‘We Will Never Go Back To How Things Were Done Before’

The last two years have taught important lessons about resilience and the best uses of data, says Vishal Gupta, CIO and CTO of Lexmark.
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Companies around the world have learned volumes about business resilience during the pandemic, says Vishal Gupta, CIO and CTO of Lexmark, a provider of IoT- and cloud-enabled imaging technologies based in Lexington, Kentucky. Some are emerging better than before.

Gupta spoke with StrategicCIO360 about how tech leaders can help organizations be resilient though all sorts of challenges, why it’s important to break down internal data silos and what CIOs can find intimidating.

What does business resilience mean to you and how important is it?

If the past 18 months have shown us anything, it’s just how resilient we are—and just how important resilience is to business success. Organizations that have the tools to rapidly adjust course and respond to all types of risks—natural disasters, cyberattacks, supply chain disruption, or even a global pandemic—are the ones that not only survive, but become industry leaders.

Businesses all over the world, Lexmark included, rose to the challenges presented by Covid-19 and completely reimagined the way things were done to meet the needs of our new reality. Technology was a key driver of this, unlocking capabilities and business models that were previously unthinkable. By instituting virtual customer meetings and digital engagement, innovating new strategies, accelerating digital transformation and more, these “uncertain times” became much less intimidating for businesses and some even started to thrive in the “new normal.”

With the power of digital-first capabilities in our grasp, we will never go back to how things were done before. And as we transition to the “next normal,” we must carry the newfound meaning and importance of resilience with us.

How can CIOs add value to ensure business resilience?

It should be leadership’s priority to create structure and stability for the organization during times of change. While change can often be challenging and intimidating, it can also act as a springboard for organizations to reevaluate their existing processes and reimagine how things can be done.

CIOs are uniquely positioned to lead their companies into the post-pandemic future. As a key strategic decision maker, and one of the organization’s greatest proponents of digital transformation, a CIO can shape a company’s technological future. A leader in this role can fortify business resilience across four main growth areas: talent, infrastructure, data and applications.

For talent, it’s well known that employees are one of an organization’s greatest strengths. So recruiting and developing an agile and motivated workforce should be an essential part of any business’ growth plan. Maintaining talent resilience can come in the form of cultivating a leadership team that instills confidence and can effectively manage a crisis, or building a culture that rewards taking measured risks and thinking innovatively.

It can also be expressed as a renewed focus on employee well-being through access to health and mental health resources, or many other actions that encourage continuous learning and empower your workforce. By keeping employees engaged and satisfied, organizations will be better armed to face any obstacles. One of the key ways to tell whether you have built your talent resilience is to look at your employee engagement scores relative to your peers.

As for infrastructure, as a next layer of defense, a business’ infrastructure must be configured in a way that the organization can easily identify, address and adapt to various stressors. In doing so, it can sustain, and enhance, its capabilities across the organization.

Infrastructure resilience entails bolstering security and privacy, supporting scalability, and simplifying infrastructure deployment and management via infrastructure as a code and “shift left” best practices. This type of investment also allows for new types of workflows to emerge, which can streamline efficiencies, unlock new revenue models and ensure that the infrastructure can support the pace of innovation.

For data, organizations are increasingly embracing data-driven decision making across the business. To foster data resilience, internal silos must be broken down to democratize data for all users. Once data is free-flowing and easily accessible across an organization, it can inform areas of improvement throughout the ecosystem.

Leaders can fortify data resilience by creating a digital twin, which can be used to digitally model business outcomes and organize assets, and building an enterprise-wide digital thread to provide real-time, uninterrupted access to rich data and insights. At Lexmark, we recently won awards, including CIO 100, for our innovations in digital thread, which enables us to tie data from several systems and accelerate the detection and response to any issues, thereby becoming resilient.

Finally, for applications, in our digital-first world, people have come to expect applications to meet their needs without disruption or lag. By migrating to hybrid clouds or as-a-service models, leaders can support applications’ resilience and enable continuous access and flexibility.

As the world becomes increasingly reliant on data, what has your role been in streamlining data to harvest actionable insights?

Data is obviously immensely powerful. When used efficiently, it can drive strategic business decisions, inform areas for improvement and strengthen customer relationships.

Like most global enterprises today, we at Lexmark have struggled with understanding how to best share and act on the vast amounts of data that we create. We realized that we couldn’t unlock the full potential of our capabilities if we didn’t make a change. To address this, we are undergoing a companywide culture shift and breaking down internal barriers to make data sharing and analysis seamless across our organization and democratizing data access and usage.

Further, we developed the Lexmark Product Digital Thread, an integrated real-time data repository and audit trail generated across the end-to-end lifecycle of our products. The PDT captures insights from product design through end-of-life, for our hardware, key components and supplies. With this live pool of data at our fingertips, we can now make calculated business decisions based on real insights that will move the needle.

How should CIOs approach developing a data strategy across their organization?

We know from experience that developing and implementing a comprehensive data strategy can be intimidating, but it’s well worth it to fully realize the breadth of the digital capabilities you’ll unlock.

As a first step, you must try to rid your organization of internal friction by breaking down as many silos as you can so that data is free-flowing and accessible to all teams across the organization. Once data is democratized, you can empower “data heroes” to identify, extract, transform and analyze previously siloed data for knowledge sharing and reuse. Once data is freed up, it’s much easier to identify the ways across the organization where it can be applied and provide value.

Leaders should also consider restructuring the internal organization to address changing needs, develop ways to operationalize data use and empower team members to collaborate and openly share insights. On the technology side, you have to build talent like data engineers and data scientists across the organization and invest in capabilities like a data lake with the right data governance so the trust can be built on a single source of data. 

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