AGENDA16: Going beyond digital transformation to building a digital business

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IT and Business Alignment

Last year, AGENDA15, the inaugural event for digital, IT and business leaders produced by CIO and ComputerWorld, sought to define and set a direction for digital transformation. In 2016, AGENDA promises to showcase how far we've come in building the digital business of the future. We caught up with Adam Dennison, senior vice president/publisher for IDG Enterprise, to find out what's in store for CIOs at AGENDA16, taking place March 21-23, in Amelia Island, Florida.

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Can you tell us a little bit about how AGENDA came to be? What was the driving factor behind creating the event?

Dennison: The landscape of national C-level events within the IT space has morphed over the years. It used to be quite crowded. We did four or five here at IDG at one point. But the market changed. Things got more regional; budgets got fractured. It became more difficult to do national events, and travel costs became prohibitive, as well.

About a year and a half ago, we looked at our entire portfolio of products and services at IDG, and that's when we scaled down to two national events: The CIO 100, our event focused on innovation in the CIO space, and the Premier 100. The Premier 100 was always regarded as a very prestigious award, focused on individuals' achievements, but what the event lacked was an ongoing theme. At that point we decided that we needed to up-level the event and make it more business focused.

TEP: Why did you decide to call it AGENDA?

Dennison: If you think about any organization that you’re at, when you’re heading into your new fiscal year, the CEO always says, “Okay, these are the top priorities on our agenda for the year.” That term – agenda – is strong, it's broad, and it has staying power. So, each year under the broad theme of the agenda-setting priorities for IT leaders, we'll pick a narrower focus that is more timely for the year. Last year, AGENDA15 was focused on digital transformation. It was a topic that almost every single vendor had a play in, in some way, shape or form, and we wanted our event to center around defining digital transformation.

This year, AGENDA16 will focus on building the digital business, because right now, we believe, digital is being thrown around an awful lot. We need to advance the story and make it more of an enterprise play, because that’s at the core of what we care about and what we have been serving for years here.

That’s really the nature of the title change, but we didn’t stray too far from the Premier 100 roots. We still have the individual awards, and we also introduced the Digital Edge 25, which is an organization award. This year will be our second go-around with the event, and we think it’s going to be just as successful as the first.

TEP: Why should CIOs attend?

Dennison: We always survey our attendees after our events, and time and time again their number one reason for attending is networking. When CIOs and business leaders sign up to spend two and a half days away from their desks and day-to-day responsibilities, they need to know that they'll have ample opportunities to interact, exchange ideas, and challenge their peers. And it’s not just CIOs who attend. We have a 15-20 percent line of business executives who attend the event, as well.

The other major draw is the learning and doing experience at the event; it’s not just sitting in a general session being lectured at. We do, absolutely, have main stage presentations that are 30-45 minute, lecture-style sessions. But a big portion of what we do at these events is a combination of workshops, roundtables and other discussion-based sessions in which we challenge folks to come up with solutions to real problems, and then take those learnings back to their organizations.

It’s not just pie in the sky, ethereal types of things that we are covering. It’s, “What can we do now — or, the next 30, 60, 90 days — to get something kick-started within our organization?” It's, “Let's make a checklist that we can take back to our own enterprises and say, ‘Okay, this what I just learned over the past couple of days and this is how I want to start to implement this within my own organization.’” It's really focused on how people can start thinking differently, and start doing things differently, immediately.

TEP: Given that the event evolves each year, what would you say is going to be the biggest difference between the CIO who attended in 2015 and the CIO who attends AGENDA this year?

Dennison: The CIO of 2015 was trying to define digital transformation. Now, the definition can vary from person to person, enterprise to enterprise, and organization to organization. But by and large, the CIO of 2016 will be looking to move the ball forward and execute on their vision. That's why we'll be focusing more on what enterprises have actually done so that attendees can learn from their peers.

And it’s not going to be huge things, right? Everyone likes to talk about Uber and Airbnb and Instacart and all these disruptive companies, but that’s not a reality for 98 percent of the workforce in America. We work at big companies with a lot of legacy, a lot going on, a lot of staff. People have a variety of issues standing in the way of their digital transformations. They’re trying to work through millennials; trying to get people to embrace new technologies; they’ve got budget cuts. The CIO of 2016 doesn't care as much about what Uber is doing. They want to know, “What is JetBlue doing? What is State Street doing? What is Amgen doing? What are these and other large organizations doing to change the way that they think and change the way they work? And what can we learn from that?”

At AGENDA16 we want to shine a spotlight on the next 25 digital edge leaders and say, “Okay, what were you able to do in the last 12 to 15 months to make a change and make a difference within your organization?” And really start to learn from that, as opposed to just talking about digital transformation on a very, very high level.

The theme for this year’s AGENDA16 conference is “Building the Digital Business.” The event runs from March 21-23 in Amelia Island, Florida. For more information, or to register:

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.