As I write this, 2020 is already shaping up to be a very interesting and challenging year. Of course, right now we are all responding to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on health and the day-to-day lives of people all across the world. It would make sense to assume that CIOs have little time to focus on much else as their priority is to help employees feel supported and to continue serving customers who are reliant on their products and services every day, and in some cases, who depend on them even more during times like these.
However, in the midst of what’s happening, it’s also important for CIOs to take a step back and think about other important initiatives that they and their teams should focus on to continue to innovate on behalf of employees and customers. Initiatives like cybersecurity and digital transformation are pretty obvious. As important and sometimes all-consuming as these challenges are, they make up the day-to-day work of the average CIO. Instead, I want to spend some time talking about other, not so obvious and longer-term areas that CIOs should spend time thinking about this year.
5G and the coming enterprise mobile revolution
The first one—and a big one—is 5G. When fully implemented in the form of multi-spectrum networks, 5G will be transformative, particularly for the enterprise, which has largely been left out of the 4G LTE revolution that unlocked mobile living for billions of people.
To get a feel for what’s coming, all you have to do is imagine what can happen when you connect non-networked technologies like AI and machine learning, automation, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things to mobile devices using ultra-low latency wireless networks that can carry massive amounts of bandwidth beyond what today’s LTE networks deliver.
With near-real time processing and analytics in the cloud and software-defined networks, 5G will enable tens of thousands of use cases that are only now being imagined. From telepresence to telesurgery, to just-in-time supply chains, and smart cities that use AI and machine learning to vastly improve the efficient delivery of services, the outcomes 5G enables for all industries will amaze.
More than simply enabling enterprises to do what they already do faster, it’s about closing the gap between the cyber and physical worlds. It’s about using the concept of the mobile edge to break down the distance between the devices that need high bandwidth, the applications that are going to be delivered via that bandwidth, and the network itself. Millisecond access to mountains of data and functionality will merge the edge of the network with the data centers at the network core making them one. This will be game-changing for enterprises looking for opportunities to provide new products and services to new markets.
The federation of technology
Another area CIOs should focus on in 2020 is thinking about the federation of technology across the enterprise. By “federation,” I mean it’s the CIO’s job to ensure that technology isn’t siloed. Even though high-walls and deep moats can make for better sleeping tonight, CIOs must be thinking all the time about how to expand access to technology. Their jobs today are all about getting the right technologies to the right people, when and where they need it. This is the polar opposite of the siloed technology stacks that many organizations still struggle with today.
It’s about giving the frontlines access to digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to help them solve customer pain points in a more effective and personalized way. This extends to the back office as well and delivering cloud-native technologies to open up more capabilities for finance, HR, and other functional areas.
With so many fires to put out every day, this topic may be a little esoteric for a lot of CIOs, but it’s a huge focus of mine because it tends to dominate how we invest, how we build our organization, and it gives structure to what we spend our time delivering on. And this idea dovetails nicely with the next topic, which is approaching the job with a consumer products mindset.
Adopting a consumer products mindset
A “consumer products mindset” is about infusing a customer-first design philosophy into the IT organization’s DNA and digital transformation efforts. This means designing from the end-user back, collapsing the space between design and build. With this approach you don’t have separate teams writing requirements, building the services, and operationalizing them. You have a single group of people that work iteratively to deploy, sustain, and improve experiences of everyone who interacts with technology whether they’re employees, customers, partners, or vendors.
Even if they don’t use this expression, it’s what I see wise CIOs working towards today. The more this mindset is applied, the better you will be at creating and deploying great products and services. And it doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. This thinking extends to simple things like software-as-a-service. The idea here isn’t to simply deploy someone else’s product or service, but to think through the entire end-user experience, making sure that your deployment teams are abiding by those same customer-first principles.
We’ve been working very hard to do this at T-Mobile. We put developers, designers, product marketers, and whoever’s asking for it into teams that, collectively, have responsibility to ask the questions that unlock value for the end-user. The opposite of this is too often how it is done today—a product team, a requirements team, an architecture team, a build team, and an operations team all focused on their responsibilities but with little knowledge (or interest) in the big picture. Because the overarching goal is to delight the customer, a consumer products mindset makes no distinction between IT and the rest of the product development process or the business.
The possibilities of 2020 and beyond
By sharing these insights, my goal isn’t to downplay the importance of the more immediate activities that make up a CIO’s day but to lift up these ideas so that they help inform the execution of those activities in a way that fosters more innovative teams and creates better customer experiences.
Of course, all of this is happening against the backdrop of COVID-19. At a minimum, CIOs will have to continue thinking about how to help employees and customers weather the crisis and adapt to new ways of working and engaging with products and services. That means expanding technology capabilities in digital workplace resources to support new ways of working from a more distributed, nimble workforce—in call centers, retail, corporate, and other environments. Just as important is expanding access and capabilities in digital technologies that support customers and their increased demand for self-service web tools.
In the face of these more immediate challenges, much of what I talk about here still applies. This is particularly true when you think about the ever-expanding network edge and how you will provision resources to support a far more mobile workforce, not only today but into the future.
To read more from Cody Sanford and learn how T-Mobile is helping businesses make 5G and other technologies part of their mobility strategy, check out T-Mobile for Business Trends & Insights.