Podcast / CXO of the Future

Scott Buchholz, Chief Technology Officer, Government And Public Services, Deloitte Federal

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Which emerging technologies are most likely to disrupt businesses in the next few years? I tackled that question with Scott Buchholz, a leader and visionary with over 25 years of experience in technology innovation and transformation. Scott is the CTO for Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Government and Public Services (GPS) practice. He is also Deloitte’s Emerging Technologies Research Director and helps identify, research, and champion the technologies that are expected to have a significant impact on enterprise IT across industries and geographies. He sponsors Deloitte’s annual Tech Trends report, Deloitte’s flagship research publication, which identifies trends that are likely to disrupt businesses in the next 18 to 24 months.

Background

“I would say my career has generally been a random walk. I graduated from college with a degree in computer science and applied math, not quite sure what I wanted to do. I actually worked for myself for a year and then found a job working for a French startup that was not nearly as glorious or as exciting as it sounds. It was basically a nine to five job at an office. There were no stock options at the time. That was not the way things rolled. I did, though, get to spend five years being a developer and an architect working on case design tools and joined a product consulting organization. So I got to do product sales, as well as sales and delivery across Europe for a year.

I got married and my wife and I moved to San Francisco. I needed a job and Deloitte Consulting was hiring at the time. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was really excited about the idea of continuing to do consulting. Deloitte at the time was the smallest of the Big Eight audit firms who had consulting firms. Now Deloitte is the largest of the Big Four and it’s the largest professional services firm in the world. It’s been a fun ride, and I can say that being a technologist coming into a management consulting organization was a shock.

I’ve spent almost twenty-one years learning to adapt to that environment. I sometimes tell people consulting is a craft and technology is a craft. I’ve had the opportunity to learn two crafts in one lifetime. It’s been a privilege and sometimes a challenge. I started leading teams back in 2000. Y2K was done, but the dot com boom was just in the process of petering out. So it was a great time to come to the Bay Area! We had all the traffic and all the housing prices and a crashing economy. It was spectacular.

My wife and I eventually moved to the East Coast, and I joined our federal practice when it was 30 people. It’s probably around nine thousand strong today, over 18 years later. I’ve moved from technology to technology and have been the lead architect on major modernization programs at places like the IRS and the Census Bureau.

And then these days, among other things, I have the opportunity to lead our annual global technology research report. We try to look 18 to 24 months into the future at what enterprise IT challenges people are going to be having. We’ve done that now for 12 years and we think our reports are pretty special.

I also lead our quantum offering. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on with quantum computing and some of the related topics for our clients.”

Benefit of the Tech Trends report for CIOs

“Deloitte’s Tech Trends Report is a great resource for CIOs. There are a number of trends going on right now that represent the opportunities for CIOs to engage with their peers. Most CIOs and IT organizations have earned the right over the past year to actually go engage in those conversations in ways they didn’t 12 and a half months ago. The COVID crisis caused many organizations to take a new look at IT and say, ‘Hey, those guys and gals actually got something done in record time. We didn’t know that they could.’ I believe that many CIOs have earned the victory, but then not taken advantage of the goodwill that the crisis generated to then figure out: ‘OK, where do we go from here?’

Some of the folks we talked to told us that they’d compressed plans intended to take years into the space of weeks. What are the other things that we’ve been collectively holding ourselves back for? Many of these CIOs had years’ long plans because the rest of the organization wasn’t ready to embrace it. The moment they were forced to, suddenly everybody was able to go a lot faster. There’s a lot to be learned from this. The crisis has driven people to rethink how much they can do and how fast they can do it.

A decade a ago, the question that CIOs were asking was, ‘How many system administrators should I have per server or how many servers should I have per system administrator?’ The industry standard was one or two hundred. Then the cloud providers came along and they said ‘This is not a finger- on-keyboard problem. This is not a manual exercise problem. This is an automation problem. And it needs a handful of engineers, not an army of administrators, punching keys.’

The transformation we’ve seen in that regard has been amazing. But as you look inside most IT organizations, it’s still an army of people punching keys even when they’ve moved to the cloud.

There is a huge opportunity to rethink the back office of IT to make it more engineering, and more automation focused, and less reactive. Just think of what you could do if you could repurpose all of that funding to do other things.”

Advice for modern CIOs

“I would probably ask CIOs if they are spending enough time working with their peers. There is a certain amount of time that you have to spend down and in, and there’s a certain amount of time you have to spend up and out. And IT, by its nature, tends to be very ‘down and in’ focused because there is so much mechanical detail to be managed. Some of the most successful CIOs have come into roles–where their predecessors were largely down and in, and where IT was viewed as the cost center of the organization–and have completely turned around the organization’s view on what it means to be an IT leader and what the value of technology is. And it’s been a journey, right? However, I think that there is more potential there than people realize.

The leaders in Fortune 50 organizations have not grown up around technology in the same way that, for example, my teenage children have. Those of us who have grown up in and around IT forget the degree to which that might not be an obvious thing to other people. We need to figure out how to, in an emotionally sensitive way, help our peers understand ‘What is the art of the possible?’ How can you know what a good use of AI is if your depth of knowledge is based on airplane magazine articles? Many leaders realize that there is still a huge opportunity to educate those peers.”

The Role of Curiosity in Innovation

“It is tragic how many adults lose the curiosity that they had as children. And if you think about innovation, a lot of innovation is just maintaining some level of curiosity about the world around us. I’m eternally curious about how Deloitte works because I am allergic to unnecessary work. And what I’ve found over the years is if I can find the right place to stand with the right lever, it’s a lot less work than if I go pound on a door for a long time. It’s important to balance curiosity with a culture of ‘getting stuff done.’

Leadership is the art of making sure that you’re doing enough of each on both sides to make sure that things are continuing along. You don’t want to wake up one morning and discover that you’ve done a great job of cutting down the wrong forest.

Organizations are complex adaptive systems. The balance of curiosity and getting stuff done is something that’s constantly changing and evolving. It’s really a lot like surfing where the waves are constantly changing and you’re trying to change with them. And maybe you spend most of your time in the water, because if you’re like me, you spend the lesson falling off the board as opposed to staying on it. But that’s OK, because the exercise is not necessarily being perfect. It’s moving forward in the right direction.

Today’s Top Trends

“ML Ops and Machine Data Revolution is actually a good pair.

At the end of the day, if you take a number of steps way back, one of my colleagues, Paul Phillips, likes to say, ‘It’s all about figuring out what is the fully loaded cost to make a decision.’

And if you’re somewhere in the organization and you can calculate the fully loaded cost to make a decision, whether it’s a human, a machine, or both, you can actually start asking, ‘What would it cost to automate this?’ And knowing that Moore’s Law continues to drive down the cost of machine learning and AI-based decisions over time, there’s a set of things that start to become really interesting when you look at that dynamic.

There’s a really compelling set of stuff at the heart of thinking about how to do automation. Most organizations have spent a number of years maturing development to production for code and DevOps and Agile and pipelines. There’s a similar set of exercises you can do for machine learning that makes your AI models become repeatable, predictable, manageable, and automatable. And that’s a really interesting trend because you need that for the maturity of the journey. And then you need to go help your business understand how to ask better questions. In A.I., we’re moving towards much more probabilistic and stochastic models, where they’re much more human. I’ve heard stories about clients who would do prototypes and find that they could build a model that was as good or better than their best employee, but not perfect. And the business leaders said, oh, we can’t implement that. It’s not perfect. How can we possibly put something into production that’s not perfect?

The imperfection that we have normalized for manual behavior or manual outcome has to be imparted into this risk tolerance for ML Ops. As computers start to become more human, we can’t hold them to being calculators and expect that the results are going to make sense. And there’s a ton of bad behavior that comes from that particular human tendency.”

Advice for Startups

“The challenge for a lot of startups is there is a mismatch between the rate at which a startup works and the rate at which a large organization works. The amount of time I spend with our lawyers in order to work with a startup vastly exceeds most startups’ tolerance for that paperwork. At Deloitte, we have a number of initiatives to try to make it easier including a group whose sole purpose is identifying startups and helping connect them with our clients.

Startups also need to recognize that large businesses are not likely to be the sales channel for next quarter. They may be your sales channel or your pipeline for a year out. Be willing to go on the journey recognizing that there are investments to make along the way.

Find the right person in any organization, large or small. The right person can not only help you understand how best to work with their organization, but in many cases can tell you, ‘Here are my five friends and other organizations whom you might want to talk to as well.’

I spend my time now in a very networked organization. Deloitte is all about the network and I wouldn’t be able to get anything done if I didn’t know a couple hundred people who are really good at what they do in different areas. And I think if you find the networkers within organizations, who may not always be future clients, but can at least future cheerleaders, that’s an important step in the right direction.”

Takeaways

  1. One of my favorite sayings is ‘Education is what you get when you are expecting something else.’ I have found that I have had many, many opportunities for education over the course of my life and career. And I try to look at them that way because I find I can smile a little bit more when I am doing things in that light.
  2. Consulting is about influencing others. A decent portion of my job is actually helping people do the things that they know they need to be doing, whether they’re people who are working with me, or clients with whom I’m working. Questions are a fabulous way to help people get there, although I know some of the people who work with me want to strangle me when they ask me a question and I give them one in return.
  3. There’s always a new shiny object. But as Steve Jobs said, ‘Everything you see was invented by somebody not smarter than you are.’ When we look at new and shiny things, we have this impression that they were somehow developed by people who were fundamentally different from you and I. But all of them are incremental changes to things we already know. And if you think about emerging technology that way, then the real question needs to become ‘What is it I need to be doing today, knowing and being able to predict what’s likely to come tomorrow? How do I navigate thoughtfully from here to there? And how do I actually have some fun while doing it?’

About Scott

A leader and visionary with over 25 years of experience in technology innovation and implementation, Scott’s focus is helping clients transform the way they deliver their missions and businesses through

technology. He has deep experience in architecture and has led many complex technology-enabled business transformations across multiple domains.

In his role as CTO for Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Government and Public Services (GPS) practice, he advises government organizations on technology innovation, trends and transformations. He also leads the GPS CIO Program, supporting current and future IT executives by providing advice and insights on how to evolve their organizations to improve performance, effectiveness and efficiency.

As the Emerging Technologies Research Director, Scott helps identify, research, and champion the technologies that are expected to have a significant impact on enterprise IT across industries and geographies. He sponsors Deloitte’s annual Tech Trends report, Deloitte’s flagship research publication, which identifies trends that are likely to disrupt businesses in the next 18 to 24 months.

Scott earned undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and Applied Math from Northwestern University.

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