years, she expanded her responsibilities to include over operations as the chief operations and technology officer. In that expanded role, she and her teams had important responsibilities in driving Regions Bank’s fast response in serving communities through the Paycheck Protection Program, a lending program launched by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help entrepreneurs facing unprecedented financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to her time at Regions Bank, Duggirala led technology and product transformations in the fin-tech and telecom industries at companies including Kabbage, ACI Worldwide and British Telecommunications.

Duggirala holds a Master of Science from Columbia University in New York with a specialization in Business and Digital Transformation, as well as a Master of Business Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a certification in Advanced Project Management from Stanford University. She earned her degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from Osmania University in Hyderabad, India.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

As someone who released a book over the past year, I have been keenly aware of the great works of others published in 2021. The many great contributions reflecting rising trends in technology, the acceleration of digital transformation, the sancitity of customer-centricity, and the importance of remaining aware of the relevance of various trends to the evolution of one’s business all were represented across numerous tomes of consequence in the year that has passed. Here are ten that stood out.

AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future, by Kai-Fu Lee

Artificial intelligence is perhaps the most important technology of our time. How will it change the world over the next 20 years? In his latest book, Kai-Fu Lee, author of the bestseller “AI Superpowers” and former head of Google China, provides an immersive vision for how AI will transform aspects of our daily lives.

Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, by Brad Stone

In a follow-up to his 2013 bestseller The Everything Store, Bloomberg News’s Brad Stone offers a perspective on how the company’s innovation and acquisition strategy have propelled it to be the world’s largest e-commerce company.

The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism, by Hubert Joly

As Chairman and CEO of Best Buy from 2012 to 2019, Hubert Joly led the immensely successful transformation of the electronics retailer. In his latest book, The Heart of Business, Hubert gives a look into his philosophy of “human magic” to illustrate how the people of Best Buy created a customer-centric company, and competed successfully against some of the most successful digital native competitors in the process.

Play Nice But Win: A CEO’s Journey from Founder to Leader, by Michael Dell

Successfully navigating a firm through a rapidly changing business landscape requires a good dose of grit and a leader ready to face some setbacks. From dorm-room CEO to leader of a global technology giant, Michael Dell charts the evolution of his eponymous computer company and shares his perspectives on the corporate struggles that defined him as a leader.  

The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society, by Azeem Azhar

We are living through a period of unprecedented technological change, and the pace of change is only accelerating. Azeem Azhar, creator and host of the popular Exponential View newsletter and podcast, explores the widening gap between the pace of change and our ability to adapt, and offers a new framework for understanding the impact of technology on the economy, politics, and the future.

Risk: A User’s Guide, by General Stanley McChrystal and Anna Butrico

General Stanley McChrystal understands risk at his core, having served at the highest ranks of the American military. In recent years as a business consultant, he has advised executives on how best to apply what he has learned on the topic to the business world. He and his co-author, Anna Butrico, define ten dimensions or controls of risk that we can adjust at any given time. The authors provide the mechanics to develop a healthy Risk Immune System to anticipate, identify, analyze and act upon the possibility that things will not go as planned.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, by Adam Grant

To succeed in today’s fast-changing world, we must not only be continuous learners, but also un-learners and re-learners. We must develop this capacity and inclination in ourselves as well as in our teams. In Think Again, Wharton professor and bestselling author Adam Grant gives us tips and tools to question our assumptions, stay curious and develop nimbler and and more flexible mindsets.  

The Age of AI: And Our Human Future, by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher

How will AI transform our society? In this book, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and MIT Schwarzman College of Computing Dean Daniel Huttenlocher explore how economics, politics, security and even knowledge itself is being re-imagined in the age of AI. They draw upon their diverse experiences as a statesman, a CEO, and an academic to highlight the dramatic changes that AI will usher in, ultimately transforming how we all experience reality.

Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, by Kevin Roose

With the rising influence of AI and algorithms, some fear that automation will threaten jobs. In Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose presents a hopeful future where humans can successfully thrive in the AI age, shares what skills are necessary in a world increasingly influenced by algorithms, and argues that we should focus on being more human rather than becoming more like machines. 

The Cloud Revolution: How the Convergence of New Technologies will Unleash the Next Economic Boom and a Roaring 2020s, by Mark P. Mills

There are many pundits who write compellingly about a dystopian future brought on by technology advances run amok, with worries about how companies and the technology they unleash will continue to change our society for the worse. Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute offers a counter-point to that perspective, positing that we are the cusp of a second “roaring ‘20s” brought on by radical advances in three primary technology domains: microprocessors, materials, and machines. Accelerating and enabling all of this is the Cloud, history’s biggest infrastructure, which is itself based on the building blocks of next-generation microprocessors and artificial intelligence. With a historian’s ability to connect dots across the last century as well futurists pluck to articulate big bets on the future, Mills offers perspectives that are worth contemplating.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Another year has passed, and technology and digital remain on the ascent, as companies focus on each as sources of new revenue streams and resilience. The innovations were represented well in a variety of pieces throughout the year. Though it is impossible to fully represent the breadth of that writing, here are ten noteworthy pieces that provide greater context to advances made and issues faced in 2021.

The Cost of Cloud: A Trillion-Dollar Paradox

By Sarah Wang and Martin Casado, a16z.com, May 2021

Sarah Wang and Martin Casado of the venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, argue that while cloud delivers significant value early in a firm’s growth, the costs it puts on the business may eventually outweigh the benefits. While primarily focused on startups, this article has been a useful thought starter for enterprise technology leaders as they continue to explore the long-term business implications of the cloud. 

Why Computers Won’t Make Themselves Smarter

By Ted Chiang, The New Yorker, March 30, 2021

The notion of ‘the singularity’ has been tantalizing the tech community for decades, heralding a future with infinitely powerful artificial intelligence capable of independently improving itself. Even with the phenomenal computing advancements of the 21st century, it seems we are nowhere closer to actualizing this intelligence explosion. Is it truly possible for a computer program to surpass the intelligence of its human creators? Chiang offers an interesting counter-point to those who say yes.

The Technopolar Moment: How Digital Powers Will Reshape the Global Order

By Ian Bremmer, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021

For centuries, nation states have been the primary actor in global affairs, but that is beginning to change as massive technology companies begin to rival them for geopolitical influence. Technology giants are increasingly shaping the global environment and wield tremendous influence over the technologies and services billions of people interact with daily. This piece explores the sovereignty tech giants wield over the digital space and beyond.  

Moore’s Law for Everything,

By Sam Altman, SamAltman.com, March 16, 2021

As the CEO of OpenAI and former President of YCombinator, Sam Altman has a unique perspective on the future of artificial intelligence. In a recent essay, Altman explores the intersection between rapid progress in AI, politics and the economy, including global AI governance, wealth inequality and how AI could change the geopolitical balance of power. He ultimately concludes on an optimistic note, noting that the AI revolution “will generate enough wealth for everyone to have what they need, if we as a society manage it responsibly.”

The Outsider: How CEO-For-Hire Frank Slootman Turned Snowflake Into Software’s Biggest-Ever IPO

By Alex Konrad, Forbes, February 1, 2021

Former ServiceNow CEO Frank Slootman has branded himself as an unstoppable force in the tech industry, leading companies with an iron fist and demanding excellence from his constituents. Taking the reins as Snowflake’s CEO in 2019, Slootman has ignited another aggressive transformation to shift the cloud-based data warehouse to a multifunctional data hub capable of outracing the industry’s largest competitors. In this piece, Alex Konrad unravels Slootman’s playbook for turning Silicon Valley’s next cautionary tale into the fifth largest tech-listing in the United States.

How to Negotiate with Ransomware Hackers 

By Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker, June 7, 2021

This piece offers a clear-eyed look at the evolving cyber extortion industry through the eyes of the rare ransomware negotiation specialist. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a company gets hit with a ransomware attack, this article provides insights into how to fight (or, rather, negotiate).

Students Who Grew Up with Search Engines Might Change STEM Education 

By Monica Chin, The Verge, September 2021

A generational divide in how we use computers is showing up in classrooms around the country. In an age where Google-like search interfaces are ubiquitous, many students today have little knowledge of, or seeming need for, file folders and directories. This is a compact but meaningful story about the confusing, though often humorous, situations brought on by technological progress.

What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson?

By Steve Lohr, New York Times, July 16, 2021

A decade ago, IBM’s Watson supercomputer defeated Ken Jennings, the best human “Jeopardy!” player ever. IBM executives said that their artificial intelligence would transform industries, generate fortunes for the company, and start a technological revolution. In What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson? New York Times Technology Reporter Steve Lohr traces the company’s missteps with Watson that have led IBM to settle on a far less ambitious AI strategy, suggesting that “the march of artificial intelligence through the mainstream economy, it turns out, will be more step-by-step evolution than cataclysmic revolution.”

For an Agile Transformation, Choose the Right People

By Rob Cross, Heidi K. Gardner, Alia Crocker, Harvard Business Review, April 2021

Researchers from Babson College and Harvard Law School find that while Agile methods can improve processes and increase speed to market, many Agile teams are not organized for long-term success. This piece examines where many Agile efforts go wrong and offers a revised approach to building strong Agile teams.

Epic Games Believes the Internet is Broken. This is Their Blueprint to Fix It.

By Gene Park, The Washington Post, September 28, 2021

The ‘social media era’ of the internet has stifled consumer engagement with commerce, leaving users’ brand exploration limited to the interests of social media moguls. Championing the internet’s freedom from exploitative herd advertising, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney lays out his plan for the metaverse, a revolutionary online ecosystem where users and brands can freely collaborate and seamlessly interact to transform the digital consumer experience.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Wesley Story has been named Chief Information Officer of Genesys, a global cloud leader in customer experience orchestration. As CIO, he will balance the day-to-day needs around operational efficiencies and scaling challenges that come from surges of rapid growth with new investments and the build-out of new capabilities that help the company position itself for continued future growth.

The company is going through what it refers to as its “Experience as a Service evolution,” and Story believes that IT has a significant role to play in the transformation to come. “Our Experience as a Service evolution…will be a central area of focus for me,” he said. “That means fostering and supporting our company’s cultural transformation that started a couple of years ago so that it’s genuinely baked into the DNA of our organization. Many companies have ‘values’ that are often printed on the back of their badges, posted on the walls in conference rooms, and perhaps used in annual performance reviews. But that can be a blind spot for an organization when it’s not baked into daily interactions. To me, that’s the goal. Our everyday decisions and behaviors should embody the culture.”             

Genesys’ Experience as a Service is a new business model for the company. It was featured prominently in the announcement of the company’s most recent funding round of $580 million for a valuation of $21 billion. The round was led by Salesforce Ventures.

Story also noted the sanctity of data in this transformation, as data drives customer and market insights, providing a deeper understanding of how customers use Genesys’ products, fostering growth through better insights. “It’s one thing to have the data and perform analytics on it,” he said. “It’s another to be able to action the data by presenting it in the appropriate context for our employees, or, in some cases, use the data in a cognitive model to automate decisioning. Actions like this require intimacy with our cross-functional business processes like quote to cash, acquire to retire, and procure to pay, as well as customer experience metrics and business pain points so we can unlock value.” Story underscored that IT is a critical enabler in this regard, and he noted that IT will continue to forge tight relationships with the various functions and business units.

Story will report to Genesys Chief Financial Officer Brian Swartz, who noted in reference to Story, “Wesley is a proven leader with a deep understanding of business process improvements and building high-performing organizations grounded in customer experience and collaboration. As part of his responsibilities, he’ll work closely with product marketing, product engineering and many other functions as we grow and scale our business.”

Most recently, Story was an Enterprise Strategist at Amazon Web Services (AWS), where he was responsible for providing strategy guidance at the Board of Director, C-suite and IT leadership levels to advise clients on their transformation efforts. Prior to AWS, he was the interim global CIO at Sysco Foods, a leader in food distribution.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

The automobile is one of the most important innovations of the last century. It has not been an unmitigated blessing, however, as it has led to millions of deaths through accidents, and it is among the biggest sources of pollution.

Mamatha Chamarthi is the Software Business and Product Management Leader at Stellantis, a post that she took on in April of 2021. Stellantis was formed in 2021 on the basis of a merger between the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler and the French PSA group. The combined entity has a bit more than $200 billion in annual revenue.

It is refreshing to speak with Chamarthi about the car industry because she does not wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to the issues that the industry has had, just as she is inspired and energized by the role that technology can play in rectifying those issues. “Millions of people are seriously injured every year in car crashes [around the world]. Last year in the U.S., there was a 7% increase [in serious injuries],” she said. She recognizes that autonomous driving is the key to driving down these issues because 95% of the fatalities are due to human error. Her goals is to augment human intelligence to reduce this radically. “There is a bigger, broader purpose and a societal challenge that we are going after with autonomy. That is why the technology industry is also so fascinated with this area of autonomy.”

To solve autonomy requires the development of an ecosystem around Stellantis, and, here again, Chamarthi is part of the solution. “We are creating an ecosystem, partnering with technology companies like Amazon and Waymo,” noted Chamarthi. “We partnered with Waymo for autonomy, and we are also partnering with BMW, another traditional automaker just like us, to create our level two-plus [autonomy, out of five levels ] with enhanced autonomy to level three, which is where your hands are off the steering wheel, your eyes are off the road for some time and your feet are off the accelerator and the brake.” The company has developed adaptive cruise control, emergency braking and Traffic Jam Assist, as three components to help get from level two-plus driving to level three and beyond.

Chamarthi notes the necessity of partnering with pure-play technology companies, as they have technology budgets that dwarf those of automotive companies. A company like Stellantis can offer industry expertise and loyal customers, and technology companies can develop a portfolio of technologies for the Stellantises of the world to leverage as it climbs the rungs toward greater levels of autonomy.

Global warming is another major issue for the automotive industry to solve. Chamarthi admits that transportation is one of the biggest contributor to air pollution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency notes transportation as the third biggest contributing industry to greenhouse gas emissions. Again, she believes digital innovation should drive better outcomes on that front, as well. “We have to find an answer to reducing the carbon footprint because that is part of our responsibility to leave a cleaner, greener planet for future generations,” said Chamarthi. This will be enhanced not only through autonomy, but also through greater levels of electrification and shared mobility.

Chamarthi asked a rhetorical question. “What percentage of the time do we use [a car]? 7% maybe at best. 93% of the time it is sitting on a driveway or in a garage or a parking lot. In our digital economy, what happens with an underutilized asset? We find some creative, innovative ways of using that asset and that is what gave birth to ridehailing shared mobility.” To fill this need, Stellantis launched Free2Move, which provides customers the option to lease or own a mobility experience for a few minutes through to multiple years in duration. This mobility as a service offering will not be limited to Stellantis’ automotive portfolio. The company will provide the products and services to bring this to life for competitors’ portfolios, as well.

Beyond the virtuous aspects of digital innovation, Chamarthi is also excited about the experiences that can be brough to life through the connected automobile. “Can I personalize the driving experience of the customer?,” she asked. By way of example, she noted, “I can provide a Jeep for an off-road trail [for a customer], planning an end-to-end trail experience for my customer.” She likens this to excursions for a cruise line. If a customer signs up for Free2Move, they can have access to multiple vehicles for different kinds of experiences, each with a level of education and curation to make them safe and interesting at the same time.

Prior to her current role, Chamarthi was the Chief Digital Officer and Chief Information Officer of Stellantis. She sees her evolution from CIO and CDO to running a profit center for the company as representative of the ascent of technology and digital across businesses more generally. Increasingly, “Technology is front and center,” she said. “It is exciting to be driving and shaping the automotive industry in these macro trends of autonomy, electrification, connected services and shared mobility. All of them are enabled by software, are all enabled by technology. It only makes complete sense to me that technology leaders are being asked to come lead from the front [rather] than leading from behind.”

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Gartner, Inc. announced its top 12 strategic technology trends for 2022 and beyond. Analysts presented their findings at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2021, held virtually for the second year in a row, due to the pandemic. Gartner Research Vice President David Groombridge emphasized that just as 2020 and parts of 2021 found companies focused on survival, the future will focus on a return to the path toward growth. Just as survival required more creative use of technology, the path to growth will also emphasize creative use of technology, not so surprisingly. Gartner’s strategic technology trends for 2022 and beyond are:

  1. Hyperautomation
  2. Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  3. Data Fabric
  4. AI Engineering
  5. Autonomic Systems
  6. Decision Intelligence
  7. Composable Applications
  8. Cloud-native Platforms (CNPs)
  9. Privacy-enhancing Computation (PEC)
  10. Cybersecurity Mesh
  11. Distributed Enterprise
  12. Total Experience (TX)

Hyperautomation

Automation is a critical ingredient for digital transformation. Hyperautomation suggests a faster path to identifying, vetting, and automating processes across the enterprise. Gartner noted that areas to focus on in order to best accomplish this include improving work quality, hastening the pace of business processes, and fostering nimbleness in decision making.

Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Gartner notes an increase in interest and investment in generative AI in the past year. Generative AI references algorithms that enable using existing content like audio files, images, or text to create new content. Gartner predicts that in the next three and a half years, generative AI will account for 10% of all data produce compared to less than 1% at present. Case examples offered included supporting software development more generally, assisting companies in finding candidates to fill talent shortfalls, and identifying drug candidates more readily.

Data Fabric

Gartner defines data fabric as a design concept that serves as an integrated layer (fabric) of data and connecting processes. This fosters resilient and flexible integration of data across business users and platforms. The upshot is that it can reduce data management efforts substantially while dramatically improving time to value.

AI Engineering

The staying power and lasting value from AI investments have been mixed across many companies. An issue is that some companies deploy an AI model once and expect that value will accrue in perpetuity, Gartner notes that sustained efforts and model evolution must be driven to gain more from these investments. Groombridge noted that AI engineering adoption should lead to three times more value for AI efforts.  

Autonomic Systems

Although it is early days in the life of autonomic systems, the next half-decade should yield increased value from it. “Autonomic systems with in-built self-learning can dynamically optimize performance, protect [companies] in hostile environments, and make sure that they’re constantly dealing with new challenges,” Groombridge noted. This trend anticipates greater levels of self-management of software.

Decision Intelligence (DI)

Decision intelligence aims to model decisions in a repeatable way to make them more efficient and to hasten the speed to value. It anticipates doing so through automation that enhances human intelligence. Gartner predicts that in the next two years, one-third of large enterprises will use DI for better and more structured decision-making.

Composable applications

The idea of composable applications highlights that the functional blocks of an application can be decoupled from the overall applications. The component parts can be more finely tuned to create a new application that is of greater value than its monolithic predecessor. Gartner notes that companies that leverage composable applications can outpace their competition by 80% regarding new feature implementation.

Cloud-native platforms (CNPs)

Gartner believes that cloud-native platforms, which leverage cloud technology’s essence to offer IT-related capabilities as a service for technologists, will provide the foundation for most new digital initiatives by mid-decade.

Privacy-enhancing computation (PEC)

Privacy has been an increasingly important concern and priority across the business landscape. Privacy-enhancing computation can protect a company’s and its customers’ sensitive data, protecting the confidentiality of data. Gartner hypothesizes that this is a pathway to maintain customer loyalty by decreasing privacy-related issues and cybersecurity events, and it believes that roughly 60% of large enterprises will leverage these practices by 2025.

Cybersecurity mesh

Cybersecurity mesh is a form of architecture that provides an integrated approach to security IT assets no matter their location. It provides a more standardized and responsive approach to cybersecurity by redefining the perimeters of cybersecurity to the identity of a person or a thing. This is a pathway to reduce the financial implications of cyber incidents by 90% in less than two years, according to Gartner.

Distributed enterprise

Gartner is a believer in the value of the hybrid approach to work, believing that those who enable it fully will achieve 25% faster revenue growth than peer companies who do not. This model allows employees to work in a geographically distributed fashion, opening up new pathways for talent acquisition.

Total experience (TX)

The pandemic has certainly led to an evolution, and in some cases a revolution in customer and employee experience, especially as it pertains to the digital versions of each. By managing each effectively, enterprises should drive better outcomes. Gartner suggests that natural silos relative to innovating around the customer, employee, and user experiences must be broken down so that a more holistic approach might be achieved.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Most companies of consequence have a chief information officer. Many others have chief technology officers, who might be the heads of product and engineering for a tech-centric company, or, for some non-tech sector companies, might be the heads of infrastructure or tech-savvy leaders reporting to less technical chief information officers. A growing number of companies have chief digital officers, as well, often signaling the need to have an executive oversee digital transformation efforts exclusively. There are examples where the top tech and digital chief has one or a combination of these titles. The combination of all three roles for three separate executives occurs less frequently, needless to say, but less frequent still are examples of companies with execs with these three titles each of whom report to the chief executive officer. One such company is Johnson Controls.

Johnson Controls is a 136-year-old, Milwaukee-based company that develops products and services that enhance the intelligence of buildings to the tune of nearly $30 billion in annual revenue. Mike Ellis is the company’s chief customer and digital officer, adding customer responsibilities to the CDO title. He joined Johnson Controls in October 2019. Diane Schwarz is the company’s chief information officer, who joined the company in August of 2020. Finally, Vijay Sankaran is the company’s chief technology officer, and he joined the company in May 2021.

Ellis describes his role as chief customer and digital officer as deciphering the impact of the company’s efforts on customers, engaging them to understand what is most important to them. The goal is to innovate in collaboration with them, identifying ideas that will make a difference in their operations. Additionally, Ellis is responsible for digital product innovation and enterprise marketing, as the CMO reports through to him.

Schwarz has been a CIO multiple times over at companies like Hunt Consolidated and Textron. She has what she refers to as the traditional CIO purview of infrastructure, applications, and websites. Beyond that, she owns the customer experience, including “how our employee operates with all of our applications, how they get the day-to-day job done,” she noted. Schwarz added, “Mike owns the customer’s experience with our products, but then when you have the overlap of the Venn diagram, as the customers interact with portals, billing and how to schedule a ticket for field service; that’s where it goes back into the CIO responsibilities. It’s not, black and white to say that everything the customer interacts with Johnson Controls is under Mike’s umbrella. We have to navigate what really is the product experience versus the application experience.”

Sankaran has also been a CIO previously at TD Ameritrade, where he also ran an innovation program for the company. He oversees products for Johnson Controls. “When we think about product, it’s really the game-changing part of what’s going on in our industry right now – the software part of that product,” he said. “[We work on building] the right thing and build the thing right. My focus is all around building the thing right and building out a world-class digital software engineering organization at Johnson Controls.” His team’s focus is on edge Internet of Things (IoT) through a software and data platform called Open Blue. It is a platform that allows Johnson Controls’ customers to drive energy efficiency and sustainability by managing their spaces, smart buildings and then applying artificial intelligence [AI] and machine learning [ML] to be able to generate those insights. This creates a closed-loop so that we fully get to the smart autonomous buildings.

“We’re building the software and all the connectors and the data structures and the AI models in my new organization to support that and work closely with Mike around the customer needs and experiences, and closely with Diane’s organization around the broader ecosystem of service and support and infrastructure and cybersecurity to make sure that the pieces that overlap in that Venn diagram come together seamlessly,” noted Sankaran.

The group that now reports to Sankaran to bring this to life used to partially report to Ellis, who recognized the value in unifying the edge software engineering capabilities together with the integrated Open Blue platform. This has proven to be a strategic differentiator for the company. Sankaran has accelerated Ellis’ vision by implementing the scaled agile framework across the group to accelerate speed to market.

Schwarz noted that a key to determining where one’s responsibilities begin and the next one’s ends boils down to solid communications both informal and formal. “We absolutely get that we need to work productively on figuring out the handoffs and providing clarity to our teams,” said Schwarz. “[We are] a company going through a huge transformational shift to become digital to the core. The kinds of problems that we’re solving are new to the organization.”

When asked about the formal structures in place to facilitate the forging of strong bonds across the company, Schwarz offered the example of cybersecurity. There is an enterprise cybersecurity group, which reports to her, and there is a product cybersecurity team that reports to Sankaran. Though there is some overlap between what they do, they are distinct disciplines. Schwarz and her enterprise chief information security officer (CISO) attend Sankaran’s product cybersecurity briefings, and likewise, Sankaran and his CISO attend Schwarz’s enterprise cybersecurity briefings. This is indicative of a broader desire to keep each other informed especially in the areas where roles overlap.

Ellis notes that the approach Johnson Controls has taken in defining these roles and responsibilities has facilitated the 136-year-old company moving from industrial speed to the speed of a software company. It speaks volumes as to the company’s commitment to a digital future that it has three leaders of such consequence reporting to the CEO of the company. To have that degree of digital sophistication represented at the executive level bodes well for the company to accomplish its goal of becoming digital to the core.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.