Forward Focused Episode 6: Antonio Grasso

Evan Kohn: Welcome back to Forward Focused brought to you by Pypestream Digital Labs, a thought series on customer experience, artificial intelligence, and enterprise automation, I’m Evan Kohn from Pypestream and I’m talking with Antonio Grasso. Antonio is CEO of Digital Business Innovation. He’s a speaker and author on topics including AI, cyber security, IoT, and blockchain. Antonio, great to have you with us.

Antonio Grasso: Thank you, it’s my pleasure, Evan. Very happy to talk with you and with our audience about these topics. Really, thank you.

EK: Pleasure. Well, Antonio, we often hear about the pace of data creation, for example, that 90% of the data in the world today was created in just the last two years. So, you cover a lot around digital transformation and adoption of digital technologies, do you see this amount of data growth correlating with our pace of innovation?

AG: Yes, I think it’s strictly related to the digital diffusion. We are living in a fascinating time where diffusion of digital technology are really pervading our lives, our business, and institutions. So, you mention that we create data normally only when working, with a smartphone for example, or, you know, talking to each other, because we like to connect with each other. And then I remember thirty years ago when I was starting my career, data was just alpha numeric data, just something you can store in a database, but now data is an asset, it’s becoming an asset of companies because above data you can use tools, technology, to extract insight, extract decisions, and also, data is generating from objects. We use Internet of Things, we use our smartphone, and now we have smart TV, we have introduced devices in automation, so, everything is generating data. This is why we need, also, to watch data with the different point of view, not only with alpha numeric elements like I did in my past, we need to watch data, to focus on data, with a new point of view. We need data governance, we need quality of data, because data is feeding many decisions in the business. So, definitely yes, and it will be worse in the future worse to mean we create many data in the next year to come. 

This is pushing the adoption of different technology. Age of computing is watching data, checking data collect data without sending to the cloud, but on the edge, close to the devices where data is generated, is a new technology. We don’t need to send data to the cloud just for analytics, we can do analytics on the edge, close to the device. And I think in the future we can see more data but we can see specialized data, we don’t need to fear that data growth means traffic jams in the internet cables, for example. No, it’s not because data will be ever more generated and operated, also consumed on the edge. I think this is the future, but to respond to your question, yes, indeed, the pace of data creation is strictly related to the digital diffusion. 

EK: And you’d written about culture change, Antonio, as a significant hurdle in digital transformation. Take someone who’s working at a large global enterprise today and they see what’s happening with Robinhood, with Lemonade, with Netflix, really changing these industries, insurance, financial services, telecom. What can someone like that do from the inside of a company about that cultural shift that’s really needed to advance innovations?

AG: Yes, you’re talking about Lemonade, Netflix, Robinhood, they’re someone we call disruptors. They’re disrupting innovation, changing the way companies play that game, for example Netflix about that media content or insurance or telecommunications, for example. But this is normal, this is normal because many think that digital transformation is related only to technology, no, that is digitalization. When you talk about digitalization, yes, digitalization is related mainly to technology. Digital transformation is not only digitalization because digitalization is when you have a product and it becomes digital, like the music industry, the mp3, the invention of the mp3 disrupted the music industry. And then digitalization because when a company harnessed a product that changing the business model and go online like the Apple Store, for example, in the music you have digitalization, but digital transformation is a big shift it’s a system level restructuring of our society, our economy, and our institutions. So, you can not place this big shift only with technology, technology is an enabler, yes, you can do but you need also to think about who you are, where your market it going, where your consumers are going, how the consumer habits will change related to your service and your product. Then there is strategy, strategies made by people, people are human, humans need a culture to handle, to face this shift, in my view, Evan. 

EK: And Antonio, you advise many startups, you also work with some of the largest companies in the world like Siemens, you also work with Ericsson. How can large companies embrace a startup mentality, in what areas of business do you think that mentality could really benefit a large corporation and when might it not best serve the company’s mission?

AG: Hm, good question Evan. At first, I want to respond no they cannot. Large companies they cannot use a startup mentality, you know, they cannot embrace that kind of a mentality, because when you talk about a large brand like Siemens, Cisco, or Ericsson, they are not one company, they are many companies. They are many companies in a single container that we call company but really the process is slow because, you know, you need governance, you need guidelines. Why need the startup mentality, I think the best advantage to run a startup is you can change your idea about the way you’re offering, the product, the service, so decisions are very fast in a startup. And this is why I think a large company cannot embrace a startup mentality because they are huge, they can only embrace people, in a large company they can only embrace the passion you can put in a startup when you are starting your business journey. But I don’t think a large company can think like a startup because startups are flexible, are rapid, if you think about administrative or financial process, for example, in a startup you can call directly the founder. In a huge company it’s a mess, many areas, many directions, many managers so I think they are different, they need to face in a different way the transformation, the digitalization and also the company mission. This is my personal opinion based on everyday working with the larger companies and working with little startups, they are very, very different.

EK: And earlier we were discussing the growth of data, certainly a hot topic in many board rooms, many C-suites is the management of personal information and data privacy. There’s this notion among many solution providers out there they’re the most secure and that security is a competitive advantage but isn’t cyber security a table stakes component of any solution? What are your thoughts there Antonio?

AG: Yes, definitely. I think cyber security is something you need to watch every time you’re talking about data or technology. But cyber security, sadly as in digital automation, is not all related to technology. If we can do an analogy for example, you can watch security on the road. Security on the road is not only related to the driver, it’s not only related to the car but it’s also related to infrastructure, regulation, and other things. So, I think also in cyber security no one can say this device or this software is 100% secure, no one with this technology we are using now, you cannot say that something is 100% secure. It can be more secure than one other, can be secured by design, it can be secure in one environment and not in one other environment. You depend mostly on a realistic vision about what cyber security is, cyber security needs to be addressed and also, starting from people, from technology, from process, it’s not only related to technology, like in security on the road is not only related to the driver or to the car, that is the technology, also infrastructure. In the case of cyber security, I think large companies and institutions are really driving from thinking to producing products that are secure by design. Design it with security in mind, this is my view.

EK: And you spend a lot of time talking about and writing about how digital technologies, digitalization can be a force for good in developing nations. Can you talk about a particular initiative you’re excited about?

AG: Yes, thank you for this question because I’m really committed on that because I think that my Facebook page and my Instagram page, where I can post everyday, one post about startups, about digital marketing, about new business motivation, and that page is related to people in developing countries, Africa, Asia. I think that with this technology, with this level of technology diffusion, we can not say ‘I’m here I cannot do anything for you, I’m sorry, we are so far’, no, you cannot do this, you cannot say that because technology can enable you to do something. It can be a little post, it can be a message, it can be words, it can be something, just a little piece of you that can reach other people. Technology can be a driver to let us become better people. I really think that we can do better also for other people but simply staying with that, this is a way to stay with that because I cannot send you money but I can send you a post a day about startups or I can share with you something. So as technology is changing the way we live, the way we stay at the restaurant, you know, taking, shooting photos of meals, then posting on social media, this is a good thing because I think it’s good, but as we change in that way, when we go to the restaurant we can change ourselves and help other people. I think digital technology can enable us to become better people.

EK: And you focus a lot on the public sector as well, when it comes to diffusion of innovation where you have a percent of early adopters and a large proportion near the so-called breaking point of adoption and then, of course, a percent of laggards. In many societies we do not see the public sector in that early adopter category, do you think it should be? Where is public sector adoption of innovations working, in your eyes, where isn’t it?

AG: I think, Evan, you need to watch on using a double side. One side is the institution with the efficient, effective process, fast process so institution, public sector, can become more efficient using, for example, automation of internal process, you know, doing the service, doing the service that they need to do. But also public sector, especially institutions, the centers of government, they also know the role, the role to address, the role to regulate, the role to manage, how the technology is impacting society and people that live in that country or in that city or in that area. So, I think the public sector has the same difficulty as a large enterprise, adoption is low because the processes are not, the process automation is not in a percentage of it. So I think they need to do more also about becoming more effective themselves, they need also to orchestrate an ecosystem to let the diffusion and development of technology to become a better society, better economy, business, that work better, more effective, more revenue, more jobs, the public sector has a double role, this is my view.

EK: Antonio Grasso, thank you so much for joining us, where can our listeners find you? 

AG: I want to say that if you want to follow me I have my Twitter channel, also Facebook page, Instagram channel, Linkedin. I also have my company website, www.dbi.sri if you want to take a look to my company. It’s a startup, it’s not a big company, it’s a startup that I’m growing from three years ago. Sorry that my English, sometimes I was stuck because, you know, it’s so hard to express yourself when you’re not talking in your natural language. But I really want to say thank you, Evan, for this opportunity.

EK: Much appreciated again Antonio. And I’ll say your English is far, far better than my Italian, so, but listeners, thank you for tuning in today, you can access more Pypestream Digital Labs content at pypestream.com/insights. We hope you join us for the next Forward Focused podcast.

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