Don’t get left behind in the race for IT innovation

While some enterprises hold back on new tech adoption to save money, that conservative posture may cost them far more in terms of talent and competitiveness over the long run.

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Enterprise IT sometimes feels like a cutthroat race to “hurry up and adopt this hot new technology before you get left behind!”

While you’re lining up at the starting gate, however, also heed the warning that simultaneously screams: “Don’t jump too quickly into some unproven technology that ends up wasting your organization’s precious time and money on empty hype!”

Balancing innovation with ROI

Tanbir Grover described this tenuous tightrope walk recently at the DX3 digital retail and marketing conference in Toronto. “I have to balance innovation and sexiness with return [on investment],” explained Grover, VP of ecommerce and omnichannel at home improvement retailer Lowe’s Canada.

“Where do we put our limited dollars today? I argue voice search is sexy — but for the five per cent of people who use it, the return is not worth it. The return is on the 95 per cent of people on your website or mobile site,” Grover told a DX3 panel on omnichannel customer experience.

Similar sentiments came from his fellow panelist Andrew Go, who said investing in innovation is great — as long as you’re not sacrificing fundamentals like browser optimization and data quality.

“How do I optimize that? It’s not sexy, it’s behind the scenes, but it optimizes customer experience. Before you invest in cooler stuff, think about ‘How are we delivering to [customers] on their terms?’” said Go, senior director of ecommerce and advertising at Home Depot Canada.

It’s not business as usual

Turns out that when it comes to IT adoption, the majority of Canadian enterprises would rather just wait-and-see patiently, thank you very much, rather than leap quickly into newer, sexier things.

“Canadian CIOs are under-investing in disruptive technologies, opting instead to focus on business-as-usual initiatives. This, combined with relatively low budget growth, is hampering Canadian CIOs and their organizations — especially when compared to their international counterparts,” Chris Howard, chief of research at Gartner’s CIO Research Group, wrote in a rather stinging assessment last May.

“Canadian CIOs are still highly focused on legacy modernization” and “typically wait for a [newer] technology to become proven before investing,” Howard concluded.

We’ve heard this before from people like Eric Gales, the Canadian country manager for Amazon Web Services. Gales, who left the UK to work in Canada 14 years ago, noted last year that “adoption rates of new technologies are generally a bit slower” in Canada. He said that by the time many Canadian companies get around to deploying a newer technology, the 2.0 version has already hit the market.

The cost of inaction

This appears to be a uniquely Canadian trait. For its 2018 CIO survey, KPMG polled almost 4,000 IT execs around the world, including 92 in Canada. Although 59 per cent of Canadian CIOs believe their IT budgets will rise in 2019 (versus the global average of just 48 per cent), those Canadian firms may not spend the extra money on innovation.

While 41 per cent of firms around the world say it’s important to have an “innovative, experimental culture,” just 29 per cent of Canadian organizations share that belief.

While Canadian enterprises may hold back on new tech adoption to save money, that conservative posture may cost them far more in terms of talent and competitiveness over the long run.

According to Deloitte’s latest international study on artificial intelligence, for example, only 16 per cent of Canadian businesses have adopted AI, a number that has stagnated for the past four years. Just eight per cent of Canadian businesses plan to increase their AI spending by more than 20 per cent this year, which Deloitte pegs at “40 per cent fewer than the global average.”

“If Canada continues on its current path, we risk providing [AI] talent, research and startups that will feed the growth of other countries — such as the United States and China — without reaping the benefits ourselves,” Deloitte warns. “Canadian businesses need to step up, start adopting AI in a more meaningful way, and create demand for technologies that are already unlocking potential for other countries.”

Preparing for disruption

Back at DX3, the omnichannel panel (no, we didn’t realize it rhymed until now) revealed some of the real, everyday considerations that come into play before innovation and adoption can happen.

Panelist Michael Eubanks, CIO at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, spoke about the need to ensure the integrity and quality of data before deploying any type of smart bots.

McDonald’s Canada CTO Lara Skripitsky said the fast food chain considered creating its own home delivery system but decided to partner with Uber Eats instead, “after recognizing we don’t have that ability and expertise” in-house.

Canadian enterprises take a careful, thorough approach to IT adoption and experimentation; maybe they see it as a marathon, not a sprint. If they don’t start running faster during key parts of the ongoing race, however, they risk falling too far behind.

Image: bubaone/iStock

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