As we enter into a new year I’ve been thinking about the advice I’d give to a business leader on the opportunity to fully leverage technology to change the way they engage their customers, employees, and vendors. In the same way, if you are a person engaged in the technology field, these movements are likely the ones you want to be involved in, or are helping drive.
- Measurable Impact from AI/ML. In every technology we have a hype period, then a cooling off, then see practical impacts driven by hard work and a robust understanding of the technology. We’re seeing that with AI/ML and the results are tangible changes to the ways businesses operate. I’ve seen many business leaders incorrectly see AI as a passing fad or too theoretical to achieve meaningful benefits. I believe this understanding is the result of (1) the lack of understanding of the sub-categories of AI/ML, (2) the lack of ability to align AI capabilities to organizational problems, and (3) a lack of capability to push through organizational politics to achieve the outcome desired. The categories of AI span from human-machine interaction to solving complex math problems to research. There are both mind-bending futures and practical opportunities right in front of us. A podcast I highly recommend to start understanding the depth of this space is TWIML AI. This is the area to be investing your business impact dollars in, as the immediate practical benefits are there for the taking.
- Company Product Re-Invention. The companies I’m engaging are doing one of two things, re-inventing their products, or going out of business… perhaps slowly… but still going out of business. The need for your technology investment to be focused on your core business is greater than ever. If your core business is not competitive, capable, serving your customers, and disrupting, someone else will do it to you and you’ll be on the outside looking in. This often requires standing up independent operating businesses capable of disrupting the core business. It also requires you to look beyond the initial asks from your customer regarding what they already buy from you. Many companies have customers that have purchased a product year over year and will ask for feature enhancements or adjustments. Those customer asks often will not guide you toward the disruption necessary to win the next market. The gap that exists between value creation and value destruction is much larger than that. A good place to start is with Clayton Christensen’s concepts. Another place to start re-imaginging your own business is ALT, which talks about some interesting concepts of how technology is changing the world.
- Security. 2019 saw many security incidents that could have been mitigated if the appropriate attention, structure, and technologies were applied to address the gaps. I just recently recorded a security deep dive interview on Beer 30 that addresses how to improve the security posture or most organizations. The majority of enterprise organizations that have had very significant security incidents in the last year spent money on security, they thought they had solid practices, and even had security teams. The biggest change a company can make to mitigate security threats is to architect to a zero-trust model. This means devices aren’t on a “corp-net” and don’t trust each other, any more than they’d trust a public device. This means that applications are isolated from each other. This means that identities are guarded and protected with many means of authentication. Until the appropriate architectural changes are made to mitigate lateral movement, we’ll continue to see major security incidents with regularity. We’ll always see minor security incidents, it’s whether we protect against spread that makes the difference. Are you the titanic, or do you have an environment that successfully isolates threats are a matter or course, vs. something that needs to be actively done.
- Ubiquity of Process Automation. We’ve seen enterprise process automation before, but never to the extent to which it’s becoming a commodity capability within the enterprise. There are (and likely should be) centralized efforts focused on “robotic process automation”, but even more we’re seeing dramatic uptick in regular-old-business users leveraging RPA or low-code app technologies to become “makers” themselves. Much of this is due to platforms like Power Apps / Power Platform that are spreading like a wildfire throughout the enterprise and leaving benefits in their wake. My advice here is to build a CoE around getting this started and get out of the business’s way, with the exception of applying governance around the data, exposure, etc. to help them to follow appropriate practices.
- Datacenter Migration. If 2019 was the year companies started fully enabling cloud foundations, 2020 will be the year they really start putting the foot on the gas pedal. I’m seeing three different types of companies right now… (1) those that say “the cloud is just someone else’s computer”, (2) those that are enabling new applications only and leaving the existing datacenter alone, (3) those that are assertively targeting a cloud-first strategy that involved the entire estate, with an understanding of the persistent hybrid-cloud. Be part of the third group and do it now. We need to enable new application innovation with modern applications, containers, AI, etc. AND we need to modernize and move the legacy environment. Don’t maintain the boat anchor of the datacenter and please do not write another extended datacenter contract. This isn’t about lease vs. buy… it’s about approaches… the cloud-centric approach to delivering, operating, executing and the legacy approach. They are not compatible and the time to move is now.
- Innovation Management. Do you have a process for gathering ideas, understanding what they are, and applying ROI to the measurable outcome of each? The lack of this competency is one of the major reasons companies don’t make progress in their Digital Strategy objectives. Remember that every effort in the innovation space must be tied to direct impact on the business’s mission to serve its customers through its employees and partners. The best companies have a smart process and smart people. Having only one of these will result in stunted outcomes. The combination of both results in the execution you crave that can be measured. We’ve seen technologies like ServiceNow move into serving this market, understanding that many of the ways IT has interacted with the business historically are aging and less relevant.
- Workplace Intelligence. What if I could understand more about how my employees spend their time and optimize the patterns of my workplace to make them more effective? We look at long meetings, reoccuring meetings, ineffective relationships, etc. and think… “that’s just how it is here”. The strong leader looks at this and finds an opportunity to transform the workplace by addressing those same gaps and changing the culture. Yes, it’s hard to do, but it also has the opportunity to provide the greatest payoff and will positively impact the mission of every business. Technologies like Workplace Analytics are just one example of platforms whose goal is to provide this level of insights. Information sets us free to do better, this is an effort worth chasing in 2020.
- Ethics and Tech for Good. Never before have ethics been at the forefront of the technology industry like they are now. This is the result of how technology has integrated into every aspect of our lives. The need and capability to apply Ethics to our usage of technology is not a “nice to have”, but a “must have” in any technology project, especially those that have significant impact. An example of the application of ethics into a platform technology is given in my talk Ethics of AI at Microsoft Ignite. The topic of ethics is both a positive (doing good) and negative (preventing evil) and we can seek both in our projects. A recently worked with a company that not only considered AI ethics in their initiative as a base need, but even-more built on it to enable individuals with cognitive disabilities through AI for Good efforts. This focus has led to tech advancements that influence the entire industry as well as direct business goals.
- Commodity Tech. The continued movement toward commodity tech, especially in services traditionally delivered by a centralized IT department will accelerate. The trend to “get out of the IT business” is real and it’s primary driver is the comfort level that most individuals have with technology. Think of how an individual purchases a smart phone, connects it to work, is governed in some way, but ultimately is managing their device themselves. This trend will continue and anyone in a commodity job will find themselves on the lower end of the value scale. Use 2020 to own your direction and the direction of your company. Want personal directional advice? Check out Don Jones’s “Be the Master“.
- CX, or Customer Experience. The investment of the end-to-end experience a customer has when they interact with our company is often called CX, or as Gartner calls it, “Multi-experience”. The idea that I might start the journey at one part of the story, pause, enter in somewhere else, pause, and finish somewhere else. All of the parts of the story should feel integrated, though appropriate for their setting. For instance, if you are ordering a cup of coffee from Starbucks off the App, you’d expect a Premium App experience, and then when picking it up, you’d expect a similar Premium experience, not to be fed out of a vending machine. The experience from start to finish needs to feel right. This is the intersection of Digital Agency, Marketing, Product Development. It’s why we’re seeing whole new types of companies starting up with a focus on the future of business, while integrating marketing, branding, and technology concepts. We need to be equal parts designer, ideator, and technologist as we think about the new and transformed space.
These trends will substantially impact the tech industry in 2020 and if companies focus on them their products and employee experiences will be transformed for the better.