IT Leadership Opinion

Post-Digital Requires Fundamental Shift Towards Living IT Systems: Pietro Pieretti, Accenture

According to Accenture Technology Vision 2019 report, “Given their collective prioritization of digital technology, every company will eventually converge on the same turning point—one where digital-era technology, which began as a differentiating advantage, is something expected from every business.” The report has put into words the unsaid fear on the mind of most businesses today – what is the next competitive edge for me once the digital playing field evens out. Welcome to, what Accenture calls, the ‘post-digital’ world where businesses are looking out for new ways to differentiate themselves.

Pietro Pieretti, Senior Managing Director and Lead for AAPAC Products Technology Consulting, Accenture in conversation with Shipra Malhotra, Executive Editor, dynamicCIO highlights technologies laying the foundation for the post-digital era and how that requires a fundamental shift in the IT systems.

What is your suggestion for businesses as they step into the post-digital era?

In the post-digital era organizations shouldn’t limit themselves to the technologies that have been now around for a few years and should start exploring the new possibilities. In our research, we have identified three new technologies Distributed Ledger (Blockchain), Artificial Intelligence, Extended Reality or Augmented Reality and Quantum Computing, or DARQ in short. While Quantum Computing is still in a very nascent stage, blockchain and AR technologies are already available. To be competitive in the post digital era , businesses should start experimenting with these three technologies, trying to understand their potential and what they can do with these new capabilities.

You spoke about DARQ focus in the post-digital era. But, globally the potential of SMAC, IoT, analytics, etc. have still not been fully realized. Isn’t it too early to talk about DARQ?

 Ans. When we talk of DARQ technologies driving the post-digital wave, catching that wave will only be possible with the firm foundation of SMAC. In fact, getting the potential outcome of SMAC is still a big agenda for many companies. Move the first step toward DARQ but also exploit the value of SMAC in a structured way.

One must not forget that while DARQ technologies are still in nascent stage, they will offer businesses huge opportunity as they mature. Exploring and experimenting with the new capabilities as they arise instead of waiting to make a move will give companies the early mover advantage.

Managing both existing and upcoming technologies together is easier said than done. How to companies address this challenge?

 DARQ technologies are the three technology trends identified today. Maybe, a year down the line there is a fourth one. So, new technologies will keep emerging and trends will keep evolving. In this dynamic scenario, success lies in creating an environment that enables innovating continuously, integrating new pieces seamlessly, and converting technology innovation into action quickly and in a structured manner.

The power of these technologies is when they are integrated and not isolated. So, integration and architecture are the backbone to success. This requires putting in place the right architecture to be able to seamlessly integrate both legacy and new technologies. Companies need to implement architectures and models that allow them to holistically exploit in an integrated way all these components instead of experimenting left and right, and creating a little bit of a patchwork. This requires re-setting the existing architecture a little bit, wrapping the more core system in order to de-couple them in a digital way from a layer where you can innovate at speed.

A good example is what we have done for Disney, helping them deliver a completely new consumer experience. People visiting Disneyland are given a wristband, which is an IoT device and when they visit the theme park they interact with it through this device. They can get their preferred meals, having their children visited by Mickey Mouse or whatever is their preferred character or getting a picture shot and posted on their social network. This required a lot of integration between these new apps and the existing systems – reservation system, hotel and restaurant system – to be able to plan and execute properly.

It would have cost Disney a fortune if they had created apps tightly coupled with the legacy systems, some of which are 15-20 years old. We created an architecture that publishes events from the legacy into a data lake so that everybody can pick up the events and build up their own application to give experience to the consumer. This application may last for a week or whatever time required as the marketers might want to change or abandon it or create a new one. This agility is given by the possibility to integrate the old and the new very quickly.

What fundamental shift is this bringing into the IT systems within enterprises?

Fundamentally, the big shift is moving towards what we call the living systems. What needs to be put in place is a technology that is living together with the business. And this needs to be done both in the architecture and the IT organization’s way of working so that they allow technology to become much more fast and agile in the way it is deployed.

 Do you have an architecture that allows you to do that, without having to bump into the big expensive monolithic backend system that may not be ready to get to that? So, creating a decoupled architecture, re-organizing your IT in a different way, changing the culture of your people and making IT and business one thing will be the key.

What are the challenges for CIOs in the post-digital era?

Ans. The biggest challenge for CIOs in the post-digital era is positioning themselves in the organization. They need to continue to be seen as the master of technology, and not the legacy technology. And, this is the big challenge. In the early stage of digital a lot of the technology was adopted directly by the business, bypassing the CIO. Many organizations are now creating roles like CDO with the CIO becoming a custodian of the system of records.

From the business stand-point, whether it is the CIO or CDO, the challenge is to create an organization that is able to integrate all the different pieces of technology together without generating chaos.

What is the biggest challenge in the way of enabling this vision of IT organization within the company?

Ans. With this speed of technology evolution, talent is of the essence. And, this is the biggest challenge in enabling this vision of IT that we are talking about. How do you then create an organization that has the right talent that can operate in this environment?

Today, businesses need IT talent that is more like super humans that are able to understand the business problem and the full stack of technology in a more vertical way. Roles such as application support project managers, infrastructure managers and data centre operators, etc. are going to disappear with automated agents taking over. In fact, that is already happening today. The result – many of these people will be spending much less time in keeping the lights on of  existing systems and much more time in innovating. So, even the mindset of these people needs to be different. Hence, besides talent availability, change management will be another big task for IT.

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