“We now have all the technology we need to build the most modern enterprise.”
Dan Hushon, senior vice president and chief technology officer at DXC Technology, drives innovation strategy and growth for DXC’s solutions and ensures technology excellence. He is responsible for defining DXC’s technology vision and advocating for it with clients. He also serves as DXC’s executive sponsor of AT&T and Microsoft. Dan has more than 20 years of experience delivering technology-differentiated solutions, including leadership positions at EMC and Sun Microsystems.
Q: We’re now a couple of years into business transformation. What do you see as your customers’ biggest challenges today?
A: Experienced talent is one I’d put near the top of the list. Although all of our customers want to make progress, in IT they’ve got a huge amount of what I call overdue homework. As a result, there’s a backlog of business projects that have been gated by two main problems. The first is acquiring both the senior talent who can lead from experience and the full-stack developers who can collaborate around the transformation journey. The second is creating an IT environment which gives that talent the productivity tools and culture they need.
To some extent, it’s a Catch-22. Good people want to work in a hyper-productive environment, yet many companies don’t have that environment to offer recruits. So, the lack of a fully modern IT environment can create a gap, leaving a company unable to hire top talent to accelerate.
Q: What’s more important: retraining current staff or attracting and hiring new employees with more advanced skills?
A: It’s really both, because the talent market has shifted. The skills in demand now include understanding how to work with APIs and information services and how to produce deeper analytics. There’s another set of talents, too: the ability to take prototypes and pilots and settle those into production in the enterprise.
People with this “settler” skill set are the ones who actually drive enterprise adoption. Part of what’s driving this is the shift from an IT approach that’s largely product-based to one that’s focused on services and platforms. This shift also calls for new skills around enterprise architecture, organisational navigation, cyber security and risk.
Q: How are your customers handling this talent challenge?
A: There are lots of experiments. For example, some of our customers have begun to invest in what I call practical or applied innovation. You ask the staff, “If you had this problem, what would you do?” This naturally attracts the problem solvers, or at least helps you to identify them.
Here at DXC, we’ve begun to build agile squads, and at the end of a sprint ask them, “Who would you want to work with again?” Once you get an update on this, you can build a better team. So, we see a lot of team remixing, at both the senior and junior levels.
Another thing that’s really powerful is running hackathons and buildathons. They’re a great way to bring talent out of the woodwork. You might have 10 or 20 small teams each working on a problem, each coming with its own background. The members are learning to work as a team, and they’re also winning or losing as a team.
The competitive element is important. In the end, there’s a grand prize winner. Still, I think almost everybody wins. The business learns a lot. And the backlog of good ideas really grows.
One of our customers, a train operator, ran one of these competitions, and the challenge was: “Can you create an environment that fundamentally changes the rider experience?” One team came up with what was called a universal WiFi ticket. It turns out that most commuters don’t take just one train; instead, they take a train to a train, or they switch from a train to a bus. So, the idea was to give passengers a token that grants them WiFi access on their entire way home.
Q: Earlier you mentioned IT’s “overdue homework.” What’s included?
A: A whole bunch of things. One is having a suitable implementation strategy for the cloud. Lots of companies have cloud strategies, but how many have been able to maximise the benefits or even deal with complex or hybrid workloads that span cloud and traditional environments? We’ve seen grandiose expectations, followed by fairly suboptimal performance.
For me, a great way to envision modern IT for developers is to look at the tooling that open source communities naturally use for continuous integration/ continuous delivery in a distributed community. For more traditional knowledge workers, look at how the hyperscalers like Google and Microsoft are operating their collaboration environments.
It’s important to focus on IT modernisation. It’s clear that the business needs to become more information- driven, and that IT can benefit from its own digitisation.
Sometimes, though, it’s as simple as asking, “Do I actually understand where I have assets that have not been upgraded or updated in a long time?” Other times, it’s thinking about software patching. How many companies really have patching under control? Their IT estates have grown, but their patching and operational budgets have shrunk. There can be a tremendous amount of modernisation that should be taking place.
That’s why it’s important to focus on IT modernisation. It’s clear that the business needs to become more information-driven, and that IT can benefit from its own digitisation.
Q: How can IT benefit from its own digitisation?
A: If you look at the hyperscalers in the cloud, you realise they run IT very differently from most enterprises. These companies — for example, Airbnb, Netflix and Spotify — run sprints for both functions and technical debt. They normally run functional sprints. But when their technical debt accumulates, they put a pause on functions and instead take down that debt.
For example, a company might say that every fourth sprint should be aimed at handling all those to-do’s still in their code. This way, they’re modernising their IT environment on a continual basis. By contrast, many enterprises tend to say: “If it runs, don’t touch it.”
I believe we now have all the technology we need to build the most modern enterprise. Sure, it will constantly get better, but we have just about everything we need now. The real question is: Do you have the teams and the operating model to at least be a fast follower? You may not need to be first — but you certainly don’t want to be last.
For more on business transformation and progress, read “Connecting digital islands: Bridging the business transformation gap,” a global survey of business and technology executives. This Q&A appears in the survey report.