We’re living in a real moment of digital acceleration. The development process gets faster, the hardware gets better and the leverage we’re getting out of data analytics is unparalleled. There are more processor choices than ever before, there’s an app for everything and independent software vendors around the world are doing all sorts of interesting things. When you get down to it, it’s a real digital jungle out there. And that’s exciting — but it can also be overwhelming, especially if you’re not steeped in the technology day in and day out.
Personally, I love the adventure. There’s something new and unexpected around every corner. But you have to start with that kind of optimism in mind to see the unfamiliar terrain as enormous opportunity.
My family is very fortunate in that we’ve had opportunities to travel to really unusual places all over the world, including jungles in Panama, South and Central America, Guatemala, Honduras and India. At one point my kids asked, “Hey mom, can we please just go to Colorado for vacation?”
So we decided to do what any normal family would do and hike Mount Kilimanjaro.
Now, when you climb Kilimanjaro, you don’t go alone. You have tons of porters. It's a ridiculous thing. We had seven or eight people in our group climbing Kilimanjaro and probably 40 porters. And that’s because they carry everything. But more than just carrying everything, your porters know the way — not just the direction to go, but how to read the weather, how much water to bring based on where the water sources are and so much more. They’re incredibly smart. You trust them. And because you have so much trust and confidence in them, you stop worrying about the journey. You relax, forget about the possible risks and take in the amazing world around you.
My friend, Pat Gelsinger (he’s now the CEO of Intel), also climbed Kilimanjaro and experienced the caravan of porters. Afterward, he aptly made the analogy that we, as IT partners, must be the porters for our clients on their IT journeys. The analogy stuck with me, especially today as I think about the pace of innovation and just how much our clients are trying to navigate.
So if you find yourself standing at the fringe of the digital jungle — whether you’re about to begin a cloud journey or embark on an Internet of Things (IoT) safari or something in between — here’s my porter’s wisdom to help you come out on top.
We’ve been telling organizations to modernize their infrastructure for years and that will probably never change. Modern infrastructure is the bridge to business transformation — it’s what enables you to leverage emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the IoT and the intelligent edge.
COVID-19 was a tremendous accelerator for IT modernization because all of a sudden, organizations needed to be more flexible. That meant breaking down business process barriers that were always in the way, because they had to.
Telehealth is such a prime example of this. Things like HIPPA restrictions and healthcare regulations made widespread adoption of telehealth difficult — until it couldn’t. Consulting with a doctor via telephone or a video call wasn’t a new thing in 2020. But it’s a new thing for insurance companies to pay for a virtual consultation and diagnosis. COVID-19, although devastating, really cleared the path for transformation.
On the surface, automation is about eliminating tedious or repetitious tasks, minimizing errors and creating greater efficiency. Automation frees up time for your team to work on the transformational elements of the business that matter most to your customers. What’s more, automation gives you control over that “digital jungle.” By creating touchless transactions, things happen exactly as you designed them to and consistently with your policies. From infrastructure deployment to funneling order intake, the opportunities and use cases for automation are abundant.
I have an important question to challenge every business and IT leader with: How are you leveraging the data you collect today to really change your business, your business model, your customer experience or the risk profile of your company? And for some organizations, this isn’t just a question of using the data you have, but also asking if you’re using all the possible data available to you.
Here’s an example: At Insight, we’ve had a long-standing relationship with a large grocery store chain where, for years, we've provided them with devices for their core business. Just in the last few years, we began helping them reimagine and modernize the customer experience in stores. They had several business goals: Enhance the customer experience, improve food and worker safety, and increase store efficiency and sustainability.
We helped implement IoT/intelligent edge solutions to look at everything from real-time pricing updates for products to monitoring energy usage in things like freezers and lighting within the hallways. We looked at customer buying patterns to improve stocking and staffing, and to better manage disruption.
Proof point: In the old model, grocers would typically only have Point-of-Sale (POS) data to learn from. Now, the grocery chain is generating data and processing at the edge to capture information from many different sources, providing a more comprehensive and dynamic view of the business from which to improve, innovate and evolve.
Jason Jennings said it best: “It’s not the big that eat the small, but the fast that eat the slow.” Making bold moves can be hard if you’re a public company — you don’t want to disappoint shareholders. Accelerating innovation can feel challenging if you’re a large company — there are so many pieces to move and stakeholders to involve. But at the end of the day, business transformation is dependent on leadership and a mindset of agility. It’s a decision to be bold and be fast — to choose speed over perfection.
This might mean taking a little more risk to deliver a better customer experience as fast as possible versus waiting to make sure you don’t lose ten cents on a deal or that you have the perfect contract agreement — there’s just no time for that. That’s not competitive.
And if you have doubts about that, consider how dramatically Amazon changed our perception of speed. Paying for shipping and waiting up to one week to receive an online order used to be pretty standard. But Amazon Prime completely changed that. Think about, too, how Uber changed our perception of convenience. Or how AirBnB changed our perception of hospitality.
I’ll be the first to admit speed isn’t without consequence. There are plenty of examples where a decision to move fast leads to things needing to be fixed. I learned this early on in my career while I was running tech support at my former company, almost 20 years ago. We made the decision to move all of our call centers for our corporate clients to India. We were convinced this was a really smart idea that was going to save the company tens of millions of dollars — and we believed we could do it very quickly. We chartered a six-month project plan to get the new call centers up and running. As we approached go-live, there were warning lights all over the place that we weren’t ready, but we did it anyway. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. The pain to our customers was significant and real.
But the great thing is that we moved fast, and we failed fast, and then we fixed fast. We also learned from it. In that example, we realized we needed to provide more training. Sometimes you’re beholden to the speed at which your teams can come along with you. Leadership must provide the tools, time and frequent feedback loops to support change — especially at an accelerated pace.
But, all that said, our instinct was right. While we miscalculated the people-side of change, we were right to move fast on the decision. Today the call center in India is very successful and provides great customer experience, which leads me to my next piece of advice.
If you’re not taking risks, you’re probably not doing anything very interesting. This is a moment of great exploration and discovery — and that’s not only amazing but incredibly rewarding and fun to be a part of.
Lately at Insight, we’ve been focused on helping clients leverage the intelligent edge. In the simplest of terms, edge computing enables real-time computing power by pushing data processing to edge devices. This means that workloads are placed closer to the source of data collection where an action needs to take place. It’s a pretty wild space right now. There are no standards or best practices that are well established and accepted across verticals — it’s all very much in the making. For all those reasons and more, I find the intelligent edge really exciting. As a former plant manager, the notion of being able to automate your manufacturing production activities, and manage the data in such a way that you can reduce downtime and scrap, is fantastic and very tangible.
The intelligent edge is also already being deployed to improve safety for workers in traditionally dangerous jobs. We worked with a railroad to deploy an intelligent edge solution that uses drones to survey approximately 32,000 miles of track. Prior to that, field workers were manually conducting railroad maintenance inspections. The intelligent edge solution consisted of IoT-connected solutions, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, otherwise known as drones), moving rail cars and intelligent switches, as well as a powerful analytics dashboard that our team deployed. The result was improved worker safety and faster maintenance — both of which are extremely material to the business and its workers. But when you take it even one step further, the ultimate beneficiary of this is the railroad customer. Proactive and faster maintenance means greater uptime and more reliable service.
Another powerful, emerging trend is the use of advanced analytics and AI. Computer vision is a great example of this power. Manufacturing production lines have seen some of the earliest applications of computer vision.
My favorite example of this use case is with a client of ours, Clover Imaging Group. They wanted to use technology to automate product cycle counting, which was historically time-consuming and labor intensive. We used computer vision to capture a picture of a palette each time an item was restocked or picked for shipment. These images would then be uploaded and used to automate the cycle counting process with a 93% accuracy rate.
The greatest part of this client work was that they wanted the solution to be highly accurate and scalable, yet simple and accessible enough to be used by staff members with disabilities — and we were able to help them achieve those goals.
Change is hard. There are always good reasons not to do something. The secret, I think, is to proceed with the right team around you. Because you can buy the hiking boots and backpack, the compass and the walking sticks — and these are all very helpful, if not essential tools for the journey — but acquiring the tools (or the technology) is often not enough. It’s a complex terrain, and it’s easy to get lost or tripped up along the way.
And this is where I think we, Insight, bring so much value — because we know the way. We've seen different technology deployments and projects across so many customers and industries. Like the Kilimanjaro porters, we know the reference points and benchmarks. We recognize the warning signs and can navigate the fastest course.
When it comes to technology, it’s absolutely a jungle out there. But it’s alright — trust your porters. We can show you the way through the digital jungle and help you use technology in ways that are going to deliver the outcomes that ensure you come out on top.