The Friday Update 8: Developing a great customer experience in a digital age

Online shopping has changed our expectations around customer service and bricks-and-mortar retailers are changing in response. On behalf of ZDNet, I recently attended the Rethinking Retail Technology event, organised by Rackspace in London, and discovered how individual high street stores are adopting distinct strategies.

Take Oliver White, ecommerce director at Heal’s, who says the furniture specialist likes to offer customers a large amount of personalisation. The firm recently completed a proof of concept trial for in-store tablet technology. Customers were able to use mobile devices to engage with furniture via near-field communication. White says each access point provided additional information on products, such as dimensions and materials:

“It allowed customers to build a digital wish list, to discover product information and to check availability. What we’ve learnt through the trial is that customers want access to the detailed information they can get online, but they also want to come in store to touch and feel the products.”

Nick Hopkinson, CIO at Devon Partnership NHS Trust, faces a different kind of challenge in regards to customer service. I recently interviewed the experienced IT leader for Computer Weekly and discovered how he is directing his attention to transformation at the trust, which was established in 2001 and supports 18,000 people across Devon and Torbay.

The required focus on great technology can be a challenge in the current cash-constrained environment. Hopkinson recognises that every pound that is attributed to IT – and, therefore, not spent on direct healthcare – must lead to big increases in the quality of patient care:

“As technology professionals, we need to work beyond the walls of the traditional IT department and become part of wider business planning decisions, so that the importance of digital transformation is articulated and understood.”

The challenge around customer service, then, is unlikely to diminish any time soon. In coming weeks, I’ll be analysing other key concerns for modern CIOs, including the rise of other roles – such as the CDO – and the importance of new cross-European initiatives. If you’d like to get involved in some of the articles I’m putting together, just drop me a line at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk. It would be great to hear from you.


The Friday Update 7: Using the cloud to disrupt the business in a secure manner

First up this week are a couple of articles I had published in The Sunday Times for a Raconteur supplement on cloud computing. The first article – on disruptive business models – highlights how the cloud has reached a tipping point, as buying IT on demand has moved to the core of technology provision with organisations using it to transform their operations.

The features quotes a range of independent experts and CxOs who are using the cloud as a platform for change. One of these individuals is Alex Hamilton, co-founder and chief executive of Radiant Law, an innovative and high-tech commercial contracts firm that uses the cloud to communicate and collaborate with staff and clients:

“We’re continually looking for better ways to serve the needs of our clients. The cloud provides the base layer that allows us to run our firm effectively, but it also allows us to experiment. The future of our business is tightly linked to the cloud.”

The supplement also included an article on the top five unusual for the cloud, from keeping animals fed and happy to bringing the written word to life. Independent publisher Faber & Faber is using cloud platform Box to manage incoming manuscripts from draft to final approval. Jim Lindsay, integration specialist at Faber & Faber, says the system is helping the firm embrace the digital world:

“Content is central to what we do and cloud computing makes content easily accessible for all staff, no matter where they are located in the world.”

Moving to the cloud involves a careful consideration of information security. Yet another article by me for ZDNet this week suggests most businesses are badly prepared when it comes to dealing with cyber attacks. Despite almost constant warnings about security threats, most companies rate their cyber resilience as low, even though they spend a huge chunk of their IT budgets on security.

Focusing on risk management is crucial, says Colin Lees at BT Business, whose main aim is to ensure potential points of entry are locked down. People policies are also important and he says BT has a range of plans and procedures for key areas, including building security, system access, and worker behaviour, in terms of education and training:

“The key to success is risk management, with an appropriate level of spend. You have to be prepared to invest. When I speak to other CIOs in other sectors, I sometimes find there’s less investment in security than at BT. Being so network-oriented means it’s a crucial area of IT spend for us.”

As mentioned in my last update, I’ll be writing more skills-based articles for The Register in coming weeks. My next article will focus on the role of the CDO. If you have an angle or an idea, drop me a line. I’m also always keen to hear from CIOs and independent experts who have an opinion or responsibility for areas of Europe beyond the UK. Just drop me a line if you’d like to get involved at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk.


The Friday Update 6: Creating new opportunities through great leadership skills

Analysts expect virtual reality (VR) to be one of the key trends of 2016, with big vendors set to launch an array of related technologies. The consumer market for VR is evolving quickly, but how will such devices be used in the business?

My latest piece for ZDNet explores the trend. Late last year, mapping specialist Ordnance Survey (OS) created a 10km by 10km recreation of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. OS has now released a VR tour of the mountain scape for Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.

David Haynes, software developer and VR expert at OS, says the firm’s experimental work shows how other businesses could use the technology. He says potential beneficiaries are organisations with transferable information:

“I’m fairly confident that VR has lots of potential applications. We’ve already talked to some of our partners about use cases, such as helping businesses to view a location virtually before a physical site visit. We’re still at the start of the journey but the possibilities are endless.”

My first article for The Register, also published this week, analyses the impact of new technology on the role of the CIO. It suggests that technology leadership, which is normally a demanding role, has become something else in today’s world. Modern CIOs must not only maintain day-to-day IT operations but also manage the heightened expectations of a tech-savvy user base.

There is good news. It’s the fact that most businesses, despite the ability to source technology on-demand through access to things like CRM delivered as a service, still recognise the importance of strong IT leadership:

Research from the Tech Partnership and Experian suggests there will be more, not fewer, specialist technology roles with growth likely the greatest amongst IT directors – 37.5 per cent growth between 2015 and 2025. 

Great CIOs, then, will always be in demand all over the globe. One such IT leader is Johan Kestens, managing director and CIO at ING Belgium. I spoke to the experienced IT director for Computer Weekly this week, who is approaching the end of his second year at the bank and is keen to help the business make the most of innovation.

To help deliver on his transformative aim of a new style of banking, Kestens is keen to modernise the firm’s application and infrastructure portfolio. Innovation is crucial, said Kestens, pointing to his bank’s continued efforts in wearable technology. The aim, he says, is to be as digital as possible – and that requires access to great talent:

“The power of imagination is crucial. Increasingly, the world is beginning to understand that engineers are like artists – there are engineers that make a difference and we all want access to those people.”

I’ll be writing more skills-based articles for The Register in coming weeks. If you have an angle or an idea, drop me a line. As in the case of Johan Kestens at ING, I’m always keen to hear from CIOs and independent experts who have an opinion or responsibility for areas of Europe beyond the UK. Just drop me a line if you’d like to get involved at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk.


The Friday Update 5: How to win at innovation and develop an IT strategy fit for the digital age

Modern IT leaders are under siege. CIOs are expected to keep systems up and running, while also keeping track of fast-changing business demands and the technologies that can help improve organisational effectiveness. My latest feature for Computer Weekly analyses the ways in which CIOs can develop an IT strategy that delivers real change and lasting business benefits in the digital age:

Former CIO turned digital advisor Ian Cox says in the article that disruption usually happens in industries that have not seen any major change in business models, products and services for prolonged periods. One approach that some CIOs have taken is to develop a digital strategy that is separate to the firm’s overall approach to IT. But Cox is adamant than no separation should exist:

“What every organisation needs is a single business strategy, and the CIO should take part to provoke debate and extend capabilities. The modern CIO should be a person who knows what’s coming in terms of IT and the startup community.”

CIOs, then, need to be creative. But say that someone in your firm comes up with a great idea – is your first thought to keep the intellectual property confined within the enterprise firewall, or would you rather share those ideas with external partners, peers, and even competitors?

Some experts believe the closed nature of how most organisations deal with innovation means business and society at large are missing out on benefits that could inspire growth. My latest feature for ZDNet suggests that one way to encourage a more open approach to creativity is through horizontal innovation, which involves the systematic transfer of knowledge and technology from one sector to another.

Gordon Attenborough, head of sectors at the IET, says business leaders in all sectors must understand the importance of horizontal innovation. He says good examples of idea sharing can be seen in the healthcare and aerospace industries. Other technologists should use their awareness to solve some of the greatest conundrums in business:

“There are solutions to your challenges already out there, irrespective of the discipline. Those challenges cover the broad span of B2B and B2C issues – we just need to makes sure that cross-sector conversations take place. Horizontal innovation is a low cost way to create business solutions that can have a very big impact.”

Elsewhere, I’ve just put the finishing touch to an article on cloud computing for a Raconteur supplement in The Sunday Times, and I’m just completing an article for The Register on the evolving nature of the IT leadership role.

As ever, I’m always keen to hear from people who want to contribute to IT, business and leadership features, so just drop me a line if you’d like to get involved at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk. It’s always good to hear from independent experts who have a new take on strategy and innovation, particularly when it comes to leading-edge technology.


The Friday Update 4: Getting your head out of the clouds to engage with business partners

Long gone are the days when an IT leader could forge a career by simply keeping enterprise systems up and running. As my article for Computer Weekly this week demonstrates, CIOs must move beyond the safe confines of the technology department and work with senior executives across all lines of business:

Great CIOs are able to have conversations with their peers about challenges in their specific area of the business and the potential use of technology for innovation to create value. Such CIOs act – first and foremost – as business leaders, and then as technology chiefs.

The piece includes comment from Jaeger CIO Cathy McCabe, who I profiled just before Christmas. McCabe has made it her number one priority to create an IT-led business transformation. As proof of her abilities, she was promoted to the board six months after moving into the CIO role. Yet McCabe also recognises digital awareness is not her only capability:

“I’m not your typical IT professional. Like everyone else around the boardroom table, I’m a business person. We all work closely together to make the most of IT because technology touches every part of a modern retail organisation.”

I’ve also had a piece published by ZDNet this week on best practice tips for moving to the cloud. The piece centres on the transformative work of Chris Hewertson, CTO at hotel group glh, who has pushed a cloud-led business transformation in his organisation. The firm does not run any in-house servers and 95 per cent of IT services are delivered through the cloud:

“You often have to bring the case together for three or four processes. The true value from the cloud often only becomes clear when you’re running many services because the benefits of resourcing then become sharper to the rest of the business.”

I’ll be writing about cloud again during the next few weeks. I’m also working on copywriting projects for clients. If you’d like me to give you a hand on white papers, research or corporate copy, let me know. When it comes to editorial, I’m always keen to hear from CIOs, c-suite executives or independent experts who have something interesting to say about any form of business technology. So drop me a line at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk. It would be lovely to hear from you.


The Friday Update 3: From the edge to the core – smart thinking in regards to start-ups and the cloud

I’m feeling a bit for Pluto this week. News of the potential discovery of a ninth planet at the far edges of the Kuiper belt must smart for a ball of rock that was only reclassified as a dwarf planet ten years ago. Hard times for a former planet named by an eleven-year-old schoolgirl in Oxford.

Down in London, I’ve been investigating the potential use of start-ups by big businesses. The piece for Computer Weekly presents top tips from people in the know and suggests that, with creativity seen as a key competitive differentiator, CIOs are being charged to help find new solutions to intractable business challenges, including from the start-up community:

CIOs must recognise that larger, fast-growing start-ups should be approached differently. Companies that float on the stock market can change their approach and even become destabilised, especially if they are burning through cash to reach a target size.

Many start-ups, of course, have the luxury of being able to start their IT set-up from a greenfield position, probably making heavy use of the cloud. For senior executives thinking of making a move on-demand, I’ve just produced an article for ZDNet presenting the three key areas to consider through 2016 – costs, processes and roles:

The cloud will branch into new areas of provision through 2016. Rather than just picking elements of enterprise IT to run on-demand, researcher Forrester says we are entering a new stage of the cloud, where executives will be able to run entire business ecosystems in the cloud.

I’ll be analysing the cloud further in a forthcoming piece in a Raconteur supplement for The Sunday Times. The article will consider the role of the cloud in innovation and future business models. Basically, how is cloud computing allowing enterprises to develop new products, services and lines of business? I’d be really keen to hear from anyone who has a view, particularly in regards to using the cloud in a business context.

I’m also investigating the use of virtual reality in a business context. It’s still a niche area but, once again, any views or opinions would be welcomed. If you have a view, just drop me a line at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk.


The Friday Update 2: Priority setting for the New Year – from the Internet of Things to the power of personal branding

A couple of weeks into 2016 and priority setting continues apace. I’ve just written a piece for ZDNet, which suggests that CIOs can expect to hear a lot more about the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2016. The trend is right at the peak of Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies and IT leaders will have to help the business make sense of connected devices. The experts in the article – including Colin Lees, CIO at BT Business – suggest the role for IT leaders is to help their executives get beneath the hype and understand potential use cases:

“If you’re a business leader who’s focused on revenues and margins, you’re not going to be overly concerned with something that isn’t going to affect the business for at least five years. The IoT is struggling from being too intangible. Nothing happens in the world without a business case. But once you’ve got one, you can get moving.”

I spoke to Colin at length for Computer Weekly just before Christmas, where he outlined his achievements in regards to organisational transformation. Lees’ aim for the next 12 to 24 months is to help BT Business build on the platform and services the firm has developed. His other objective is to continue his journey towards being a more externally focused CIO, including offering best practice advice to some of his peers:

“I’ve taken the things I’ve learnt during the past two years and I’m using those as case studies. I’ve got major CIOs of blue-chip companies coming in to see about their IT estates, regarding how they deal with information and security. What I’m finding is that, when I speak to peers, we have a lot to talk about. When you’ve been there, done it and got the scars on your back, it helps to create very good conversations.”

I’ll be speaking to other CxOs about their business and IT priorities during the coming months, so if you’re a senior executive that wants to be profiled – or you just have something to say – drop me a line. I’m always keen to chat with interesting people. As I mentioned last time, I’ve got a few editorial projects on the go at the moment. I’m having a look at virtual reality in the business, so if you’ve got an opinion on VR, let me know at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk.


The Friday Update 1: News and views for business leaders who care about technology

I’ve had a few things published by ZDNet recently. I put together a weekly article on the views of IT and business leaders – some profile a single individual, others poll a series of CIOs, others are more opinion-focused. One of the recent articles covered CIO priorities for 2016. The article seemed to gain quite a lot of traction on social media, probably as it provides some sort of short hand for the kinds of things IT leaders should be focusing on through this year:

CIOs have many competing demands on their time, so it’s important that they focus on the big issues that really matter. ZDNet explores the research, speaks to the experts and discovers the five priority areas for CIOs through 2016. Here’s what CIOs will have on their to-do list this year, from finding the right talent to taking time out to focus on the next big thing.

The above article features comments from a series of IT leaders, including esure CIO Mark Foulsham. Mark knows his specialist field inside and out. I spoke to him a few times during the past 12-or-so months, including a profile feature for Computer Weekly about his plans for IT at the insurance firm. He provides an interesting take on transformation, particularly around new areas of innovation, such as mobility and the use of hackathons:

Mark Foulsham, group CIO at insurance firm esure, is overseeing an IT transformation plan that he hopes will help future-proof the business for the fast-evolving nature of modern business technology. The programme – which involves operating platforms, computing appliances, virtualisation and the cloud – is just the latest project for experienced IT leader Foulsham.

I’m currently working on a piece for The Register about the movement of business people into the IT profession. There’s a view that more outsiders from a non-techie background are coming in. The article will look at whether this is true overall, or whether it’s only true for certain fields or vertical sectors. I’m happy to hear your views – contact me at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.ukAs ever, I’m always looking for CIO and business leader comment for a range of features. Again, just drop me a line if you’d like to get involved.

Outsourcing’s five cast-iron rules: Break them at your peril

How do you get the best from outsourcing contracts without them getting the better of you? VocaLink COO Ian Guasden, who has worked on both sides of the outsourcing divide, offered me his key tips for a TechRepublic article:

CIOs face an expanding list of business objectives, which they have to meet by implementing a cost-effective and efficient tech strategy. Some IT leaders concentrate on inhouse development, but a lot of technology money is still spent outside the organisation.

With the pressure still on costs, analyst firm Gartner expects worldwide spending on IT outsourcing services to reach $251.7bn in 2012, a 2.1 per cent year-on-year increase from 2011.

The fastest-growing area is cloud computing, which the analyst expects to grow by 48.7 per cent in 2012 to $5bn. It’s a sign that CIOs are continuing to draw on external services and see going beyond the corporate boundary for IT as essential for ensuring value for the business.

Ian Gausden, chief operating officer at VocaLink, has overall responsibility for technology at the payments specialist. Here he provides his five top tips for CIOs looking to make the most from outsourcing contracts.

To read the rest of the feature, please click here.

Future IT trends: Experts pick out their top tips

Having a strong idea of the next innovation to affect the business can make the difference between a good and a great CIO. So, what’s next on the agenda for business technology? I asked five experts to try and predict the future of IT inside and outside the enterprise:

Denis McCauley, director of global technology research at the Economist Intelligence Unit, spends time researching future trends in IT and augmented reality – where computer-generated data is used to enhance live, real-world environments – is one of the areas that receives most attention.

McCauley says augmented examples might include additional information, such as facts and figures, being added to sporting broadcasts. “What you have there is something that is not totally virtual but which uses computer-generated data to enhance the viewing experience,” he says.

Businesses and vendors are expected to invest in new areas, with Juniper Research suggesting that mobile augmented reality revenues will approach $1.5bn by 2015. McCauley says some CIOs believe augmented reality could have an application in specific areas of business, such as customer service and staff training.

“Customer service reps could have multiple screens overlaid with increasing amounts of information,” says McCauley. “And gaming, which isn’t used that much in organisations yet, could be used as a tool to augment training and brainstorming activities.”

To read the rest of the feature, please click here.