CIONEXT | Digital Innovation Now | Conference Summary

Published by Tomasz Steinmetz
April 28, 2023 @ 12:27 PM
On 26 April CIONET hosted the international conference CIONEXT with the theme “Digital Innovation Now”. The topic has gained in relevance with current technological advances and included discussions on AI, automation, and the state of innovation at the speakers’ businesses. 

For the UiPath-sponsored conference, we invited four international panellists from across different industries: 

If you missed the chance to attend live, you can rewatch the recording from the virtual event here

The theme of innovation was approached at CIONEXT in three clear divisions starting with the innovation agenda at DB Cargo, EY, and KPN. The two other sections brought the speakers to discuss AI and Automation.

Schermafbeelding 2023-04-26 om 15.28.16

Innovation Agenda

Catriona Campbell started the introductory series by explaining the purpose of innovation at EY: to help organisations be better served by technology. She mentioned her wide-ranging experience in IT design and pointed to the biggest challenge we face in modern business environments: orchestration of multiple providers and human-centred AI.

Arlene Buehler followed with her grounding in a long-existing physically-based enterprise. She stressed the magnitude of railway by comparing it to road transport and mentioned capacity management, track usage and hardware concerns as areas where innovation comes to aid traditional solutions.

Artie Debidien described KPN as historically the largest telecommunications provider in the Netherlands. The challenges this service-oriented enterprise faces revolve around connectivity and its employment. The transition from a sole “communication provider” to “value creator” is key and was necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. Innovation at KPN has to lead to an improved customer relationship and constant reinvention of networking.

Finally, Daniel Poor speaking from the standpoint of the biggest RPA provider, indicated the speed of world events and their increasing complexity as the main challenge for business where still plenty of innovation opportunities can be found.

Daniel provided a historical perspective in dividing the timeline of digital innovation into three generations: the single source of data times when ERPs were introduced (the 1990s), the early advent of automation to help with digital tasks, and finally the onboarding of AI to the general public.

All speakers agreed that the current developments in AI deliver an incredible chance to rejuvenate the DNA of businesses, rebuild communications in a collaborative way, and think more carefully of sustainable innovation. 

For the purpose of the latter, the example of Clayton Christensen’s division of innovation into disruptive and sustainable was evoked. The discussion diverged into examples such as Tesla and their electric cars, or KPN moving from 3G to 5G mobile technology.

By way of summary of the first part, the speakers discussed two innovation approaches: bottom up and top down. They put forward examples from their organisations, which was complemented by the question from the audience about the presence of digital systems helping to manage innovation. 

Catriona engaged and described the innovation process at EY based on the Double Diamond technique. It entails central assessment teams and a templatised system to boost ideation across the staff.

AI and its implications

The second part started on a humorous note about “AI eating the world” and progressed into an exchange of particular perspectives on this potentially disruptive technology.

Catriona Campbell wanted to alleviate the fears of dangerous AI, and as the author of “Living with AI”, pointed to the fact that research in this branch of science has been with us since the 1950s. She also indicated three crucial areas for the future success in building AI: talent, technology and above all governance.  

Arlene Buehler told about a different, more physically grounded AI perspective  that DB Cargo faces. She stated that due to the amount of data available from railway networks, data management is key for the business. Integration and transformation has to be seamless and she already envisaged a couple of optimisation cases like counting probability and planning on it, or even analysing the photos of wagons for possible breakdown detection. 

Artie Debidien touched on the question of IT talent and generational changes. The conclusion was that the more you need to drive change, the harder it is to get talent. She agreed when Arlene and Catriona presented the examples of social consciousness at DB Cargo and EY and stated that businesses need to foster a culture of openness for talent, while a social plus environmental purpose is always welcome. 

From Daniel Poor’s words, we learned that the US is still a Wild West when it comes to regulating AI research. With more optimism, Arlene added that AI may not yet be the loaded gun in the hands of a maniac, if we approach it human-centrically and instil in it a range of non-discriminatory practices.

Automation - the indisputable boost for business

The part on automation emerged smoothly from the discussion on AI via the technology solutions that UiPath proposes to their clients. RPA and AI team up to build an incredible couple that Daniel Poor thinks of as “innovation fabric”.

The metaphor involves vertical threads of engagement and horizontal threads of orchestration—they all build on each other to create a fabric where time and money is saved. The speakers agreed on where AI can step in to enhance processes: data extraction, categorization, and pattern recognition. 

It was interesting to witness the comparison between KPN and DB Cargo, when Artie advised that scarcity in any field (like the digital legacy and slower advance of DB Cargo) can sometimes help out by increasing focus and effectiveness.

In the end of the automation part, Catriona explained the approach at EY. What was beneficial to the entire organisation was being taken to a central resource and then opened up to the whole organisation as simple automation lego blocks which you can download and customise. By way of control, there was one executive that understands and owns the system for building the right guardrails.

Final thoughts

CIONEXT is a conference that brings together the most brilliant minds of IT to discuss topics that are important to the community of digital leaders. 

From a traditional business like DB Cargo, through service and software vendors like EY and UiPath, to KPN, a telecom giant, we saw how AI, automation and innovation in general have captured the strategies and plans of CIOs. 

We’d like to thank Arlene, Catriona, Artie, and Daniel for their excellent input, Hendrik Deckers for crafty moderation, and all the CIO community for participation. Do not forget to check the solutions of our sponsor UiPath and get a hardcover copy of the CIONET COOKBOOK N°2 as a balance to your digitally-packed conference experience! Order it here. Remember, it's free for members!

You can watch the Leadership Deep Dive interviews of Catriona Campbell and Arlene Buehler on CIONET.TV and YouTube. Artie Debidien is coming soon with her interview to top off the series. It’s a perfect opportunity to dive deeper into what innovation means for their respective organisations.

Arlene Buehler


Catriona Campbell


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