Get your IT foundations in place before you start exploring AI

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels December 6, 2023
Focus on service management and security before taking on the challenges and opportunities that come with emerging technologies.

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Digital leaders should ensure they have reliable and scalable IT foundations in place before they start dabbling with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data.

That was the conclusion of an expert panel at the recent BMC Connect event in London. The key theme across the event was the increased significance of AI and data. During the panel, three IT leaders explained how their organisations are making the most of existing technology assets, while also looking to support future-facing digital innovation efforts.

Establishing effective priorities

Lucy Murray Brown, Head of Operational Service at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), says it’s crucial her organization has a strong digital backbone that underlies operational processes. At any one time, it supports up to 35 military operations globally, with 230,000 users across 1,200 sites. Inevitably security plays a critical role for the MoD:

It's our business – and I think security and service management are very closely aligned for us. We’ve done a lot of work in the last couple of years to make sure everybody understands that the basics of service management infrastructure will also help with security.

Murray Brown says the MoD has focused on insourcing systems integration. Rather than having to stand on the outside and ask suppliers how they’re doing, the organization can use its data across BMC’s Remedy IT service management platform to ensure suppliers meet the required standards:

That work has involved completely different tasks and a huge mindset shift for the staff. We’ve had to adopt the concept of taking operational control. But it also brings an element of empowerment that you can control change management. And we've built a platform which is ready to onboard 285 suppliers of systems and services.

With that platform in place, Murray Brown says her team continues to get its hands around the scale of its IT estate. While she recognizes the value of AI, she says it’s important to ensure innovation is embraced in the right areas at the right time:

It’s about getting the IT basics and the data right. It’s about focusing on what the minimum viable product is in order to move forwards. Then, it’s about establishing what your priorities are. Get the basics right before you do all this sexy stuff.

Getting people onside

John Eccleshare, Head of Information Security at bet365, faces a range of challenges. Success is about being honest, which can involve a lot of hard truths, and taking advantage of emerging technology, he says: 

Sometimes, people don't want to hear from my team and our attempts to stop them doing things. I've been called the ‘business prevention police’ before. But I think what we’ve seen with things like AI and data is that it helps the likes of my team because it means security becomes embedded into tools. It's there by design.

Working with BMC and its Helix operations management platform during the past 18 months has helped bet365 develop a successful approach to security prevention, he explains:

The approach we're developing alongside BMC shows me who owns the software, what the vulnerability is, and where the risks are. With new PCI rules coming in during 2024, it's challenging. So, if you do get security people coming into your business talking about vulnerabilities and patches, remember that we’re on your side.

In the longer term, Eccleshare believes AI can become an executive’s best friend for information security. Businesses must manage an ever-growing volume of data, so defining use cases and then embedding AI into the associated processes is likely be a critical success factor:

Get the security guys and girls involved as soon as possible. We’ve spent 12 months on AI now. We’ve created a new innovation team and the security functions are being embedded within our teams. So, we're no longer an outside security solution that causes problems – we’re embedding ourselves within teams and helping them.

Embracing emerging technology

Glen Foster, Head of Service Delivery at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, referred back to 2019, when his organization was about to develop a service management platform. They were focused on doing everything they could to minimize contact time, as his team was servicing a group of high-pressure users in a medical environment who just wanted to get on with potentially life-saving work:

We spent the first six or seven months doing the self-service plan and doing the contact piece well. So, that was just about restricting and removing the amount of information that people needed to give us to get the service that they needed.

Foster says that refinement process with the help of BMC allowed the Trust to move from a paper-based process that meant it could take 12 hours to get new people onboarded to a digital process that reduced the timeframe to just five minutes. The Trust continues to think about how AI and data can be used to support innovation. He gives the example of the clinical team using emerging technology to help reduce risk factors around surgery:

Traditionally, you would go and sit down with your surgeon and have a conversation about things like smoking or drinking and you’d form a risk profile. That is about as good as the conversation gets. So, the clinical team have taken hundreds of data points from our systems and put that into a machine-learning engine that has a presentation dashboard. Now, not only does it present the data far more accurately, but it will also explain why those risk factors are in place.

When it comes to advice for other professionals who are also looking to dabble in data and AI, Foster encourages digital and business leaders to focus on desired outcomes rather than the shiny side of technology:

Have a vision of where you want to be – what does the end game look like? Don’t try and do everything at once. But equally, take a step back and think about whether the project is taking you where you need to be.

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