By Drew Ianni
February 25, 2021

Dispatch from Accelerate: Innovation Depends on Diversity and Data


CDX hosted its inaugural Accelerate conference in late February as a crushing pandemic continues. But hope is rising for an epic comeback. A poll of attendees found that a full 63% believe that “accelerating” corporate digital transformations during the pandemic has helped set society up for an upcoming “roaring 20s” boom. The optimistic multi-industry gathering of leaders sought to help participants gain actionable insights, as speakers made predictions about digital business, the post-pandemic consumer, and the future of work, among other topics.

CDX highlighted companies and people that acted swiftly to maintain operational resilience during the pandemic while also making investments to drive digital business acceleration forward. The conference kicked-off with a presentation on the state of the digital economy from Harris Poll CEO, John Gerzema, who shared the firm’s predictions regarding the post-pandemic consumer. “There will be massive [consumer] demand in the second half of the year – a lot of ‘fomo’ and a desire to get our lives back,” Gerzema declared.

The conference returned again and again to certain themes:

  • The consumer has evolved as much as companies. President Amit Shah described how, paradoxically, the pandemic has brought many of us closer together, and that “communal relationships have been redefined…we are now a house of one.” Avaya Chief Marketing Officer Simon Harrison described how the “Uberization” of everything has set the stage for an “evolved experience economy” that will mean consumers want highly personalized, tailored experiences. He said that smart companies are creating applications to automate customer service, noting that a full third of ” general customer service” has “vanished.” Gerzema from the Harris Poll added its research shows consumers want a hybrid of in-person and digital services across most business categories.


  • The future of health care revolves around the patient experience. Robin Roberts, who co-founded the BIOME – a global network of innovation centers at pharma giant Novartis – said the company is focused on “removing the roadblocks that sit between the firm and lifesaving solutions that we can bring to scale.” Silicon Valley-based health tech investor Cheryl Cheng discussed how the aging U.S. population will create a dramatic rise in the need for chronic disease management and related opportunities to do it remotely. Ogilvy’s Health and Wellness Chief Digital Officer Ritesh Patel said “The industry is focused on digital front doors. How do I get the patient back in? What kind of tools can I create that are consumer-friendly and patient-friendly. My thing is–if it moves, digitize it.”


  • Data is the oil that drives the transformation engine. Dun & Bradstreet Chief Data Science Officer Anthony Scriffignano noted that the sheer volume of data now means “it’s no longer finding a needle in a haystack – it’s about finding needles in needles.” He said data managers must now “bring imperial rigor to the table.” In a separate discussion on the explosion in data from internet of things devices, 5G connectivity, and the network “edge,” Ericsson’s Head of IoT Strategy Rob Tiffany added that these emerging technologies will accelerate the capture of data “as close to the source as possible.” That will empower large-scale innovation across the auto, municipal, and environmental industries. And D&B’s Scriffignano emphasized the importance of staying vigilant about bias in data. He said, “you can’t just eliminate bias because that introduces some other biases.” He continued: “you’ve got to make a more holistic assessment when you start considering bias, especially in AI, because AI learns…So you have to be very careful you don’t accelerate the speed with which you hit the wall.”


  • The enterprise is being transformed structurally and operationally. Johnson & Johnson Enterprise CIO Jim Swanson believes it’s possible to transform the company and the industry “by unlocking the power of people through technology and insights.” One thing that’s essential, he added: everyone must constantly be in a learning mode. Jarrod Dicker, The Washington Post‘s head of commercial & innovation explained how he spearheaded a structural transformation at the company that brought revenue, technology, and R&D under one unit. Now there is a constant effort at the Post “to disrupt itself”.


  • Diversity can be the engine of modern innovation. American Airlines Head of Emerging Technology Phil Easter said “delivery transformation also means talent transformation within the company… If you can’t represent your customer base with your employee base, you’re in trouble.” Separately, Appirio’s Global Head of Organizational Transformation Carol Fitzgerald Tyler spoke about the urgency of diversifying the talent pipeline into the company, suggesting for example that employers look at individuals who may be new to their industry “because they can see things others cannot.”This was echoed by J&J’s Swanson, who mentioned how he returned to J&J after ten-year with stops in agriculture, amongst other industries: “I learned a lot by going to other industries. When I left healthcare, I went to agriculture and …actually [it] is tremendously technically savvy. I learned a lot about how technology can be applied in the oldest industry on the planet, and I swore to myself that when I got back to J&J, I was going to take that learning and apply it to health care.” Forrester’s Vice President and Senior Digital Transformation Analyst Nigel Fenwick wrapped up the event by suggesting that firms accelerating transformation ask the right questions: “How do we really get disruptive?” “How do we differentiate the digital experiences?” and “How do we build disruptive products?”

Every company, it seems, is deep into the debate about where and how to better use digital tools to innovate, to better serve customers, and streamline itself in myriad ways. It’s a set of issues CDX cares about passionately and is devoting to continuing to explore. So watch this space!



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