By Drew Ianni
April 26, 2021
BMC hosts a regular “Executive Council” with senior executives of a small number of clients, to discuss urgent tech and business issues. The forum kicked off in 2020 in an online format – hosted as before by BMC CEO Ayman Sayed. A recent virtual discussion honed in on lessons learned from the pandemic and where things head from here.
Said Sayed in opening the discussion:. “If the last year has taught me something, it is how similar we all are – both in regard to the challenges we face, the opportunities ahead of us and what it takes to take advantage of these opportunities and overcome challenges.” He mused on the experiences of those in the room: “It’s amazing that a major telco from Germany, a federal agency, an insurance company, and a major bank can have this much in common.” Ultimately, he said, all businesses need to be technology businesses, but COVID forced all organizations to pivot-on-a-dime and accelerate their digital transformation.
The conversation touched on a few core themes including the future of work, innovation and digital transformation, and data, security and risk.
The Future of Work – New Cultures and Infrastructures
The Council members discussed how the pandemic forced their companies pivot to hosting a fully remote workforce literally overnight. The CIO of a national bank with 230,000 employees said “we had a remote access network of convenience, but it became a remote access network of necessity. And we built out the network in three phases: Phase one was building out additional capacity. Phase two was building out the resiliency of that network. Phase three was building out capabilities of the network.” Ultimately the bank built out significant new infrastructure. For example, it bought 90,000 laptops for remote employees. It also created new access hubs and expanded infrastructure that was already in place. Ultimately, the CIO said proudly, “we didn’t miss a beat. Not once did we hit our [network] capacity.”
The CIO of a global payments provider discussed the impacts of the pandemic and his company’s resulting focus on operational resiliency. He explained how employees now operate more efficiently. “I’d say the one thing we learned,” he said, “was that operating the company has actually been the same or easier. I think people who are in the operational roles have more time and flexibility.” The payments CIO also said his firm has always placed great value on its workforce: “We do a lot of workforce analytics, and measure people. So the transition during the pandemic was smooth”. But he also said the company faced serious challenges the driving innovation forward as its workforce went remote “How do you combat pandemic fatigue?” he asked. “How do you create that virtual interaction and intersection between all the aspects of the business and your people?”
The CIO of a U.S. government financial institution shared a story about the agency’s remote work pivot. She said the human part of the move to remote work went quite smoothly, but then executives realized that, over time, their application development had become decentralized even as their infrastructure remained centralized. The agency was quickly tested as their systems were designed to handle just 50 loan applications per year and the IT team was told the system would have to be able to handle over one million applications beginning the following week. “And we did it.” she exulted. “It taught us that if you get really smart people in a room, things you think might take three years to achieve, you can achieve in a week! Now, did anyone sleep in that week? No. But it changed our mindset.”
Innovation & Digital Transformation
BMC CTO Ram Chakravarti said we’re in a new era of digital business – “Industry 4.0” – driven by “intelligence, automation and autonomy.” And every Autonomous Digital Enterprise, he said, is driven by new product and business model innovation along with a mandate to create compelling, highly-personalized customer experiences. The CIO of an international telecommunications provider agreed: “The biggest revelation for us during the pandemic was our customer service operations. We now have an even greater appreciation for our employees who touch the customers.”
The bank CIO also discussed the innovation challenge moving forward. “In 2020, we were focused on the day-to-day. Now, I’m trying to pivot the organization to think about future technologies and innovation.” All the participants agreed their firms and teams responded extraordinarily well to the pandemic. However, they said the challenges of settling into a new normal are real.
“We have all been very focused on the more simplistic quantitative measures as opposed to a qualitative one,” BMC’s Sayed chimed in, “Moving forward, how can we maintain business continuity? Are we having the same productivity, whether you’re processing tickets, writing lines of code or dealing with customer requests whether we are in person or remote? Can we really stop going to the office and still dream up the reinvention of a product or come up with a new business model?” The CIO of a national insurance provider agreed: “We need to allocate more capital to the customer experience and modernize our core infrastructure so we can unleash the capabilities we have in our systems and our people.”
The Power of Data and the Looming Cyber Threat
All of the Council participants agreed that their organizations are increasingly data-driven, or at least data-informed, and that managing and extracting value from data – while protecting key data sources, systems and platforms – will continue to be critical to their businesses and customer experience.
“Data has always been a key component of our business,” The insurance CIO said. “And if you think about insurance and actuarial data, I think it’s been amplified even more in the past few years just because of the competition within our business. Data is the keystone.”
As the conversation shifted towards data security and enterprise-wide risk, the banking CIO reflected on the last year: “I don’t think there’s anything that we’ve learned that we didn’t know before. But what we’ve seen, and continue to see, is a huge uptick in the number of bad actors that are out there. It’s incredible – the amount of cyber activity that’s going on right now is unprecedented.”
The Human Factor
The ability to automate routine business processes and extract high-value data will clearly help fuel innovation in business models and customer experience. However, another universal theme emerged from the conversation–while all of the participants appreciate more powerful data analytics, business process automation and better dashboards, they were adamant that the human factor remain an omnipresent priority, and that data automation must result in qualitative data and decision making based on real human behavior in order to help accelerate innovation and transformation. The CIO of the federal agency explained: “Dashboards must have a sense of that qualitative sentiment, especially in an age where people tweet or get on social media…it’s about understanding the tone of every single conversation.”
Then she summarized a prevailing question in the room: “How can we, as technologists, make sure that that human side is always front and center.”