CIOs: let technology do the heavy lifting, while you focus on flexibility and the future

This is a guest blog from Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer, Microsoft UK.

Hopefully, most IT organisations now realise that both their customers and employees live in an entirely different world. Back when I started in IT, the only place that most people saw a computer was at work; they didn’t have one at home and wouldn’t dream of using one for anything else. These days, most people walk around with more power in their pockets than there would have been on their desk five years ago. In fact, most people’s experience of technology in their personal lives far exceeds that of their professional lives. This is something that the sharpest CIOs are already learning to embrace.

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer, MicrosoftThe challenge of remaining forward-facing, whilst also managing what will work most efficiently in the here and now, is exacerbated by the increased pace of technological development both in and outside of the enterprise environment. Where agility was once seen as an additional positive attribute for a CIO to own – something of a bonus – today it is nothing short of a necessity.

One of the more notable results of this increased technological influence is the exponential production of data that Tony Crabbe called to attention in a recent blog post, but the challenge for CIOs is more to do with our ability to access, understand and ultimately respond to this data. Advances in AI and machine learning are central to this: both will have a massive impact on all businesses over the next few years. My job, and the task of CIOs and IT departments, is to plot a path that will tap as much benefit from these developments as possible.

With a new wave of data tools and connected devices, we can create a much bigger picture of what’s going on and how it can be optimised. We are beginning to light up a vast amount of data about our businesses that will help us understand how our businesses actually work (as opposed to how we think they work).

What’s more is that the algorithms that make sense of all of this data are becoming more accessible just as they become more powerful. Once the province of big tech firms, inaccessible to any organisation that didn’t have access to massive compute and brain power, today, thanks to the cloud and initiatives and services from companies like Microsoft and Fujitsu, this compute power and scalability is available to anyone.

Crucially, these algorithms are accessible almost at the click of a button. All you need to do is to subscribe to the AI service you want and then you can just point it at your own data: the heavy lifting has been done for you, now you just need to take care of the fine tuning.

This is all very top-level, however, and I’d be inclined to agree Stafford Bond wrote recently of the need for CIOs and IT departments to focus primarily on users’ needs when considering solutions for greater productivity.

This is reflective of the wider trend towards technology’s ubiquitous presence in the world. People have become accustomed to using tech in almost everything they do, and as such have an expectation of being able to quickly adapt to using it for new purposes.

The IT department needs to evolve to shift its focus back to helping individuals achieve greater business outcomes rather than getting bogged down in helping the organisation ‘manage’ its technology.

Indeed, AI’s influence will be felt at an employee level too. Both Microsoft and Facebook have recently made announcements around how they will use bots to improve and streamline interactions with users of their various platforms. And at Microsoft we’re already seeing how voice-control, through Cortana’s integration with Windows 10, is expanding the potential of these kinds of non-traditional user inputs. Bearing in mind the changing relationship between consumer- and enterprise-grade technologies, it almost goes without saying that the use of bots and other AI-driven interfaces will become relatively commonplace within businesses too.

Internal admin processes are an obvious example of where this would work to help employees achieve greater productivity. A large amount of internal admin is both logical and mundane – and thereby ideal for automation. Asking for an internal cost code, booking a hotel for business travel, ordering catering for a meeting: these are all pretty simple examples of where bots could free up people to do more that adds value to the organisation. And the better we get at automating these kinds of interactions, the faster we will reach the point at which AI can be used to tackle more complex tasks.

CIOs will continue to ask the same question: “What is it I do today, that I no longer need to do?” The difference today and in the future will be the pace at which the answers to this question are uncovered, and the creativity, agility and flexibility with which solutions can be provided.

For more on this, check out Dave Coplin’s Google Hangout On Air about the future workplace with Tony Crabbe and our very own Stafford Bond. 

Our vision of the future workplace is one in which digital is instrumental in creating a more agile, empowered and engaged workforce. Check out our infographic to see how we believe that vision will be realised.

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