Digital transformation: Your career at a crossroads

IDC has dubbed digital transformation the “DX economy,” and the report noted that “enterprises will be measured by their ability to hit and exceed a whole new set of demanding performance benchmarks enabled by cloud, mobility, cognitive/artificial intelligence, internet of things, augmented reality/virtual reality, and the digital transformations fueled by these technologies.” No longer will digital transformation be about projects or initiatives, the firm said, but “the core of what industry leaders will do and how they operate.”

If IT leaders don’t step up to the plate, they risk being replaced with external vendors or service providers, warnsed McKinsey in its report on IT’s future value proposition. Right now, there is a negative perception of IT in areas critical to its future, the research firm maintains. These areas include: leading design of an e-commerce online experience; developing analytics use cases; identifying cutting-edge/innovative technologies, and even leading digital transformation across business, according to the firm’s July 2017 report.

It's no wonder IT leaders are exploring different options to stay relevant. Isabel Sauerbrey, vice president of IT and operations for the San Diego Tourism Authority, got her MBA recently. Sauerbrey said she is learning to “be more flexible and work with my customers … and just keep up and learn.” While she was in school, Sauerbrey became part of a group who have stayed in touch and constantly bounce ideas off one another. Some are in IT, and some are business executives. “We all help each other and encourage each other to learn,’’ she said. She also makes a point of going to conferences and seminars, and listening to what her customers want, which include the area’s hotels, restaurants, convention centers and tourist attractions.

She also leans on her technology vendors and consultants. Sauerbrey, who started her career as a developer and then moved on to systems analyst and project manager roles before becoming a CIO, said the key is being flexible and open to change. “It’s up to the IT person to learn this stuff,’’ she said. “There are too many things out there. You really have to just keep going and see what you can use in your business.”

The tourism authority is very involved with the San Diego business community and has a board with over 30 people who bring new ideas and suggestions, she added.

Shelton Shugar, CIO of Barclaycard, came to the card services company from the tech world and said he was looking for “something different” in his career. Although digital transformation was “part of my DNA,” he wasn’t familiar with financial services and liked the idea of a challenge.

“I got the sense that financial services was making a digital transformation already,’’ he said. “I saw an opportunity to leverage the newest technologies to advance an entire industry that affects a lot of people, and that appeals to me.”

He admited keeping his skills current comes with “great difficulty,” but said he read as much as possible and attended seminars. “The thing that works the best is I still get into technical discussions with all the key engineering leads, and nothing keeps you sharper than that.”

How to keep your edge

Lowey stays on top of cutting-edge technologies by spending a lot of time reading various tech sites, and by partnering with value-added resellers (VARs) that have access to early technology. He also makes a point of connecting with venture capital firms that can introduce him to stealth mode companies that give him access to and influence on how a product might be developed to meet TGen’s requirements, he said.

“It is important to have good feedback loops with these folks so that there is mutual benefit between parties,’’ Lowey said. Also important is “spending time at trade shows meeting with people and not necessarily spending a lot of time in the exhibit hall. Networking is key, and building a network around you is absolutely critical.” 

Those sentiments are echoed by Nick Perugini, CIO of Current, GE’s energy management company, who said he has three methods for staying up to speed on the latest technologies: reading a lot about concepts and future trends; attending conferences and connecting with partners; and doing hands-on testing to determine product value. “This is my path of going from concept to practice, so I’m constantly learning,” Perugini said.