During the Silicon Valley edition of the Women in IT virtual summit, a panel of experts and stakeholders discussed how technology investment has changed in response to these unprecedented times. With organizations still trying to work around the ongoing effects of COVID-19, the panel talked about how responding to the pandemic influenced IT support, AI, and the Internet of Things. They also discussed how the overall effort to address racial inequality might support investments in tech companies with Black ownership.
Jo Peterson, vice president of cloud and security with Clarify360, moderated the panel comprised of Rekha Venkatakrishnan, senior manager for group product management at Walmart Labs; Matthew Douglas, chief enterprise architect with Sentara Healthcare; Kate O’Laughlin, director of tech and investment with law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and Kiki Mwiti, founder and CEO of DYVVYD, a platform that connects investors with underrepresented founders.
Peterson led the discussion by citing an assessment from enterprise resource planning solutions provider IFS that despite the pandemic’s affect on businesses, the majority still planned to increase their investments in digital transformation. “Many are indicating that if businesses don’t commit now, they’re going to dissolve within the next five years,” she said.
Venkatakrishnan said in industries such as retail, healthcare, and finance might be trending upwards and may already have companies undergoing some form digital transformation. Meanwhile sectors such as restaurants and travel have been hit hard by the fallout from the pandemic, she said. Irrespective of the industry, Venkatakrishnan said digital investment can be critical for all industries. “We need to start now so that you are situated well, positioned well for the next three to five years,” she said. “If you are missing the boat now, it’s going to be a long struggle for you to survive and meet consumer expectations.”
Organizations might be feeling new demands that may make the evolution of IT a necessity despite the pandemic. For example, Douglas said the recent ransomware attack on Universal Health Services was a distressing wakeup call for the healthcare sector. “Healthcare has to make the investment in digital transformation and artificial intelligence,” he said.
Even the legal sector appears to be witnessing an acceleration of digital transformation. “It is not a choice anymore,” O’Laughlin said. As more customers ask for resources and services made possible through digital transformation, businesses must respond, she said. There are also opportunities, O’Laughlin said, for increased efficiency and ultimately a cost savings in the long run.
There seems to be a push from consumers that is reaching enterprises, compelling a roll out of new tools and technology. “As the pace of life picked up and as tech evolved, consumers have begun wanting more, faster, and easier,” said Mwiti, “whether it’s mobile payments for Amazon deliveries and Uber Eats or virtual reality by Alexa.”
Douglas said organizations that undergo digital transformation may have an opportunity to leapfrog over their competition. His organization is deconstructing legacy resources that often have disparate, scattered data that needs to be consolidated. “We’ve centralized it in cloud,” he said. “We’re able to start leveraging artificial intelligence to solve real human life problems.” Sentara’s growth in its health insurance business and other areas, Douglas said, can be attributed in part to the investment in digital transformation.
Diversification of technology, from leadership within organizations to support of minority and woman-owned tech businesses rounded out the panel’s main discussion. Douglas touched on hackathons and other efforts being made to broaden the representation in the technology sector, but more still needs to be done. “There is not enough publicity about the other options for the multiracial community, the Black community -- it’s getting there,” he said.
Whether or not social media support, public demonstrations, and recent investing patterns will translate into more backing for women and minority-led tech companies remains to be seen as the rules of the game change. “A lot of my work is in getting more people of color to play the game,” Mwiti said. “It’s not just about us as female founders, and as people of color fighting to make our way in and doing our part to take up our place at the table, it’s also for those who hold the power to open the doors for those who really don’t have access to those networks, powerful sources, and the money.”
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