CIOs discuss IT’s role in shaping the future of work at CIO Day

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During a panel discussion at CIO Day, IT leaders shared insights on deploying AI tools within their organisations and how these innovations are transforming their work environments.

José Soares, IT director at The Capital Hotel Group, Keneilwe Gwabeni, CIO at Assupol, and Dr Angus Hay, regional executive for South Africa at African Data Centres, highlighted personalisation, repurposing roles and infrastructure having been pivotal in shaping the future of work in their organisations.

Angus, addressing a common misconception about AI, said, “The general public perceives AI as merely a tool for school assignments, but it has far greater potential than that.” According to Angus, the basic underlying technologies and neural networks are much more useful in running the things that people can’t do.

“In our data centre environments, we have put down what we call a data centre infrastructure management system: it can monitor the power, humanity in our data centres, and a 3D/digital twin of the environment. The AI optimises the entire mechanical environment in the data centre,” Angus explained.

“AI allows us to optimise the environment, thus saving at least 30 percent energy in our data centres. It simply does the things human-being won’t be able to do – AI is a set of tools much bigger than your ChatGPT, and using these tools is improving efficiencies, and helping businesses work better.”

That personal touch

José, on the other hand, spoke about the innovations that have changed how people work in the hospitality industry. “We’re working with predictive models that are able to streamline the processes at our hotels,” he explained, “focal points where people can now engage with guests effortlessly.”

José explained that even before experimenting with these AI tools, he and his team had to identify where the greatest friction was as far as the hotel experience was concerned.

“Hotel guests’ biggest problem is always having to produce their IDs everytime they return to a hotel they once stayed at before, which creates enormous friction at the front desk,” he says. “So we had to create a paperless system that wasn’t groundbreaking, but introducing a digital check-in system allowed our staff to be faster, and created that personalisation for our guests (getting a better view of who the guest is, where they stay, and what they like), feeding that information back to reservation station in real-time.”

He noted that digitalising has addressed the check-in friction, but most importantly didn’t take any jobs away: “You still need the person at the front desk, but now they’re no longer buried behind the computer recapturing guest information, but rather engaging with them one-on-one for the personalised experience,” he added.

From a collaborative perspective, José reflected on a lesson he had learned about how important it is to get buy-in from your stakeholders. “If IT is trying to work with operations, for example, it’s important not to dictate to them, but rather bring them along on the journey – it’s about getting their buy-in, which is informed by how you, as the initiator, have taken into account the operational factors linked to the way of work.”

One guest in the group discussion shared their experience with collaboration tools that they had introduced in their organisation – allowing them to work remotely. “I believe that Covid-19 was a blessing in disguise in a way, because we got used to working at home and it allowed us to embrace the collaboration tools we brought in during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she noted.

The challenge now, she explained, is that things are back to normal and people are expected to return to the office despite having become used to working with these collaboration technologies. “It’s no longer convenient for the companies now for people to work remotely. Their strategy has changed, and now technology that can help employees be more productive just sits there, not being utilised.”

New roles and greater value

According to Keneilwe, the way people work will transform and they will no longer be doing mundane tasks, but rather focus on more meaningful tasks. “This means that organisations will have to repurpose those roles, because they will be fully automated. Those roles will need to work with automation to achieve greater value, which means that leaders will then have to conduct an intentional skills gap assessment – to create greater value – linked to broader strategic objectives.”

Keneilwe spoke about how she has experimented with RPA and using avatars as far as training is concerned. “I played around with an AI platform myself and it had me thinking about what would happen to the trainers if they are replaced with AI,” she said. “However, my role as CIO is creating new roles that work alongside technology (automation).”

Angus noted that it all starts with infrastructure, the service layer which is something people rarely think about, the internet “dumb network”. He highlighted three major components to ensure that infrastructure works.

“Firstly, reliability, referring to the energy supply to the data centre. Secondly, security, not in terms of cybersecurity, but the physical security at the data centre to protect personal data. Lastly, connectivity, ensuring dependable and secure networks for customers,” he concluded.

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