Very recently Lux Rao moved into a senior leadership role at Dimension Data as the Solutions Director & Leader – Digital Transformation. I have had the opportunity to meet Lux in almost all his roles barring the times when he was overseas. Lux is a super passionate technocrat with an exceptional finesse of thoughts and a deep-rooted interest in innovation and digital solutioning. While conversing with him, I brought up a range of issues that pose stiff challenges to the CIOs traveling the digital path. The conversation was very interesting. As always, Lux came up with an immaculate thought. “CIO should act as a service provider to business to stay relevant and gain traction.”
Below is the full text of my interview with Lux:
DCIO: Let’s begin the conversation with a little warm up Lux. Can you demystify digital transformation conundrum for me? What is it?
Lux Rao (LR): It’s interesting. In the prevailing business environment, while a lot of impetus is on enabling digital transformation, there are certain tenacious issues to tackle. Understand that transformation is a broad, sweeping overarch. But it’s also true that businesses are left with no choice but to transform. So here the fundamental question: what does it actually mean for the future? Does it mean, an organisation should deploy a few jazzy techs and wait for the transformation to occur? No, that’s a failed approach. Don’t forget, the opposite of transformation is disruption. And therefore, innovation is the only solution. If there is one way organisations can stay relevant it is how close they can get to their consumers. In every scenario – B2B, B2B or B2B2C – the endeavour is to compress the time for customer engagement. There needs to be a seamless connect between an organisation and consumers.
How does one ensure that?
For it, one has to look at a transformation powered by the digital forces. Here, I would like to draw the attention of CIOs towards the following four parts:
The first part is CX Transformation. Earlier, there existed a single channel solution like a call/contact center, which has now transformed into an omni channel. You need to have the ways to be in front of the customer when s/he wants, without any disruption or delay. That’s the Nirvana state for any organisation.
The second part is Workplace Transformation. Gen-Y is the workforce of today and the future. They are digital natives. The first criterion for them to join a workplace is how equipped it is to help collaborate both physically and virtually. Questions like Can I work from anywhere, Can I flawlessly share ideas without having to go through a standard procedure are common these days.
The third part is Process Efficiency. While IT has been helping in process efficiency for over two decades or may be more, we are in times of hyper-automation. There is a need to better it than what it was in the past.
The fourth part is GRC – Governance, Risk and Compliance. It is crucial for an organisation to safeguard itself from modern-day vulnerabilities, frauds and data security risks. Above all, to ensure business continuity.
That’s how digital transformation should be looked at. And fortunately, there is proven technology available today that can be consumed to address all of the above areas.
DCIO: In some of my discussions with CIOs, I see parallels drawn between digital transformation and automation whereas the latter is just a subset of the former. How should the CIO come out of this quagmire?
LR: True, the biggest dilemma for a CIO today is what’s the value s/he brings for an organisation. The greatest predicament for a CIO is to clear his position whether s/he is there for keeping the ‘lights on’ or for scaling the business. Indeed, there is no doubt that CIO is there to help expand the business and bring in customer-centricity. Conventionally, CX has been a prerogative of marketing. But the fact is that every CX initiatives has to be draped by technology and that’s why CIO is relevant. Therefore, creating engagement models with the LOBs is critical for a CIO.
From the time when IT merely supported the business to the time when it started enabling to today when IT has become the business, we have come a distance. There are many examples of technology-driven businesses today. In this scenario, if the CIO has to help the organisation succeed, then s/he has to look at business-outcome driven technology solutions. That’s how the dilemma will go away.
Unfortunately, CIOs are straddling in two boats. On one side, they aspire to become a digital organisation, their other leg is still stuck into managing the legacy. While no shift happens instantaneously, mistaking automation with an outcome is surely a recipe to disaster. Automation is just one of the means to an outcome. Outcome has a far greater meaning, which brings me back to my earlier comment – how to bring organisation closer to the customer?
DCIO: Is it true that the clout of functions like marketing, HR, supply chain is growing due to an enormous growth in their technology consumption? How will CIO and the IT organisation stay relevant in such a scenario?
LR: If you recall, the industry was hit by the notion of “Shadow IT” a few years ago. If the internal IT resources are unable to address the demands of LOBs as quickly as they need it, they will resort to choices available outside. That’s unfortunate for the CIO. The conventional ways of deploying technology is indeed a time-consuming process. It may take 6-8 weeks, which, in today’s world, is a lifetime. The digital natives looking for a quicker turnaround, resulting is growing uptake of shadow IT. While the users think that’s the best they could do for their organisation, unfortunately it comes with a lot of risks both for the organisation and the data assets. When shadow IT casts the shadow of threats, they have no other option but to come back to the CIO for troubleshooting. It’s actually a lose-lose situation if, as described above, the CIO is not aligned with the business. If the CIOs are aligned, proactive and work like a service provider to the business, such situations can be averted.
I want to refer to two key things here that enable CIO to become a true service provider for an org:
- Enterprise Catalogue: CIOs, to gain traction within their orgs, should offer everything as a service through an enterprise catalogue. That way you are also aligned to the “consumption-based” model that prevails today. IT should be driven by the business consumers rather than acting as a supplier. The catalogue itself can define what should be sourced through an on-premise model and what through a cloud without affecting the user experience.
- Full Stack: Businesses are moving towards an outcome-based approach. Idea of a full stack is to look at a holistic picture. More often than not, technology players pitch their tech stack as the best. Unfortunately, it is not possible for a CIO to validate the claims made by the suppliers thus becoming difficult to separate the grain from the chaff. That leaves the CIO with a huge gap between the ability and aspiration. How does one address it? A full stack approach, consisting of ‘best of breed’ technologies at various layers, comes handy. CIOs shall create a standard architecture for their organisation and within that they can choose the best technology that’s suitable. That’s where a seat at the table for a smart system integration partner is imminent. Players like us (Dimension Data), who are OEM agnostic, can help CIO complete the full stack story. A system integration expert can help CIOs achieve their digital visions. In other words, this approach helps enterprises to get over the silo-based excellence and embrace an integrated excellence model.
DCIO: You’d agree that digital transformation is not just about implementing a few technologies. A close bonding between technology and innovation is needed to have a successful transition to digital. How are Indian enterprises fairing in this domain?
LR: If you adopt an approach of technology ‘full-steam’, you will end up having a powerful engine in a rickety car. If you put in tech just because it looks cool, it is set to fail. I love to bring in the three-leg stool story here. One leg is tech products. Second leg is processes. Third leg is people. if any of the three legs is shaky, the stool with topple. In most cases enterprises spend a lot of money on the automation/tech stack but they don’t transform the people and processes. What’s the point in having Autobahns-type roads and also having choking points that slow down the speed.
Technology can act as a great enabler but that isn’t the outcome. I am sure CIOs have that clarity in their minds before starting any ambitious digital project.
DCIO: How can a system integration behemoth like Dimension Data, which is totally technology agnostics and also understands the business challenges, help CIOs in creating that full stack?
LR: As a technology enablement partner, it is important for us to deeply understand the business roadmap of an organisation that we engage with. Our offering comprises of four key broad domains:
- Advise: Where we study the ‘current state’, understand the ‘to-be’ state and prepare a bridge (solution) to reach from one point to other. We play an active role here by bringing in both global and local best practices.
- Design: This is a critical piece where we work in conjunction with the internal IT team to design the solution with the ‘full stack’ that we just spoke about. We look at all seven layers of a network and bring in the best-of-breed technology to equip the company to offer superior customer experience.
- Implement: Implementing a solution without flaws is a daunting task. It has to be razor-sharp. A lot goes in ensuring that the technology deployed doesn’t bring in latency or create any hiccup due to its heterogeneity.
- Run: Finally, when the technology is implemented, it’s our job to make it run to its full potential. We can be great friends with CIO and his IT arm in this area.
Now you see how a partner like us can take away the pain of ideating, designing, implementing and running IT. That frees the CIO to take on a more strategic and business-focused role.
DCIO: My final point. It’s every CIO’s dream to create a seamless, superior customer experience using technology. Where do you see the need for a change in the journey to the destination?
LR: It’s a fact that ‘customer experience’ is driving over 60 percent of all the digital transformation conversations taking place today. Even workplace transformation is a key discussion these days. The remaining two as we discussed earlier, are business as usual. What needs to change is the casualness towards the security and GRC components. The advance persistent threats, modern-day cybersecurity challenges, new attack methods mandate every organisation to have a serious approach towards this.
In the end, I would say that the first point of engagement for a CIO should always be to understand where s/he is today in all aspects – be it CX, workplace transformation or security. They need to benchmark themselves with the best practices. Then only they will be able to map their capabilities towards the journey of the future in a phased manner.