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Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard - how cloud-like characteristics became embedded in the corporate DNA

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels June 14, 2023
From making sure cloud is the DNA of the business and onto exploiting generative AI, CIO Cynthia Stoddard has big plans for digital transformation at the technology giant.

Cynthia Stoddard
Cynthia Stoddard

A long-standing tech sector cliche relates to vendors 'eating their own dog food'. At Adobe, CIO Cynthia Stoddard is working with people in her own IT team and other line-of-business functions to help the technology giant make the most of emerging technologies, such as data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

When diginomica caught up with Stoddard last summer, she was overseeing the implementation of a range of technologies and techniques, including a cloud strategy, a flexible architecture, and an agile IT organisation. That effort has picked up pace and she says the business is now moving to the next stage of its digital transformation:

We've promoted a lot of applications into the cloud. And I think we're now at the point in the lifecycle of my organization where cloud like-characteristics are truly embedded in the DNA. We don't need to worry about it anymore. People understand the architectures and they know how to use them. It's a go-to solution for them.

Refining the employee experience

With solid cloud-based foundations in place, Stoddard says her priority during the next year or so is to look at innovation, particularly around employee experience. She wants to create a refined hybrid-working experience through the use of video conference and collaboration technologies, such as tools from Miro, Microsoft, Cisco and the start-up community:

We don't want to lose what we what we gained during the pandemic, which was people becoming more confident using web-conferencing technologies. We believe hybrid is the future and we're trying to equip our employees with the right tools.

One of the key supporting elements here is one of Stoddard’s earlier creations, which is the Employee Experience Group. This group brings together elements of a traditional IT organization – whether that’s desktop support, collaboration tools or telephony – and ensures new systems and services meet business user requirements. During the past 18 months, she says the relationship between this group and the rest of the business has strengthened:

The HR IT group has now moved over into my Employee Experience Group. That's given us the opportunity to look at how we manage data across the enterprise, and we’re bringing those ideas into the HR space. The relationship has vitalized the HR IT team because they now have a broader set of resources to draw upon.

Stoddard says the Employee Experience Group has also built strong bonds with the facilities function to ensure Adobe’s offices are fit for the post-COVID age:

During the pandemic, we stopped investment in technology for our buildings because we didn't know when we were going to be coming back. And now we're back, we’re equipping the different conference rooms and work areas. So, if you want to go to a breakout room and have a conversation, we're equipping those rooms for different types of personas that we need to support within the office setting.

As a major technology company, Adobe has the opportunity to dip into and use some of the digital services it develops. Stoddard says the company is focused on delivering great experiences for its customers and the Employee Experience Group started with the aim of building a client-focused approach internally:

Our whole intranet experience, which we call Inside Adobe, is built on our tools and our personalization efforts. So, we are ‘customer zero’ for a lot of our tools. And we use these tools internally to drive the experience, to understand who the employee is, and to direct our people to the right information.

Embracing digital innovation

Experimentation at Adobe continues at pace. Stoddard refers to Lab82, which is a physical location where the company can test out workplace technologies before they go live. It’s complemented by another space, called The Garage, where employees can go and simulate how these technologies might be used when they’re working remotely:

We have these two workspaces communicating with each other, so that we can simulate the experience. And teams can sign up to work there. Our engineering teams, who are figuring out the new norm of how you work together on premises and with dispersed teams around the world, have volunteered to help test new technology.

Experimentation stretches to AI, machine learning and RPA. Stoddard recognises interest in these emerging technologies has shot through the roof since she last spoke with diginomica. Back then, Adobe was already using RPA from UIPath to reduce repetitive manual tasks, such as finance workers inputting data from purchase orders or invoices. Now, the company’s going further and looking at emerging AI technologies:

What we're doing is we're trying to say that, with the advent of generative AI and some of the software that's coming in, how can we change how our workers work? How do we help them adapt to having their own second brain or co-pilot, so that technology works by their side?

Stoddard says Adobe is investigating how various elements of the Microsoft AI stack might be used to allow the company’s workers to spend less time on manual labour and more time on higher-value tasks. More generally, she says the management of data will be critical as the company becomes reliant on emerging technologies:

We have been working a lot on creating insights rather just dumping data into the hands of our users. We're trying – with the cloud-like characteristics in our DNA – to look at our personas and then figure out what actually works for the different types of workers that we have.

During the next two years, Stoddard wants the work on data-led transformation to continue. As technology and business requirements continue to evolve and change, she wants her disparate teams of employees to focus on helping people across the business to make the most of digital services in a way that works for them:

Two years from now, I hope my people are even more aligned with the business and they're providing end-to-end advice on how to automate, and how to drive efficiency and value into business processes.

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