Episode released on: 09. January 2023
The CX Goalkeeper had the great opportunity to interview Francesco Brenna
LinkedIn Headline: Senior Partner & VP at IBM Consulting. AI & Analytics Leader EMEA. Global Leader Azure Data & AI
- 00:00 Game Start
- 00:39 Francesco’s Introduction
- 02:32 Francesco’s values
- 03:56 The acceleration of digital transformation
- 06:42 The “burning” topics
- 08:14 A lot of talking, but…
- 11:03 Agility – Business Agility and not only IT agility
- 13:31 Data, data and data
- 16:03 The skills war
- 19:05 The people leader suggestions
- 22:40 A great solution delivered
- 25:00 General purpose AI
- 28:21 The future
- 31:10 Book Suggestion
- 32:06 Contact Details
- 32:30 Francesco’s Golden Nugget
and much more…
Francesco’s Contact Details:
His book suggestion:
- The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
Francesco‘s Golden Nuggets:
- I will leave to the audience one thing, which always helped me during my career: To be very curious. I think curiosity is my opinion, a very, very important quality for any leaders, especially in this area and in the type of work that we do. Being curious for what’s happening, what’s coming next. It’s really very important to shape your mindset as a leader and also to bring you further in terms of your knowledge and in terms of your context. I think, it’s to be curious. It sounds simple, but sometimes difficult to to adopt it, but it’s very, very important.
“Being curious for what’s happening, what’s coming next. It’s really very important to shape your mindset as a leader and also to bring you further in terms of your knowledge and of your context.” Francesco Brenna on the CX Goalkeeper PodcastTweet
#customerexperience #leadership #cxgoalkeeper #cxtransformation #podcast
what we discussed?
Ladies and gentleman welcome to the CX goalkeeper podcast your host. Greg will have smart discussions with friends, experts and thought leaders on customer experience transformation and leadership. Please follow this podcast on your preferred platform. I am sure you will enjoy the next episode with the guest I selected for you.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the next discussion of the CX goalkeeper. Today I’m really delighted because of Francesco Brenna together with me. Hi Francesco, how are you?
Hi Gregorio, very well, How are you?
Very well, I am really thrilled to start a discussion with you, you are an expert in digital transformation and in business transformation. And therefore I’m very looking forward to this discussion. But before we deep dive in this topic, as usual, I asked my top players joining the podcast to present themselves and therefore Francesco, could you please quick Introduce yourself?
Sure. Gregorio Well, first of all, thanks again for having me. Yes, it myself, I’ve been in the digital transformation business or in the technology business for the last 20 years. I always worked for for IBM, I have a computer engineering as a degree and as a background. So as I’ve spent my entire career in basically applying technology to solve our clients business problems, I started initially in the wall, you know, software developments, large digital transformation area. But I very quickly developed during my career, a pretty strong passion for data analytics. And lately, artificial intelligence. So I really spent the last 15 years working with my clients to try to really understand how to use data, how to use insight from data to really drive business outcome. And as we all know, this is a topic which has grown and has made a lot of progress in the in the past the past few years. So it’s been a very, very interesting topics. And so therefore, I’m very much looking forward to, to discuss with you some of the the experience I’ve made so far.
Thank you, Francesco. But now I need to ask you, because you said AI, I’m speaking with the real Francesco or is an hologram created to discuss with me
now it’s the real one, I think we are not there yet with in terms of digital avatars, we’re making very good progress. And maybe we can, you know, talk about this later in the discussion, but for now is the real Francesco.
Perfect, and this is what I really like having human to human discussion, and you spoke about transformation. And one important piece that often gets forgotten is the people behind the transformation. Therefore, one question that it’s really important to me, which values drive you in life?
Good question regarding you, I think, if I think about myself, and really my value, I would probably say, three. First of all, I think he’s hard work. I think I believe there is really nothing you can achieve in life, whether it’s personal or professional without our work. So really putting yourself into something is very, very important. So that’s definitely one of my value. The second one, I would probably say, humility, I think, staying humble. You know, being being humble, and really have the humility to work with anyone, in on your team, in your, in your, in your, in your, you know, professional environment is very, very important. And I think the last one is probably, which is more on the on the on the private side as well is happiness, you know, I need to enjoy what I do. So I need to wake up every morning with a smile on my face, truly have the motivation to do what I have to do. So happiness is definitely an important value to me, too.
Oh, thank you very much Francesco. And I think these are three important values that you are also leaving every day when you’re helping other companies going to a business transformation or digital transformation. A lot of companies nowadays are heavily investing in transforming themselves. We are always hearing to be ready for the future as a global leader in this field, what’s happening?
Well, I think it’s a very good question regarding and I think if I if I look at what’s going on the last maybe three, four years, I think we have all seen a incredible acceleration on digital transformation during COVID Right I think this is really new for us working in tech have probably been the busiest time of all our career either two years 2020 2021 So we have seen a significant acceleration in digital transformation because all the sudden will a lot organization realize how important digital is and it was for their business but also they realize how behind most of them really were in terms of the digital transformation. So we have seen a huge, a huge acceleration in that. And now coming out of the of the COVID, I would say, there is this will continue. Now, you know, we were before this, this this podcast, you and I were briefly talking about the current macro economic situation, or you know, that we all live in, I think there is a lot of focus and a lot of work being done to really, I would say, do more with less. So the role of efficiency, and that there’s going to be required across every organization is going to be very, very important. So that’s one aspect. I think the other two aspects, which are really becoming more and more important, are first of all, cybersecurity, I’ve seen a lot of, you know, traction, a lot of focus on really driving cybersecurity with your organization with all, you know, the digital transformation, which leads to new distributed architecture, edge devices, AI being deployed anywhere, I mean, cybersecurity become a super, super critical aspects of a lot of work going on in that area. And I think the last one is probably becoming more and more important is the more sustainability agenda. I mean, you know, just coming out of the cop 27, from from last to last two weeks, I think we are already seeing a lot of the work that countries and government are doing. But I think organization, we really have to start doubling down on that and really have to start doing some real action around sustainability, because that’s really becoming a key differentiation for many organizations across any industry going forward. So I will say, these are probably the three main things I’m seeing in the industry right now.
I think these these are really interesting topics. And these are touching us as employees, as consumers, but also as human beings. And perhaps, based on your global experience. Do you see common partners among countries and industry that you can say this is these are really the key topics?
Internal, the internal, these opportunities you mean…
I think as I said, I think the, you know, the wall sustainability, and cybersecurity is definitely something which is really a cross cross industry topic, it doesn’t really matter if you’re in financial service and retail or industrial sector, these are really topics which are pretty much common. So that’s that’s definitely 111. area, I would say. The other one, I think is the which which goes along the digital transformation that I mentioned, I think is the transformation, the talent transformation, which is going to be which is actually required to drive agenda transformations in the new skills, the new operating model, the new approaches that you need within your organization to really drive the transformation are really common across every industry, every country’s and I think there is still it’s probably one area where organizations are still struggling a bit. And where you know, his are going to still going to be a bit of a challenge for for most organizations going forward. Because that’s really the big change which will need to happen across across industries.
I think this is really interesting. I see working on the corporate side that companies start creating strategies, roadmaps, starting one project and then the other and then changing this, this this plan and so on. But the real result out of this transformation programs are not always exactly as expected. everybody’s expecting Now we change everything and everything will get better, but it’s not. So what’s your view on that?
I mean, it’s it is definitely like this, right? I mean, there is a lot of let me say a lot of talking about digital transformation about driving innovation within an organization. But I think if you look at what’s really happening, I think a lot organization, like you said, are really struggling to get these done at scale, and really to deliver some of the business value they’re expecting. And I think if I look at some of the reasons behind that, based on just my personal exposure and experience as a consultant, I see few things. Number one, I think, as I mentioned is already is really the the fact that most organizations are really struggling with the speed of execution of this transformation problem is probably mainly because skills and approaches, I mean, a lot of organization are still working very much waterfall ish, whether much with a with a, you know, clear cut between IT and business, and that’s really hindering transformation, hindering, you know, speed of execution. So I think, really the challenge of driving Agile processes within organization, not just in the it right, which is has been a common pattern for quite some years but also in Isn’t this and bringing it to business together to drive that is really is really important. The second aspect, I think it’s the wall, I think underestimation still of the value of data and the value of the quality of the data you need to be regardless of what problem you’re trying to solve. Regardless of what process you’re trying to digitize, being able to leverage the right data, whether it is your own your customer, your product, your services, it’s you know, it’s very, very important in a lot of organizations struggling to get the right quality, the right governance around around around that data. And then the third aspect is definitely skill. So I mean, all a lot of this digital transformation requires new skills within within the organization, which needs to be built up, but also requires technology skills, and digital skills within the business at any level, which today’s in many organization was sold on AV. So I think these are kind of the the key challenges I see as a as a consultant.
From your point of view, three outstanding challenges to tackle. Perhaps we can deep dive one one after the other. The first one is you mentioned agility. And I think this is exactly the main point, companies start trying to be agile with Scrum and all the stuff in the IT. And they are not able to get the business and work together with the business and then drive this, this transformation at the pace at which speed that it’s required. Perhaps on this agility topic, what’s your view? First of all, what’s hindering companies to be really agile, overall agile, and not only in the in the in the in the IT? And second, perhaps do you have also some suggestion out to tackle this, this these problems?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is this, again, a very good question. I think it’s what’s enduring in my opinion, is primarily a cultural aspect. So really, really a change in the mindset within an organization about it and business working together. I mean, even though everyone says we want to work agile, as I said, most of this agile work has been done in the IT to really driving a change of the mindset on the business side, and really bringing business and it together together is going to be essential. Now, how do you do it? Right, I mean, first of all, I think there is one aspect, which is really, really important is that every project that you’re going to run, you need to start from the very beginning with business and it together to really together kind of shape what it is what the solution is going to be and you know, applying techniques like simple techniques like design thinking, session freezing, where you bring it and business people together to really think about what is the customer pain points that we want to, to address, right? What is the customer problems that we want to solve and really together ideate and shape a solution, it’s really, really gonna are gonna be very important. So bringing these these two together is definitely is definitely one of the key aspects of that. And in order to do that, I think you need to probably inject some of these mindset into the business, whether it is through change agent to people with have who have these, these these, you know, beach digital change skills within the business, we have tech, we are a bit more technology savvy within within the business is definitely going to be very, very important as a kind of a best practice.
I think, thank you very much for touching this topic focusing on on the customer on the on the human being and understanding them. And I think the other thing that you mentioned is data and the topic around the use of governance around data. Because I see and I discussed, I’m discussing with a lot of companies, the target is to get the most possible data, but they are not using leverage to date the data and creating really outcomes with this data. And you are an expert in analytics AI and and all these technologies, the solution that can help leverage data create value out of the data. Could you please elaborate a bit on that?
Absolutely. And I think even on the data side, to be honest, Gregorio I don’t think it’s a technology problem is again a cultural slash governance type of problem because I think what we need to do is really shifting from like you said, Yeah, collecting all this sort of data into a centralized Big Data platform like every organization has been doing for the last 20 years towards a more much more data products type of thinking, right, we need to think about data as a product like any other products, what is the what is the value that these data is going to provide? What is the customer journey that this data is going to enable? So thinking data as a product, and you know, there are many approaches now which are being you know, adopted in the industry things like data mesh for ins Once you really try to, you know, push the the ownership of the data into the domains really adding the Domain Driven kind of architecture where you have your customer domain, for instance, being a responsible to create all the various data products around your customer experience, right? So really moving from, okay, these are my, you know, 20 databases where we have all sorts of data customers to this, these are my three, four data products, which I have in my customer domain, which delivers this following capabilities and value, I think this is a really mindset change. I mentioned governance, because obviously, in order to create these data products, data governance is going to be very, very important. So being able to understand where your data is, who owns it, what’s the quality of the data is going to be super critical in order to enable this this nice data product. So I think establish the right governance approaches within your organization, stewardship, you know, the various processes is going to be very, very important.
Thank you. And from the three topics you mentioned, agility, data and skills. Now, I would like to deep dive on on the skills topic, we had also a short discussion, the beginning, prior to recording this this episode, and we spoke about the war of talents, getting the right talents getting the right skills, how is the market developing in this skills war?
Well, it is it is really a hot market, Gregorio, this, you know, it is, I think it is very difficult for any organization and particularly for organization, I believe, outside of the tech industry, to really attract young talents, particularly in the you know, we were talking about AI, so data scientists, data engineers, to attract them into your organization, but then most importantly, to retain them within the organization. So I think we, these are people who really wants to work on some of the most difficult and exciting challenges, they want to learn every day, something new. So they are really, really eager to advance, you know, their their skills and their in their career. So we need to give them the right platform to be able to achieve that it’s not easy, right? Especially if you are outside of the tech industry, to create first of all the right brand for you to attract these talents, but then also give them the right type of work. To retain them, your organization is going to be very, very, very, very difficult. And I think this is this is really, really a hot market. And will will continue to be like that. I think one other areas, though, the dimension if I may deep dive a bit more. Gregorio from a skills point of view, is also not just how you kind of hire and retain these people, but how do you infuse these new skills within your organization, right? Because that’s really also important, it doesn’t it’s not enough, just hire, you know, 50 smart data scientists is also how you’re going to leverage them in the best way so that they can really drive value for your, for your organization. So thinking about what is the right operating model for you, for your organization is going to be super important type of, you know, approaches and best practices, we see the adoption of so called Center of Excellence or center of competence, where you start maybe with a centralized one, bringing all your kind of skills together and use these to serve other parts of your business, to drive to drive this change as a kind of a starting point. But then, as you start to evolve, and mature in terms of your digital digital transformation, I see more and more of these becoming like a federated model, where you start to going back to our domain driven design that we talked about before, when you start to infuse this kind of COA within your line of business, right? Think about having a COA in your customer domain, your finance in your HR. So this is really the operating model aspect. And now you’re going to infuse this within realization is going to be very, very important to promiscuity.
I think what you’re saying it’s key because we are using and we are trying to leverage new way of working, you mentioned, for example, agility, and I think this is this is a great example to first get all the people together to upskill them to help them understanding, agility, that it’s a mentality, and it’s not a framework to use, but then to bring them into the operating units, as you mentioned, finance, operations, marketing and it because then you have all the ambassador outside of what you have your core of the business of digital transformation. And the more Ambassador The more people help you understand driving this transformation, the better the best it is and therefore I think it’s key and you are a senior leader. You are a big expert, but you are also a leader, people leader, and you mentioned upskilling people new generation with new expectations. Perhaps Do you have also some suggestion what you are doing that it’s working very well, also for my audience?
Yes, I mean, we obviously, like I said, we do, you know, I spent personally a lot of time in trying to really create the right environment for for for this new generation, particularly to come to us, but also then to stay with us. And a few things that we do is are a few example few best practices that I can share is, first of all, I think it’s about the community. So I think you need we need to create a sense of belonging for these people within your organization, they need to feel being part of a bigger team, they need to feel to be part of something very, very important for their for their for their organization, not just a little team, within within a line of business, solving some particular problem. And so we do this, for instance, by running every quarter we run at Jones, for instance, where we bring these people together with our business leaders to solve some particular business problems. So every quarter, we focus on a particular topic, like, you know, sustainability, or identical AI, or a particular industry, and we let these people working with our business leader working with our, with our other parts of the organization to really getting together and really work on something very, very important and very impactful for for them. So this sense of community is definitely important. The other thing is really giving them opportunity to grow. Right? I mean, giving them the right, the right role, the right challenge, which is not always an easy thing. But you need to think about challenging them all the time. These are not people wants to do the same job for one or two years. These are people wants to be challenged, you know, every every week, right? So you need to think about how do you rotate, for instance, these people across the roles very often right, we try to, for instance, to across the clients project, and we do to really rotate these these people so that they can learn something new they can they get into another client environment, getting exposed to a new industry, new business problems, and really being challenged all the time. I think, if you can keep them challenged, if you keep thinking keep them outside of their comfort zone, they will remain eager to work in your organization, eager to learn and eager to say I think these are probably the two main and there are others, but I think these are the two main things, practical things that you know, we try to apply to, to our teams,
thank you Francesco. I think eager people, people that want to achieve some things also deliver outstanding projects, and we meet let’s say once a year or two times a year and you always share a great solution that you delivered for your customer perhaps do you have in mind one one example that you can share with the audience for sure without any names, what you delivered one of the last projects that you delivered that you said this is truly something great.
Yeah, I mean, there are there are there are so many, let me let me think about what probably probably one I would, I would mention is is a work which is which we have been doing. And I cannot mention the client name, obviously, but he’s in the, in the financial service industry, which, which is really something exciting because he goes and he’s an AI type of project we did, which goes really to kind of push the boundaries of the art of the possible So, we have worked with a with a large financial services institution in really applying the early stage of genetic AI to really look at how we could help them deal with the huge amount of unstructured data that they have particularly around regulation in banking, and really being able to to have a much more efficient approach on understanding them delivering extracting the right insight, summarizing them and really generate value out of this you know, document or acknowledge which used to be a compliance or a cost aspect but not really an added value type of thing. So, really applying this new way newer way of language model which narrative AI in summarizing his document extremely understanding the complex, you know, semantics of these of these topics using AI. He was quite impressive to see the result was quite exciting type of work. And even though is not, you know, a huge transformation. It was definitely something super, super exciting for for us and our team
Thank you, Francesco, as you are here, and nowadays everybody speaking of the latest projects, the latest algorithms AI that created can create books, answer all the questions and so on. In what’s happening, could you please create a bit of clarity around this, this diagram is either really to answer all the possible questions and solve every problem that we have.
I think I think Gregorio is still probably far away from having a kind of a general purpose AI. But I think these new foundational models, you know, based on this, you know, transformer architecture, for those of you who are a bit more technical, maybe, you know, you can you can have a have a look at the, the old transformer architecture is really a, he’s really having a significant change to the whole approach to AI, right. I mean, if you look at what what open AI has been doing, I’m sure some of you have heard this, you know, ChatGPT, right, this new language model, and OPI just released literally two days ago or last week, which is this chat bot, which I would say is the first real general purpose chat bot generated by anyone is a huge language model, which allows you to ask any sort of questions, and then the model can generate answer on the fly in real time based on the knowledge it has. And it’s really, really impressive. So I think we’re making a huge step forward with this. But I think the same is true, I don’t know for those of you who have heard this pathways, which another language model created by Google was supposed to be able to handle 1000 languages, in any sort of use cases from language generation answering summarizing text. So all sorts of use cases. So these are really, really impressive improvement. I think going forward, what I see if we will probably meet in five years. Gregorio, what I’m expecting to happen is that, to understand how we are going to make these models scale in the business in a sense that these are general purpose, they can answer all sorts of questions. But in business, we need AI model, we can really solve a customer problem, a legal problem and banking problem. So how do we make them? How do we specialize them on certain topics? What’s the training going to be required to do that? I think there is still a lot of work, which needs to happen to really make them useful for for for businesses, but I think the potential is huge. The second aspect to that is actually the whole ethical AI aspect. I think these these models are creating. That’s probably one of the reasons why even Google and open AI are kind of taking a bit slowly. In terms of adoption, because there are big ethical questions, which still needs to be answered about this model, how do we ensure that they are not bias? How do we ensure that we can explain them? How do we ensure that they are transparent, so there is a lot of work which still need to happen from a pure ethical AI? Before we can really see a strong adoption of these of these models, but it’s super exciting. And I think, great opportunity going forward, generated by this by these new approaches.
Thank you, Francesco. And for the record, we are recording this episode mid of December, therefore, Francesco said last week were released. The episode will be published a bit later, you spoke about in five years time, but if I have you on my podcast, and I’m sure we will meet again in five years. Let’s Let’s speak about 10 years time in 10 years time from now. You are back to my podcast. I hope that it’s still a podcast, perhaps in the metaverse, but that’s another discussion and what we are discussing about
you know, it’s, it’s, that’s a really tough one, Gregory, especially if we talk about AI because it’s really difficult. I mean, as I said, the if you leave a look at going back to this generative, this new foundation model, I think probably I’m sure that in 10 years, we will be talking about how these models are really driving value within within the business because I’m sure the they all research is going to go in that direction. So these models are going to, you know, see adoption across the business. So I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 years, we will have, you know, really machine learning system, writing entire, you know, company reports or reading a legal document and being able to tell you exactly what you need to do. So I think these these models are going to really see adoption very quickly across the business. The second aspect I think is there’s a lot of regulation in AI ethics. As I mentioned, we are just starting to talk about the impact So of AI ethics, I think in 10 years, every single model which will be out there in either in private or in professional life, will have to be explainable will have to be transparent will have to ensure that, you know, is unbiased. So I think this will play a huge role in 10 years. And then last but not least, I think AI to be honest, right now is still being used pretty much to automate business. So, it’s a very much efficiency type of use case, I see AI in 10 years being much more an augmentation of our human capabilities in decision making in research in discovery type of use case, think about medical area, think about, you know, pharma, or science discovery. So I see AI much more as a augmentation, we’ll have our human brain in all these very complex decision processes, rather than just automating, let me say, business processes, like like it pretty much does does today. So these are probably generative AI, all that takes and the world kind of augmentation of our human brain is probably where I see the evolution or over the next 10 years.
It’s really, really interesting. Thank you very much Francesco. But we are coming to an end of this game. And the in the extra time of this short game, I would like to ask you three questions. And the first one is, is there a book that you would like to suggest to the audience that helped you during your career or during your life?
Let me think about the last one that I read. Probably, I would suggest, this is a very famous one. But I think the infinite game of Simon Sinek has definitely been an eye opening book. It has helped me as a business leader to really understand how to think beyond just your kind of a quarter or financial metrics, but really think about what’s the purpose for you as for your company, for you, as a leader for your team. So thing for any leaders who haven’t read that book yet, I think is definitely one book, I would strongly strongly recommend.
Indeed, it’s worth it. I think it’s really a great book. And if somebody would like to contact you, what’s the best way?
I think you don’t on LinkedIn is probably the best way. I’m sure you can publish my email address after this. You know, I’m very much open to, you know, to engage in any discussions, I’m very reachable. So please feel free to reach out.
And I can confirm that you are reachable. That’s, that’s great. And therefore we are in contact since since yours. And now really the last question is, Francesca’s, golden nugget, it’s something that we discussed or something new, that you would leave to the audience?
No, I think we probably did, because a lot of things, the only thing I will leave, I will leave me with the audience, which is one thing, which is, as always helped me my career is to be very curious. I think curiosity is my opinion, a very, very important quality for any leaders, especially in this area, right in you know, in the in the in the type of work that we do. Being curious for what’s happening, what’s coming next. It’s really very important to shape your, your, your your mindset as a leader and also to bring you further in terms of your knowledge in terms of your context, I think be curious. It sounds simple, but sometimes difficult to to adopt it, but it’s very, very important.
That was Francesco’s golden nugget, I’m not I’m not allowing myself to comment it because it was your golden nugget. The only thing that I can say is thank you very much Francesco for your time.
Thank you, Gregorio and thank you to your audience. It was a pleasure.
Thank you! Francesco please stay with me and to the audience. We love feedback. Therefore, feel free to reach out to me or to Francesco as he mentioned through his contact details that you will find also in the show notes. Thank you very much. Have a nice day. Bye bye.
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