AWS broadens focus on innovation acceleration

Lessons for CIOs from this year's AWS Summit.
Written by Forrester Research, Contributor

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At its recent AWS Summit in San Francisco, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a series of new services and made a few services from Re:Invent Generally Available (GA), but the theme coming out at the conference was clearly on broadening its ability to accelerate your organization's digital innovation strategy.

While the core of this theme has been a key focus of AWS since its beginning, what changed at the conference was the breadth of services it is offering that enable new innovations without having to train your staff on new, emerging skills, and its acknowledgement of the challenges CIOs face in transitioning their staff to drive these innovations.

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These new aspects of this value theme came out strongly in CTO Werner Vogel's keynote speech, where a series of AI services were announced or GA'd that make it possible to pull insights from your data without having to write or even learn new algorithms, let alone focus on data deployment, scale, or management. Matt Wood, the AWS GM for artificial intelligence, showed off several of the pre-trained models they announced at Re:Invent that automatically analyze data sets for location, name, language, and other factors. Two of these, Transcribe and Translate (English to Spanish), are now GA. Tools like these, when combined with their BI tool, QuickSight, enable rich data analysis with nearly no ML skills needed. Its ML family embraces data stored on AWS or accessible via Direct Connect links, and SageMaker, its AI core platform, supports open source tools using TensorFlow and MXNet.

You can even enable these services without the skills in-house using their ML Solutions Lab, a team of data scientists available on a per-need basis. It also addressed data set scaling with the announcements of Aurora Multi-master, Aurora Serverless, S3 Select (now in preview), and the GA of Glacier Select.

To the latter element of organizational change acceleration, Vogels spoke to the added emphasis on security and ubiquitous encryption by-default across all AWS services (all to be GDPR-compliant by May 17) and the GA of Secrets Manager that adds automated protection for IT resource access and Certificate Manager.

While there were a broad collection of sessions at the Summit that expanded on all the above services plus edge AI, IoT, and other services, two sessions focused on the specific challenges CIOs face today in transitioning their teams to lead your company's innovation efforts. The first was by Pravin Raj, from AWS Professional Services, and the latter by Miriam McLemore, a former IT leader at Coca-Cola, who has recently joined the AWS enterprise strategist team. Their sessions focused on a topic Forrester has researched extensively: The human elements of this transformation. While your staff may talk about the challenges of learning these new technologies and the values they think they can bring, more likely 70 percent to 90 percent of the real barriers they face in shifting their focus center around their personal concerns about their role, value to the company, and risk of their jobs being replaced by these services.

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As the CIO, you need to help them see and accept that this change is coming and that your staff is needed and will be needed, with their new skills in the future. Show them what will be different and what will drive their value as part of this new team in the future, assuming they embrace the new skills and services needed. And atop this, commit to investing in their training and certifications, as this will help them see your level of commitment to them. Part of this investment in them is to also embrace failure. No innovations come to market without a path of failures and learning and evolving the strategy from these. Sadly, few IT organizations have a culture of failure embracement -- without it you will not get to the next level nor become the agents of innovation and change for your company.

As a CIO, if you see your future as driving technology innovation and change for your company, you can't get there without embracing their elements of change for your staff.

It's good to see AWS recognizing the level of importance they must take in helping their clients do this, as a future as purely a source of Shadow IT won't get them to the next level.

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