MIT CIO 2019: Scaling AI and data to build the 'smart enterprise'

The theme of MIT Sloan CIO Symposium 2019 is 'leading the smarter enterprise.' We caught up with event chair Lindsey Anderson to find out what that means.

MIT Sloan School of Management hosts the MIT CIO Symposium on May 22, 2019. The annual event, in its 16th year and held on MIT's main campus in Cambridge, Mass., features leading CIOs, senior executives, industry experts and MIT Sloan faculty. A CIO Leadership Award is announced on the day of the conference. 

SearchCIO's Linda Tucci caught up with event chair and general manager, Lindsey Anderson, to learn about this year's theme: leading the smart enterprise. 

In recent years, MIT CIO Symposium has explored the enterprise's need for digital transformation. What's the new message for CIOs at this year's event?

Lindsey Anderson: We're focusing on leading the smarter enterprise. Certainly, we see this as a logical extension of digital transformation. A smart enterprise is not possible without a digital transformation. But we also see it as more than just digitizing things.

The holy grail of the smart enterprise is competitive advantage. That really means developing stronger relationships with your customers and with other stakeholders. So, you're looking for a stronger, more competitive relationship, and you're able to develop that relationship because you know more about the customer, you're able to do things faster, and so you're better able to address their specific needs.

The foundation of the smart enterprise is insightful technologies -- like AI and predictive analytics -- that enable organizations to become more tightly engaged with their customers and stakeholders. The transition we're making now is going from different departments experimenting with various elements of the smart enterprise to really thinking about scaling those elements across the enterprise. We're talking about integrating [intelligence] across the whole digital process.

Lindsey Anderson, chair and general manager, MIT Sloan CIO SymposiumLindsey Anderson

Every enterprise wants to be smarter. What's holding them back? 

Anderson: We started this conversation around digital transformation. While a lot of progress has been around digital transformation, it is not universal; there are companies at various stages of digital transformation. That is one thing that's holding companies back.

We also have a cultural issue that needs to be addressed. Being a smart enterprise -- relying on technologies to help you be smarter -- requires a different kind of mindset, and not everybody in the organization is ready to make that transition. It is challenging. You want to change your culture, but on the other hand, you don't want to change too much, because you still need to bring in the revenue for this quarter, so you have to make a cultural adjustment for the present and the future.

What about the 'smart' mindset do some employees find hard to adjust to?

Anderson: There is a large part of the workforce that is not digitally native, and they find it difficult to make a transition to using more digital technologies. A key cultural way of thinking about it is 'Mad Men' vs. math men. 'Mad Men' is making more gut decisions, while math men are looking more at data and being data-driven.

One cultural requirement is comfort with using data to make decisions. Some organizations have difficulty with that transition. Marshall Goldsmith, who wrote 'What Got You Here Won't Get You There,' makes this point. We have a set of senior executives who have risen up through the ranks and have been very successful running their businesses based on their instincts with a limited amount of data. Now, they have much more data. Some of them are welcoming that. They're seeing that they can do so much more and be more effective within their organization with that additional data. Others are finding it challenging. They are just not able to make that transition.

Does MIT CIO Symposium 2019 include sessions on what CIOs can do to help these so-called 'Mad Men' executives become more comfortable with using data?

Anderson: Yes. We have a number of different panels that focus on how data will generate economic value: data strategies that pay off. We're looking at how to build the business case for the data-driven organization. We have a session on architecting your business for sustained success; that's about how we adopt the new without abandoning the old.

Is it the CIO's job to help their organizations become data-driven? And how do they do that?

Anderson: Yes, it is definitely the CIO's to job help reorganize the organization so that it becomes more data-driven. The way that they do that is working with their business counterparts and identifying, 'Here are the things that we can do better. Here is the technology that is available that will enable our organization to run smarter.'

In successful organizations, they have business counterparts that get it: They understand that technology will enable them to have better insight into what their customers need, what their business is good at, what their weaknesses are. Those are some of things CIOs can do to help their organizations become smarter.

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