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Episode 41: How A Healthcare Organization Confronted COVID-19 With Automation & AI – OneShare Health’s Toby Buckalew

July 8, 2020    Episodes

Episode 41:  How A Healthcare Organization Confronted COVID-19 With Automation & AI

In today’s episode of Ayehu’s podcast we interview Toby Buckalew – CIO of OneShare Health.

Much of the world was caught off-guard when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted.  As governments began issuing stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow transmission of the virus that causes the disease, the corporate world struggled to redeploy their staff to remote work.  A notable organization that didn’t break stride during this upheaval was OneShare Health from Irving, TX, who leveraged automation and AI to execute a seamless transition to telecommuting for their workforce.  The result enabled their personnel to continue working at the same or higher levels of productivity as before the shutdown. 

The man behind this impressive feat was Toby Buckalew, OneShare Health’s CIO. As a veteran of digital transformations in healthcare, Toby had already laid the groundwork that would be crucial to OneShare Health continuing to offer uninterrupted services to its end users.  Toby joins us on this episode to share numerous insights, including why transforming people is the most important part of an enterprise digital transformation, why introverts may not be cut out for the job of CIO, and why road maps are better than detailed plans when it comes to transformation journeys. 



Guy Nadivi: Welcome, everyone. My name is Guy Nadivi, and I’m the host of Intelligent Automation Radio. Our guest on today’s episode is Toby Buckalew, CIO of OneShare Health, a faith-based nationwide healthcare sharing organization. At the time of this podcast’s recording, we find ourselves in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic and, as such, we want to find out from a C-suite IT executive in the healthcare space how automation and AI are making a difference to IT operations during this crisis. Toby has a lot of firsthand knowledge to share with us about that topic, and we thought our audience would benefit greatly from hearing him share his insights and takeaways. Toby, welcome to Intelligent Automation Radio.

Toby Buckalew: Guy, thank you very much for having me here.

Guy Nadivi: Toby, your organization, like many others, had to transition its personnel to work remotely due to your state’s stay-at-home order, which I understand you were able to accomplish rapidly. What role did automation play in enabling that kind of agility?

Toby Buckalew: Well, Guy, automation was a key element that allowed this to happen. We implemented a cloud-first, cloud-only strategy for our technology infrastructure, which made this possible. Now we required the ability to manage and reconfigure and update several hundred workstations remotely as we redeployed people to work from home.

Toby Buckalew: Now, how do we accomplish this in less than a week without touching all that equipment? Well, cloud-based endpoint management was leveraged to make those needed updates. It’s actually really neat the way it worked out. We matched the serial number of the machine from our database with the user and created a profile for them that said what firewall settings, what software was installed, how it was configured, and what was removed. Then when that user went home and logged in, those updates took effect wherever they were. We did not have to touch all those machines.

Toby Buckalew: Security was a big consideration for us and anyone moving their staff offsite. How do you ensure the same levels of security when you take them out of the protection of that office environment? For us, we did that using AI endpoint security, in addition to the traditional anti-virus and anti-malware endpoint protection that’s out there. But it allows us to monitor the behavior of the machine, what’s happening with the CPU, the memory, the drive, and look at what’s going beyond normal and catch that, suspend that app and notify us, essentially. If we find that it’s suspicious, we can go ahead and block it, quarantine it, remove it, and share that information with the other workstations automatically. So we can have protection beyond the traditional definition file. Together all these tools and information allowed us to move 300 plus people remotely in just a few days.

Guy Nadivi: Wow, that’s impressive. Toby, you were profiled by CIO Magazine, not long ago, for a digital transformation you led at another healthcare organization, and I want to dive into that. But first, I want to ask you, how are digital transformations changing the role of the CIO?

Toby Buckalew: That’s a great question, Guy. The role of CIO is one that continues to evolve. The CIO was the technology guy. He was the enabler. He knew what was going on, what the technology was, what it could do, and how to put it in place and then build the teams to support those. But today, that CIO is not just leading technology drives in a company. That CIO is focused on the relationships in the business and the business itself. Now, as technology becomes more ingrained in all aspects of the business, the CIO’s vision has to change. The CIO themselves have to change. As technology and business is constantly evolving, that CIO has to evolve with it, and not just technology but the business itself.

Toby Buckalew: Now in the past, leading the change for technology change to improve operations was the way to go. But, well, the way to understand this is to look at how the CIO evolved in the first place. A lot of people get in technology because they’re introverts. They’re not comfortable around people. But as those people gain skills and experience and showed some aspects of leadership, they’re put in management roles. Now, that meant they had to work with people, which is often uncomfortable for an introvert. Some of these people, a lot of these people, led to the role of a CIO in some way, shape or form.

Toby Buckalew: But today they can’t just be those introverts. They have to expand and transform themselves to become a people person that understands the business, and not just technology. You used to always be asked, “Does a CIO have a role at the table?” The question was always up in the air, but today it’s almost always “yes”. The thing we need to be asking today is does the CIO understand what we do in the business? That’s a more important question.

Guy Nadivi: So let’s get back to digital transformation, which is a Herculean undertaking under the most favorable of circumstances. However, it must seem positively Sisyphean when trying to digitally transform a company like the one CIO Magazine profiled you for, and I’m going to quickly iterate through the constraints you had to deal with so the audience gets a sense of what you were facing.

Guy Nadivi: The company you digitally transformed was once publicly traded, but their stock had been delisted. Then they went bankrupt and couldn’t spend any money during the bankruptcy process. When you arrived, the facilities, hardware and software were not only out-of-date, but testing a system once caused an outage that left you without power for a week. Exacerbating all of that was the fact that the new owners wanted to change business models and turn the company into a service provider. The cherry on top of all this was that the embattled staff didn’t have a customer-focused mindset commensurate with being a service provider.

Guy Nadivi: Now of all the many things I could ask you about this experience, one in particular leaves me most intrigued. Many CIOs coming into such a dysfunctional situation where they owe no allegiance to the incumbent personnel would have just said, “We’re going to clean house. We’re going to let everyone go and outsource to an MSP.” Or, “We’re going to bring in consultants on site to take over,” or something along those lines. But instead you chose to keep everyone and transform them, so to speak, along with the technology. So I think other CIOs would love to hear from you, Toby, about what factors led you to take that route, and also how confident were you at the outset that the people you started your digital transformation journey with would survive and prove capable of accompanying you over the finish line?

Toby Buckalew: In the beginning, I didn’t know I’d be successful. I didn’t start with a confidence. In fact, it was a huge project to begin with and I knew it going into it. I could have easily gone in, ripped everything out top to bottom, as many do, but much would be lost and I needed to understand what I had to work with. I started down that path. Now, who did what? What was being done today? When would things be replaced, fixed, updated according to the current plan, and where were we in that plan? More importantly, why are things being done the way they are today?

Toby Buckalew: Now, ripping & replacing the people could have happened. The problem I had with that was when I started sitting down with all these people, I realized that they’re the ones who are making all this work. They’re holding all those band-aids and bailing wire together and making the business continue. Not very well, but it continued. So I realized if you don’t focus on the people, your transformation is going to fail. What’s also overlooked is within that group of people, there’s tribal knowledge and experience the business isn’t leveraging.

Toby Buckalew: So I ended up sitting down with everybody in the crew. I asked, “What do you like about what you do? What you dislike? What do you aspire to be doing? What would you do with a magic wand to fix what you do today to make it a better place?” What I discovered was there’s a huge amount of latent talent the company didn’t know it had. They had all the resources they need to fix the problems they had, they just didn’t know it. Not only that, but these people had some tremendous ideas of how to fix what was going on because they had that tribal knowledge and experience.

Toby Buckalew: So ripping all those people out would have jettisoned all that valuable information and experience. So what I realized was we need to bring these people along as part of this transformation, and that’s what made it successful. It wasn’t the technology. Anybody can rip out a system, put something new in. It’s the people that make it happen, people that make it work. Once I understood what I had, I had the confidence and the knowledge that we would be successful.

Guy Nadivi: Fascinating journey. Digital transformations are, as I think many people know, marathons, not sprints. The most commonly cited average duration for a digital transformation project is 5 years. Despite that, they still don’t have a very high rate of success. According to Korn Ferry, a well-known management consulting firm, the average tenure of a CIO is 4.3 years, with some variation based on industry. Toby, what’s the correlation between the high failure rates of digital transformation projects and the relatively brief duration of a CIO’s tenure?

Toby Buckalew: Well, I’m going to have to say to be honest, I think 4.3 years seems a little long for a CIO these days, to be honest. But no, a full true digital transformation involves change of the company culture and use of technology and not simply replacing hardware and software. It’s not a change. That’s a key driver for transformation failures is they just replaced the equipment without looking at the big picture. Now, the expectations are never met when that’s happened and those transformations usually fail when they only focus on technology. I like to say that a transformation is a metamorphosis and not simply a change or a new system.

Toby Buckalew: Now, you combine that with the length of time it takes to implement new systems and services from end-to-end, and you find that the continued spending and time on these projects and subprojects become too much, and people forget the importance and even what they started off to do in the first place. Over time, that fading memory and that continuing increased cost and all that pain leads to a limit in which people say, “Enough is enough.”

Toby Buckalew: Now the pain experienced with that change is long lived systems around which the company culture and business was built can be real anything, let alone a massive transformation. The way around that is to really identify who can help and who’s going to hinder it, who can champion the project and make them all part of it, make them all stakeholders. Find a place for them on the team. But for the CIO, you really have to focus on the relationships inside the executive team and keep them onboard in the transformation in addition to people at all layers of the organization. Make sure you communicate and keep them excited throughout the process. Celebrate the wins.

Toby Buckalew: Now, for the CIO, this is where it can get really draining. If you’re not the people person, you’re the introvert, you’re really stretching yourself to be a people person, that is emotionally draining. You can only go so far before you just had enough, you need a break. That’s where a lot cut the cord.

Toby Buckalew: Others simply move past the technology management elements, other routes, and they failed to embrace the business aspects of today’s CIO, and that creates friction with the rest of the management team. Eventually, there comes a point where it can’t be tolerated anymore. Now, others have narrowed skill sets and they simply implement past what they know and they don’t know where to go next, and so they leave before anything else happens. But it simply highlights the fact that today’s CIO really needs to evolve beyond technology.

Guy Nadivi: Let’s switch gears for a moment. At our company, we have a number of customers in financial services. Two months ago, if you had asked me whether they would be open to having their IT staff work from home on sensitive systems while letting automation do a lot of critical tasks on premise in their absence, I would have told you that a marshmallow probably has a better chance of surviving a campfire. Now, today, however, that taboo has been largely vanquished because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, which has kind of forced the issue for a lot of companies. Your industry, healthcare, is just like financial services in that it’s subject to a very strict regulatory regime. So Toby, I’m curious, has the pandemic changed things enough in healthcare that more IT operations work is being deferred to automation, artificial intelligence, et cetera, so IT workers can remain at home, and if so, will that new norm remain after the pandemic ends?

Toby Buckalew: Well, I think the short answer is yes there, but in my opinion there’s three main elements involved with the pushback against people working from home, in the first place. The first is culture. If you think about it, most of today’s managers are raised in an environment in which workers and their work was always visible, and that’s how you knew how work was being done. In order to do that, they had to be right in front of you. Working from home changes that mindset. You can’t see their work directly. You can’t see the workers directly.

Toby Buckalew: The second part of that is fear and the fear of loss over control of data, sensitive data more specifically. In financial services and healthcare, these are areas in which we have federal regulation that controls what we do with that data.

Toby Buckalew: Now, technology is a third element here. For the most part, today’s workers and the managers’ lives, technology to safely and securely allow and manage remote workforces simply didn’t exist as it does today, but they still hold on to that fear and that culture of the past and the memory of technology of the past. Today’s technology workers still have access to all that same information services they did years ago, but now today it’s much easier to safely and securely store that data, manage that data, and access that data thanks to cloud services and connectors.

Toby Buckalew: The next step in that is simply we have artificial intelligence services that can help monitor and control the movement of that data and dramatically improve our ability to secure it and maintain a PCI, PII, HIPAA security needs. Now these tools help address some of the fear and cultural concerns many companies have or many managers have, but the cloud-based technologies today provide those platforms to let us do it. Today, many of those systems are superior in security when compared to your legacy systems and Co-Los and server closets and data centers of even people today.

Toby Buckalew: Now, what we did is our entire team is now working remote, and we have managers with some of those same mindsets because they’re people, and that’s a thing of all people. Our entire team is now remote, but they’re doing the same things as they did before at the same or better service levels that we previously offered. There’s some social engineering there. It’s going to be interesting to study. But we also leveraged those AI tools to help our service desk platform give our users submitting tickets remotely a chance themselves. If it’s an issue that the AI found a solution for or closely matching a solution for, that allowed us to take care of those issues quickly and focus on those that it couldn’t help. We also leveraged data management AI tools for content identification and blocking, especially related to healthcare information. I already mentioned earlier, AI tools for our endpoint protection. But together these tools in security gave our management team enough confidence that this is working well. This can happen.

Toby Buckalew: As for the future, for everybody else, as they say, the cat’s out of the bag, Pandora’s box has been opened. It’s going to be difficult to reverse these trends that have these new norms that have emerged from the pandemic, but not only are companies seeing improved productivity in many cases with their workers and teams, they’re finding that there are savings to be had in operational costs and facilities costs by not having to house all these people in a single location. It also plays well with the changing lifestyles and expectations of Gen Y and Gen Z today. But when all of this is over, there’ll be some semblance of familiarity, there’ll still be a need for people in an office, but there’s going to be a larger percentage of a work from home force just because this whole pandemic has forced us to embrace it and see that it really can work if done properly.

Guy Nadivi: Now, since you’re the CIO of a healthcare organization, Toby, I’m very curious, what role do you envision automation, artificial intelligence, and other digitally transformative technology is playing in the future of healthcare IT?

Toby Buckalew: Well, AI and digital transformation are key to the future of healthcare in this country. The always increasing costs, the over-testing out of the fear of liability, not understanding disease correlations, the high tech fraud that takes place, they’re all common elements in our healthcare environment today. They’re driving up costs and making it more difficult. I believe much of that can be addressed through digital transformation, automation and AI. We amass a tremendous amount of data as part of anyone’s healthcare journey, and the dream of all that data was to leverage it to improve the outcome of that person’s healthcare journey.

Toby Buckalew: Now that dream was never fully realized simply because of the limitations of technology. We are dreaming before the technology was there. But today, if we can go ahead and successfully transform healthcare to control where our data resides, how it’s stored, how it’s secured, how it can be leveraged in a safe and compliant manner, we can address all those problems of the past, and even those that linger here today. Once we have a handle on that data, we can then leverage AI to find possible correlations and indicators resulting in specific healthcare events so we can address them proactively and help someone before they get sick and lower the cost of their treatment.

Toby Buckalew: These tools can even find issues with billing resulting from fraudulent charges, overcharges, and misuse to better control costs on the fraud side. Thinking beyond that, these tools can evolve to help find cures for diseases, and by pointing researchers to potential solutions in those data sets. So the future of transformation and AI in healthcare is really exciting.

Guy Nadivi: Can you tell us about some use cases you’re implementing to incorporate automation and AI into further improving OneShare Health’s operations?

Toby Buckalew: Oh, yeah, sure. Now, our whole existence is about servicing our members and taking care of them. Today, we leverage data automation analytics tools to evaluate our population’s health as a whole, and see those specific events in the population so we can decide what we can do to change our programs to better meet their needs. It doesn’t make sense to offer them something they’re not using. It’s a waste of energy. It’s a waste of money. That money can be used to better help them in other ways. We’re also using those data automation tools to help filter billing information to find, like I mentioned, duplicate bills, overbilling, and other indicators that might show some potential fraud.

Toby Buckalew: Additionally, we’re leveraging AI platforms to help assist our members in finding medical services and identifying quality providers for those services at reasonable prices, which helps improve the quality of their healthcare while controlling costs, which means for us that’s more sharing fund that can go back to help our member population. We bring all this back together. As we build our data warehouse in the backend, we’re going to continue these efforts while leveraging predictive analytics and those AI tools to help identify individual members that are at risk to help guide them to better solutions and, hopefully, prevent them from experiencing a serious illness or other event or better manage their existing condition. So we’re trying to live the future today.

Guy Nadivi: Toby, for the CIOs, CTOs, and other IT executives listening in, especially in healthcare, what is the one big, must-have piece of advice you’d like them to take away from our discussion with regards to leading successful digital transformation projects at their organizations?

Toby Buckalew: One word: people. No matter how large or small the transformation, gaining and retaining the support of others in the organization is paramount to success. For those that say it’s not important, get rid of your customers, get rid of your staff, and see what’s left of the business. There is no business without people. So the people really are your most valuable asset. It’s not that computer; it’s not that software; it’s not that system. It’s the people that make it all work. No matter how much you automate, you’re still going to need them.

Toby Buckalew: Finally, always be willing and able to pivot. Technology is going to continue to evolve at an exponential rate, meaning your transformation will look differently at the end than where you envision it at the beginning. Transformation’s original plans should be more of a roadmap to help guide you along the journey of that transformation and not a step by step detailed plan over four to five years. So always evaluate technology along the way for where it will take you on that journey and not just what it can do for you today, and never forget that people make it all happen. Respect them, take care of them, train them, support them, and get out of their way and let them do their jobs.

Guy Nadivi: Great insight. All right, looks like that’s all the time we have for on this episode of Intelligent Automation Radio. Toby, thanks for coming on to our show during these extraordinary times and sharing your successes with our audience, which I think will be especially encouraging for healthcare IT executives to hear.

Toby Buckalew: Well, Guy, thank you for having me. It was great being here with you today.

Guy Nadivi: Toby Buckalew, CIO at OneShare Health, a faith-based nationwide healthcare sharing organization based out of Irving, Texas. Thank you for listening everyone, and remember, don’t hesitate, automate.



Toby Buckalew

CIO of OneShare Health 

As the CIO of OneShare Health, Toby oversees, develops, and leads their technology strategy and growth. He is an accomplished CIO with more than 30 years of experience and success in multiple industries – four healthcare segments, military retail, and mortgage banking financial service. Starting his career on US military bases in Germany and Italy, he rapidly grasped the importance of having solid strategies to bridge the technology and operations environments.  

Toby's accomplishments span a variety of experiences; from creating applications and systems for HP/Compaq to meet the unique needs of the military retail market to integrating healthcare clinics after acquisition to evaluating potential acquisitions for investors, turning around a healthcare company emerging from bankruptcy, and crafting technology strategies for businesses to overcome their growth hurdles. Having lead sales/marketing, infrastructure, development, application, networking, and customer service teams, his wide breadth of leadership experience brings a full understanding of business to the technology environment. Toby holds a degree in technical management – logistics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.   

Toby can be reached at: 

LinkedIn:                                 https://www.linkedin.com/in/tobybuckalew/ 

OneShare Health:                 https://www.onesharehealth.com/en/ 

OneShare Health Blog:        https://blog.onesharehealth.com/ 

Quotes

“The role of CIO is one that continues to evolve. The CIO was the technology guy. He was the enabler. He knew what was going on, what the technology was, what it could do, and how to put it in place and then build the teams to support those. But today, that CIO is not just leading technology drives in a company. That CIO is focused on the relationships in the business and the business itself. Now, as technology becomes more ingrained in all aspects of the business, the CIO's vision has to change. The CIO themselves have to change. As technology and business is constantly evolving, that CIO has to evolve with it, and not just technology but the business itself.”

“You used to always be asked, "Does a CIO have a role at the table?" The question was always up in the air, but today it's almost always “yes”. The thing we need to be asking today is does the CIO understand what we do in the business? That's a more important question.”

"…a full true digital transformation involves change of the company culture and use of technology and not simply replacing hardware and software." 

“It's going to be difficult to reverse these trends that have these new norms that have emerged from the pandemic, but not only are companies seeing improved productivity in many cases with their workers and teams, they're finding that there are savings to be had in operational costs and facilities costs by not having to house all these people in a single location. It also plays well with the changing lifestyles and expectations of Gen Y and Gen Z today.” 

“…AI and digital transformation are key to the future of healthcare in this country. The always increasing costs, the over-testing out of the fear of liability, not understanding disease correlations, the high tech fraud that takes place, they're all common elements in our healthcare environment today. They're driving up costs and making it more difficult. I believe much of that can be addressed through digital transformation, automation and AI.” 

“…if we can go ahead and successfully transform healthcare to control where our data resides, how it's stored, how it's secured, how it can be leveraged in a safe and compliant manner, we can address all those problems of the past, and even those that linger here today. Once we have a handle on that data, we can then leverage AI to find possible correlations and indicators resulting in specific healthcare events so we can address them proactively and help someone before they get sick and lower the cost of their treatment.” 

About Ayehu

Ayehu’s IT automation and orchestration platform powered by AI is a force multiplier for IT and security operations, helping enterprises save time on manual and repetitive tasks, accelerate mean time to resolution, and maintain greater control over IT infrastructure. Trusted by hundreds of major enterprises and leading technology solution and service partners, Ayehu supports thousands of automated processes across the globe.

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Links

Episode #1: Automation and the Future of Work
Episode #2: Applying Agility to an Entire Enterprise
Episode #3: Enabling Positive Disruption with AI, Automation and the Future of Work
Episode #4: How to Manage the Increasingly Complicated Nature of IT Operations
Episode #5: Why your organization should aim to become a Digital Master (DTI) report
Episode #6: Insights from IBM: Digital Workforce and a Software-Based Labor Model
Episode #7: Developments Influencing the Automation Standards of the Future
Episode #8: A Critical Analysis of AI’s Future Potential & Current Breakthroughs
Episode #9: How Automation and AI are Disrupting Healthcare Information Technology
Episode #10: Key Findings From Researching the AI Market & How They Impact IT
Episode #11: Key Metrics that Justify Automation Projects & Win Budget Approvals
Episode #12: How Cognitive Digital Twins May Soon Impact Everything
Episode #13: The Gold Rush Being Created By Conversational AI
Episode #14: How Automation Can Reduce the Risks of Cyber Security Threats
Episode #15: Leveraging Predictive Analytics to Transform IT from Reactive to Proactive
Episode #16: How the Coming Tsunami of AI & Automation Will Impact Every Aspect of Enterprise Operations
Episode #17: Back to the Future of AI & Machine Learning
Episode #18: Implementing Automation From A Small Company Perspective
Episode #19: Why Embracing Consumerization is Key To Delivering Enterprise-Scale Automation
Episode #20: Applying Ancient Greek Wisdom to 21st Century Emerging Technologies
Episode #21: Powering Up Energy & Utilities Providers’ Digital Transformation with Intelligent Automation & Ai
Episode #22: A Prominent VC’s Advice for AI & Automation Entrepreneurs
Episode #23: How Automation Digitally Transformed British Law Enforcement
Episode #24: Should Enterprises Use AI & Machine Learning Just Because They Can?
Episode #25: Why Being A Better Human Is The Best Skill to Have in the Age of AI & Automation
Episode #26: How To Run A Successful Digital Transformation
Episode #27: Why Enterprises Should Have A Chief Automation Officer
Episode #28: How AIOps Tames Systems Complexity & Overcomes Talent Shortages
Episode #29: How Applying Darwin’s Theories To Ai Could Give Enterprises The Ultimate Competitive Advantage
Episode #30: How AIOps Will Hasten The Digital Transformation Of Data Centers
Episode #31: Could Implementing New Learning Models Be Key To Sustaining Competitive Advantages Generated By Digital Transformation?
Episode #32: How To Upscale Automation, And Leave Your Competition Behind
Episode #33: How To Upscale Automation, And Leave Your Competition Behind
Episode #34: What Large Enterprises Can Learn From Automation In SMB’s
Episode #35: The Critical Steps You Must Take To Avoid The High Failure Rates Endemic To Digital Transformation
Episode #36: Why Baking Ethics Into An AI Project Isn't Just Good Practice, It's Good Business
Episode #37: From Witnessing Poland’s Transformation After Communism’s Collapse To Leading Digital Transformation For Global Enterprises
Episode #38: Why Mastering Automation Will Determine Which MSPs Succeed Or Disappear
Episode #39: Accelerating Enterprise Digital Transformation Could Be IT’s Best Response To The Coronavirus Pandemic
Episode #40: Key Insights Gained From Overseeing 1,200 Automation Projects That Saved Over $250 Million

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Neither the Intelligent Automation Radio Podcast, Ayehu, nor the guest interviewed on the podcast are making any recommendations as to investing in this or any other automation technology. The information in this podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Please do you own due diligence and consult with a professional adviser before making any investment

3 Steps to Get Your Organization Intelligent-Automation-Ready

Over the past several years, intelligent automation has begun to revolutionize the workplace, facilitating digital transformation and enabling forward-thinking organizations to position themselves on the right side of the future of work. Getting to this point, however, isn’t something that happens overnight. Without the right approach, companies could easily be missing out on the tremendous advantages intelligent automation has in store. So, what’s holding other companies back?

Relatively speaking, the primary obstacle is simple. Many IT decision-makers approach implementation by attempting to merely automate existing processes. What they should be doing instead is changing their entire mindset. In order to do this, there are three key things that must be done, as follows.

Reconsider processes and workflows from start to finish.

Understand that deploying intelligent automation isn’t just a one-off project for the IT department. Rather, it should be an aggregate change that occurs across and throughout the entire enterprise. In order to implement automation at scale, buy-in is needed in every facet of the business.

Incorporating intelligent automation presents an opportunity for leaders and teams to reimagine what they’re trying to accomplish and completely redesign their workflows and processes. Only by starting from the foundation and working automation into each step of the process will the optimal level of efficiency be achieved.

We’d even go so far as to recommend building automated processes first and then working humans into the mix as needed. The actual need for human intervention – or lack thereof – will be quite surprising.

Pose the right questions, right from the beginning.

The right questions can help guide and facilitate the development of a strong, effective and long-term intelligent automation strategy. The problem is, many leaders simply don’t know what those “right questions” happen to be.

If you are among them, we suggest you start by thinking critically about which workflows and processes you currently have in place, and – more importantly – which of those processes and workflows would be best suited for artificial intelligence.

Still having trouble? Flip the switch and instead, start by asking what tasks are intelligent bots not capable of doing? This may help you more clearly pinpoint which processes still require some level of human mediation. The tasks remaining can then be shifted to automation.

It’s also pivotal to keep specific goals in mind when incorporating intelligent automation into the fold. Specifically, asking what you want this technology to help you accomplish should help you identify which pain points for which an automated solution could provide the most value.

Seek opportunities to meld the digital and human elements of your workforce.

At the end of the day, intelligent automation is most successful when it’s implemented with the goal of creating the best possible experience for everyone. Again – it’s imperative that the mindset evolve from automation being an “IT project” to something that permeates the entire organization.

This begins with culture, and changing a company’s culture starts at the top. Not only must the “powers that be” be fully committed to intelligent automation adoption, but they must proactively and consistently send the message that both humans and robots can cohesively work together in a connected ecosystem that benefits both the employee as well as the organization as a whole.

Conclusion

Successful digital transformation occurs when an organization is able to strengthen and grow by empowering its workforce to trust and depend on advanced technology. Without question, intelligent automation is poised to become the foundation of this digitized future. By rethinking how automation fits into the big picture, posing the right questions and merging the digital/human experience, you’ll dramatically improve the chances of a smooth and profitable transition.

Ready to jump in and test the waters? Get up to speed with intelligent automation within minutes by taking Ayehu for a free, 30-day test drive.

Transform Your Organization with AI in 5 Steps

According to IDG’s 2018 State of the CIO report, 73% of IT executives struggle with striking a balance between the need to innovate and the demand to achieve operational excellence. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that IT frequently gets bogged down with a growing list of tools and competing priorities, all of which chip away at precious time and available resources. As a result, more organizations are turning to artificial intelligence as a way to bring technology, data and people together to drive digital transformation. Here’s how you can use AI to do the same in five easy steps.

Step 1: Understand what you can and cannot solve.

While AI has the potential to transform an entire organization, machine learning technology is not yet capable of fully replacing the experience of skilled professionals. Instead, IT teams can leverage automation powered by artificial intelligence to free up skilled workers to do what they do best: apply their expertise to develop solutions for highly prioritized issues.

Machine learning algorithms can sift through mountains of data to spot trends, deliver insights and identify potential solutions. Automation can assist in resolving certain issues. But it’s up to the IT department to apply the deep analysis necessary to achieve business goals.

Step 2: Identify and prioritize problems to address.

Artificial intelligence can help address the two biggest IT challenges: maximizing operational efficiency and improving the customer experience. The role of CIO has taken on much greater importance, with 80% of businesses viewing IT managers as strategic advisors for the business. As such, these individuals, along with others in IT, are responsible for defining key areas of focus for new technology, such as AI solutions. In order to achieve buy-in, new solutions should be presented in a way that closely aligns with broader organization-wide goals.

Step 3: Pinpoint gaps in technology and skills.

The IT skills gap is an ever-present problem, and it doesn’t appear to be going away any time in the near future. In addition to the talent shortage, IT budgets are stagnating. AI solutions can help to mitigate both of these issues by empowering IT teams to do more with less, and at a much faster rate than they could on their own.

Keep in mind, of course, that key skills are still necessary in order to drive these solutions. To address this, many organizations are looking to reskill existing staff. Thankfully, today’s automation tools do not require a PhD to operate them. Regardless, decision-makers should look for a data-based platform that features AI-powered technology.

Step 4: Develop your strategy.

Once you’ve identified which problems AI is capable of solving for your organization, defined the specific challenges you’d like to overcome, achieved buy-in for adoption and assessed what resources you have to work with, the four step is to develop your strategy for deployment. This strategy should include the following main segments:

  • Roadmap – from proof of concept to continuous process improvement
  • Testing Plan – defining what you want to accomplish and what metrics will indicate progress
  • Team – investing in and arranging training for IT staff

Step 5: Prepare for scale.

Any broader AI strategy should involve mapping out data across all systems, services, apps and infrastructure. This includes both structured and unstructured data as well as data in a variety of different formats. It’s essential to select a solution that is capable of ingesting, normalizing and formatting all data sources for analysis.

Further, it’s critical to choose a platform that offers room to mature and scale. And keep in mind, also, that while the “land and expand” concept may work for some companies, others – particularly those with a higher risk tolerance – may be better off to push transformation across the entire organization at once. Generally speaking, however, stable and sustainable change begins by starting small and building on early successes. The key is leaving enough room to grow.

Want to experience some of those early successes now? Launch your free 30-day trial of Ayehu NG and put the power of AI and intelligent automation to work for your organization today!

How to Leverage Intelligent Automation to Better Manage Alert Storms [Webinar Recap]

Author: Guy Nadivi

As most of you already know, there’s a digital transformation underway at many enterprise organizations, and it’s revolutionizing how they do business. That transformation though is also leading to increasingly more complex and sophisticated infrastructure environments. The more complicated these environments get, the more frequently performance monitoring alerts get generated. Sometimes these alerts can come in so fast and furious, and in such high volume, that they can lead to alert storms, which overwhelm staff and lead to unnecessary downtime.

Since the environments these alerts are being generated from can be so intricate, this presents a multi-dimensional problem that requires more than just a single-point solution. Ayehu has partnered with LogicMonitor to demonstrate how end-to-end intelligent automation can help organizations better manage alert storms from incident all the way to remediation.

The need for that sort of best-of-breed solution is being driven by some consistent trends across IT reflecting a shift in how IT teams are running their environments, and how costly it becomes when there is an outage. Gartner estimates that:

Further exacerbating the situation is the complexity of multi-vendor point solutions, distributed workloads across on-premise data centers, off-premise facilities, and the public cloud, and relentless end-user demands for high availability, secure, “always-on” services.

From a monitoring standpoint, enterprise organizations need a solution that can monitor any infrastructure that uses any vendor on any cloud with any method required, e.g. SNMP, WMI, JDBC, JMX, SD-WAN, etc. In short, if there’s a metric behind an IP address, IT needs to keep an eye on it, and if IT wants to set a threshold for that metric, then alerts need to be enabled for it.

The monitoring solution must also provide an intuitive analytical view of the metrics generated from these alerts to anyone needing visibility into infrastructure performance. This is critical for proactive IT management in order to prevent “degraded states” where services go beyond the point of outage prevention.

This is where automating remediation of the underlying incident that generated the alert becomes vital.

The average MTTR (Mean Time To Resolution) for remediating incidents is 8.40 business hours, according to MetricNet, a provider of benchmarks, performance metrics, scorecards and business data to Information Technology and Call Center Professionals.

When dealing with mission critical applications that are relied upon by huge user communities, MTTRs of that duration are simply unacceptable.

But it gets worse.

What happens when the complexities of today’s hybrid infrastructures lead to an overwhelming number of alerts, many of them flooding in close together?

You know exactly what happens.

You get something known as an alert storm. And when alert storms occur, MTTRs degrade even further because they overwhelm people in the data center who are already working at a furious pace just to keep the lights on.

If data center personnel are overwhelmed by alert storms, it’s going to affect their ability to do other things.

That inability to do other things due to alert storms is very important, especially if customer satisfaction is one of your IT department’s major KPI’s, as it is for many IT departments these days.

Take a look at the results of a survey Gartner conducted less than a year ago, asking respondents what they considered the most important characteristic of an excellent internal IT department.

If an IT department performed dependably and accurately, 40% of respondents considered them to be excellent.

If an IT department offered prompt help and service, 25% of respondents considered them to be excellent.

So if your IT department can deliver on those 2 characteristics, about 2/3 of your users will be very happy with you.

But here’s the rub. When your IT department is flooded with alert storms generated by incidents that have to be remediated manually, then that’s taking you away from providing your users with dependability and accuracy in a prompt manner. However, if you can provide that level of service regardless of alert storms, then nearly 2/3 of your users will consider you to be an excellent IT department.

One proven way to achieve that level of excellence is by automating manual incident remediation processes, which in some cases can reduce MTTRs from hours down to seconds.

Here’s how that would work. It involves using the Ayehu platform as an integration hub in your environment. Ayehu would then connect to every system that needs to be interacted with when remediating an incident.

So for example, if your environment has a monitoring system like LogicMonitor, that’s where an incident will be detected first. And LogicMonitor, now integrated with Ayehu, will generate an alert which Ayehu will instantaneously intercept.

Ayehu will then parse that alert to determine what the underlying incident is, and launch an automated workflow to remediate that specific underlying incident.

As a first step in our workflow we’re going to automatically create a ticket in ServiceNow, BMC Remedy, JIRA, or any ITSM platform you prefer. Here again is where automation really shines over taking the manual approach, because letting the workflow handle the documentation will ensure that it gets done in a timely manner, in fact in real-time. Automation also ensures that documentation gets done thoroughly. Service Desk staff often don’t have the time or the patience to document every aspect of a resolution properly because they’re under such a heavy workload.

The next step, and actually this can be at any step within that workflow, is pausing its execution to notify and seek human approval for continuation. Just to illustrate why you might do this, let’s say that a workflow got triggered because LogicMonitor generated an alert that a server dropped below 10% free disk space. The workflow could then go and delete a bunch of temp files to free up space, it could compress a bunch of log files and move them somewhere else, and do all sorts of other things to free up space, but before it does any of that, the workflow can be configured to require human approval for any of those steps.

The human can either grant or deny approval so the workflow can continue on, and that decision can be delivered by laptop, smartphone, email, Instant Messenger, or even via a regular telephone. However, note that this notification/approval phase is entirely optional. You can also choose to put the workflow on autopilot and proceed without any human intervention. It’s all up to you, and either option is easy to implement.

Then the workflow can begin remediating the incident which triggered the alert.

As the remediation is taking place, Ayehu can update the service desk ticket in real-time by documenting every step of the incident remediation process.

Once the incident remediation is completed, Ayehu can automatically close the ticket.

And finally, it can go back into LogicMonitor and automatically dismiss the alert that triggered this entire process. This is how you can leverage intelligent automation to better manage alert storms, as well as simultaneously eliminating the potential for human error that can lead to outages in your environment.

Gartner concurs with this approach.

In a recently refreshed paper they published (ID G00336149 – April 11, 2019) one of their Vice-Presidents wrote that “The intricacy of access layer network decisions and the aggravation of end-user downtime are more than IT organizations can handle. Infrastructure and operations leaders must implement automation and artificial intelligence solutions to reduce mundane tasks and lost productivity.”

No ambiguity there.

Ayehu

4 Ways Digital Transformation will Impact IT Support

The IT help desk, as it once existed, has changed. Driving that evolution has been the changing demands and expectations of digital customers. Simply put, digital is revolutionizing the world of IT support and service. These newer and more complex requirements of digital customers (which include employees) are causing IT teams to re-evaluate what they have to offer in terms of support and capabilities. If your organization or team is at a similar crossroads, here are four key areas on which to focus. 

IT Support Strategies

Regardless of whether your IT service desk happens to support a company of ten or a multi-location, enterprise level organization, the time to start thinking digital is now. A great place to begin is by uncovering how employees have evolved into so-called “digital consumers” and, more significantly, how this evolution has changed the expectations they have of IT support.

To do this, evaluate the gap between your current situation and those changing expectations. In particular, look at your current channels of support. Poll employees to determine whether they feel the current channels they are using to contact IT support are sufficient and effective. Figure out what channels they might prefer. Also, examine common customer use cases and needs. Then, use this information to develop a strategy that incorporates newer, more innovative support channels (like self-service chatbots and virtual support agents).

Operating Models

How does your IT service desk engage with customers? The focus here should be more on this approach as opposed to best practices and ITSM processes. To bring your operating models in line with digital transformation, ask yourself and your team the following questions:

  • Is your approach to IT support adequately in line with your realistic business needs and expectations? For example, what is the overall goal? Cutting IT support costs? Minimizing lost time and revenue at a business level? Understand your objectives and align your strategy accordingly.
  • Do your IT support agents understand “personas” of its customers (i.e. the common characteristics and behaviors they share)? Do your operational practices accurately reflect these personas?
  • How does your IT support desk measure success? Is it primarily related to how the IT service desk has helped and/or improved customer and business operations?

Once you’ve answered these questions, use the data you’ve gathered to identify any and all disconnects between IT support status quo and the actual needs and desires of both the customer as well as the business as a whole. These gaps are where changes must be made.

IT Support Technologies

Without question, the future of IT support will rely heavily on automation. In fact, newer technologies have already made it possible for organizations to augment their human workforce by leveraging ever-improving artificial intelligence capabilities. With these advanced technologies deployed in the right areas, IT support teams are able to more effectively deliver on the increasing demands of digital customers.

Whether your service desk is already leveraging virtual support agents or is planning to in the near future, it’s important to ask the right questions. In particular:

  • Are your virtual agents being used to their fullest potential?
  • Are your virtual support agents being employed at the right points during the customer journey?
  • Do end-users feel that the VSAs improve their support experience?
  • Have you established a robust and accurate knowledge-base from which the VSAs can draw?

This last point is key, as virtual IT support will only be as good as the data behind it. That being said, creating an environment that blends high-tech automation with the human touch of IT support agents will position your organization for greater success.

IT Support Staff

The question of whether human service desk agents will be assisted, augmented and possibly even replaced by virtual support agents is no longer an “if,” but rather a “when.” Getting employees onboard with the concept of artificial intelligence isn’t always easy, especially those L1 agents who view automation as a threat to their livelihood. But it’s essential for an organization of today to remain competitive tomorrow.

Educate your IT support team on the value and benefits that AI has to offer. Make it about them – how AI will make their lives easier, enable them to perform more meaningful work, provide an opportunity to learn new skills and make themselves more marketable, etc. – not just about the company. And start investing in your current workforce. Identify champions of the cause and reskill them so they’ll be ready to face the digital future with confidence. Get them excited about the possibilities that lie ahead!

There is no longer any doubt. IT support as we know it today is changing. Only those organizations that are willing to adapt and evolve their strategies, models, technologies and people alongside those changes will make it through unscathed.

Want to experience the power of artificial intelligence for your IT support team? Try Ayehu NG absolutely free for 30 full days. Click here to download your free trial.

The 7 Secrets of Effective Digital Transformation

If you’ve ever read the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, you’re familiar with the concept of “beginning with the end in mind.” Putting that into context in terms of digital transformation means organizations must determine what their goals are before they begin adopting a ton of shiny new technologies. Unfortunately, many otherwise intelligent business leaders make the mistake of focusing so much on technological innovation that they miss the mark altogether.

This is not to say that technology isn’t a key driver of digital transformation. The problem often lies in a misunderstanding of what digital transformation actually is. According to a recent report by Altimeter, despite the fact that a growing number of enterprises are investing in innovative technologies, the majority of them are still lacking in terms of meeting customer expectations due in large part to a lack of digital literacy. The report also concludes that the main obstacles to achieving the solidarity and collaboration necessary for true, effective and lasting digital change are ego, politics and fear.

When an organization begins with a tech-first approach, it risks missing the point about what digital transformation is truly all about. In many instances, company leaders – CIOs in particular – fall into the trap of attempting to build new technology atop an old and crumbling legacy foundation. There’s an erroneous belief that all it takes to keep up with disruption is continuously adopting the latest and greatest apps and programs. New tech is great, but it must be adopted as a component of the digital transformation process, rather than its fundamental basis.

To demystify the whole digital transformation concept and improve your chances of success, here are a few expert tips to keep in mind.

The human element should be front and center.

Yes, the term is “digital” transformation, but in reality, it’s more about human transformation than anything else. That’s really what’s at the heart of any successful change. Technology is essential, yes, but it’s equally, if not more important that your people are all on the same page and moving together at the right speed. One of the biggest challenges to transforming a business is bringing its workforce up to speed, in particular, getting them current with the skills needed to facilitate change.

Experts unilaterally agree that the key to achieving true digital transformation is having a team of individuals who are curious, motivated by and passionate about the mission. Only then can you successfully usher in the innovative technologies you need to move forward.

A great example of this is Pitney Bowes. Several years ago, the company began initiating a shift to align itself with the changing world of tech. Specifically, they focused on evolving in 10 key areas such as machine learning, analytics, mobile, SaaS and APIs. But while leadership recognized the critical need for a strong technical strategy, they also prioritized the development and implementation of a solid people strategy as well.

The company organized curriculum for each of the 10 key areas of disruption and every one of the 1,200 employees was tasked with immersing themselves in one of those 10 topic areas for a period of one full year. The results have been beneficial to both sides – the company, by enhancing its workforce, and the employees, who have enriched their skills and improved their personal value proposition. Additionally, with staffers becoming subject matter experts in their chosen topics and subsequently collaborating together, many new and valuable relationships have been forged. This is advantageous to everyone involved.

Take the time to really understand your customers.

Ask any business leader what they believe the biggest driver of digital transformation is and they’ll probably cite the evolving behaviors and preferences of their clientele. Yet, according to the Altimeter report, a remarkable few (less than half) actually bother to truly understand their digital customers.

The few that are actually getting it right have done so by taking an outside-in approach. In other words, they take the time to determine what’s missing or broken that can solve a need and then focus their efforts on doing just that, tying in key performance indicators (KPIs) and ROI to demonstrate success. Rather than looking at internal processes, these innovators examine the customer experience first to identify opportunities to add value.

The key takeaway? If you aren’t meeting what your customers want or need, your efforts to achieve digital transformation will inevitably fall short and you will risk being left behind. The best technology, the best policies and procedures, the best laid plans – none of that will matter if the end result doesn’t make the lives of your clientele easier. That’s the end result that should be your focus from day one.

Establish new teams.

Spearheading digital transformation shouldn’t be a side project. If you want it done right, you need to have a team of individuals who are 100% dedicated to the cause. Teams should be made up of various people with different strengths and diverse backgrounds. For instance, you might have a project manager, a lead developer and someone who is focused on the customer experience. You could then supplement this with members from other roles, such as QA, development, ops and finance.

When an idea for a new initiative arises, the team’s job should be bringing it to fruition – at least to some degree – as quickly as possible. It’s not about achieving perfection right away. Digital transformation involves evolution, which means your team should be ready to go through a cycle of development – try things out, assess how they work and then adapt and improve accordingly. This agile methodology may require a paradigm shift, which is why it’s so important to have a dedicated team.

Cultivate collaboration as you deploy technology.

As mentioned, digital transformation isn’t entirely about technology. Yes, technology is a critical component, but it takes people to really achieve successful change, and that requires ongoing collaboration. Trailblazing ideas, sharing best practices, building a community – these things drive innovation and continuous improvement.

Use Pitney Bowes as an example once again. While they were designing their curricula around their 10 targeted technology areas, leadership also hosted global innovation roundtables to enhance collaboration efforts. As a result, they were able to identify cases in which there were common problems with their integration, delivery and operational practices. This enabled a fast and effective resolution across the board. Furthermore, because of the improved collaboration, workers acknowledged feeling much more engaged, as opposed to being just another “cog in the wheel.”

Don’t give in to the resistance.

It’s human nature to fear change, and that fear often manifests itself as resistance amongst workers. Logically speaking, the larger the enterprise, the greater the push back is likely to be. If you want to successfully shift to a digital ecosystem, you simply cannot let the naysayers get you down.

That’s not to say you should steamroll over them and ignore their concern. It’s more about your approach. Over communication and clear articulation, not just about what is happening, but how and most importantly, why, is key. It’s also important to develop a group of early adopters and innovators – those who embrace the proposed changes, as they can become your champions.

At the end of the day, digital transformation is really about people transformation.

Think like a startup.

As organizations become larger, greater divides between various groups and departments begin to occur. This results in silos of information, which can hinder communication and the ability to collaborate effectively.

To avoid this, try to adopt more of a startup mentality – one that focuses on operating nimbly and making sure that projects are being carried out in the correct way. Be cognizant of any walls and barriers that exist and focus on eliminating those and encouraging unilateral communication across the board. Encourage teams, departments and divisions to work closely together with a goal of making strategic decisions more quickly and rolling out smaller changes faster.

Take a bottoms up approach.

According to the aforementioned Altimeter survey, only 40% of the companies polled say their digital transformation initiative is overseen by an executive-mandated steering committee. Getting buy-in from the C-suite is certainly important, but how you go about doing so can make all the difference in the world.

Many organizations have had tremendous success by flipping the typical top-down narrative to more of a bottoms up approach. In other words, they focus on obtaining buy-in from all levels of hierarchy within, bringing together a diverse group of workers to collaborate together to create a digital transformation strategy.

This provides the opportunity to go through checks and balances to determine what makes the most sense and is directionally appropriate. Only when every ‘I’ is dotted and every ‘T’ crossed is the strategy presented to the C-suite for approval.

Conclusion

Is technology an important part of digital transformation? Of course. But if that’s all you’re focused on, you will inevitably come up short. Instead, focus on the people and policies that matter most, get all your ducks in a row and start with the end in mind. Do so and your organization can be counted among the success stories.

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5 Tips for Managing the Changes of Digital Transformation

Today’s business leaders are focused on digital transformation. What they often fail to consider is how much transformations like these alter the very essence of their organization. In some instances, a company might modify its entire business offering after going through a successful transformation. This may require a complete realignment of how you approach the market, how you use technology, how you engage your customers and how your employees see their roles as well as the business as a whole.

At the end of the day, change is about speed. It’s about competitiveness. It’s about innovation. To be successful in today’s digital environment, organizations must be agile and ever-evolving. The problem is, change isn’t always easy – especially when it comes to people. Getting your employees on board requires strong, deliberate leadership. This is where change management comes into play. To follow are five truths that change leaders must embrace in order to be successful.

Start with a vision.

You cannot drive change unless and until you have a clear and accurate picture of what you’re trying to achieve. When you develop a vision of the end-state, it becomes easier to understand the ‘why’ of what you’re doing, and when you can get others to appreciate this ‘why,’ you’ll get buy-in. Just be careful not to be too rigid with your vision. Make sure you leave room for adjustments along the way. 

Involve the stakeholders.

Remember, change management is really about people, and these people will either resist or embrace the proposed changes. To mitigate detractors and maximize drivers, identify who will be most affected by the changes you are proposing and then get them involved in the process as early as possible. If you can make them feel a sense of control over what’s happening, they’re more likely to become advocates for your cause.

Listen.

The nature of digital transformation is that it is fluid. You will inevitably reach points at which you must pivot in order to progress. There may also be a number of tradeoffs or roadblocks you haven’t yet considered. Listening to those most closely affected can provide insight as to what courses may need to be corrected. Additionally, giving people a voice can help get them on board. Invite people to share their questions, concerns and feedback.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Having a clear vision of your digital transformation won’t do much good unless you share that vision with everyone else. Being honest, forthcoming and transparent right from the start can do wonders for overcoming employees’ fear of change. Use as many tools as are available to you, from email and newsletters to intranet sites, videoconferencing, town halls and more. Do everything you can to instill that vision in your employees.

Learn as you go.

The fifth rule for change leaders is to recognize that as you push forward toward your goal, new and unexpected challenges can and will arise. Your success in achieving digital transformation will depend largely on your ability to adjust to those challenges. Be prepared to regularly reevaluate to make sure you’re still on the right track and course-correct as needed. Being agile is what will ultimately get you to your end game.

Of course, having the right tools in your corner can also help make managing change easier. Ayehu supports digital transformation through seamless integrations, rapid adoption and even faster time-to-value. Click here to take Ayehu for a test drive for 30 days.  

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The 4 Secrets to Effective Digital Transformation

Often times, when it comes to solving a business problem or achieving a certain organizational goal, it makes more sense to begin with the end in mind. That is to say, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish and what the journey to that objective is all about before you begin investing time, money and resources into new strategies and technologies. This is a particularly effective way to approach digital transformation.

Despite the overwhelming trend pushing businesses toward digital change, many have tried and ultimately failed, simply because they didn’t start the process with a clear understanding of what digital transformation truly is. When decision makers start with a tech-first mentality, they end up missing the point of what this transformation is actually about. To help you avoid going down the wrong path in your own digital journey, consider the following best practices.

Don’t lose the human element.

So many business leaders focus so much on putting all the latest and greatest tools, technologies and applications in place that they forget about the most important element – humans. Simply put, a digital strategy cannot be successful without a people strategy to support and carry it out. Look closely at the organizations that have made great strides in achieving digital transformation – like Pitney Bose and GE – and you’ll find that what they have in common is a staff of people who are curious, passionate and motivated to affect positive change.

Be customer-centric.

Being people-minded doesn’t only apply to employees, either. It’s equally important that you take into consideration the evolving behaviors and preferences of your customers if your goal is to drive digital transformation. The companies that have gotten it right have done so with an outside-in mentality, focusing first on the customer journey to identify things that are broken or missing, and then taking the necessary steps to fix those things from a digital standpoint. After all, if you’re not keeping your customers satisfied, what’s the point?

Make collaboration a priority.

While digital transformation may start with IT, it’s not a singular effort. To the contrary, for transformation to truly occur, it has to permeate the entire organization. Still, you will most likely begin smaller to start the process going. Undoubtedly, mistakes will be made, and from those mistakes, best practices will be discovered and defined. For optimal results, these trail blazing teams should play a pivotal role in helping to roll out change to the rest of the company through documenting, sharing and ongoing collaboration.  

Be unapologetic.

Let’s be honest. Change is hard. It’s scary. It can be uncomfortable. And as a result, it will almost always be met with some degree of resistance. If you want to forge ahead with digital transformation, you have to accept this fact, and then ignore the naysayers. Focus instead on the small group of innovators and early adopters. They will become the champions, influencers and drivers of change that you need to break through, overcome objections and achieve your end goals. Above all, be unapologetic. When you are doing what’s right for your employees, your customers and ultimately your business, everything will eventually fall into place.

Once you’ve got all these things in place – the people, the approach, the perspective and the attitude – you’ll be ready to take the next step toward successful digital transformation. And we’ll be ready to help you with that by placing the power of AI and machine learning in the palm of your hand. Check it out with an interactive demo or experience it firsthand with a free, 30-day trial of Ayehu.

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Pursuing Digital Transformation in 2019? Here’s how to do so securely.

There’s a lot of talk about the topic of change management, and with so many of today’s forward-thinking companies going through digital transformation, mergers and acquisitions and any number of other updates, upgrades and changes, it’s for good reason. Keeping everything running as smoothly as possible is essential to a business’ ability to emerge on the other side stronger and even more successful. One such area of significant importance is IT security. If your organization is currently or will soon be navigating major changes, here are some specific tips to ensure that your critical data remains safe during the process.

Make it a top priority.

Regardless of what type of reorg you’re going through, the subject of cyber security incident response should be at the top of the list, and remain there throughout the entire process. Designate at least one individual (or preferably an entire team) whose sole purpose is maintaining maximum security at all times. If it’s placed on the back burner, your company will become vulnerable to impending risk and very likely to become a victim of a breach.

Plan ahead.

For situations, such as mergers and acquisition, determining whether there are any concerns with the other company’s cyber security incident response ahead of time is crucial, yet often overlooked even by top management and key decision makers. According to a 2014 survey from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, an incredible 78% of respondents said cyber security was not carefully analyzed prior to an acquisition. Don’t make this same mistake.

Take advantage of technology.

Don’t leave the heavy burden of manually managing IT security on the shoulders of your technicians. Even under the best of circumstances, this task is monumental and impossible for humans to handle alone. Add in organizational change and you’ve got an entirely new and incredibly more challenging cyber security landscape to navigate. Use technology, such as automated incident response, to ease this burden and improve the chances of an uneventful transition.

Be aware of new targets.

A company going through major reorganization can be an attractive target for cyber criminals. In fact, even the very information surrounding the internal changes – such merger data and documents – may become a point of increased risk. The person or team charged with IT security should remain acutely aware of this information at all times and carefully monitor who has access and whether that access is legitimate. Otherwise, trade secrets and other confidential info could end up in the wrong hands.

Train and communicate.

It’s been said plenty of times, but it’s worth iterating again: cyber security incident response is everyone’s job – not just IT. Every employee should be trained on how to protect sensitive data and spot potential security concerns so they can be addressed immediately. Senior executives must also be involved in the cyber security discussion. When everyone takes some level of ownership, the risk to the organization as a whole can drop significantly.

Account for more exposure.

Organizational change often requires the addition of a number of external parties, such as lawyers, consultants, bankers and contractors. These additional people will ultimately mean greater exposure of sensitive data. This must be expected and adequately accounted for well in advance to ensure that all information remains as secure as possible throughout the entire transition. Again, the person or persons in charge of IT security should make managing access to information a top priority.

Is your company planning on rolling out some big changes in the near future? Is there a merger or acquisition on the horizon? Whether it’s adopting a new company-wide software product, making changes to corporate culture or partnering with another firm, the changes that will take place within can potentially leave you exposed to greater risk of a security breach. By taking the above steps and solidifying your cyber security incident response plan in advance, your company will be in a much better position to navigate the upcoming challenges and come out on the other side as a success story.

If you could use some upgrades, particularly in the technology you use for IT security and incident management, you can get started today by downloading a free 30 day trial of Ayehu.

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Reskilling Your IT Team for Digital Transformation

The number of job openings for data scientists is steadily on the rise, with IBM predicting a 93% growth rate in data science skills, followed by 56% predicted growth for machine learning skills. Without question, artificial intelligence experts, machine learning developers and data scientists are in high demand, and as that demand rises, the number of qualified candidates to fill open roles will dwindle.

In fact, according to the 2018 State of the CIO report, 36% of respondents cited difficulty filling roles for business intelligence and data analytics. AI roles also made the top 10. Rather than hiring new employees, many organizations are instead looking to reskill existing staff to prepare them for the roles needed to achieve digital transformation.

Let’s take a look at how some companies across various industries are preparing their existing personnel for the AI era of tomorrow.

Back to School

There is no shortage of formal training programs available at higher education institutions across the globe where those interested in gaining expertise in the way of AI, machine learning and data science can pursue their professional development. The most advanced training typically takes anywhere between a year to a year and a half to complete. It also requires basic programming skills and a solid understanding of programming. There are also a variety of online courses and programs to consider.

Forward thinking companies looking to transform their existing workforce can offer tuition reimbursement and flexible work schedules in order to encourage employees to go back to school. The promise of a newer, better role at a higher pay grade can also be great incentive.

Formal In-House Training

Another way organizations are getting existing employees prepared for digital transformation is to create in-house training centers. These will often include test environments in which trainees can experiment with AI and other disruptive technologies. As employees learn and skills are mastered, the training can then be extended to other teams and departments, including the C-suite.

For those companies that don’t have the capacity to create learning centers, availing themselves of vendor-provided training can be the next best thing. For instance, Ayehu offers a free Customer Success Program as well as free Webinars each month aimed at accelerated training of various AI and machine learning applications.

Peer-to-Peer, On-the-Job Training

As companies begin to build up a pipeline of skilled internal talent, they can then begin investing in peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities to further spread knowledge and education. For instance, a department might attend a starter course to familiarize themselves with the concepts of AI, machine learning, etc. and then transition to a mentoring strategy thereafter.

This approach begins by incrementally exposing employees to smaller areas where the use of disruptive technologies can have a large-scale impact. Once comfortable, they can then move toward improving workflows and tackling other, more complex projects – all under the supervision of experience mentors. Many business leaders utilizing this approach feel that it’s much more effective and that employees learn, absorb and build upon critical skills much faster than they would in a traditional classroom setting.

Keeping Pace with Change

The challenge of reskilling to facilitate digital transformation is that technology is evolving at an incredible rate. Keeping pace with the rate of innovation is the key to success. That means developing and fostering new skills on an ongoing basis.

To address this, some organizations invest in regular educational sessions and AI-related training held either ad hoc or at specified intervals. Access to routinely updated educational resources, like online tutorials, onsite training and industry/sector conferences is another option. The thing to remember is that, given the rapid rate of change, you simply cannot overeducate your employees.

With a staffing shortage that’s growing by the day, business leaders must compensate by reskilling existing employees. Otherwise, they risk losing ground in the race to digital transformation.

Give your team a solid foundation by investing in top-of-the-line, Next Generation Automation and Orchestration. Give it a try free for 30 days. What do you have to lose?

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