Building an IT Organization That Drives Change

What does an IT organization need to keep innovating in the years ahead? Workday CIO Sheri Rhodes explains the four qualities that all tech leaders should instill in their teams.

Sheri Rhodes March 11, 2020
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Since coming on board as Workday’s CIO last spring, I’ve been thinking a lot about how our IT organization can keep innovating in the decade ahead. One big question I ask myself: What skills do we need, in the near future and beyond? 

Despite living in an age of specialization, the skills required of individuals in an IT organization need to become even broader. IT in today’s world can have many layers, including infrastructure as code, security by design, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and personalization—just to name a few examples. Systems of engagement are becoming intertwined with systems of record. Everything we do becomes increasingly digital and oftentimes interdependent. 

All of these shifts alter the ideal mix of skills and knowledge needed in a successful IT organization. Let’s take them one by one.

The “how” matters. Building a strong culture and emphasizing the importance of positive collaboration is as important as hard and soft skills for how we get our work done. Hiring and retaining people with strong skills around communication and collaboration, both analog (face-to-face) and digital, are especially important as digitally native Gen Zers enter the workforce; it’s vital that all generations be able to communicate with each other in a way that’s comfortable for all involved.

While each employee brings key skills and innate behaviors, we need to be sure to constantly invest in our No. 1 asset: people. Ongoing training—not just what we do, but how to do it in a constructive, positive way—won’t go out of style anytime soon. 

Digital dexterity. As IT leaders we must keep striving to build teams with a mix of skills that reflect a deep understanding of the ever expanding technology landscape. IT leadership shouldn’t think of things like security or AI as bolt-ons; they should be interwoven through the enterprise architecture (and here at Workday, security and AI/machine learning are foundational building blocks of our solutions). Your employees, customers, and partners who interact with your systems want the same simple approach they get with consumer technologies. Because of this, it becomes more important than ever that our team members have a good understanding of how to evaluate architecture within respective solutions, and engineering knowledge to design in technologies like AI and security in from the start.

Data in context. Understanding where data sits within an enterprise—how it’s used, who is using it, when it’s used, and the list goes on—has become a first-level need. The IT team must be able to continuously do a fundamental mapping, tracking, and safekeeping of every data element that provides context to a user, an interaction, or a series of events. How companies will access this data and how they'll be permitted to use it to create value-added experiences for customers adds additional layers of complexity—complexity the IT team must be able to understand and manage. This is why IT must understand how to build context into the transaction whenever it helps, but avoid when it further confuses.

Bias for action. Technology is evolving in nanoseconds, so it’s important that while we don’t become reactionary to every new trend, we’re always on the lookout for trends and technologies that can give the business a competitive advantage. As IT teams, we always want to be demonstrating progress, whether that means refining something we already have or implementing something new. Quick action helps us gain credibility with our internal stakeholders, because it shows we understand that as  a company, we’re navigating constantly-changing customer demands as well. 

None of this is the final word or the complete truth—I’m sure I’ll continue to learn from other IT leaders and from all my colleagues. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to spending my time here at Workday building an IT organization that keeps innovating for the business, so that the business can deliver best-in-class solutions and technologies for our customers.

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