‘Digital transformation isn’t a project that just ends’

8 May 2020

Joe Tobolski. Image: Nerdery

Joe Tobolski of Nerdery discusses the hallmarks of a best-practice digital transformation strategy, from avoiding fads to delighting customers.

Joe Tobolski is the chief technology officer of Nerdery, a digital business consultancy with teams in Minneapolis, Chicago and Phoenix. Before joining the company in 2019, Tobolski spent the majority of his career at Accenture and Cognizant, working in financial services and industrial verticals, building IoT and innovation centres of excellence.

Here, he talks about his role in helping companies to embrace digital transformation by changing “the fundamental ways they operate”.

‘Standing on the shoulders of giants is a great way to accelerate your innovation journey’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

As CTO at Nerdery, I serve as the senior-most voice for our leading-edge technology strategy. I work with Nerdery’s senior leadership to define and drive new capabilities as well as mentor the next generation of technology talent.

Nerdery takes a holistic approach to digital consulting, bringing together strategy, innovation, experience, design, engineering and delivery enablement. We work with organisations across a variety of industries with a focus on healthcare, industrial, consumer goods and the public sector.

I’m responsible for leading our highly qualified team of nerds to identify and deploy the technology that will meet the changing needs of our customers’ business. Specifically, we drive tech strategy in cloud services, platform modernisation, digital product development and IoT.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

Right now, I’m concentrating on building skills in cloud and DevOps, as well as formalising and codifying some of our methodologies. I’m also working on enhancing some assets and accelerators we’ve built over the years. 

How big is your team? Do you outsource where possible?

I lead a team of a couple hundred nerds, located for the most part in our offices in Minneapolis, Chicago and Phoenix, with several remote workers across the US. We don’t do outsourcing, preferring instead to concentrate on high-value client interactions.

Also, the nature of our work is more strategy, experience design and development which, in my opinion, don’t lend themselves to outsourcing like operations might.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?

Digital transformation is at the core of what we do at Nerdery. However, true digital transformation doesn’t just mean upgrading technology stacks, but changing the fundamental way businesses operate and think about what it means to be digital – and not just doing ‘digital things’.

Whether it’s providing a data-driven e-commerce experience for retailers or building IoT solutions to help manufacturers optimise productivity, we work to ensure organisations meet their digital transformation goals and see returns on their technology investments.

There’s a common misconception that the early phases of digital transformation are already over as some companies have moved to more sophisticated projects, but the reality for many organisations is that they are just beginning to see true digital transformation. It’s important not to rush into the latest fad or project without first evaluating the future of your business and understanding how digital tools can get you there.

The right digital strategy includes technology that streamlines operations, makes employees’ jobs easier and solves functional problems for the organisation, as well as delighting and engaging customers. Digital transformation isn’t a project that just ends, but an ongoing process to keep up with the market and meet strategic goals along the way.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

The most basic, but most important, trend that will continue to change the industry is data usage. Every organisation in the world is fielding and processing massive amounts of data to gain insights about customers, operations, trends and more, and what we’re seeing now is an increased awareness about how organisations use this data.

At this point, data is fundamental to driving better decisions across all industries, including healthcare and the public sector, as long as we ensure privacy and security are at the centre of the data’s use. Without data, we wouldn’t have innovative use cases that are transforming the way industries operate or creating experiences never before seen by consumers. It’s crucial that the technology sector gains a deeper understanding of data and comes together to ensure it’s used correctly, and securely, to continue digital transformation for the betterment of society.

The second biggest, in my mind, is open source. The amount of innovation and engineering out there is simply astounding. Standing on the shoulders of giants is a great way to accelerate your innovation journey.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

As companies become more reliant on technology, cyber threats are increasing. Adoption of IoT and other innovative solutions are improving the way businesses operate, but they also expose them to more risks. Security should be a board-level priority for every organisation, especially as we’re seeing heightened regulation come down the pipeline – first with GDPR and now with the CCPA.

Enhancing security all comes down to how companies manage their data and think long term from a customer-centric view. Organisations have had decades of hardening and protection of applications on premise and in the cloud, but the vast majority of breaches are still due to social engineering and human error.

This problem is amplified as technology solutions proliferate involving code running on devices in the rest of the world, which are often the most difficult to protect and manage. By adopting modern methods of data protection through cloud migration, platform modernisation and other digitised solutions, companies reduce their impact of data breaches and ensure their systems meet industry security standards.

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