AITP Atlanta’s 12th Annual CIO Roundtable:
Another amazing evening of connections and content!

AITP Atlanta’s CIO Roundtable is our marquee event, and one that our members and guests greatly look forward to each year and for good reason. Justin Mason, a technology executive with more than 20 years of global experience leading professional services and operations, was an amazing moderator who added his own unique perspective and depth of knowledge on industry issues. What greatly added to this stand out event was the diversity of industries represented. CIO’s from large and mid-sized enterprise organizations, in industries including mortgage, utility, government and healthcare were represented. With the diversity on the panel, you’d think there would be widely varying responses, but as it turns out, the advice and issues were very similar.

The following are just a few questions and take-aways from the evening’s discussion:

Justin Mason (Moderator): What do you like best about being a CIO? What’s the biggest challenge?

Bradley Dick, CIO, Resurgens Orthopaedics: What I enjoy the most is having these types of opportunities [AITP]. There’s not always an opportunity to come out and speak and get engaged in the technology community. Having the opportunity to see a number of the new technologies when they are released is fantastic. Being in that C-level role definitely gives you access to things you wouldn’t if you weren’t in that role.  Biggest challenge is balancing the paradigm shift in healthcare from no security to a ton of security and privacy. People are caring more about their info. I have to consider how I continue to innovate without being on the cover of AJC…. or even worse. That’s the big challenge – I can come up with something very innovative, but then there are 100 other reasons why it can’t be success – violating regulatory and security issues, etc.

Tom Bland, acting CIO, Cobb EMC: The biggest challenge I have is keeping up with the C-Suite. When C-Level executives would come up with their own ideas on technology, they didn’t always take the current workload and environment into account. Keeping those ideas in mind, but tempering the conversation with reality can be tricky at times. As to what I like most about being a CIO, being able to impact change and set direction is huge. More importantly though, is being able to foster growth for my staff. If I do my job correctly – if I walk out the door, or get hit by a bus – the organization will continue to function because all the critical functions have been co-shared.

Dr. Mark Campbell, CIO, Atlanta Housing Authority: What do I like / love? The opportunity to grow or give back to other people who want to be CIO’s! Had a conversation with my niece about what I really do, as she thought I didn’t have a real job. I really enjoy giving back to the industry. It really drives me. As to the challenge, it’s always communication – especially across the C-Suite. You have in mind the solution of what you want to deliver and how its going to add value, but if you can’t communicate it and get buy in across the c-suite its not going to happen because the first excuse or reason will be “it doesn’t work”. That’s because we haven’t communicated the benefits effectively.

Walt Carter, Chief Digital officer & CIO, Homestar Financial: I spend a lot of my time doing leadership development with my teams and concentrated on that of the last several years. What brings me the most joy personally is watching these guys get these concepts. Getting back to what Mark said, it’s about EQ. I look for 3 things when I’m hiring and developing leaders – IQ, EQ and LQ. Good process and can think well on their feet, I need someone to can connect well with other human beings, and I need someone who can take on new skills fast, and develop some baseline proficiency, and be able to teach someone quickly to bring them up to speed. We look for people with passion, curiosity, grit, common sense and work ethic. That’s kind of a set of qualities that you can find in any age demographic. It’s not unique to one age category. I think we do a horrible job for screening with those things. There’s a lot of room for growth there, as we have locked ourselves into looking at talent that may not be servicing us very well. I’d say it’d be one of the bigger challenges. On to the challenge section, it’s hard to find good people – its hard to retain good people – and its hard to create careers which are valuable to those good people in organizations which are small / mid-sized.

Justin (Moderator): How do you approach, AI & Machine Learning. Let me give a little context…. They were able to discover that there was an uptick in ice cream sales, every time there was a shark attack. There’s so many different ways of utilizing these technologies. How do you evaluate these types of projects and get the business behind it?

Mark: This is a conversation that we are having right now and it’s a very spirited one. There are 2 qualifiers that we narrowed it down to……  There has to be meaning, and purpose. Because if you’re not implementing AI technology – or any technology – that has meaning and purpose, then why are you doing it – you’ll end up having to undo it. I really appreciate having those difficult conversations right now, before we go down the road with implementation. Meaning and purpose – that’s what we’re looking for right now.

Tom:  One of the challenges that we have if your local to Atlanta, if you followed Cobb EMC, we have gone through some tumultuous times. We’ve had significant turn over in senior staff…… and with that there has been changes in direction: Where is the co-op going, what are we going to do, etc. When we speak about AI, what does that mean… we’re having internal discussions within IT staff, but it hasn’t gone any further than that because our CEO has been there 5 months though it’ll be interesting to see how AI plays a part of that. Energy consumption is actually going down. There’re more people on the planet, but less energy is being used. LED lighting for example – one of things we’re looking to do, is creating an energy vehicle rate. If you charge your electric vehicle between midnight and 6am you get 400 kilowatt hours at no additional cost. But how do you present that to membership so that they understand its revenue neutral to them, and for the co-op it benefits us [Cobb EMC] because is balances out our load – there’s a lot of different variables that go into that. Bringing this back to AI, how can you bring that technologies to bear, and make smart decisions.

Bradley: So – in dealing with Surgeons, one of the biggest challenges is to no insult their intelligence. AI has always been a challenge in medicine because there’s a notion that, a machine can never tell me how to practice medicine.  Its walking that fine line. Its more augmented AI vs decision making AI. So here’s something that help you make an overall determination, because we’re not quite there in having an AI system deciding. Being pragmatic about those decisions – does it make sense to put in an artificial knee, because at a certain age, are you going to get enough use out of it. When we start going down the AI path those are the type of decisions that need to happen, and AI is devoid of compassion and in healthcare that’s important.

Walt: I had the pleasure of joining the Atlanta Applied AI society about a year ago as a charter board member. Listening to story after story of real use cases – not theoretical AI – but people who are turning on neural nets and trying to extrapolate from large data sets and doing things that particularly that when thinking about real AI is distributed intelligence out to the farthest edge of the node set. It’s not about collecting IOT sensor data and bringing it back into a big central processing unit, its about distributing intelligence out. Which means in Healthcare, those practitioners, can do better diagnostics that some of those doctors. Most of what we’re seeing right now though, is not AI, it’s machine learning, and natural language processing. Its not distributed out to the furthest edge.

Justin (Moderator): We’re seeing so much change in our industry – so much disruption. Taking AI and machine learning out, what do you think the next big thing over the next 5 years is going to be?

Walt – There’s several things I’m interested in, but Quantum computing – that’s going to be the next big thing. We can make biological computer that blow my mind with the way that science is developing so rapidly. On a more simplistic level – looking at the mortgage industry – is Robotic Process Automation [RPA]. Being able to deliver a botnet out to evaluate the interactions between a human and a machine and write the metadata that can respond to the app that replace the human labor that reduces human error to increase the quality of the data on acquisition. Everything the machine can do, the machine should do – everything the human can do, the human should do better because of the quality of the information provided by the machine. That’s the way we think about it, so I think RPA is one of the most exciting things out there right now from a practical application standpoint.

Tom – In the utility sector, what’s coming in the next 5 years – we’re already seeing smart appliances out there – electric vehicles. There’s number out there that says we’re going to see a 35% increase in their numbers over the next 5 years…what is that going to mean for electricity consumption.  When I look at technology, what do we need to plan for. Our purpose is to serve our membership and how can we better serve them, keep rates low, efficiencies high, reliability high,  outages minimal. What’s fascinating about the comment that Walt made on AI, in terms of pushing things out to the end-point, what is that going to mean for utilities when we start looking at massive power outages – what kind of info can be derived from all those invoices that are out there across the distribution system and how can we effect change on how we deliver service. Getting more real-time information, and use the data that are coming from the smart appliances, which are talking to the smart meters, smart meters talking back to the meter data management systems, so if you figure out by subdivision – by transformer – what kind of load is on this transformer at this particular time – what happens in the winter, what happens in the summer, where do we need to concentrate on offering incentives for consumers to reduce their load voluntarily – even financial incentives, where we say don’t dry your clothes at 3:00 in the afternoon, wait ‘till 8:00 at night.. When we start looking at places like California with their rolling blackouts, it’s all because of use patterns. So – collecting data, analyzing that data and figuring out how can we improve out customer experience. It’s all about the data.

Mark – if we look at technology from a macro level, there are trends, we’ve gone from a centralized model to a decentralized model over an over again over the decades.  And so at this point we’re staying more at a decentralized model, but I think there’s a caveat for where we are right now. You have your “Googles”, your “Amazons” that have created something kind of crazy in the mix changing the content perspective. Not sure what the technology platform is or will be, but it will be something that will centralize massive content. Because adoption rates are what makes technology successful over time.

Bradley – When I read that the reason that we currently use on any keyboard right now was actually invented to slow you down from typing because on typewriter, when you typed to quickly, the keys would get stuck, so they had to move the keys around to slow down the typing rate to prevent jams. I find that fascinating that we kept that. We built something to go slower, and we kept that all these years. The fundamental shift and we’ve already seen it – how many of us have Amazon Echo’s and Alexa’s I think its going to be how interact with computers. I think that computers are going to be a significantly different interaction compared to how we use them today with keyboard, really our coup de grâce over the last decade has been touch screens which is to even all that great. We’ve made all these quantum leaps in processing power and network connectivity, but we’re all sitting in front of the very similar system. Natural Language processing is where the future is at. It’s that human machine connection.

QUESTION: Recruiting – with the next wave of employees, what do you think the challenges are going to be with the new workforce in terms of recruiting and retainment?

Dr. Mark Campbell  – I’m starting to see this a bit already.  I believe there will be 2 challenges. Workspace for one, in terms of expectations for the work environment. Standing workstations, working remote, etc. 2nd is culture. Most organizations have been around for a while, and there’s a culture already in place. While we want to hire based on technical, it will have to be a culture fit too.  (Do you see IT driving some of those changes or is it coming from the top down?) I think IT because our current hiring practices don’t get to examine culture through the typical hiring practice through resume evaluation. You can get a better idea on a cultural fit on with a conversation. Because realistically we learn the jobs we get after we get them – for the most part.

Bradley – it’s a challenge because healthcare has been a hot industry recently where before, folks would say Healthcare IT and they’d roll their eyes at you and have no interest, now people are coming to me asking how they can get into the space. From a recruiting perspective the challenge is, the people we’re finding are very technically focused, very intelligent, but if they don’t understand that at the end of the day its about taking care of patients. That’s one of the biggest challenges – the taking care of someone else besides yourself isn’t necessarily ingrained to a lot of people that are very smart and technologically focused. You have people who are great technologists, but they don’t understand that the glitch in the system could cause a patient to die. That’s the biggest challenge – finding that fit who has the technical expertise, but also that there is a larger mission than just taking care of the servers and Desktops.

Tom Bland – From a hiring aspect, our department is small, so we have an advantage in that we have a lot of different technologies and we make this known to applicants. When you come on board you won’t be silo’d in exchange or Office 365 or networking. You’re going to do a lot of stuff, giving you a chance to learn a lot of different things which will increase your skill set and your marketability and so far, that has proved to be very effective and we have relatively small turn over as a result.

Walt – As we move forward in time we have to get a whole lot better at defining the role in particular. I was at another event where I was the keynote, and I told all the hiring managers in the room that you need 4 [parts of the] job descriptions: 1st is for you – what do you want out of this role – what are your key measures, what are your key measures – what are the objectives for this person to know whether they are hitting it or not; then help HR to adjust so it meets their compliance and standards; 3rd, you have to take it to the marketing team and make it attractive for the candidate. It can’t be about what you want or what HR wants, it’s about what the candidate wants. Then there’s how can you justify the spend for the role. We’ve already talked about the lack of skilled people out there for us to acquire, will be perceived as a cost escalation. So now you have to go to the CFO to justify why you have to pay more for the back fill than what you were paying the person who left the role. These 4 perspectives on the description are on us as hiring managers to take into account before we go out the look for new talent.

There was so much quality information exchanged, that is too much to cover in an already lengthy LinkedIn post. In order to get the full impact of these meetings, please consider becoming a member. The knowledge sharing and comradary just can not be beat!

Thank you again to our panel and moderator for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your stories and educate our membership!! I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our event sponsors, Corus360 (Platinum Sponsor) and eHire (Gold Sponsor). Without these organization’s contributions, these events would not be possible!

We hope you’ll join us for our October 18th dinner meeting entitled, “One man’s journey to the edge.”  Laron Tangeman, Director of Digital Operations at GE Digital will leading the discussion on Edge Computing. He’ll share his own journey of discovery as he uncovers what is fact versus fiction, the history, as well as a few use cases that will really help us better understand exactly what this technology means, as well as how it’s evolved over time. We hope you can join us at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center on Thursday, October 18th, 5:30pm to 8:00pm. Registration will be up on our website shortly.