By Monica Mehta
Leading CIOs in every industry around the world are experimenting with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), chatbots, blockchain, and natural-language processing (NLP). Gartner’s 2017 CIO Agenda Report established that one of the differentiating practices of a high-performing business is focusing investments on moving the technology core forward and testing emerging technologies.
As the CIO of one of those successful businesses, Motorola Corporate Vice President and CIO Greg Meyers calls technologies such as AI “the fourth generation of change” in industry, after the invention of mechanical power, the advent of electricity, and the development of digital systems.
“You can’t just ignore it because of what could go wrong,” says Meyers. “You’ve got to adopt it and understand it, because it’s something that can provide tremendous commercial value. The more people understand it, the better it will be, and the more we will be able to manage it.”
Adoption of these new technologies can seem daunting, but the CIOs featured in this article are comfortable with taking on the challenge. These technology leaders suggest four main strategies enterprises should keep in mind when approaching emerging technologies: focus on the customer experience, be strategic in implementing the technology for specific business problems, develop the right team and culture for innovation, and ensure that your infrastructure is modernized and ready.
Start with the Customer
Every CIO interviewed prioritized one strategy when thinking about implementing emerging technologies: focus on the customer experience. Scott Dillon, executive vice president, CTO, and head of enterprise information technology at the global banking and financial services company Wells Fargo, says companies need to start by understanding their customers’ expectations and needs.
“Everything we think about is driven by the customer experience—enabling that customer to do business the way they want to do it to get the experience they’re driving to,” says Dillon. “And so the technology we look at, and how we evaluate it, starts and ends with that lens.”
Yogesh Malik, group chief technology officer at VEON, a global telecommunications provider headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, is looking specifically at AI and NLP as keys to a better customer experience. VEON has already introduced chatbots with customers in Russia and some surrounding countries.
“How can I make the end consumer’s life easier? We are taking AI and language processing to the next level in practical applications and simplifying our interface with customers,” says Malik.
Motorola’s Meyers says the consumerization of IT has put pressure on CIOs to make their companies’ IT more modern—both internally and externally. “The next generation of employees as well as customers are demanding that IT no longer be a back-office function—it’s very much in the front office and plays a big role in customer experience,” he says.
If you're transparent about what’s happening and create a safe atmosphere for experimentation, over time people will feel comfortable adopting these new technologies.”–Greg Meyers, Corporate Vice President and CIO, Motorola
Meyers says the customers of Motorola, an American data communications and telecommunications equipment provider, are looking for devices that allow them to communicate as well as share data and intelligence. Motorola is working on a voice-recognizing chatbot that can participate in a two-way talk group, so that a police officer or firefighter can interact with a chatbot when checking a license plate or identifying a person. Using AI and voice in this way would speed up the relay of information and free up resources in the command center to perform nonroutine tasks.
Wells Fargo’s Dillon says that when thinking about technologies such as machine learning or IoT, many technology leaders get lost in the “shiny object” and follow the “trend of the moment.” Instead, he says, evaluate the technology to find an outcome that leverages it.
For Wells Fargo, these outcomes include making the customer experience frictionless, automating routine business processes to cut costs, and providing better fraud detection. “Since day one, we’ve been making sure that our work is purpose-driven from the business,” he says.
Motorola’s Meyers links the technology to a business issue. “Try to get underneath a known problem in the organization today—for instance, forecast accuracy—and be strategic about finding the solution,” he says.
Everything we think about is driven by the customer experience—enabling that customer to do business the way they want to. And so the technology we look at, and how we evaluate it, starts and ends with that lens.”–Scott Dillon, Executive Vice President and CTO, Wells Fargo
One of the most pressing problems for one of Motorola’s most important customer segments—law enforcement—is the identification of missing children. Using AI technology, the company is developing wearable cameras that can use image detection to match faces with a database of children that have been reported missing. The AI system could push images, stored in the cloud, to the camera as a police officer walks around an area, alerting the officer if there is a match.
Another major concern for law enforcement is the safety of police officers. To solve that problem, Motorola is using IoT technology to work on a system of sensors for law enforcement firearms. The physical sensors can detect when a gun has been pulled out of a holster and the officer’s heartrate is elevated. The system then sends a message that automatically turns on the officer’s wearable camera and streams the video back to the command center in real time. This would eliminate the need for officers to place a call for additional help, and it would also send backup resources faster and provide automatic video footage of the incident for legal and training purposes.
A Seedbed for Innovation
VEON’s Malik says the first step to successfully introducing new technologies into the business is developing the right people and culture. VEON is actively searching for new talent with skills in AI and machine learning. Beyond that, he says, “we are constantly thinking about the question, how do we build a culture that can embrace these new technologies?”
Indeed, the role of the CIO and IT has changed drastically over the past few years, as IT becomes a business partner. All three CIOs agree that companies must recruit and develop IT leaders and staff who are able to straddle both worlds.
“As a technology-enabled organization, our product is now defined by our technical pace, so the technology leaders must truly understand the business as well as go deep in technology,” Wells Fargo’s Dillon says. “We have to be proactive in bringing solutions that improve the business, be strategic in presenting and implementing them, and then communicate and deliver. It’s challenging, but you have to be at the table from the beginning—not just when things go wrong or you have to discuss budget.”
Other key aspects of creating a culture that embraces innovation and new technologies are embracing a “test and learn” strategy and creating a structure that fosters experimentation. Both Wells Fargo and Motorola have a head of innovation who leads a team that is specifically responsible for accelerating each company’s delivery of next-generation technologies. These teams are constantly experimenting with pilot programs that bring these new technologies to solve problems within the business.
Motorola is experimenting with chatbots and machine learning to handle help-desk tickets, and with proactive AI that can sense issues before they become a problem. For example, if a device has low memory or increases in temperature, the software can sense these issues, alert the owner, and schedule an appointment to fix the problem. “If you push all that work to computers, you’ll decrease the amount of time to resolve issues and cut costs as well,” says Meyers.
Meyers says companies must have a culture that allows employees not only to experiment but also to fail. “You have to make it safe for people to say, ‘Hey, if this doesn’t work, we can abandon it,’” he says. “If you’re transparent about what’s happening and create a safe atmosphere for experimentation, over time people will feel comfortable adopting these new technologies.”
Wells Fargo has innovation labs that bring the business and IT sides together to tackle business problems. “We put the use case around what we’re trying to solve for, find the emerging technologies that might fit, and start to evaluate them in a thoughtful way in a controlled innovation lab. Then, where it makes sense, we keep fleshing those out and taking them forward,” says Dillon. Wells Fargo is experimenting with using AI and robotics to create omnichannel experiences that understand where customers are in the pipeline and how they want to interact with the bank. The company is also using chatbots to handle self-service requests, and machine learning to detect fraudulent transactions.
Of course, security is paramount to all three CIOs, and any new technologies that are rolled out must adhere to strict security guidelines and procedures. “Each of our programs is engineered with security top of mind,” says Dillon.
Cloud as the Building Block
Because better customer experience is the most important outcome of a successful emerging technology strategy, a modern infrastructure is the foundation of any emerging technology initiative. Dillon says moving core technology to the cloud is essential for conducting successful experiments in AI and IoT.
“Being in a private cloud and standardizing your platform allows you to be more agile in adopting new capabilities,” says Dillon. “You can react faster, and your infrastructure is elastic. If your goals are to drive speed to market, drive down costs, and drive the customer experience, simplifying your infrastructure will allow you to use new technologies that help achieve these goals.”
Malik also sees a cloud-centric infrastructure with minimal customizations as an important building block for next-generation technologies. He says switching off legacy systems is the biggest challenge CIOs need to address—but the payoff is worth the investment.
“As software and hardware become decoupled, simplifying the back end has helped us reach the customer more easily,” says Malik. “We have more time to spend on personalizing our user interface, building out new capabilities, and engaging with customers.”
Embrace New Tech Now
As exemplified by these three technology leaders, successful companies aren’t waiting to embrace and adopt emerging technologies. They are actively experimenting with and implementing them now. But they’re doing so strategically and with purpose.
“There’s a lot of overpromising and underdelivering right now,” says Dillon. “A lot of growth needs to take place in the areas of emerging technologies. And part of that growth is making sure we’re operationally ready to handle it, as well as understanding the outcomes that we’re driving for.”
Illustration by Wes Rowell