Founder and Managing Director of Merit Data and Technology, Con Conlon, talked in a live panel at this year’s AI Summit. The discussion about Enabling Agile Innovation through AI to accelerate and scale digital transformations took place with these four leaders in the tech industry:

  • Robert Chilvers – Data Director at Kaluza
  • Graeme Tester – AI Commerical Lead, EMEA at Omdia
  • Susara van den Heever – Program Director at IBM Data Science Elite
  • Alex Cesar – Group Chief Technology Officer at Kantar

Key points of the discussion panel

Executive sponsorship in AI project work culture 

Agile is still the model of choice for sure, there are so many moving parts now that leadership is really crucial, you have all the stakeholders from sales and marketing, to ops to developers and all the technical staff. So leadership being decisive and pulling all those inputs together in a coherent way can be quite tricky. AI projects, in particular, where the outcome may not be assured, may be experimental or sometimes has a long gestation period.  

How you factor these issues into your agile innovation model is something that needs to be thought about. If you have an AI project in place, just step back from it a little and think about that in terms of timeline and how your organise it. But the leadership for sure needs to be a lot stronger because you have so many more contributors and so many more things going on.  

Adopting digitisation of products not only for agile innovation and survival  

We had a really good ringside seat on a change case study, we do a lot of work with publishers and that’s an industry that took an absolute caning with advertising. Merit helped a lot of publishers to create data products and information products whereas previously they would have had a magazine or a series of magazines in a particular sector, in maritime, construction or fashion.   

Getting them to pivot to create data products was a massive change, the fundamental product that they were selling was different, from magazines to an intelligence product.  

How you sell it is different. Is your sales team capable of selling it? At Merit we helped to engineer the data production that fed into those products and the front-end to which the audience was consuming that data if it was construction data or shipping data.  

The really successful ones, if you look at a lot of the big information businesses now like Emap or Ascential are much more profitable and experiencing more growth. Informa, the people that organised this event, pivoted into events and information products. These are great examples of change and these companies did well to make a 180 degree change at an industry level. It was a process we enjoyed and we were able to use all sorts of interesting tech to get to that destination. Some publishers didn’t and have obviously died a death during Covid.

Tech resourcing challenges in agile Innovation

There is not an industry I can think of which is not undergoing massive e digitisation in terms of how they interact with their customers and employees. Covid ofcourse accelerated that. The toolsets we have and the emerging technologies we will use all require teamwork and talent to deliver on those AI\ML projects.  

Tech resourcing is a huge challenge for the industry. It’s interesting because the tech industry for the last 30 years has been a great place to work. I don’t know if universities have kept up with it but there is a huge shortage of talent. Luckily, we operate in India, we’ve got 1.4 billion people and plenty of engineers so we can deploy a lot of tech talent to our customers because we’ve got that scale but it’s still an issue. Retaining and acquiring talent is a lot more competitive.  

The demand for software engineers and data engineers has increased by a factor of 4 in August of this year compared to August last year within my company alone. The customer demand for talent has more than tripled.  

If you get into those rarified areas around AI like data science and all those really niche, sexy job titles, the battle is even more fierce. It behoves us then to really focus on retaining talent. It’s not just the place you work, but the quality of the work you are doing, is it interesting, is it stretching me, are you feeling fulfilled by it? You have to answer all those questions for your employees and still meet the demands of customers.

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