Tech Enablement Transformation – Q&A with our CIO

By Afiba Edwards

McChrystal Group Chief Information Officer, Afiba Edwards was recently interviewed about how organizations should be thinking about their tech enablement and what they might not realize they need to consider.

Q: How Can Analytical Data Drive Employee Well-being? What Should Teams Be Prioritizing?

A: It’s first important to acknowledge that teams’ prioritization will vary from organization to organization. Organizations struggle to adapt other team’s metrics to their circumstance, so it’s important to use data that is uniquely useful to your team.

So first, you must figure out what you're measuring, and why? The analytics provide the insights to draw conclusions, dictate the baseline, set plans, and monitor progress. Once you identify what your team would like to measure, it’s important to identify where your gaps really are (if you’re measuring whether teammates are being afforded equitable opportunities, for example, teams might look at gaps in equity or inclusion). Once identified, take a step back to consider: how do we improve that? What metrics do we need to improve? How are we going to reinforce that change?

So, teams can say they have an aspiration to be more inclusive, but I think very few people actually go about the change required to do it. They just kind of say, “Okay, this is what everybody else is doing. Let's just say we're doing that and check the box, right?” That won’t be effective in the long-term. Teams must take that important first step to really think through what they are trying to achieve, before turning the power of IT onto it to measure.

Q: How and Why Should We Be Reconsidering Legacy-Based Systems?

A: The one thing about technology is: it doesn't stop. It's ever changing. We have to figure out when a system becomes a burden either to operate or maintain, we have to start to consider change. So, if the talent required to maintain it no longer exists or is aging out, if it's now not the new standard in the market that you're in, or the business that you're in, change it out. If there is a newer, more efficient, cost-effective tool, change it out. You need to know why you’re changing it out, and to change it out for the right reasons.

Often, teammates think the financial savings is the right reason for a tech change, and that would oftentimes leads you down the wrong road. Teams can quickly invest the cost into change and getting it to standard can often cost you more than the system you just replaced. So, put financial savings lower on the list when considering change. Do you research to ensure the changes are actually modernizing your system. Consider: exactly what is the purpose? Is it scalable for the organization so as needs adapt, it can adapt with it? Or is the technology proprietary and not extensible? Solutions can appear cheaper as they can meet a niche need, but yet fail to see a larger overall picture. This allows for the vendor to layer on multiple products in a freemium type model.

Additionally, teams must think about the implications of getting rid of that legacy system, because it's a system. It's part of an ecosystem running through your team, and just yanking it out without thought or consideration could be more detrimental than the benefits of installing that cheaper, newer, shinier thing. Think about how the new technology does it impact the ecosystem of software that you have? How does it impact the people? What cost is there to train people on a new system? What do you lose in making the change? Consider if you’ve done an effective go-to-market strategy, and whether you are initiating a larger enterprise-wide change. As with everything in technology, changes need to be made with intentionality and thought.

Q: Why Should Organizations Be Thinking About Revisiting Security?

A: There is a mental shift that needs to happen around security. Secure used to mean on premise (“on prem”) servers, in a thick-walled cement room with cameras pointing at it, where the IT team members have key cards to get into that server room. That is no longer considered “secured” because those systems are expensive to maintain, hard to patch up, and usually you're more reactive on those systems than proactive. Luckily, when data is in the cloud, if something happens or a new vulnerability occurs, the entire cloud gets patched at the same time and the world knows the state of that patching.

What really slows down security experts right now is the unknown, and the unknowns are really the legacy systems that are on premise. The cascade and domino effect of thinking about security in that old mentality has broad repercussions. Vendors for companies, for example, might experience a breach on their local server, but may not even know about it until a week later, when the virus has already spread. At that point, they’ve already spread the virus to their customers, and then are forced to do a kind of “contract tracing” for the computer virus.

If we've taken a modern approach and we've shifted to the cloud, you don’t have to do that. When breaches occur, they’re patched on Day One, or Day Two. They can assess if there are any downstream effects of this breach inside your internal organization, and there are fewer worries about the external effects. As bad actors become more sophisticated, you have to be more adaptable on the security front than we have been in the past.

I think everybody must think security first, because now it's everywhere – and it's a really cheap vector now. It can be bought for very little money on the dark web, if you wanted to exploit or take somebody down. So, we all have to start thinking like the bad actor. It’s similar to how the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) pivoted under General McChrystal’s leadership. JSOC had to start thinking like Al Qaeda because they were being outpaced by them.

We're seeing a similar thing happened with security now. Those disconnected networks, like those in Al Qaeda, are extremely efficient, and our centralized systems cannot withstand the attack. We have to embrace the distributed network model to improve our own security.

Q: How Should We Be Establishing Robust Knowledge Management Systems?

A: There often exists a disconnect between the IT and business teams when it comes to knowledge management. Businesses tend to believe that knowledge management tools are owned and managed by IT. In reality, business and IT have to be close partners to make knowledge management tools useful for everyone.

IT teams have partner with the business to ensure the knowledge management tools are usable. The business owner has to come in and say, “Hey, this is the process that I do right now. I want to make it more efficient, so our knowledge management works.” IT needs to take a week, or whatever, to sit down with it to map your business process. Knowledge Management starts with the organizational knowledge that is in the top performers’ heads (i.e. what is the “special sauce” of the company?) Then, the team works to extract those learnings for dissemination or training and works to then automate those processes to increase performance across the organization.

IT needs, for example, to figure out how to automate a process when a sale closes, when it then goes to finance and it’s out of the pipeline and becomes an active client. There are exciting benefits to this approach: a decrease in overhead support costs, real-time access to knowledge/information to allow users to do their daily functions and transparency in the business process to outline where improvements could be made. It also allows that knowledge to be kept within the company in the effort that an employee departs.

There is no system that just does that. It’s really just IT talking to business and businesses talking to IT to get that system built up. There's no magic bullet - it's just blood, sweat and tears to get that right. And I think organizations don't invest the time or the people to do it and so you end up with this loop of IT blaming business, and business blaming IT for knowledge management, not working.

People are fearful of automation. They associate it with removing human positions. The joy of automation is freeing up the humans to do more critical analysis that cannot be automated. It's a realized opportunity cost that frees up someone from the trivial and mundane (automation should always be linked with repetitive notions) so they can better use their skills/talents where it's more suited.

We need to think more about how we hire people to achieve this. If businesses won’t successfully partner IT, organizations may be best positioned to hire the people who can know more about which processes can, and should, be automated.

Q: How Can Tech Continually Meet, and Complement, the Changing Circumstances of Work in 2022?

A: Here's the beautiful thing about technology: technology always adapts. There's so there's always a new tool and the tool always reconfigures itself. The real challenge is: how do we? How do we kind of embrace the change?

I think that's the magic thing about tech and why I love it: there's always a new idea. And the cost to get that idea out has been democratized. I could be a high schooler who knows how to code, recognizes what a problem is, and creates an either an application or tool to solve that problem. So, I worry very little about technology being able to keep up. I worry more about us being able to keep up with technology and change.

Whenever I hear this question of how technology can help us get to the new way of working, well, technology is already there (and is faster than we are). What you're what you're really asking is: has the human behavior changed? Are people trained up on how to use the technology? Or are there older people who are being left behind in the workforce? This is part of the Great Resignation that's happening. It's not a result of the technology, it’s not being in place to do, it is just people not being able to adapt to the new situation.

So, I hate to blame the humans, but I think we don't consider enough: what can we do to adapt to the situation? The tools really are there and have always been there. McChrystal Group, like many other companies, fared fairly well when we went to a hybrid way of working. During this transition, we didn’t start using any different tools, but instead changed where we used the tools.

We had the cultural resilience to really be adaptable. I think it goes back to that resilience piece and keeping your workforce educating educated on modern tools, investing into reeducation, and continued education. I think the healthcare sector does this really well, but business really doesn't right? We say, “Hey, go get certified as a PMP,” but we don't say, “Hey, keep up to date and spend the time to learn how to use these communication tools.” I think into making sure our workforce stays up-to-date, and stays educated, and stays competent on the tools - because the tools will forever be coming. We have to be competent on them.

Afiba Edwards

Chief Information Officer & Enterprise Solutions Lead

Afiba Edwards is the Chief Information Officer, where he is responsible for the management, strategy, and execution of IT infrastructure and communication within the organization.

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