Digital Business Strategy: 8 Gut-Check Questions

It's the right time to ask the uncomfortable questions.

Chris Murphy, Editor, InformationWeek

February 20, 2014

7 Min Read

Just to prove I don't belong anywhere near the hospitality business, here's my promise to InformationWeek Conference attendees: We'll make you feel uncomfortable.

Our conference this year [you can check out the full program and register here] explores strategies and obstacles for what has come to be known as Digital Business. You'll hear from the CIOs of General Motors, GE Power & Water, the NFL, Eli Lilly, UPMC, Dish Network, and other companies. If we do our job right, the discussions you hear and take part in will challenge your thinking about mobile apps, data analytics, cloud computing, the Internet of things, and more. You'll take away actionable ideas for what you need to make happen now in your companies.

Digital business is a work in progress -- it's only barely started at most companies. So it's the right time to ask hard questions about IT's role in that digital transformation, and whether IT's doing enough to drive it. Here are eight questions to ask, along with some of the speakers who will explore them at our conference on March 31 and April 1 in Las Vegas. We hope you'll join us there.

1. If marketing has a game-changing app idea for our customers, will they even call our IT organization?
Marketing and IT teams aren't BFFs, and just one third of companies treat mobile app development as part of a larger digital strategy, InformationWeek's survey on digital business finds. Companies are often scrambling to follow a competitor's mobile offering, or to goose near-term results. Does internal IT have the established relationships to know business units' needs, and a reputation for speedy, glitch-free delivery?

Accenture digital business expert Mark McDonald will discuss the role of IT leaders in creating and executing digital strategies, in a discussion with Avnet senior VP Dave Bent. National Football League CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle will discuss the role her IT team plays in the NFL's digital initiatives. For too many companies, the approach they're taking isn't working: Three out of five companies in our survey rate their customer-facing digital presence as average to poor.

2. Can we make the right decisions with that slagheap of data we're collecting?
The "exponential" growth of enterprise data stores is a myth -- our State of Storage survey finds that about three-fourths of companies are experiencing data growth of between 10% and 49% a year. What is real is the pressure to make far better use of the data companies have, and to analyze select sources of new data -- production data, social media sentiment data, clickstream data -- that can help drive practical results.

Our big data panel session, led by InformationWeek executive editor and big data expert Doug Henschen, will include Weather Co. CIO Bryson Koehler and Paytronix CEO Andrew Robbins, who will discuss platforms and tactics, and where they do and don't make sense.

3. Is our sales technology trapped in the '90s?
Actually, were those huge three-ring binders all that state of the art in the '90s? Tablets are changing the landscape for sales pros, providing a platform that's more convenient to carry, easier to update, and more effective in one-on-one conversations than either a laptop or the dreaded binder. The difference maker is what's on those tablets, though. Eli Lilly CTO Mike Meadows will describe how his company mobilized a global salesforce with better insight as well as new devices.

4. If we succeed at digital business, will our IT infrastructure crumple under the demand?
Two kinds of demand can crush IT: demand from customers and demand from business units. Putting an app in front of customers changes the rules: Any downtime is deadly. So IT needs a flexible datacenter infrastructure that can respond to demand spikes.

But don't forget about internal demand. If IT succeeds and delivers a killer digital fix -- driving customer engagement or lowering operational costs -- to one digital business unit, can it meet the demand that will create from other business units? Doing so means having the right internal talent, infrastructure, integration, and data access, and a way to set technology priorities.

GM CIO Randy Mott

GM CIO Randy Mott

GM CIO Randy Mott

When General Motors CIO Randy Mott joined the company two years ago, he decided that GM didn't have that necessary capacity to innovate. Mott has spent two years moving from 90% outsourced IT toward 90% insourced, all while building and consolidating state-of-the-art datacenters, overhauling the process for how projects get approved, and changing the culture. Mott will discuss that transformation at the InformationWeek Conference.

5. Are we plugged into the Silicon Valley startup scene, or waiting for innovation to knock on our door?
There's a new wave of enterprise IT innovation coming, and it will benefit companies that tap into it in two ways.

One is as early adopters. Cloud datacenters and software, new analytics capabilities, social business models, and mobile development tools are changing what's possible in IT, as well as the price point and speed it takes to get things done. Think of tech providers like GitHub, which bring concepts of online social sharing to software and product development.

We'll have the CEOs of three such disruptive startups on one panel -- SnapLogic (cloud integration), Kenandy (cloud ERP), and Anaplan (cloud-based business planning). And we'll have keynote interviews with Oracle President Mark Hurd and Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie.

The second way is as a participant, innovating alongside this startup ecosystem. A marquee first enterprise customer is more precious than funding for a startup. Companies from GE to Walmart to CapitalOne have set up labs in the Bay area to tap the energy and latest trends, and sometimes co-develop with vendors.

6. Are some of our tech innovations good enough to sell, making our IT a revenue source?
UPMC (formerly University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) has set up a development lab of more than 120 people that's turning the IT needs of its clinicians and insurance teams into marketable products. Usually it does so in partnership with a startup vendor -- the startup gets UPMC's healthcare expertise and a working environment to hone a product; UPMC gets the startup's technology expertise. The head of UPMC's development lab, Rebecca Kaul, and UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh will discuss what it takes to make IT a revenue source. (Kaul will also help lead our Women in IT Leadership networking breakfast.)

7. Could the Internet of things blow up our business model?
Google paid $3.2 billion for Nest, a small maker of thermostats that connect to the Internet to collect data and automate temperature settings. The promise is that Internet-connected devices plus data analytics on the backend will lead to better services. The uncomfortable question: If Google set its sites on your business with a multibillion-dollar initiative, are you up to the challenge?

GE is among the leading companies putting connected devices and analytics to use in its products. GE Power & Water CIO Jim Fowler will discuss how his teams are applying these ideas to improve the performance of power plants, water treatment centers, wind turbines, and more.

8. Is your security strategy ready for a "mobile first" mentality?
The crossing point is coming. From banks to real estate brokers to retailers, companies see a much larger percentage of their customers accessing their products and services from mobile devices. They can see a point coming where mobile will overtake desktop access.

As a result, companies are starting to think mobile first, whether for customers or employees. We'll explore this idea, and the security implications, in at least two sessions. One is a workshop exploring the challenges of mobile security -- a breakout, interactive session led by InGuardian security analyst John Sawyer. The other session explores the range of consumerization problems CIOs face, with insight from Dish Network CIO Mike McClaskey and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated CIO Onyeka Nchege.

Throughout all of our conference sessions, we'll make the discussion interactive -- so that you don't have to stew on your own uncomfortable questions, you can query the speakers. We hope you'll join us in this conversation.

Engage with Oracle president Mark Hurd, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, General Motors CIO Randy Mott, Box founder Aaron Levie, UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh, GE Power CIO Jim Fowler, and other leaders of the Digital Business movement at the InformationWeek Conference and Elite 100 Awards Ceremony, to be held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 1, 2014. See the full agenda here.

About the Author(s)

Chris Murphy

Editor, InformationWeek

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; and a daily newspaper reporter in Michigan, where he covered everything from crime to the car industry. Murphy studied economics and journalism at Michigan State University, has an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia, and has passed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams.

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