IBM was one of the first companies to help shape the parameters of the IT department and has had a front row seat to watch the role change throughout her 22-year career with the company. Prior to becoming CIO, Guarini was COO of the IBM Research Division, which gave her experience working with emerging technology and other innovations coming from IBM.

The first CIO roles emerged in the 1950s. IBM was advocating on behalf of their clients to elevate the role that IT leaders would play in enterprises, and it was just beginning to be clear that technology would be a differentiating factor for us.

CIOs have been elevated. From their early days as IT operations managers, CIOs have evolved to hold a firm place in the C-suite where they now are, sitting at the table and influencing decisions, whether that be the investment or the strategic decisions, and reacting to those decisions by putting the right investments and priorities in

With a background working with some of the biggest IBM innovations, Guarini occupies a unique space at the intersection of technology and business. Like most CIOs, Guarini has a strong focus on emerging technologies, sustainable practices and employee experience. She is also tasked with identifying what technologies make the most sense for IBM and its CIO clients.

The evolving CIO role

In the past decade, IT has moved from back-office function to a vital department key to the success of nearly every business. CIOs must make sure the technology agenda is driving the most meaningful impact to the business as a strategic business partner. Today CIOs must make sure the tools in place are effective and don’t stand in the way of employees getting their jobs done in order to have a firm grasp on business priorities and how to lead IT to achieve them.

We try to bring technology to improve the overall outcomes that we’re trying to achieve, and if we can stay focused on that user experience it usually points us in the right direction on those things that matter most

The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how vital IT is to employee experience. Whether they were prepared to or not, organizations around the globe had to shift to remote work overnight. The pivot to remote work was seamless at IBM. The company was operating in a largely hybrid model with flexible workplace best practices.

Even with a mostly seamless transition, there were still additional requirements that the IT department had to contend with. IBM IT had to evaluate how to support current remote employees with networking solutions, how to manage workflows that used to take place in person with product development and incident response, and other “interesting new challenges, both technical and process” that had to be dealt with.

Bridging the client/vendor divide

One of the key responsibilities of CIOs is to help organizations figure out where to make the right investments to drive the innovation agenda, and that is one of the things that Guarini is uniquely positioned to understand.

Guarini is the CIO of IBM, but she is also the IBM client.

I use the same technology that IBM uses for our clients. I want to be ahead of where our clients are. I want to be an early adopter of that technology, help to make it better, demonstrate how it can scale, and meet the challenges of a large-scale complex enterprise like IBM. She says it will work for our clients if it can work for IBM.

Being able to sift through the noise and identify technology that will be valuable to the organization is the key to prioritization emerging technology. The CIO uses her experience in IBM’s research arm to evaluate trends to identify technology that will impact business

She believes that automation and artificial intelligence offer much promise. We are beginning to see the benefits and realize that promise. We need to think about how to marry technology with the business process in order to really drive something that is of value.

IBM has used automation software to improve reliability, efficiency, and scale, while also cutting down on human interactions with IT systems The company has embraced IBM robotic process automation across several business areas, including management, finance, compliance, and procurement, ultimately reducing manual labor by 234,000 hours and reducing the risks that can come from human error. To automate invoice processing, to link system identities, to verify access requests, to notify managers for approval, and to spot potential conflicts with assigned duties across different users have all been done with the use of RPA.

HR employees can use IBM’s bot to manage tasks such as job changes and department transfers. IT support, answer simple questions, manage customer feedback, and manage invoicing are some of the things that are being done with the help of a bot. The company has integrated artificial intelligence into its pricing process to eliminate bias. IBM has seen a 26% reduction in the time it takes for customer support cases to be resolved.

Adopting emerging technologies at IBM

The IBM Research Division has around 3,000 technical scientists and engineers who help shape the future of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, quantum computing, and hybrid cloud. When vetting emerging technology as an enterprise IT provider, it’s more important than ever because no matter how promising a technology may be, there are several hurdles to clear before it can be adopted and deployed at scale.

Sometimes the complexity of deployment of technology becomes more challenging than we anticipated in a design dreaming session, because we have ideas of what technology should do. When we begin to deploy it as an early adopter, a sponsor user, or an anchor client, we can figure out what it will take to make this work in practice. She says it is really powerful.

She believes her research background makes her more likely to partner with IBM’s R&D functions, to leverage emerging technologies at scale, and to question how we can drive innovation into our agenda. She finds herself in a unique position to be able to verify enterprise IT use cases, while also ensuring that the IT department is an early adopter of IBM’s own innovations, which can help make the company’s solutions even better.

Sharing real-life use-case of IBM technology in action at scale helps “demonstrate what’s possible, brings credibility to our offerings, and builds confidence with our clients and partners.”

I have been able to bring a new perspective to the company because of my experience in the rest of the company. The challenge of meeting the unique needs of our large, complex enterprise means that not all innovations are ready for large scale production deployment. That is ok. She says that it has been useful to experiment with emerging technologies and determine what is suitable for our needs.