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People, technology key to business success

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Kathy Gibson at VMworld in Barcelona — As computing sees massive change, with infrastructure moving to the cloud and automation or artificial intelligence taking over customer relationship tasks, CIOs have to make decisions for a future they may not be able to imagine.
“These things are very real,” says Ray O’Farrell, executive vice-president and chief technology officer at VMware. “CIOs want to understand how to leverage all of this stuff — from new hardware platforms, AI workloads, cloud, or containers.
“The core of all of this is that we are sensing a desire to look across the broad spectrum of technology and figure out how to use it: to run applications, build applications, and not get boxed into a technology we didn’t necessarily understand.”
Making sense of technology and managing it is key, while companies have to make leaps of faith to ensure they don’t get left behind by new or traditional competitors, O’Farrell adds.
But sometimes it’s more dangerous to not take a risk, he adds. “If a bank or industry refuses to take the risk, someone else will do it — and they could become your worst nightmare from a disruption point of view. And you could end up paying more for a gamble you didn’t take earlier.”
Different verticals are in different places on the journey, says Joe Baguley, vice-president and chief technology officer: EMEA at VMware.
What is common across industries, though, is the need to quickly innovate and deploy solutions.
“More significantly, people are realising that they have the ability to click and create. And this is allowing companies to do things they could never do before.
“Banking seems to be desperate to innovate, but is being held back by the weight of its legacy. They are innovating around the edges, though, and it’s interesting to see how they are doing that.”
All organisations are hobbled by legacy systems to some degree, but there is a concerted effort to move to modernised systems.
“Legacy technologies are often what was used to drive organisations,” O’Farrell says. “With new technology, we need to understand what we need to embrace and what parts of the legacy we need to change.”
Being able to virtualise and abstract various parts of the systems — servers, storage, networking — helps companies to do this without disturbing core applications, he adds.
Financial services need to make sure security is baked into any systems, adds David Colomina, IT director of ARM.
From the customer point of view, integrity of their information is key, while unlocking the systems to let users do more.
Russell Harte, CIO of DFS, points out that the super-competitive retail environment is ripe for change and innovation.
“The leading edge of the conversations I am having is that IT is having to align with the business,” Baguley adds.
“Companies are changing their relationship with the IT department — they are now using IT to sell through to customers.”
This means there has to be a conversation taking place throughout the company, and including IT, so that customer-centric solutions can be developed.
The human aspect of IT is an important cog, says O’Farrell.
“The most successful organisations are those where IT is a core, integral part of the business. The product, the value, of the company is now coming from IT.
“People are just beginning to realise that IT needs to find a new way to fit into the mix. IT can’t sit in the back office: they have to go out and understand the customer better.”
There’s no single solution, O’Farrell adds. “We are all unique, all different. But we will see these transitions starting to occur.”
A recent VMware survey of 4 000 consumers looked at how people adopt technology, and found that human-centricity is still important.
Around 46% of consumers will switch retailers if they don’t like the experience — but they still want to speak to real people, says Richard Bennett, head of advisory services: EMEA at VMware.
Harte agrees that technology can’t disenfranchise customers — things like AI need to assist people, not replace them.
“By raising the bar, doing something better for customers, means they expect more. And we can’t keep doing this without using technology,” he adds.
“We need to make sure we use technology in the right way, in the right situations.”