Embrace chaos or die?

Embrace chaos or die?

The acceleration of technological change and the apparent chaos it creates are a huge opportunity.

In a wide-ranging presentation to executives at the Fusion 2015 CEO-CIO Symposium, Peter Coffee, VP for strategic research at Salesforce, rounded up some of the ways that market changes and opportunities put IT in the hot seat and give CIOs a chance to create new value for the business.


It took phones 73 years to go from 10% to 90% ubiquity in the United States, it took PCs 30 years, and smartphones and tablets are on their way to take about eight, Coffee said. Wearables are now speeding past the growth rate of smartphones in their first few years.

Wearables are showing promise for businesses in areas such as field service, which a 2013 Gartner report called out as the industry likely to show the greatest benefit.

“If you’re maintaining the wind turbine, it’s nice if you have two hands, and it’s nicer if you take the right tools the first time,” Coffee said. Not only that, but wearables allow greater interaction between the field and the home office. The best subject matter experts can be in the “ears and eyes” of a worker and guide them.

“The leverage this represents for the most scarce resource in organizations today, human talent, is profound,” he said.

Meanwhile, Coffee pointed out, mobile apps have already surpassed desktop web browsers in the United States in delivering content. But the boom in apps does not necessarily mean everything is well-connected and creates fluid customer experiences.

“I think we’re creating more pieces than we’re connecting,” said Tom Koulopoulos, Chairman of Delphi Group.

That is to say, the huge array of digital experiences and tools now available creates a value proposition for the “superusers” in organizations who actually know how to connect the pieces together, but creates more obstacles overall. The apps boom may be revolutionizing content and mobile experiences, but it’s also creating many “tiny silos” that are mostly connected in, at best, an ad hoc way.

“We get to the point where we have so much differentiation that it becomes chaos and confusion, and then we connect the pieces again,” Koulopoulos said.

Opening up processes

“The biggest mistake one can make today is arguably to get the 20 leading experts together in a room,” Coffee said, emphasizing the “enormous opening of the funnel of the spectrum of points of view” and the increasing ability for people to participate in large undertakings without formal careers.

EteRNA, a project that crowdsources the discovery of how to control the folding of RNA molecules, which could lead to developments in biological computing and medicine.

After players go through a tutorial in which they learn about how RNA molecules fold into different shapes based on the combination of the four bases adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, they can go on to design RNA that fits into “target” shapes. On the game side, players complete puzzles, earn points, and compete for rankings. Back in the lab, top-voted designs are synthesized for real and tested.

Researchers hope to come up with rules to be able to synthesize RNA that will fold into any desired shape.

In 2014 results were published in PNAS, a prestigious scientific journal, with “EteRNA Participants” listed as co-authors and 37,541 usernames attached.

Coffee called this out as a model for “successfully opening up science” to non-scientists and drew a parallel to what IT could help create in other business and nonprofit contexts.

“Old IT automates activity, new IT accelerates engagement,” he said.

Customer focus

The theme of this year’s conference was how IT can directly improve customer experience, but Coffee pointed out that widely available consumer technology is already making sweeping changes in experiences, and companies need to keep up and continue to innovate now that, for example, retail customers can get extensive information on any product on a mobile device while in a store, and brand depends on customer communities.

He said companies should “forget the idea that what you sold was a product” as people will Google the problem they are having first. Successful companies will not just solve problems, but become “the micro-ecosystem that solves your problem today.”

Competition crosses boundaries

“It used to be you knew who the competition was, because there you all were in the yellow pages,” Coffee said. But it’s not just startups that are causing disruption. Large companies have increasing data stores and connections with potential customers that they can use to expand and provide competitive options using better information.

“If Google, Amazon, Walmart, PayPal, Square and eBay aren’t on your list of competitors, you need a better list,” he said.

He also called for analytics to include the assumption that every report should include a recommendation or pertain to a decision.

“So much analytics ends the process by delivering you the report,” he said.

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Prediction was a common theme at Fusion.

“There is nothing more important to CEOs or to boards than predicting future success, especially if you’re a publicly traded company,” said Barb Gomolski, managing VP of the IT Finance & Workforce Management Group at Gartner.