Our co-founder Andy Fitze gave an interview to “Netzwoche” magazine about the Swiss IT Leadership Forum, digitalization, ICT management and much more. Here you can find the English version of the original article.
Copyright: netzwoche.ch – Where democracy stands in the way of digitalisation – Interview with Andy Fitze
The Swiss IT Leadership Forum association, to which around 70 senior ICT executives from the largest Swiss companies belong, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Reason enough to look behind the scenes of this CIO club, which otherwise hardly appears in public.
An interview with President Andy Fitze.
The Swiss IT Leadership Forum is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. What does this anniversary mean for the association?
Andy Fitze: I am not surprised that we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Swiss IT Leadership Forum this year. The peer-to-peer exchange between leaders of corporate IT organisations is an obvious need and more important than ever. CIOs today are challenged in multiple ways; this is true not only for individuals but universally for everyone. The challenges are technological, financial and organisational. IT is also challenged in multiple ways by the demands of business on IT, New Work, the way modern organizations collaborate digitally networked in teams from anywhere. Particularly in terms of cyber security, but also in terms of leadership, this results in new requirements.
How do you see the role of senior ICT management today and in the future?
CIOs are responsible for a large block of operating costs within the framework of business applications and ICT infrastructure, and they have a considerable say in the procurement of capital goods. In other words, they are both composers and conductors of an orchestra consisting of people, roles, business units, processes, data, information, software and hardware. At the Swiss IT Leadership Forum, we bring these parties together in a kind of IT think tank to discuss burning issues and to be inspired by the mutual exchange and our speakers. Normally, we avoid the general public with the Swiss IT Leadership Forum and generally keep to ourselves at our events. On the occasion of our 25th anniversary, we are making an exception and would like to provide insight.
What is the atmosphere like at such a forum event?
The programme is not a secret and is always open to the public. This year, the head of the armed forces, Corps Commander Thomas Süssli, opened the forum on the current geopolitical situation. The second day of the event was devoted to the topic of cybersecurity, which was discussed by Mr. Cyber, Florian Schütz, among others. In addition to practical reports from science, business and politics, the event always focuses on experiences and trends regarding the strategic positioning and design of ICT functions. In addition, a company provided information on how it experienced and survived a cyberattack. On the third day, we were inspired by presentations on the role of CIOs. You also asked about the atmosphere. I always find the events very inspiring. They give us executives the opportunity for an intensive exchange of ideas, which we hardly ever get the chance to do in our daily work. Thanks to our network, which we also cultivate during the year, we often find valuable suggestions for solving crucial problems. The trusting exchange “off the record”, “off the business”, “off any supplier” is the core of the forum, which is organised as an association, where the CIOs of the largest IT user companies in Switzerland, as well as public administrations, come together.
The composition of the SILF membership – consisting of the CIOs of the largest Swiss companies – is top-class. What are the main issues currently occupying your members?
The board, made up exclusively of CIOs, sets the agenda. We always stay on top of relevant topics, such as AI and quantum computing, agile organisational structures, and operational topics, such as cybersecurity.
In your view, what are the main unsolved challenges in Switzerland in terms of digitalisation?
Unfortunately, there are many! From a bird’s-eye view, we are not as well off compared to the rest of the world as we would like to be and as we often tell ourselves. I notice a certain complacency, and, to be honest, I don’t know where it comes from. When I think about how long we have been tinkering with the E-ID or the electronic patient dossier, something like desperate anger rises in me. And there are other topics that we are also oversleeping or that are being obstructed in this country, some of which I would like to mention here without claiming to be exhaustive: 5G, digitalisation of public administration – and no, PDFs have nothing to do with digitalisation -, autonomous industrial manufacturing, vertical farming, autonomous freight transport.
Furthermore, I don’t understand why non-professionals are still teaching computer science at schools in primary education. German teachers have to study German or at least speak it in order to be allowed to teach German. In addition, I don’t think the further development of occupational profiles in the digital direction is happening fast enough. Why, for example, are we still training commercial clerks in an commercial apprenticeship instead of “office automation technicians”? Moreover, it bothers me that experts from the fields of jurisprudence and economics are much more common on boards of directors than professions from the natural sciences, engineering or computer sciences, such as computer scientists or digitalisation experts. I also miss playing fields or sandboxed environments where it is possible to try out new technologies in realistic environments. I’m thinking of a motorway section for autonomous trucks, dedicated airspace for drones and for autonomous aircraft, and so on.
You mention many essential fields of action here, but not the shortage of skilled workers.
What role does it play, and in which areas is it particularly acute?
Shortage of skilled workers? There wouldn’t be one if we used digitalisation correctly. Unfortunately, large parts of the population and many managers still believe that digitisation is primarily about rationalisation and cost reduction. But that is a misconception. If we understand digitalisation as a tool, just as the industrial pioneers used to see the steam engine as a tool to multiply human labour, then we are talking about something completely different. I’ll make an example: imagine crane operators on a construction site at the Prime Tower. There are five construction cranes on the site, each of which has to be operated by one crane operator. None of these crane operators is working to capacity during their working day. Long waiting times alone in a cubicle 30 or more metres above ground until the next crane pull is due are the norm. Imagine further,that a crane operator “augmented” by artificial intelligence and additional data could already today safely and efficiently operate five construction cranes simultaneously from home office – yes, from home office. Immediately, the shortage of crane operators on construction sites would be solved. Digitalisation makes it possible to provide experts with smart andfast decision-making tools so they can make their real and very creative skills available in multiple scenarios, scaling them so to speak, in a way that would not be possible without “augmentation”. This also makes it evident,that we can use digitalisation primarily to expand our valuable expertise gained through education and professional experience. I would like us to finally stop being afraid of digitalisation and learn to understand how we can use it to our benefit instead of fearing that machines could replace us.
In your opinion, what are the prospects for Switzerland to remain an innovation leader in the future?
Our problem in Switzerland is that we lack globally thinking visionaries. In this country, many believe that we can achieve digital innovation through democratic processes. The EPD and E-ID, as well as the 5G turmoil, are examples that show that this is not the case. Real innovation is not the result of an evolutionary, tough decision-making process with as many stakeholders as possible. Ideas that unfolded their disruptive power always came and still come from visionaries. Their names include Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Guillaume-Henri Dufour, Henri Nestlé, Alfred Escher, Adolf Ogi and Nicolas G. Hayek. Often, their ideas were only democratically legitimised afterwards. I wish that we would raise our young generation to be global masterminds, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and when they make it, burst with pride and celebrate them.But that’s just not very Swiss.
If you had one wish that would actually come true, what would it be?
Anyone with assets of more than 673,962 francs should invest 20,000 of them in a start-up.
Andy Fitze is president of the Swiss IT Leadership Forum, which is organised as an association and whose 70 or so members are all ICT executives from the largest companies in Switzerland. Andy Fitze is also co-founder of Swiss Cognitive – World-Leading AI Network together with Dalith Steiger. Fitze is considered a top global AI advisor, strategist and influencer.
Passionate about smart technology, he advises board-level executives worldwide on digital transformation and delivers keynote speeches on every continent as a “Digital Prophet”.
Andy holds an engineering degree in Electrical, Instrumentation and Control (IoT) and an Executive MBA from the University of St. Gallen. He was also awarded the Swiss CIO Award as the best IT manager in Switzerland in 2015. He is also a member of various boards of directors.
He teaches at ETH Zürich and various universities of applied sciences. During his 25-year career in international companies, he held different management positions as CIO and member of the Executive Board. He is also a sailing instructor on the seven seas, but mainly in the high latitudes – sailing is his great passion and provides him with a good balance for head and soul. (Source: SwissCognitive)