Tech giant Samsung is opening an AI research lab in Cambridge. The move to do this has been welcomed by British Prime Minister Theresa May, but there’s concern over a mass funneling of graduates out of academic AI research.
This centre joins Samsung’s other AI centres in Moscow and Toronto. The move to build a research lab in Britain, specifically for AI, comes as no surprise following a recent announcement by Prime Minister May’s government.
U.K. spurs AI research
The U.K. government recently announced a USD$400 million investment in AI from corporations and investment firms based in and out of the U.K. In addition, a report from the House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee states that while the U.K. can’t outspend leaders like China, they can still become leaders in AI.
BBC reported that the new centre will be lead by professor Andrew Blake, formerly of Microsoft’s research lab in Cambridge and the new Samsung AI lab “could recruit as many as 150 scientists.”
The brain drain
According to the BBC, there’s concern over a funneling of graduates in AI research out of academics and into private sector work:
“A recent study by recruitment specialists Odgers Berndtson found just 225 students in the country were doing post-graduate technology research in specialist areas including AI and machine learning. “In the US, PhD qualified experts can command packages of $300,000 [£223,000]. And in the UK, whilst not yet at that level, salaries are spiralling,” said Mike Drew, head of technology at the headhunting company. A large part of the problem is that industry is picking university departments clean of their talent. A distinguished academic in the AI field confirmed this to me – he said anyone who had done post-graduate research in machine learning could ‘name their price.'”
This isn’t an isolated situation, the same concern was raised when Facebook decided to open new AI labs in Seattle and Pittsburgh, with professors, scholars and researchers from local universities worrying about the future of academic AI research when so many graduates leave for corporate — and greener — pastures.
4 ways to plan for the post-pandemic normal
When the crisis eases, we will have entered a new digital normal. Your strategies need to reflect this shift: Consider these factors as you plan for the longer term.
When I sat down to write this article, a follow-on to my previous article on common leadership oversights on the path to digital transformation, the coronavirus’s threat to global business had not reached the magnitude that we feel and see today. In a few short weeks, the pandemic has forced a new virtual work reality on businesses and entire operating models have been shifted – and in many cases, upended.
A business environment that is changing so dramatically and rapidly requires speed, innovation on the fly, and the need to scale thinking beyond anything we might have previously imagined. Now is not the time to back-burner digital initiatives but to ramp them up.
Now is not the time to back-burner digital initiatives but to ramp them up.
When the crisis eases, we will have entered a new digital normal. The strategies we use to run, change, and staff the business will need to reflect this shift. Consider the following factors as you plan for the longer term:
1. The right financials
Any business that isn’t digital by now likely won’t be a business for long. Learning to embrace and adjust is imperative. Continuing – or starting – a digital transformation will be more important than ever, and you’ll need to rethink your business’ capital allocation strategies for digital initiatives and the staffing that supports them.
To figure this out, become best friends with your finance team and think for both the short- and long-term. In the current climate, it can be easy to be either too short-sighted or too far-sighted, but you need to plan for the next week, month, quarter, year, three and five years.
Become best friends with your finance team and think for both the short- and long-term.
Consider how your company may bounce back from the pandemic when stay-at-home orders are lifted, kids go back to school, and consumers begin to mobilize again: We will have entered an entirely different digital world, with new digital expectations from consumers. Is there potential for a rapid and significant surge, followed by a normalization? Will you be facing a slow rise? Digital transformation funds need to be allocated to react appropriately to these various scenarios; staffing discussions should follow based on these decisions.
2. The right tools
It is likely that at least some of your employees will remain virtual, even when the majority can get back into the office. How will you support them? You may have sacrificed some tools or technologies in your move to quickly get employees out of your building and into their homes; you may have also overpaid for the sake of quick deployment.
You’ll need to rework your strategy for the long term. This could include better or more consistent access to networks and servers, the capacity to host formal business meetings online, new portable equipment, virtual collaboration and communication software, and more.
For many, this will require working with your corporate legal team to change their thinking. Where they may have once been risk-averse for the sake of the business, they will now need to take smart risks, also for the take of the business. State your case, find common ground, and move forward.
In some particularly dire situations, you may even need to become comfortable with making decisions first and asking for permission later.
3. The right staffing
You’ll need to continue to make smart staffing decisions – quickly. You likely have three types of talent available:
- Employees who are great at running the business
- Employees who are hungry for more
- New talent that may not yet exist in your business but needs to be brought in
Unfortunately, this global crisis may have created gaps in your workforce.
Identify the individuals in the first two groups and work with your talent management team to assess whether you need to advance digital investments previously planned for. Do these individuals have the right type of skills for their teams? Are they collaborative and communicative? IT cannot work in a silo, and team members need to be able to communicate what they are doing and why, and be clear on how their actions are aligned to larger goals.
When you’ve completed this review, identify the additional skills you will need for the future. This might include teams familiar with building out cloud deployments or working with microservices, etc. Push the rest of your leadership team to break through capital allocation constraints to bring in new employees who not only have the right experience but also can quickly teach your existing teams on new tools organically.
4. The right brand permission
As you work through your accelerated digital transformation, you’ll start to think about your business as a truly digital brand. In fact, you might already think so, simply because you’ve been able to get your staff up and running remotely.
But is this the perception all your stakeholders have? According to the Yale School of Management, “Brand permission defines the limits of customers’ willingness to accept a familiar brand name in new marketplace situations.” For example, you can’t simply say, “We are digital now, world!” and expect your market to immediately accept that if you haven’t been digital historically. You need to earn this right.
You can’t simply say, “We are digital now, world!” You need to earn this right.
Brand permission is something you and the rest of the company will need to work on – largely focused on delivering useful and impactful digital products and services – in order to attract the new talent you need. Start thinking about this now.
The global pandemic has thrown us into an entirely new world. Business leaders can no longer rest on their laurels and, certainly, can no longer put off or draw out a digital transformation. Making the right decisions now will help to ensure your business is positioned well when this crisis passes.
As Chief Digital Officer of Agero, Bernie Gracy brings more than 30 years of technology experience helping drive new product/platform introduction, client delivery, and the establishment of new software-enabled business models.
In his role, Gracy is responsible for all aspects of product and technology development, architecture, infrastructure, and innovation for a rapidly evolving ecosystem powered by digital, mobile, the cloud, location-based services, and IoT.
58% of enterprises struggle to find talent with the right DevOps skills
One of the most common digital transformation topics is upskilling, and its importance to a successful DX journey.
Broadly speaking, a lack of internal expertise is hindering the journey for many organizations. According to a new report from the Cloud Industry Forum, four in ten respondents said their business does not have access to the necessary skill-sets in-house, rising to 51% among respondents from IT departments.
“There’s no digital transformation without a staff transformation,” explains information security and business technology writer George V. Hulme in DevOps.com. “The people skills that helped bring successful enterprises to where they are today won’t be the skills that will make them successful tomorrow.”
Fortunately, he says, organizational leadership is largely well aware of how important it is to close the gap between skills employees have now, and those they’ll need to help guide the enterprise into the future.
The DevOps Institute has released its Upskilling 2020: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report, based on 1,300 respondents. A major takeaway? “More than 50% of enterprises find challenges with all aspects associated with managing the people, processes and technologies that make DevOps possible,” Hulme explains.
The report also found that 58% of enterprises have difficulties actually finding those with the right DevOps skills, and 48% said it’s difficult to retain skilled DevOps professionals. As a result, salaries are on the rise, with salaries for experienced DevOps engineers reaching beyond $179,250 USD, according to the Robert Half Technology 2020 Salary Guide.
Additional top takeaways from the research include:
- The top three must-have skill categories in 2020 are process skills and knowledge (69% of respondents), automation skills (67% of respondents), and human skills (61% of respondents)
- Upskilling requires the attention of business leaders now. Over 38% of respondents’ organizations have no upskilling program, 21% are currently working on one, and 7% don’t even know if their organization has an upskilling program.
- Agile adoption (81%), DevOps adoption (75%) and ITIL adoption (25%) have grown since the 2019 benchmark report, while SRE has risen from 10% adoption in 2019 to 15% in 2020.
“Human transformation is the single most critical success factor to enable DevOps practices and patterns for enterprise IT organizations,” said Jayne Groll, CEO of DevOps Institute in the accompanying press release.
“Traditional upskilling and talent development approaches won’t be enough for enterprises to remain competitive because the increasing demand for IT professionals with core human skills is escalating to a point that business leaders have not yet seen in their lifetime. We must update our humans through new skill sets as often, and with the same focus, as our technology.”
DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.
Want a digital transformation dream team? Here’s who you need
The importance of cross-functional teams to digital transformation can’t be understated: They have always been important, says Tony Saldanha, a former IT executive from Procter & Gamble, and the author of ‘Why Digital Transformations Fail.’
Today, cross-functional teams help break down silos that can stand in the way of digital transformation efforts, enroute to better user and customer experiences.
According to Jimit Arora, partner at management consultancy Everest Group, “The most effective digital teams have low attrition rates, are co-located near business users, exhibit breadth across multiple disciplines – and depth in a few – and tend to include more experienced professionals rather than recent graduates.”
Also important? Ensuring these teams have the proper skill set and personalities to deliver on DX initiatives.
[Related reading: Why successful digital transformation puts people first]
While IT roles like software developers are a natural inclusion, business and tech journalist Stephanie Overby has outlined in The Enterprisers Project, eight other key roles to consider when recruiting for digital transformation:
The DX Lead
Soft skills, accountability, and a track record of successful DX management are all key traits of this hire, according to Ola Chowning, partner in digital strategy and solutions at ISG. A solid balance of tech- and business-enabling skills would ensure the right digital solutions AND business objectives are met.
The Change Champion
This role requires excellent communication, cultural, and organizational change expertise. “The best ones have a positive presence that makes it possible to both to influence enterprise leaders and connect with employees at all levels to advocate for transformation.”
Stephanie Welsh, senior director for IT strategy and enablement at Red Hat, has dubbed this person an ‘agilist,’ — they can adapt quickly to change. “They model how to effectively respond to change and will help others adapt as well.”
The Technical Engineer
“They not only understand the entire technology stack today, but they also can envision what it should look like in the future,” says Prasad Kothari, vice president of analytics and client solutions at research and analytics solutions provider The Smart Cube.
The Business Expert
This role should act as subject matter expert on the function or process that is going through the transformation process, and acts as a pipeline for additional, on-demand experts. “They become the owners of defining required capabilities, encourage experimentation, and can quickly make decisions on what works and what doesn’t,” says Vinod Kachroo, CIO of business process outsourcing provider SE2.
The Data Architect
Able to connect data applications with top- and bottom-line business results, this player “will outline the different uses cases for data collection and guide how analytics projects will be implemented across the organization,” explains Kothari.
The UX/CX Professional
“New systems are only as good as their adoption rates,” says Overby, and UX/CX experts are there to focus on making sure solutions keep the end user in mind. “They are experts in the field of human-centric design,” says Kachroo.
The Financial Analyst
This role develops the business case and outlines the financial value for the transformation. “The entire team’s relationship with this player and your organization’s larger group of finance pros should be a priority; continued digital project funding depends on it,” writes Overby.
For starters, all IT projects should be presented with an ROI, explained Dave Castellani, senior vice president and business information officer for New York Life — even if the payoff is much later.
The Critical Hacker
While QA testing stands as a basic component to this role, this player needs to “ensure that the functionality is ready for pilots and meets the success criteria established by the owners of the project or program,” Kachroo says.
For a digital transformation team to be successful, they need to show breadth and depth across a variety of disciplines. Personalities do matter when recruiting for the team, which requires a mix of business, tech, and process proficiency.
DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.
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