“Digital transformation is not the latest industry catchphrase; it’s a movement — a significant shift in how companies operate, compete, and grow,” says Archie Deskus, who was appointed senior vice president and CIO at Intel Corporation early this year.

Quoting former Intel CEO Andy Grove, Deskus reminds us that a corporation is a living organism; it must continue to shed its skin. Methods, focus, and values all have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation.

Spanning Business and Technical Realms

The movement toward becoming digital was catalyzed by the convergence of new technology, like the cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI). Together, these technologies have the power to transform a company and unlock significant value, but it requires the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business.

Intel’s new portfolio requires an entirely new set of organizational capabilities, which are being systematically built and scaled over time. Some, such as scalable infrastructure, tools, and improved data architectures, will be foundational. Others, like becoming a magnet for the best talent in data science, will differentiate Intel in the marketplace.

Task at Hand

Reflecting on the role of CIO, Deskus sees a clear evolution from her early years, when technology was used to drive productivity and reliability as well as reduce costs, to the present, where technology and data are disrupting businesses and industries to fuel growth and differentiation.

“Today, CIOs can be influential change agents driving innovation, differentiated customer experience, and new ways to work,” says the industry veteran, who has been CIO for global companies like HP, Timex, and Ingersoll Rand over her 33-year career.

Deskus has had opportunities for other roles but always gravitated to being a CIO. “I’ve been uncomfortable at times and have had to take risks to drive change, but I love the constant learning, solving complex problems, and the opportunities to drive change.”

Deskus sees the emergence of data as a transformational force in an era where an explosion of devices permeates all our interactions. Stores, hospitals, manufacturing plants, and even automobiles are becoming factories of data, making it the driver of a massive change. That data must be moved, stored, and processed faster and more securely than ever before. Intel is playing a pivotal role in unleashing the potential of data to unlock value for people, business, and society on a global scale.

Avoiding Data Chaos

If an organization wants to transform, its data architecture, operating model, compliance, and security must be integrated. An ideal way to bring them all together is a sound enterprise data strategy that articulates a vision for being data-centric, promotes a data-oriented culture, and creates “data as a service” to let employees easily access the quality data they need. Without such a strategy, Deskus believes IT organizations will be continually organizing “data chaos.”

“Due to the pandemic, technology has changed from a convenience to a necessity,” Deskus says. With that comes a greater demand for consumers to have personalized digital experiences that require smart, connected devices and advanced technologies, like AI and machine learning.

Intel, which views SAP as a strategic partner that brings capabilities for standardizing and integration so the company can make better and faster decisions, is leveraging AI to rigorously analyze and validate vast amounts of data.

Efficient data analysis provides insights that aid human judgment and help identify new markets, products, and product features. This process is critical to predicting and understanding rapidly changing market conditions as well as the new types of consumer dynamics and behaviors that are essential in today’s digital economy. For example, AI allows Intel to optimize pricing, demand, and supply for increased forecasting accuracy and greater revenue. This in turn leads to better customer experiences.

Moving Forward

The pandemic has not impacted Intel’s transformational journey, and the company remains committed to its plans. Top priorities during the pandemic have been to keep employees safe and run operations with minimal disruption to customers. When the pandemic hit, Intel suddenly had more than 100,000 employees working remotely, along with its contingent workers and ecosystem partners.

Intel’s IT team had to push beyond its comfort zone to respond rapidly, even if there were concerns and imperfect solutions, and work in phases toward more permanent solutions. Deskus’ main concern was to match the pandemic’s pace and focus on transformation at the same time.

Although Deskus had previously dealt with crises, such as being in the aerospace industry during 9/11 and in the oil and gas industry during one of the worst downturns, the global magnitude and speed of COVID-19 presented different challenges.

“One of the biggest challenges for anyone moving into a new role during the pandemic is that you don’t get to connect in person to build trust and confidence,” she says, adding that while a crisis can bring people together, it can also speed up the learning curve. “Even during the crisis, you have to move forward, so you make adjustments and adapt to new ways.”

Adapting is where Deskus excels. Often still finding herself the only woman in the room, she is committed to advancing women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and role modeling her journey to the C-suite.

Words of Advice

The uphill battle women face is real, and even more difficult for women of color, Deskus’ advice is to set yourself apart to be recognized. “You have to be willing to take risks, such as speaking up for yourself in a meeting or pushing for a promotion. You have to step out of your comfort zone,” she says, stressing that it is important to have the people around you — mentors, managers, or others you see as leaders — invest in your journey to help you achieve your goals.

“I’m very passionate about connecting young girls to STEM careers,” says the IT expert, who has been mentoring girls and women for years. “If we don’t generate interest and belief with girls that they can be as good in math and science as boys between grades four to six, we lose them. I encourage everyone to get involved in their communities to help connect girls with technology, math, and science.”

Deskus would like to see the next generation get excited about technology. “It’s one of the biggest drivers of change in our lifetime. The impact that technology has made in advancing the way we live, work, and play has been phenomenal and will continue.”

To Deskus, a career in technology can mean limitless potential to drive unprecedented change in every industry. She also points out that it is highly transferrable from different industries and businesses. Among the important skills to develop are being a lifelong learner and change agent, as well as a great communicator and collaborator, and having a deep understanding of your business.

Deskus concludes that technology innovations are constant and moving in faster cycles, so you have to take every opportunity to stay current and relevant. Not only do you have to learn and embrace new ways, but you often must be the driver of change — as she has been doing for more than three decades.

The Path Forward is a series featuring trailblazing women in leadership and their inspiring insights and experiences.

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