A Look Back at Cognizant Community 2016

We’re all back from Austin, Texas, having wrapped up yet-another wildly successful Cognizant Community. The buzz–fueled by the exchange of ideas — not entirely the (very decent) coffee–focused on the work that needs to happen today, tomorrow, and the foreseeable future to navigate the shift into the digital era.


This was my fourth Community: my first came as a keynote speaker when I was a Gartner analyst, this most recent event has only deepened my conviction that all of us–businesses, IT service providers, employees, society–are just getting started.

When I joined Cognizant two years ago, businesses were focused on understanding and managing the influx of SMAC technologies and Code Halos. Far ahead was figuring out the strategy shift that would necessitate moving from “knowing” that something “needed” to happen to actually “making” something happen as a response to profound digital shifts.

Why the shift from “doing digital to “being digital”

Fast-forward to last week, it’s clear that there’s far more to digital transformation than just an amazing SMAC-based interface for clients. This isn’t “just an IT thing” or “just an app/website thing.” Today’s imperative is to move from “doing digital” to “being digital” – with all the implications that entails for business strategy. A highlight for the attendees was to have that discussion led by none other than Michael Porter himself – armed with an IoT instrumented tennis racket!

Whether the conversation was about robots, AI, new platforms like Blockchain, or the latest IoT widgetry, a focus of the event was examining digitally-centered business and the impact on individuals. That’s the missing link in so many technology-focused conversations around the change. Malcolm Frank hammered this point home: core systems of differentiation and innovation are giving way to true systems of intelligence, as companies compete in the Age of A.I. Successfully integrating people (who are great at the Art of the Job) and AI-fueled platforms (great at the Science of the Job) is critical to future successes.

From Theo Forbath describing the impact of Deutsche Telekom’s design-centered digital initiatives on customers, to University of Missouri professor Mary Lacity leading a session discussing how to reign in rogue robots, a common theme across the speakers, customers and heard in hallway chatter was the impact of digital on people and society. One example of where things got positively mind-bending was in Tim Urban’s session on where Artificial Intelligence may be taking us (or surpassing us) on the high-speed railway of superintelligence.

Christian Madsbjerg from Cognizant’s strategic partner ReD Associates went even further, suggesting that in a digital world, when it comes to people’s motivations, their wants and REAL needs – what they “say” they want is not all that meets the eye; and observing people objectively is critical to drive real, deep and lasting change.

A poignant reminder of “what it means to be human”, was shared by keynote speaker, astronaut Scott Kelly, who recalled what it was like to be in outer space, hearing the news on a NASA private line that his sister-in-law, Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (wife of twin brother and astronaut Mark Kelly) had been shot at a constituent event, and feared dead. Talk about grace under pressure, and staying focused on the mission. Gabby went on to heroically survive from the shooting.

Digital TransformationIn the true spirit of “community,” the event was an opportunity to exchange ideas on the latest thinking about where digital transformation is headed. Will we all have to immediately jettison the legacy and immediately switch over to an all-digital, all-the time operating model? Of course not – and that’s why the notion of “running better” while simultaneously “running different” is essential.

So in that vein, Gajen Kandiah’s fireside chat with Amy Brady from KeyCorp offers us a checklist of five important takeaways to truly mastering digital.

  • Build up your core: In a digital world, your core systems of record are ultra-important. But what’s needed is alignment from the customer experience, through middle office systems and processes, all the way to the core at the back office. And that alignment is largely what’s missing in most business today.
  • An ecosystem economy is really fed by the API economy: Some digital initiatives are merely “lipstick on a pig”. There’s still so much more that companies can be doing to drive lasting, vibrant connections using APIs to bolster their value chains and ecosystems. The temptation is still to think about things within the “four walls” of your business – but neglect your ecosystem of suppliers, partners, and influencers…at your peril!
  • People – the critical ingredient: How are they integrating with the technology, do they feel threatened? What are the critical roles in your technology organization that can prepare for crucial change management? Moreover how can IT be the catalysts and “heroes” to help drive that change? Leading companies are taking this approach.
  • Partners – lean on them:  Amy talked at length about how critical it is to work with partners that can help manage the shift and DRIVE change, at the same time. It’s not a once-and-done: it’s an ongoing, progressive journey and success takes a good set of partners to attain, sustain, and accelerate momentum.

The bottom line from this year’s Cognizant Community: Digital is here, it’s accelerating, but “being digital” (versus merely dabbling at the edges “doing digital) is critical for success. It’s not just a “technology thing. It is also about people, process, partners, and balancing the right mix to master the shift.

I’m looking forward to checking in on our progress at Cognizant Community 2017!  Make a plan to join us!

Robert H. Brown

Robert H. Brown

Robert Hoyle Brown is an Associate Vice-President in Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and drives strategy and market outreach for Cognizant’s Business... Read more

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