Pandemic fast-tracks tech, culture innovation

While employees have settled into month seven of the remote work landscape, leaders across the tech industry are still pushing for sustained technology and culture transformation to ensure innovation is here to stay. 

As more organizations have made the switch to cloud to support a scalable and remote technology infrastructure, Stephen Franchetti, vice president of IT and business technology at Slack, predicts reintegrating applications will be the next wave of modernization. 

Transformation around correcting the fragmentation of work caused by the explosion of SaaS applications is on the horizon, he said, speaking during a MIT Sloan Digital Learning Series event on Wednesday.

“The challenge that this has created is there’s a lot of silos of data, knowledge, and processes within the organization,” Franchetti said. “The digital HQ in the future is all about this integrated work stack with more applications actually coming together and playing well together.”

At Slack leaders are investing in more intelligent automation to create a “digital HQ.” Already, 50% of the company’s IT support uses automation to improve the employee experience and productivity, according to Franchetti. 

The pandemic fast-forwarded transformation efforts as businesses adapted to the digital-first world. Companies had to course-correct to adjust to the changing landscape, with innovation and lasting culture change quickly following. 

Pilots fueling post-pandemic innovation

From expanding VPNs to meet higher demand on the network to sending employees home with office equipment, companies found innovative ways throughout the pandemic to stay productive.

Quick, problem-solving pilots fueled companies like Zimmer Biomet since March and “none of that is throwaway,” said Zeeshan Tariq, senior vice president and chief information officer at Zimmer Biomet. 

Innovative tech will likely be at the forefront of further transformation for internal and client facing IT processes, even as the pandemic fades. Automation and artificial intelligence are meeting customers in the digital age, and have become one way to reduce human-to-human interaction at a time when in-person help is difficult to realize. 

IT teams should continue “to make sure that the tech wasn’t just enabling the basics, but it was actually allowing us to be innovative as well,” said Graham Wilkinson, executive vice president of product strategy and innovation at Kinesso, on the panel.

Striking the balance between helping customers go through a massive acceleration while supporting a remote workforce was a challenge at companies such as Equinix’s Packet.

The company plans to have sustained investments in training on asynchronous communication norms and building virtual relationships, said Zachary Smith, managing director of Equinix Company’s Packet.

Incoming culture change

Behind the tech transformation, a long-lasting culture shift to support IT modernization effort is an emerging theme across sectors. 

Keeping the virtual culture strong will remain a priority as organizations realize productivity and efficiency are possible in a remote work environment, Tariq said. 

“As we continue to operate in this mostly virtual environment for the foreseeable future, our collective challenge is to ensure that this connective tissue is not only maintained, but further strengthened,” he said.

Having a workforce with a digital mindset is what prepared Kinesso for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilkinson said.

While sustaining a culture of innovation, Wilkinson urged the IT workforce to keep asking why tech investments are being made. “We have to stop adding complexity to our system,” he said. “It is way too complex and way too fragmented and solutions need to be consolidated and clients need clear solutions.” 

Asking why will start to simplify solutions, Wilkinson said.

CIOs have been pinned as leaders of the innovation culture change, but what this looks like can vary by team and company.

Agility and strong culture are vital to riding out the rest of the pandemic and company recovery, according to Franchetti. Employee wellness became a priority in the switch to telework as organizations worked to mitigate spread of the virus. Companies that can keep a digital culture alive are best suited for the future. 

“The winners in the future are those companies that really stayed closest to their customers and really pivoted fastest to serve them the best and really embrace this whole idea of the digital HQ and what that means for the digital office moving forward,” Franchetti said.