Point of View

Unraveling the current innovation wave and the power of technology

August 25, 2021

Four technologists walk into a virtual bar and talk about ecosystems, outcomes, and diversity as the keys to successful tech adoption. Yup, that’s pretty much what happened on day two of the HFS OneOffice™ Digital Symposium. Maybe the bar part is wishful embellishment, but the rest is true. Leave it to HFS’ Chief Research and Operations leader, Saurabh Gupta, to assemble and moderate a thought-provoking panel session on the power of emerging technologies and whether we’re really capable of driving the mindset change in people, processes, and data that must accompany it.

Our motley crew of tech wisdom incarnate included (see Exhibit 1)

  • Saurabh Gupta, Chief Research and Operations Leader and Panel, HFS Research (Moderator)
  • Jason E. Kelley, GM, Managing Partner, Global Strategic Partners, IBM
  • Kalyan “KK” Kumar, Chief Technology Officer & Head—Ecosystems, HCL
  • Joel Martin, Research Vice President, Cloud Strategies, HFS
  • Mike Morris, CEO, Topcoder (Wipro)
Exhibit 1: Our motley crew of tech wisdom—HFS Symposium

Source: HFS Digital Symposium, June 8-9, 2021

Here’s what we covered.

Digital transformation is today’s imperative

Saurabh kicked off the session with HFS’ enterprise innovation framework (see Exhibit 2) and used it to make a critical point: We have to stop talking about digital transformation as something in the future, three to five years away. We need digital transformation now. Digital transformation is Horizon 1 and is the current imperative.

Exhibit 2: HFS enterprise innovation framework

Source: HFS Research, 2021

Our challenge is not technology. It’s unleashing data and decoupling people and process from legacy systems

Saurabh asked the panel to comment on why people, process, and culture change is still so hard. Kalyan “KK” Kumar (HCL) suggested that there is a fundamental difference between established enterprises and digital natives, stating, “Large established enterprises who have evolved IT from MIS and ERP to enterprise IT have processes and procedures that are deeply embedded into their systems. There’s an old adage that if you want to understand an (established company’s) org structure, look at its systems. Digital native businesses have a different culture born out of greenfield systems where you kill it and rewrite it if it does not work or could be better. This is the challenge in adopting tech. Established enterprises need to take tough decisions about continuing on with legacy systems on or killing them.” Ultimately, legacy tech is not bad, but if you retain and modernize on top of it, you have to address people and process implications that were previously embedded. These are the legacy dragons that must be slain.

Joel Martin (HFS) gave a data view on change challenges, stating, “Deliver on data and we can get moving. Do people have the information they need? Enterprises need to make data real-time and predictive, not a rearview mirror.” Given that so much of data has been obscured behind the legacy applications powering enterprises, part of the change imperative is unleashing this data.

The missing link between emerging tech and value is accountability and outcomes

The irreverent subtitle of this point could easily be, “Don’t let your POC [proof of concept] stand for piece of crap.” Saurabh queried the panel on the need for proofs of concept to develop applied use cases for emerging tech. Jason E. Kelley (IBM) commented that the only time we get real advancement in applied tech is when we see value. And you get to value by trying to solve problems. The amazing team of companies that worked to develop COVID vaccines in record time is the perfect example of this. As per Jason,We don’t talk about the AI, automation, cloud, ERP, supply chain, or blockchain that was used in concert to make the vaccine happen. We talk about developing a shot in record time. This is a real-life example of POCs aimed at a problem, using an ecosystem to deliver a much-needed outcome.”

Mike Morris (Topcoder, a Wipro company) added, “Innovation programs must use math, statistics, and accountability to drive success. Any good innovation program needs to be accountable for producing results. Otherwise, it’s just hope, and accountability goes out the window.”

Emerging tech is driving the rise of the ecosystem model

Given the importance of cloudification in all transformation agendas, Saurabh asked an interesting question about the role of hyperscalers and who really owns the customer. The answers were insightful and pointed to an unexpected outcome from the challenges of emerging tech adoption—it’s forcing providers to work together to best meet enterprise needs. KK mused, “Markets are shifting to an ecosystem model. Increasingly when a customer wants to modernize its business landscape, it needs an orchestrator to create the right ecosystem. It’s not prime and sub any longer. If customers know what they want, they issue an RFP. If it’s hard to articulate needs, firms are coming together to deliver collaborative value.”

Jason added, “The hyperconnected enterprise is real, and it’s what the market increasingly expects. If you walk into a customer solo—it’s the power of one. If you walk in with a team, often even your competition, it is quicker, better, faster. This is not the future. This is now. This is what open means. The power of one is really the power of many.”

This is the power of what can happen when providers care less about who owns the customer and more about what value is being delivered.

The work from anywhere economy may finally herald acceptance of on-demand talent models

Clearly, when talking about emerging tech, you have to address the corollary need for experienced talent. Mike, whose company Topcoder offers access to experienced, on-demand talent, noted that the pandemic helped shift some of the mindset around the viability of on-demand talent models, and consequently, on-demand talent is exploding. Mike notes, “Our personal lives are very on-demand—food, viewing–whatever, wherever, whenever. We need this in enterprises. But people don’t realize this is also better for the talent. It creates an environment where your quality and value rule—not experience, job titles, gender, etc. We should start looking at developers in the same way we look at top athletes, recording artists, etc. We need to celebrate these achievements and pay them what they are worth.”

We admit it, it was a manel; but we proactively addressed this and used it as a way to call ourselves to task to do better on diversity and inclusion

Saurabh was proactive in asking, “We’re five middle-aged men talking about technology. Shouldn’t we be talking about diversity so we have better representation next time?” The resounding answer was yes. Joel pointed out a lack of diversity will impact the efficacy of AI, noting, “Everything we do is creating data. This gets pumped into our AI algorithms. It is so important to embed diversity into our organizations as it increasingly affects how our data supports us. We need diverse views represented in our data and AI.”

The outlook for horizon three technologies is bullish

The snarky alternate title for this section is “Saurabh shamelessly soliciting investment advice from super-smart technologists.” But why the heck not? Saurabh asked the panel to briefly comment on their outlook for a few horizon-three technologies and their rough timelines for scale. Here’s the synopsis:

  • Decentralized finance (defi). Bullish outlook of about three to four years. The adoption fight is with centralized finance, aka established financial institutions.
  • 5G. Bullish outlook, achieving scale within two years. 5G is here; the next wave is embedding it in enterprises and industry as well as continued consumer adoption. Gaming is driving this.
  • Quantum. Bullish outlook, but it’s early—achieving scale is still probably four to five years out. How fast people can learn about it and what it can enable are part of the need here. There is a strong role for universities to play.
The Bottom Line: There is no silver bullet to emerging tech adoption and success

Accepting the digital imperative and staying focused on solving business problems through data liberation, slaying legacy dragons, embracing ecosystems, and driving diversity are critical. Note that none of these are technologies. If you’re talking only about the tech, you’re doing it wrong.

Watch this panel

You can read other POVs and a comprehensive ebook about the Symposium, plus watch video highlights of the two-day event, here.

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