Advice on digital transformation from the Red Hat Executive Exchange

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Each year, Red Hat brings together a network of technology experts, customers, partners, and IT visionaries for the Executive Exchange. At the forefront of everyone’s mind this year is digital transformation. Nowhere was this more apparent than during the final panel discussion and Q&A.

The panel was moderated by Meredith Whalen, senior vice president of IT Executive and Industry Research at IDC. She was joined on stage by Steve Weinswig (Fjord), Dietmar Fauser (Amadeus), Michael Hermus (DHS), Elwin Loomis (Target), Craig Muzilla (Red Hat), and Tim Yeaton (Red Hat).

Whalen began by asking: Is digital transformation the most important trend of our time? Panelists agreed: Yes. But they also noted that the idea isn’t entirely new.

The current pace of digital transformation, however, is new. And organizations are working hard to keep up. They’re constantly wondering: What’s next and how do we get there?

 

How can we simplify estimating the cost of implementing new technology solutions end-to-end?

We always want to know: How much is this going to cost? How much time will it take? And what will we get out of this?

Typically, we want the answers to these questions to be very well-defined. However, this is nearly impossible. Even when we give our best estimates and plan ahead, there will always be unknown or unexpected costs.

Perhaps the answer, then, is to ask a different question. Instead of planning in normal 12 month increments, what if we shortened the cycle? The pace of innovation is so quick now that what you currently have on your roadmap for 2 years out may become obsolete in 6 months. Shorter timeframes can give organizations the flexibility they need to innovate more efficiently and effectively.

 

How do you avoid getting stuck in the cycle of chasing the next big thing and never fully deploying any technology?

Technologies are evolving very quickly. But, it’s possible to protect your organization from some of the associated challenges of rapidly evolving tech by designing something that itself is capable of evolving. This means building an appropriate application architecture that’s modular. If one part becomes obsolete, you won’t have to build an entirely new architecture.

 

For organizations going through big transformations very quickly, what are the key things to tell developers that will help them be successful?

Teach developers fundamental rules. Keep it simple. Be modular. Make small, fast, and incremental updates. And move people between teams from time to time.

It’s not just about the technology, though. It’s about culture and mindset. However, it can be challenging to strike the perfect balance between changing an organization’s mindset and bringing in new talent. Knowing how and when to hire new people—and knowing when to work with partners—can make or break transformation.

 

How do you acquire and keep the right talent? And how do you use partners to focus on the right things at the right time?

The workforce is very fluid these days. A lot of talent won’t stay at the same company for their entire careers. Rather, they move around every 3-5 years. You’re essentially renting talent for a few years, at the most.

It’s best to work with partner in the following 2 scenarios. First, when they’re an expert and can teach you something new. Or second, when you need a burst of productivity. You don’t want to outsource too much knowledge and expertise though. When possible, eliminate or reduce permanent contractors. Try to bring them on board full time if they’re a good fit.

 

If you had to tweet out one piece of advice what would it be?

Steve Weinswig: People first.
Elwin Loomis: Culture matters
Dietmar Fauser: Go for your convictions.
Michael Hermus: Focus on value. Start. Learn. Improve.
Craig Muzilla: Don’t be afraid to act.
Tim Yeaton: Go to Booth 508.

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