How do you become digital? Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard explains how her organization answered the question

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels June 2, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard says her company has taken a number of steps to ensure it’s ready for the Vaccine Economy.

Cynthia Stoddard
Cynthia Stoddard

CIOs must create flexible IT organizations if they want to implement technology services that can cope with fast-changing business demands. So says Cynthia Stoddard, CIO at Adobe, in which role she has implemented a range of techniques, including a cloud strategy, a flexible architecture and an agile IT organization.

These, she argues, have helped the IT department to build a much closer relationship to the rest of the business and to respond quickly and effectively to its requirements. The hope is that this joined-up approach will leave Adobe well-placed to deal with new business challenges in the Vaccine Economy.

Stoddard says some CIOs she’s spoken with had some “real horror stories” about the COVID crisis and how they couldn't help their organizations adapt rapidly to the new work-from-home reality:

They couldn't serve their organizations because they hadn't really moved all their applications and even their collaboration tools into the cloud. They were stuck in the on-premises world and it took a lot of work to move things around. So, I think that the pandemic was a huge learning opportunity for a lot of people.

Cloud working

Adobe was fortunate to have already implemented its cloud strategy. Crucially, the company had allied its adoption of cloud-based applications to a fresh mindset within the IT organization and out across the rest of the business. This recognized that a flexible architecture would be essential for future growth, says Stoddard:

We all needed to do things in a different way. So, with the cloud-like principles, what this really meant to us was things like different capabilities being on-demand, having ubiquitous access, being resilient, the whole multi-tenancy component, being elastic and location-independent – a whole bunch of stuff, including self-service.

The ultimate aim at Adobe is to boost the pace of technology delivery to internal business users, so that even as demand for IT continues to increase inexorably, employees won’t have to wait in line for the infrastructure and applications they need. Stoddard says the creation of a flexible, business-led infrastructure means moving away from a perception of IT that is fixated on networks, servers and data centers

I think about infrastructure as the heartbeat of the company, which is all the traditional IT infrastructure, but also everything that sits on top of it to make the company run. I would say that the pandemic has really opened the eyes of people to say, ‘How do you become digital?’.

The good news for all IT leaders, suggests Stoddard, is that the past two years have allowed business executives to see the game-changing power of digital transformation. While some CIOs might have struggled to make the quick shift to a so-called ‘new normal’ two years ago, the challenge for all CIOs now is to build on the fresh reputation they’ve acquired in challenging times.

CIOs must make timely recommendations on the digital technology that should be used, according to Stoddard:

How can it improve efficiencies? How can it help us connect to customers? How can we leverage automation and remove mundane activities? How do we employ ML [Machine Learning] and AI [Artificial Intelligence] to inject agility into the organization, so that the systems are smarter, and people can work faster and better? How do we use RPA [Robotic Process Automation]? In our case, we’ve injected RPA into finance procurement and contract renewals.

Experimenting

One the keys to making digital transformation stick at Adobe has been experimentation. Noting that many enterprises invest huge sums in IT infrastructures that then turn out to be inappropriate in the longer term, Stoddard says Adobe’s way of avoiding this problem is by exploiting lab-based experimentation. This allows the business to test new technologies that might be used by employees:

We've learned a lot by doing that. We've learned what we can deploy wide-scale and fast. And then we've also learned how to fail. If people don't respond well, we can throw that technology away fairly quickly, and then get on and test other things out. It's great for IT employees too because they can experiment themselves, which means they're experiencing hands-on learning and they're trying new things.

Embracing new ways of working has also been critical to helping Adobe develop the agile and flexible IT organization that modern business demands. Stoddard believes that many people still make the mistake of thinking of the IT department as a set organization with silos of people working on different systems that get adopted and adapted over time. Her philosophy to IT at Adobe is different:

We've embraced a distributed workforce, where different roles can be in different places. As a leadership team, we have really been open and very flexible about who can work where and how they can work, because we've all learned that remote working works really well.

The distribution of tasks also crosses IT and line-of-business boundaries. Rather than silos of work, Stoddard has supported cross-business efforts to help build the flexible infrastructure the company needs. These joined-up teams focus first on business challenges, then think of potential technological solutions. For example, she has created an Employee Experience Group to help deal with network requirements and find the right collaboration tooling:

I would say that the pay-off there has been great. Taking the tools and creating an Employee Experience Group really positioned us well for COVID. It also positioned us well for looking at different personas in the company, and how we select and deploy different tools.

This close linking between IT and business isn’t just positive from her own personal experience. People across the organization have seen the plus-points, Stoddard concludes: 

I'm getting employee feedback that’s saying, ‘This is great. We were used to being split up and I would do this piece and this person would do that piece, and we'd have to coordinate. Now we're together in one team, and we can figure out what's best for technology and what's best for the company’. So, I think that being open minded is really important.

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