Digital Transformation and Leadership



In this week's blog post, we're sharing insights on digital transformation from Helen Fanucci, a Digital Transformation Sales Leader, Team Builder and Strategic Thinker at Microsoft. She is also an Educational Counselor for Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she recruits and interviews the next generation of technology leaders.

Helen has started my career as an engineer, as a graduate from MIT and started working for IBM. She shares, shortly into her career, she has realised that she didn’t want to be in the back room, making technology, but out in the front with customers, helping them use technology for business benefits and outcomes. With this continuous mindset and some good fortune of being in great organisations, she could be in roles where she's helping customers utilize technology most effectively. Gladly, Microsoft has been in front lines, when it came to helping customers transform rapidly when the pandemic hit. In our interview, we have deep dived into digital transformation as many organizations are busier than ever “digitizing” and Helen's unique journey to leadership in one of the largest corporations in the world.

Digital Transformation During Pandemic

In many industries, COVID has accelerated the move to digital transformation. To give a better perspective, two years of digital transformation was accelerated into just two months.  Of course, this has brought some changes in the market, and everyone had to adapt quickly in this crisis. Some companies were more prepared than others to move their whole entire workforce to home. So some of the things Microsoft and other pioneers did early on helped many companies provision not only with laptops and surface devices and move to the home, but help them with their security, moving from a firewall type arrangement into a zero trust cloud arrangement as it’s impossible to actually be able to effectively identify security threats without the use of advanced technology like AI and machine learning.

Moving the company structures to public cloud enables them to be much more adaptable and work collaboratively across the population. You and your employees can be anywhere in the world. It’s really impossible to do digital transformation and remote work without being in a public cloud environment because of the power and the scale that it provides. With already so much foundation on digital transformation, hybrid work is likely here to stay, and this is one of the biggest changes the pandemic has brought into the workforce. And what we’re seeing now is companies really rethinking their infrastructure to be much more resilient, secure and one of the challenges and risks right now is the capacity for software engineers is at all time demand. For example, in India, where many companies go for some software development work, they’re completely at capacity and even the 1.2 million new software engineers that graduate every year get a position in an instance.

With such demand, there is a big strain on organizations to actually be able to harden their environments and to move to the next level of transformation. This is a challenge across the globe with everybody rethinking work and trying to move their infrastructure from what Helen calls technical debt, meaning antiquated or older systems, and they are trying to modernize rapidly because they see the need to do that in anticipation of well situations that might come, that were unanticipated like this current pandemic.

Digital and Cultural Transformation

Transformation in Microsoft began years ago. And one of the things that they started doing is really looking at all their applications and consolidating them,  as well as  putting all their data into a common "data lake". Using the same data resource not only enables more efficiency, but it also allows companies to pull from the same data source so that they can have richer conversations within their branches on digital transformation. This may seem like a small thing but transforming and modernizing an IT organization and environment is literally impossible without cultural transformation and such conversations.

As the CEO, one of Satya’s first imperatives was really to focus on cultural transformation at Microsoft, and that’s been huge and it is ongoing. Surely, Microsoft is still on that journey, but they managed to work together much more collaboratively. As a very matrix organisation, and with heavy team work, it’s not just about the technology, but it’s also about how people work together. This is now a reality for many other companies and industries, may it be small or tech giants. As now we commute not by auto or public transport, but  by logging on to our keyboards and it takes new skills, new skills of collaboration and building trust, not only with each other and a work environment, but equally with our customers. Many companies underestimate what it takes to build a strong culture where people want to give their best at work, where they feel included, where they’re able to see career advancement, and work collaboratively. It’s a journey and it is underestimated and digital transformation truly at its core is not about technology, but about culture and the people.

Cultural Transformation and Creating Good Work From Home

One of the things that pandemic has shown us is everybody is in a different situation. Some people have kids that they need to homeschool because all the schools are home, they have parents or family members that have been hit with the pandemic that may be in the hospital. So empathy and really connecting with people on a human level has become super important. As a leader, it is very important to hear your team. Asking how they are doing, what is going on, how can you as leader help and support them. The wellbeing and health of the employees should be first and foremost, because you as a leader can’t get anything done without a healthy workforce. Creating flexible work arrangements or pandemic leave for people that need to take some more time off became a norm. 

You can also use many online tools to collaborate with each other and focus on efficiency, now that everyone is working virtually. For example, you can shorten the meetings quite well, such as instead of a 30 minute meeting, make it 25 minutes or an hour meeting, make it 50 minutes. There is also a lot of research in brain science for creating a new outlook on different ways of working. So we really have to look at new ways of working, such as allowing naps between sessions or going for a short walk. However, this is more on the internal structure and it is equally important to reflect the same kind of empathy towards your customers. We have to understand that our customer has their own set of challenges and how we can meet them where they are and better serve them in their career.

Cyber Security and Cloud Providers

Helen shares that at Microsoft, they look at trillions of signals in a month, billions of analysis and take millions of actions. The emails alone reach 450 to 500 millions in a month so you really need advanced analytics tools like AI and machine learning. And it is a risk to organizations if they’re not current and using the latest technology, if there is antiquated hardware, they are more vulnerable to attacks. With all of the sophisticated nation state attacks, a public cloud provider can be far more secure. It’s literally impossible for a single organization to have that kind of sophisticated security implemented within the organization and still be agile and be able to respond to the next pandemic or earthquake or threat. Accordingly, being on a public cloud is kind of like having herd immunity. 

Digital Transformation and Risk Management

Risk managers never really envisioned a global pandemic, but they were all about earthquakes or floods. And although they are devastating local events, the global scale of pandemics like COVID puts the whole industry in a different perspective. So it is really important to think differently about business continuity and risk in our business and make sure that you have agile infrastructure, modern infrastructure that can really adapt as organizations need to adapt to new risks.

Secondly, talent is more important than ever with the increase in hybrid and remote work. Now it is possible to look into talent resourcing from a global perspective. One of the risks organizations may not have fully realized is looking at their talent, their talent strategies and how they’re going to retain people. Because now you're competing with companies all around the world and many employees might prefer to pick somewhere that won't require them to full time go to the office after the pandemic ends. Same thing applies to customer interaction, as it is very important to look at whether your customers come to your office or if you will need to create new strategies for how we interact with your customers and conduct business, for example about the necessity of real estate and an office environment.

Takeaway Points

First and foremost is, looking at your strategies for how you support a global remote workforce and make sure it gets securely protected so if it was a workaround make it a permanent fixture. If you don’t have a remote work technology infrastructure or secure infrastructure strategies in place your business continuity might be in risk.

The other thing is really pay attention to your talent and put in place deliberate culture strategies. Culture starts with a point of view, a set of values and vision within the organization. Rethink about your vision statement, and whether your set of values are still relevant. Restructuring your work to be effective and relevant for the community and the talent that you’re trying to attract will be a differentiator in the business opportunities, possibilities and revenue growth. 

And there’s a lot to think about diversity as you can now more than ever hire people that are diverse. You have to think thoroughly about having people feel included. Being inclusive really requires behavior change and that’s much harder to do, so it takes being very intentional. As we've mentioned before, to begin with, a leader has to be emphatic towards their team and this cannot be done properly without extensive thought put into diversity and inclusivity.

Closing Words

For now, this sums up the key points of our interview. As the Global Risk Community team, we once again thank Helen Fanucci for her insight on digital transformation. More information about this topic is available in our original interview, which is accessible here.

#risk #culture #digital transformation #leadership #cyber security

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Ece Karel - Community Manager - Global Risk Community

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