Digitisation, Transformation & The Future of Work

Just a month into her retirement, Daphne Jones’ schedule is already full. In between writing her book, teaching classes, doing public speaking, and scouting for board opportunities, Daphne took some time out to talk to Winter Circle.

Having just finished her role as a Senior Vice President and CIO at GE Healthcare, Daphne reflects on her career, shares her vast experience in transforming companies and talks about the concept of having a ‘digital twin’.

From the impact of augmented intelligence on the workforce to the power of 3D printing, the former CIO explains why technology is finally coming to the forefront of businesses and what humans need to do to stay ahead of robots.

You’ve worked extensively with companies in helping them transition or transform. How would you say digitisation has impacted the organisations you’ve worked with?

If I were to say what the most impactful work is that I’ve done in my career, it would be to enable businesses to transform. GE, for example, is currently in the middle of a transformation. Before I retired from GE, we began the much-needed transformation from being solely an industrial company to being a digital industrial company.

Historically, companies have focused primarily on their physical operations to enable them to get products and services out the door. But when you look at the pervasiveness of digital, the ability for companies to drive enormous productivity will come when the operating technology joins up with digital or IT. The marriage of operating technology with data and analytics will enhance machine uptime and overall productivity.

GE’s Predix operating platform is helping to drive productivity. Digital is creating a major transformation across society, organisations and people. I helped GE define their digital strategy when I joined the company and spent the last year helping to define how we’re going to use digital to help our healthcare business reimagine itself, with a view to driving productivity internally for our teams and externally for our customers.

You used to have five people. Now, there’s one person and Google…

What’s the key to a successful transformation?

One big key is having a digital culture. The focus of companies seeking to transform tends to be on technology without simultaneously investing in the organisation’s cultural transformation. The technology, quite frankly, is the easy part.

A company needs to have a foundation that’s built on contemporary technology platforms, but also needs a culture of risk-taking and innovation and an openness to experimentation. The next big thing might not be obvious, so you have to have your feelers out and have the right kind of talent – a team that’s ready for exploration and innovation, one that takes risks, makes mistakes and learns from them. Digital is all about seeing, seizing and scaling the opportunities in the market. A digital culture is required to enable that.

The second key is enabling the democratisation of data – realising that data is everywhere and access must be given to everyone who needs it (with the exception of sensitive data). Companies are not merely in the product business, they are in the information business. It’s about giving customers insights so they can make good choices and giving employees information that will enable them to make decisions and to persevere or pivot if the outcome of the decision doesn’t deliver as expected. Competitive data, product data, install base data, performance data etc. needs to be provided just in time and in context.

An old saying that we shouldn’t forget is – ‘you can’t improve what you can’t measure’, and you can’t measure what you don’t see.

What have been the most significant challenges you’ve faced throughout the transformations you’ve led?

As an IT leader, the one challenge I’ve had in my career has been getting IT to lead the charge as opposed to being in the backseat. A lot of companies haven’t seen IT as a value-driver, they’ve seen it as a cost to be reduced. Now we see with the rise of digital, IT is so sought-after.

Part of the paradox is that on the one hand – the IT teams know the business as they have had a 360 degree-view of everything. But on the other hand, IT was often not invited to the strategy table, but was expected to deliver a system that was asked for, even though the new system may not have been the best answer to the problem being solved. I believe that is changing with the advent of digital – CIOs are increasingly taking a leadership role and driving digital transformations that result in higher cash flow, improved productivity, faster time to market and much more, with the CEO, CMO, and others right beside them.

You’ve spoken a lot about the need for companies and senior leaders to be ‘innovation-ready’. Are there any innovations you’re particularly interested in?

There are two that come to mind. Artificial intelligence, or now it’s really augmented intelligence. When you ask Google for help, that’s really augmenting your intelligence.

I once read a quote that said ‘your boss doesn’t care what you know, Google knows everything. The only thing your boss pays for is what you can do with what you know.’ You used to have five people with five people’s knowledge. Now, there’s one person and Google, or Alexa or Cortana. The productivity of companies is going up but the workforce is staying flat. AI is going to continue to revolutionise industries. Robotics and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) are going to be a part of that and those things are going to affect everybody and every industry.

The second innovation, which I believe is a gamechanger, is 3D printing or ‘additive printing’. Today, companies do what’s known as ‘subtractive printing’ – you take a big piece of material and you extract or cut something out of it – a door, a bolt, a portion of an airplane’s wing. When you have ‘additive’ manufacturing, you are starting from nothing and depositing material in layers so that it becomes that airplane wing, that door etc. The impact of that is you have the opportunity to reimagine your supply chain process and determine what logistical changes may be possible. In the past you might make the product in one country and ship it to another. Now, you don’t have to ship the product, because you can just print it where it’s needed – close to the customer.

Can you explain the concept of the ‘digital twin’?

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a person or physical product.

If you’re ever on Facebook, you’ll see ads that follow you. Say you were just on Amazon and bought a set of skis. Facebook has figured out an algorithm that says, since Jane bought these skis, she’s going to look for poles next – let me show Jane the poles she may want to consider buying. Companies look at digital twins as the digital representation of you – they look at how you respond within your context or your environment. To me, Facebook is your digital twin.

The more you learn about the next big thing, the less likely it is that you’ll find yourself out of a job.

It’s the same thing in industry. When you look at the physics of an airplane engine, there is the ability to digitise every aspect of that engine, to define how the engine performs under various conditions, and to use information that is being transmitted from the sensors of that engine. Based on wind, humidity, temperature, salt, sand, and the intensity of sunlight at 3pm in Dubai in March, you can understand how that engine will perform in that environment as well as when it may begin to fail. It may require more preventive maintenance compared to an engine that only flies in the rain in Seattle.

Now, a business leader will have enough algorithmic information to predict when this machine is going to fail, so they can take it out of service to repair it pro-actively, as opposed to having the engine fail while the airplane is in the air or on the runway.

Do you see any downsides to having a ‘digital twin’? Are there elements of this we should be concerned about?

They say robots will take our jobs one day. Because technology creates and teaches itself things, robotics and software will become more prevalent and more powerful. Job loss is possible, but job creation is also going to happen. New roles such as data scientists, machine-learning engineers, IoT architects, chief data officers, and others, will emerge.

It’s inevitable that there will be transitions in society and in organisations and the question is: can we keep up? Can we reinvent ourselves and make sure that we are looking to understand what the work of the future will be?

That means you have to keep an eye on trends and crucially, keep reading. The more you learn about the next big thing, the less likely it is that you’ll find yourself out of a job.

How far away are we from 3D printing, digital twins and robots being the norm in the workplace?

We’re already there. Your FitBit is your digital twin. It is likely insurance companies will require you wear one in order to understand more about your insurability. The clothes you’re wearing will tell Nike or Under Armour in what conditions you’re sweating and how the fabric is holding up to the exercise you put it through. A digital pill just got approved by the FDA this week which people will have to swallow to help track whether or not they are taking our medicine as prescribed. Every time you turn around, there are digital enhancements happening. At the same time, there are still a lot of manufacturing facilities that aren’t yet 3D-printing anything, so there’s more to look forward to.

If a robot automates a process, it may have created processes that only robots can do. Similarly, we think that only human beings can comfort a crying baby or greet you as you walk into a store, but robots will be able to do those things. Just last month, Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a robot for the first time in the world. If we start awarding citizenship to robots, how many robot citizens will we have? What about taxes? Will robots be payroll taxed like other (human) workers? There are definitely some questions that still need to be answered.

What would you say your experience has been as a woman and a CIO?

As a woman, I don’t think diversity is the biggest issue, per se – women or people of colour, or people of other nationalities are often present. Diversity is still an issue, but I believe it pales in comparison to the inclusion issue. Diversity is like going to a dance with a lot of different people, but inclusion is being invited to dance with others on the dance floor. Right now, you’ve got a lot of women, African-American, Asian, Hispanic people at the dance but it appears that the majority of those dancing are men or are white. I go to conferences and I’m usually the only – well, take your pick – woman, Jamaican, African-American in the conversation. If we had more inclusion, I’m convinced we would see more diversity, not the other way around. It’s not a social issue or a parity issue, it’s a business issue.

Part of my role is to bring that challenge to the table. If you look at diversity and inclusion like it’s going to transform your business, you can see how it’s going impact the bottomline, improve the number of people that buy the product and increase the scope & scale of your business. I’ve sat on many panels and talked about this topic. My focus has been on young girls and women – that’s why I’m doing things that help women be more powerful in the workforce.

What, do you think, is the call to action there?

As women, I think we have to take it upon ourselves. Jeffrey Osborne, the singer said ‘when my brother’s in trouble, so am I’, so I say, ‘when my sister’s in trouble, so am I’.

Our role is to be leaders and to be the one that says that I am not here only for me, but I am here for other people, for other women. If every woman tried to help the next woman win in the market, to help them learn how to work in a man’s world, to help them ‘lean in’ and change their own paradigms, women will be more empowered and more inspired. That’s our collective responsibility, otherwise it won’t change.

What does retirement mean for you?

My self-proclaimed purpose is to teach wisdom to the world. My mother always said I should learn all I can, so I can earn all I can so I can return all I can.

I certainly haven’t finished learning and as we hear about the future of work and the digital economy, what used to be true no longer is. It’s not about being career-ready now, it’s about being innovation-ready and always ready to learn. I’ve been learning and earning as much as I can and now I’m at the stage in my life where I want to return.

Looking back over your career, what advice would you give to other senior executives in leadership?

My son says ‘stay woke’, meaning, ‘stay alert’. Stay at the ready. It means don’t be complacent, always seek to learn, unlearn and then relearn. It means being able to see around the corner to the trends that are showing themselves and being ready to pro-act on those trends. He or she who is involved in lifelong, continuous learning, risk taking, experimentation, is he or she who will win as we look at the work of the future.

Be open to change, be flexible and agile, be aware that technology is going to transform lives in ways it never has before – what can we do to help others prepare for that and how can we prepare ourselves? Get on Twitter, follow key leaders, read books on innovation, follow organisations that are known as leading-edge thinkers, read books about what’s happening in the digital world.

Stay woke.

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