Meg Muran (MM): Lately, our blog has been focusing on the challenges we see customers facing on the path to digital transformation. What’s your take on that?
Carl Ceresoli (CC): I see digital transformation through the lens of where, over the last ten years or so, technology has become the only means to operate businesses effectively. Today, you need more than a storefront to be in retail. You need the whole ecommerce system, point of sale, inventory management, and complex marketing systems that target the right messages to shoppers. That’s the level that you’ve got to play at if you want to stay in business.
Pacers Sports & Entertainment is a great example. Our primary product is on the court. Technology is there to help us put on spectacular events.
Much of that work has traditionally been mechanical and analog. Buttons to press, levers to pull, doors to unlock - from a facilities perspective, it was halogen lighting, right? You flipped switches, the lights turned on, and they ran until you flipped that switch again, and the lights turned off. A lock on the door kept the wrong people from touching the switch during an event.
But technology is creeping into every part of business, and it’s become impossible to keep going as a purely analog operation. But with digital transformation, there’s no easing in. There’s no dipping your toes in the water. The instant you go digital, you take on a whole new set of challenges that touch every part of your organization.
For example, we have LED lighting controlled by software. Our power consumption, the quality of the light, the way the lights work – everything is much better now.
But that lighting application requires a server. It needs regular patching and updates. When you patch the server, you have to understand the nuances of how that patch impacts the applications you’re running.
There’s service and support provided by the manufacturers, there are licensing agreements, master service agreements, statements of work, all filled with jargon and scenarios that might be foreign concepts. And you have to figure out how to stay ahead of bad actors who want to shut off your lights during an event.
MM: That sounds a lot more complicated than a light switch in a locked room.
CC: Exactly – and the ripple effect touches everything. You can’t just hire a kid to learn on the job anymore because mistakes now carry unacceptable risks. And it’s so easy for smaller entities outside the tech community to overlook these complicating factors and the costs associated with them. For a lot of these companies, tech implementation projects come up short because they try to save money by doing it themselves.
If technology isn’t your core business, it’s impossible to build all the in-house expertise to manage everything yourself, let alone plan ahead.
If you hire outside vendors, how do you provide them with access to your critical systems without potentially exposing other areas in your network? How do you control that when just yesterday, you had an employee with a key to a room with all the light switches?
Once you go digital, all these challenges are immediately in your face. There’s no throttling it.
MM: So, what advice do you have for these organizations in which tech is essential, but not a core competency?
CC: The first thing I’d say is, stop looking for best practices from your neighboring businesses. Don’t try to solve your challenges by asking how other businesses on par with yours are approaching those challenges. The second you go digital, you have the same level of complexity as a major enterprise. How do they approach those challenges? Who is leading the solution category? Tech giants and category leaders have figured out how to simplify that complexity using the cloud and other modern approaches. That’s where you need to look for best practices.
And don’t just look for ideas within your industry segment. We’re in the hospitality space, but retail, for example, is working through the same issues of cybersecurity, Internet of Things, point of sale, building management and operations. That was a big “aha” moment for me after I joined Pacers Sports & Entertainment: my challenges were exactly the same ones I faced in my prior role at Starbucks, only with a much smaller budget and a smaller IT headcount.
The other thing I’d say is to align with your technology partners as much as possible, such as Microsoft, your network device manufacturers, and business application providers. Ask for their recommendations on how to run their gear securely inside your environment as system components undergo patches and updates over time.
Ultimately, digital transformation requires leadership of traditionally analog companies to learn the best practices and figure out how to apply them – without making errors that could take down the organization. Without breaking the bank. And without hiring a small army to become experts on the technology, manage the technology, help users operate the technology, and innovate for core business. That’s why Microsoft Managed Desktop makes sense for us.
Carl Ceresoli is Chief Technology Officer at Pacers Sports & Entertainment. A transformation specialist driving innovation and cultural change, Ceresoli has expertise leading large and small organizations into alignment with modern best practices for IT.
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