Monthly Archives: February 2019

Innovation reboot: Small, practical digital transformation initiatives preferred

 

By Tim Scannell, Director of Strategic Content, CIO Executive Council | NOV 29, 2018 2:30 AM PT

Innovation remains one of the key drivers of digital transformation, but today’s initiatives may be smaller and more targeted.

While corporate-wide innovation labs and blue-sky hack-a-thons were all the rage over the past few years, the coming trend for many companies might be innovation with intent and smaller, more pragmatic projects that have significantly less glitz and glamour but a better chance of success.

Innovation plays a key role in driving digital transformation in business today. Everyone knows that, right?

Nearly 90 percent of the IT leaders who took part in the 2018 State of the CIO Survey, released earlier this year, admit the CIO role is becoming more focused on both digital initiatives and innovation. Dig a little deeper into the study, and you’ll find that 37 percent of the top IT heads point to innovation as a way to identify which parts of the business can be transformed using digital technologies.

No doubt the results of the coming 2019 State of the CIO research, to be presented in a January CIO Executive Council webcast, will show similar and more supportive figures when it comes to the adoption and use of innovative technologies and tactics in the enterprise. Clearly, innovation is a top line item when it comes to technology and business investments.

Before you carve out a piece of your 2019 budget for innovative activities, however, you should be aware of one thing: The definitions for innovation, as well as the scale of projects, have changed considerably over the past couple of years. Those show-stopping company-wide epics that were exemplified by such companies as Toyota Financial Services (TFS) and its hack-a-thons, internal competitions, and dedicated innovation lab have shifted somewhat south in favor of smaller single-spotlight productions.

Where before the effort was to innovate to the max, today’s initiatives are more likely to be more modest and lean toward innovating with intent. In short, a lot of the smart budget money will be spent on projects that are framed with a more thoughtful and even surgical approach to innovation.

“I tend to take a more pragmatic view and try not to get bogged down in big initiatives that get your name in the paper, but nothing ever happens,” notes Ed Winfield, who has been the CIO for Maricopa County, Arizona, for little less than a year and is a passionate advocate for small and more meaningful approaches to innovation.

ed winfield photo Maricopa County, Arizona
Ed Winfield, CIO for Maricopa County, Arizona

While he may sound a bit folksy at times, Winfield is no rube when it comes to digital transformation and the ins and outs of championing IT initiatives in state and local governments. Previously, he was CIO for Wayne County, Michigan, the 19th-most populous county in the nation that includes the city of Detroit. While there, Winfield orchestrated an upgrade from an aging legacy system to cloud-based systems and deployed more data analytics to help state services run more efficiently — all under the cloud of tight budgets and economically challenged environment. In fact, these efforts and results were acknowledged when Winfield was recognized as a 2016 Top 25 Doer, Dreamer and Driver by a respected government IT online publication.

The challenges at his new post are no less daunting, since Maricopa County is the fourth largest U.S. county by population and one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. Rather than jumping on the smart cities bandwagon and pitching high-speed fiber and pervasive wireless connections for every nook and cranny of the county, Winfield prefers to take a breath, listen closely to his constituents, and focus on small projects that are scaled to deliver positive but sometimes less dramatic results.

“I don’t view what we’re trying to do in becoming a digital county as some type of massive endeavor,” Winfield explains. “We can make significant forward progress with small innovation projects.”

However, the county does have a range of ongoing projects that look at such things as smart highways, smart traffic light management, and other smart initiatives that are interesting. There is a group called the Institute for Digital Progress that looks at innovation from a regional business perspective as it tries to position the county and surrounding areas as a “smart region.”

Even before the ink had a chance to dry on his new business cards, Winfield mapped out a plan for an all-digital county that serves as an umbrella over a series of small and more-targeted projects that will be rolled out over the next few years that will collectively move the entire county from the restrictions of paper-based tangibility to a more flexible digital world.

“At the end of a three-year period, I would rather look back and say we knocked out a lot of small projects that really made a difference to the way we operate and potentially the way people interact with the county via web services or mobile tools,” he says.

That is exactly what Winfield is doing as he connects with different departments to plan for internal productivity improvements that include eliminating paper forms and moving toward digital signatures and online approvals. He also wants to improve the online services available to the residents of Maricopa County. In addition, plans are in the works to revamp the court system, both to eliminate paper and create an online dispute resolution system and totally automate case management.

Practical innovation

The trend toward more practical innovation is apparently catching on. In its 2019 predictions for enterprise digital transformation, Forrester Research notes that while business leaders championed large-scale initiatives in 2018, many of which focused on customer experience, efforts this coming year will shift to more pragmatic and smaller surgical initiatives. Purpose will become strategic priority, given the complexity and cost of larger and more expansive projects.

IT organizations and business stakeholders should strive to embrace the minimum viable product when it comes to innovation projects, says Mihai Strusievici, director of information technology, North America for Colliers International, a global real estate services company, in an earlier Digital Divide column. He advises other leaders not to pitch one or two large and expensive innovation initiatives that typically eat up a significant chunk of a budget due to their complexity and scope. Instead, spend money on a variety of smaller innovation efforts that are more focused and may have a higher chance for success or conversely have far less of a negative impact should one or two fail.

“Don’t only look for the big idea,” adds Pradip Sitaram, senior vice president and CIO at Enterprise Community Partners, an organization that brings together people and resources to create affordable housing and thriving communities for low- and moderate-income people. Instead of always looking for the home run, he says, making use of a baseball analogy, “you keep hitting a bunch of singles and doubles, and with the runs you get from those, you can achieve the amazing results.”

pradip sitaram photo Enterprise Community Partners
Pradip Sitaram, SVP and CIO at Enterprise Community Partners

A few years ago, for example, the business team and Pradip decided to automate the way people in the organization checked the performance parameters in their real estate portfolio to ensure compliance and efficiency. The tools used were able to quickly identify exceptions to the established parameters that fell outside established business rules that dictated a certain level of risk tolerance and boil the results down to a much more manageable subset of properties. While a great innovative first step, Pradip and team decided to piggyback on that success and take it a step further to see what innovation possibilities might be lurking outside the fancy technology and algorithms.

The solution was to empower the business stakeholders to proactively change the rules used by the tools to check against the parameters, without having to rely on IT to field suggestions and then make the changes. To do this, a system was designed that allowed business to insert rule updates into the system, which then created new logic to check against performance parameters across the company’s real estate portfolio.

“We didn’t set out to do something innovative,” explains Pradip. “All we did was empower people to use these tools more efficiently, with a different mindset.”

While he doesn’t see anything wrong with large-scale innovation labs from a culture-building and even a marketing standpoint, Pradip does not think highly visible efforts like this really drive grassroots innovation. For him, the recipe is simple: When things get tough, the tough get innovative.

The key to innovation is your mindset, he adds. It’s your willingness to think differently, to take a risk and try some new process or technology, and to see the world differently and not simply conform to established practices.

“I think some of the great motivating factors for innovation are constraints,” Pradip points out. “When you have budget constraints, when you have resource constraints, when you have time constraints.”

Constraints are not restrictions or barriers, but a gift, he says. “If you have constraints, you’re forced to think out of the box, to think innovatively and say, ‘How can I best make use of the limited resources that I have in time, money, and people to come up with good solutions?’”

To encourage, foster, and sustain an innovation culture, organizations and executives must understand and accept that every experiment will not succeed; every innovation exercise will not result in a revenue generating product or operating efficiencies, Pradip points out, adding that you will likely fail more than you succeed. Every exercise will deliver valuable learnings.

“As long as there is a culture that accepts that it’s OK to test and learn — to fail fast and learn quick — then teams will be more likely to venture out of their safe zone and the magic can happen,” he says.

Technology and the changing business and consumer cultures

While more restrictive budgets and the push to do more with less has a lot to do with the emphasis on more surgical and pragmatic approaches to innovation, the shift in business and consumer cultures due to the pervasive use of technology has also played a key role.

People, in general, have a different posture and cultural understanding of technology and what it can do, since it saturates their public and private lives, explains Winfield. Years ago, conversations on technology adoption and use around the topic might center on the impact — good or bad — on a person’s life or continued employment. Today, it is all about leveraging technology in small and incremental ways — whether it is cyber banking, online shopping, or eliminating a tedious task in the office.

“People are able to converse and maybe see how something might work and I think that’s the spirit of it,” Winfield says.

In this new world of practical “baby steps,” is there still some wiggle room for larger-scale projects and maybe a hack-a-thon or two as part of the overall innovation effort? Absolutely, says Winfield.

“We’re just getting underway, and I’m starting on the fringes, so we’ve got enough to do here in the short-term,” he says. However, “I’m not close-minded about the idea of some type of gathering or larger effort, but we’ve got to consider how it would move us forward.”

Pradip agrees, noting that hack-a-thons are useful because they usually establish constraints in time and the number of team members, which are great motivators. However, you won’t find more-structured corporate-led innovation labs and internal think tanks on his to-do list.

 

[ Learn the 6 secrets of highly innovative CIOs and how your CIO peers are defining and driving innovation today. | Get the latest leadership advice by signing up for CIO Leader newsletter. ]

Infographic: The death of passwords

Enterprises need to start preparing for a future without traditional passwords, according to LoginRadius.

 

By Alison DeNisco Rayome, Senior Editor – TechRepublic | February 8, 2019, 4:00 AM PST

Enterprises trying to keep customer data safe struggle with weak links in traditional authentication methods and employee practices, according to a recent infographic from LoginRadius.

Most people fall into one of two categories: They use one password for every account, or they use a slightly different password for every account. However, neither of these approaches are very effective, the infographic noted. While 10 years ago, people only had to keep track of a password for email and banking, today, the average business user must keep track of nearly 200 passwords.

Companies including Microsoft are making moves to replace traditional passwords with biometrics and security keys. Others are beginning to realize that commonly accepted methods for creating strong passwords are not actually effective.

SEE: Password Policy (Tech Pro Research)

Here is the full infographic:

the-death-of-passwords-v01-02.jpg
Image: LoginRadius

What to Expect: Top 2019 HR Tech Trends

By Dave Zielinski, Owner, Skiwood Communications and Contributing Writer to SHRM – January 8, 2019

 

In 2019 HR will see growing adoption of “nudge-based” technology designed to encourage productive employee behaviors, more scrutiny of artificial intelligence tools and increased use of specialized “point” systems, according to technology industry experts who spoke with SHRM Online.

The new year also will see organizations continue to transition their core HR systems to the cloud and employ more AI-driven technologies to automate communication between HR and employees.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

Here are the top technology trends experts expect to continue or emerge as HR turns the page to 2019:

‘Show Me’ Approach to Artificial Intelligence (AI)

HR technology leaders will become more diligent about keeping tabs on vendors’ AI tools, experts believe. The increased scrutiny will be due in part to highly-publicized cases like that at Amazon, where a home-grown recruiting algorithm was found to discriminate against women.

“We will see some push back on machine learning and AI next year [such as] testing its effectiveness and searching for potential bias,” said Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics for Alpharetta, Ga.-based HR research firm Sierra-Cedar. “With more organizations leveraging machine learning next year, there’ll be more data and examples on how any biases might be showing up.”

Sarah Brennan, founder and chief advisor of Milwaukee, Wis.-based HR consulting and research firm Accelir, said it’s important that buyers of AI tools look beyond vendor promises to ensure they’re getting products that do what they claim they can do.

“Don’t get caught up in the marketing hype,” Brennan said. “Make sure you ask vendors about their validation studies and use cases, because those with legitimate AI applications won’t hesitate to provide them.”

Sea Change in Engagement Measurement

Organizations are transforming how they measure employee engagement, and technology will continue to evolve to support that shift, experts say.

“We expect 2019 to be the first year that more organizations use nontraditional, technology-based listening techniques than they do the companywide annual survey to measure engagement,” said Brian Kropp, group vice president of the HR practice at research and advisory firm Gartner.

That development represents a significant change from just three years ago. In 2015 a Gartner study found 89 percent of medium-to-large organizations were using an enterprisewide annual survey to assess engagement, while only 30 percent were using nontraditional methods like analyzing employee movement data—tracking where employees spend their time via technology embedded in ID badges—or computer usage data that tracks how employees use e-mail, internal collaboration networks, websites and more.

“Companies have become more comfortable with scraping across employees’ calendars and e-mails to get a better understanding of current sentiment and organizational culture with the goal of improving engagement levels,” Kropp said.

Brennan believes engagement platforms will see the highest adoption rates among all HR technology categories next year. “For the first time there are good engagement technologies available for companies of all sizes and at all price points,” she said.

Rise of ‘Nudge-based’ Technologies

Kropp said HR technologies that suggest certain behaviors will grow in popularity in 2019. One such technology can monitor employee activity at a computer workstation. “It might send a message saying, ‘You have been at your desk for X amount of time and it appears you’re losing focus, so now might be a good time to get up and go for a short walk,’ ” Kropp said.

An example is Cultivate, software works as a digital coach for managers. It analyzes data from e-mail, internal collaboration systems and calendars to assess how managers spend their time interacting with direct reports. The tool then uses machine learning to give managers suggestions for how they might improve their team’s performance, such as spending more time with certain employees.

Rachel Ernst, vice president of employee success at vendor Reflektive, said there’s also an ongoing movement to embed performance management within the flow of daily work.

“The technology can now send automatic nudges to managers to remind them to give feedback to employees as well as deliver short videos to provide guidance on how to conduct review discussions or give effective recognition,” she said. “This keeps HR from having to send regular e-mail to managers to remind them of these essential tasks.”

Growing Importance of the HRIT Role

Sierra-Cedar’s 2018-2019 HR Systems industry survey found the role of the human resource information technology (HRIT) specialist is growing in strategic importance and Harris expects that trend to continue. In cloud environments these roles are 1.5 times more likely to be responsible for data security and technology configuration decisions than IT or functional roles, the survey found.

Harris said that it’s important for the HR staff to have specialized IT roles, even as other functions like finance or marketing don’t, “because HR touches everyone in a company and HR deals with more data privacy and integration issues than most other disciplines in the company.”

Faster Migration of Core HR Systems to the Cloud

A 2018 study from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 75 percent of surveyed companies now have at least one HR process in the cloud. Forty percent have core HR systems like an HR management system there, said Dan Staley, a global HR technology leader with PwC. Another 26 percent of respondents said they planned to move a core system to the cloud in the next one to three years.

“Moving a core system to the cloud is a barometer of how serious organizations are about that technology,” Staley said. “Large organizations with complex requirements like international payroll or union populations have resisted moving core systems to the cloud in the past because they felt the technology wasn’t mature enough. But with cloud products having proven themselves over the past decade, companies are now moving there en masse.”

Renewed Interest in ‘Point’ Solutions

More organizations will consider adding “point” or specialized technology solutions to their portfolios in 2019. These systems address individual areas of HR like recruiting, performance management or engagement and are often the target of innovation from small or emerging vendors. Brennan believes popular ones will be talent acquisition systems, chatbot applications for recruiting and answering employees’ HR-related questions, and engagement platforms.

“Few of the full-suite vendors have invested in the talent acquisition portion of their suites in the same manner as point system providers,” she said.

Point systems can now be more quickly integrated with broader talent management suites by using application programming interfaces (APIs). “Integrations that used to take six to nine months now take six to nine days with the right APIs,” Brennan said.

‘Push’ Recommendations from AI

The accelerating application of AI to workforce data will allow relevant information to “find” employees at the point of need, experts say. Cristina Goldt, vice president of HCM products at Workday, said AI will enable simpler navigation of learning and development options as well as easier execution of tasks like onboarding, benefits selection and IT service ticketing.

For example, Goldt said, a newly-promoted sales manager might benefit from this type of AI by being “pushed” recommended learning content for leadership training, suggested workplace connections and a list of potential mentors that went through similar transitions; a set of onboarding tasks that direct her to set up sales targets, enter forecasts and review the pipeline in a customer relationship management system; and a snapshot of team members to help her get to know them better.

Learning, Performance and Career Planning Converge

Vendors in the learning, performance management and career planning markets will “play more in each other’s spaces,” said Dani Johnson, co-founder and principal analyst of Red Thread Research, a HR research and advisory firm in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“We’re seeing more learning vendors get into performance and more performance and career vendors operate in the learning market,” Johnson said. “One reason for the convergence is it’s hard to develop someone effectively unless you already know where they stand in regard to their performance and career plans.”

Johnson said there’s also a growing number of content-based point solutions in the learning market designed to integrate with internal communication platforms like Slack. “It’s about taking learning to employees rather than make them come to the learning,” she said.

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.