Jordan Kyriakidis, CEO of QRA Corp, spoke at a session at ITWC’s Toronto digital transformation conference on some of the unexpected consequences of technological advances in terms of collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas. QRA is a tech startup in Atlantic Canada, and Kyriakidis’ examples are about how companies in that relatively small (economically) region are encouraging new ways of thinking about solving business problems through these sorts of “collisions”.
Addressing the complexity introduced by advancing technology means that we have to invent new methods and tools: he gave the example in industrial complexity where design moved from paper to computer-aided design, then added electronic design automation when the complexity of where to put which chip overwhelmed human capabilities, and now design verification allows for model-based (requirements-driven) design to be validated before more expensive engineering and production begins.
Another example in precision diagnosis and treatment was around data-driven farming, combining computer vision and big data analytics (plus drone delivery of individual plant treatment) to optimize crop yields.
His third example was of integrating and analyzing a variety of data sources about a specific athlete to allow a coach to optimize training and performance for that athlete in their chosen sport.
His main theme of precision diagnosis and treatment — essentially, doing something different for every case based on the context — can be extended in pretty much any industry: consider the attempts by many consumer-facing companies to customize individual customer experiences. Interesting look at companies that are actually doing it.
Lynn Elwood, VP Cloud and Services from OpenText, hosted a panel on FinTech to close out the morning at the ITWC digital transformation conference in Toronto. She started with some background on digital transformation in financial services, where there is still a strong focus on cost reduction, but customer engagement has become more important. She included survey results with a somewhat disappointing view on paperless offices, with more than 75% of the respondents saying that they would not be going paperless for as much as five years or maybe never. Never??!! Maybe just not within the career lifetime of the respondents, but c’mon, never? I understand that digital transformation is not the same as content digitization, but if you’re still running on paper, that’s just going to fundamentally limit the degree of your transformation. At the same time, more than 75% were saying that they plan to use AI already or within the short term (hopefully to replace the people who think that they’re never going to be paperless), and most organizations said that they were equal or better than their peers in digital transformation (statistically unlikely). Unintentionally hilarious.
The panel was made up of Michael Ball, CISO Advisor for a number of firms including Freedom Mobile; Amer Matar, CTO of Moneris (a large Canadian payment processor); and Patrick Vice, partner at Insurance-Canada.ca (an industry organization for P&C insurance). Matar talked about how legacy technology holds back companies: existing companies have the advantage of being established incumbents, but newer players (e.g., Square in the payments market) can enter with a completely new business model and no legacy customers or infrastructure to drag along. Vice talked about how companies can combat this by spinning off separate business units to provide a more streamlined digital experience and brand, such as how Economical Insurance did with Sonnet (a project that I had the pleasure of working on last year), which still uses the established insurance organization behind a modern customer experience. Ball stressed that the legacy systems are evolving at a much slower rate than is required for digital transformation, and the new front ends need to go beyond just putting a friendly UI on the old technology: they need to incorporate new services to present a transformed customer experience.
They had an interesting discussion about security, and how moving to digital business models means that companies need to offer a more secure environment for customers. Many people are starting to look at security (such as two-factor authentication) as a competitive differentiator when they are selecting service providers, and while most people wouldn’t now change their bank just because it didn’t provide 2FA, it won’t be long before that is a decision point. It’s not just about cloud versus on-premise, although there are concerns about hosting Canadian customers’ financial data outside Canada, where financial laws (and government access to data) may be different; it’s about an organization’s ability to assure their customer that their information won’t be improperly accessed while offering a highly secure customer-facing portal. There’s a huge spend on security these days, but that needs to settle down as this becomes just baked into the infrastructure rather than an emergency add-on to existing (insecure) systems.
Good discussion, although it points out that it’s still early days for digital transformation in financial services.
I’ve attended IT World Canada conferences in Toronto before — easy for me to attend as a local, and some interesting content such as Technicity — and today they’re running a digital transformation conference (that oddly, has the hashtag #digitaltransformation as if that were a unique tag).
Alex Benay, CIO of the government of Canada, gave the opening keynote: with $6B/year in IT spend and more than a few high-profile mistakes under their belt that happened before he arrived in the job in early 2017, he has some views on how to do things better. He’s even written a book about digital government, but given that the federal government takes five years to write requirements, he’ll probably be long retired before we know if any of his predictions come true. He talked about some models of digital government, such as Estonia, and how the government of Canada is attempting to integrate their digital services into our everyday lives by partnering with the private sector: think Transport Canada road alerts built into your GM car, or passport renewal and customs forms triggered by an Expedia booking. He admits to a lot of obstacles, including untrained staff in spite of massive training spends, but also many enablers to reaching their goals, such as changing policies around cloud-first deployments. He finished with five core tenents for any government IT moving forward:
- Open data by default while protecting citizens
- Collaborate in the open
- Grow digital talent
- Change laws/policies to avoid situations like Facebook/Cambridge Analytica
- Adapt business models to focus only on meeting user needs (procurement, tech management, service design)
Good principles, and I hope that our government can learn to live by them.