It’s official: information technology has become indistinguishable from the business. That means today’s IT leaders also are assuming business leadership roles — and business leaders need to be IT leaders. What does it now take to successfully lead the technology direction of today’s and tomorrow’s enterprises?
The convergence of humans and machines is thoroughly explored by Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson, both with Accenture, in their forthcoming book, Radically Human: How New Technology is Transforming Business and Shaping Our Future. The technology leader of the 2020s needs to take an activist role in building the relationship between people and technology. “The convergence between business and technology means it’s highly likely that the first time a customer interacts with a near-human AI agent, puts on a pair of virtual reality goggles, or learns about blockchain, it will be linked to a company’s cutting-edge offering,” they write.
Daugherty and Wilson report on an Accenture survey which found that 80% of executives believe that systems of the future will provide seamless interaction with humans, and 78% believe these systems will adapt to suit human styles of work. “Since intelligent technologies will be pervasive in the workplace, as in our daily lives, it is paramount to design these systems to be radically human to get maximum returns.”
“Radically human” systems are the key to succeeding in business in the 2020s, and Daugherty and Wilson provide some key priorities that effective technology leaders need to adopt and make their own:
Promote adoption and adaptation of radically human technologies. “Using technologies such as natural language processing, computer vision, voice recognition, and machine learning, radically human systems are making human interaction with them easier and more efficient,” they state. “Companies can now reimagine systems to empower new human plus machine relationships with natural conversation, simple touches, and abundant personalization.”
Move from legacy to cloud. “Effective leaders will ramp down and digitally decouple legacy systems, while ramping up and cloud-enabling the boundarylessness, adaptability, and radically human features that characterize living systems,” Daugherty and Wilson state. “They will strategically adopt sophisticated cloud services, taking advantage of the increasing multitude of ways to organize and orchestrate networked architectures in order to increase speed, flexibility and responsiveness.”
Employ technology to make work meaningful. The 2020s technology leader employs cloud-based services “to enhance collaboration among employees and encourage ambitious projects that cut across business functions and geographies. They use the cloud to make work more interesting and data-driven by reducing rote tasks and manual maintenance work, or use cloud-based tools to make technology approachable.”
Build up the edge. Today’s and tomorrow’s leaders “will incorporate edge computing into cloud architectures, ensuring that what happens locally informs what’s known centrally, and vice versa. The edge becomes the path to insight on the cloud, and the cloud becomes the vehicle for disseminating that knowledge to the edge.”
Encourage digital fluency beyond the IT department. The 2020s technology leader will lead the way in reimagining “the way specialists and non-specialists interact with machines.” They will “imbue domain experts with the digital fluency to efficiently transfer their expertise to company processes and technology. Such fluency will equip them to develop creative ways to apply AI to the business.”
Put humans in the loop. “Don’t hesitate to put humans in the loop to directly impose their innate and acquired human abilities onto AI systems. It represents the highest and best use of human and machine; the former providing the near infinite and unsayable nuance of what we know and the latter supplying a superhuman efficiency.”
Look at IT holistically, in a business context. Finally, the 2020s technology leaders “will build a holistic approach to IT that melds strategy and technology across multiple layers of applications and systems,” Daugherty and Wilson write. “The great convergence of strategy and technology happens within and across IT systems. Organizations that successfully combine their business and technology strategies, and work to find their most valuable combination of technologies across the technology stack, will find themselves able to create one-of-a-kind offerings with unprecedented agility, capturing new markets no matter how fast the world changes.”