Meet the Agents of Transformation - The Emirates Group

Arnaud van Rietschoten, Vice President IT Service Management and Digital Workplace, The Emirates Group

Arnaud has spent his whole working career in IT operations, working across multiple industries including telecoms, finance and most recently in aviation. His passion for driving change has not only given him immense personal satisfaction, but has also contributed significant success to the companies he has worked for. Outside of technology, Arnaud is a keen magician and performs in Dubai on a regular basis.

Are you excited or concerned about the rapid rate of technology advancement? Do you see this as an opportunity for technologists?

Things have changed so much in the last decade that we cannot even begin to imagine what the next ten years will bring. As a technologist, if you’re not excited by this incredible pace of change, you’re probably in the wrong job!

We used to have a saying that IT has automated businesses, but forgotten to automate itself! Now, with the emergence of concepts like AIOps, and technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, the potential for areas such as service management and IT operations is huge. Concepts like NoOps will be a very real scenario in the future, which will free up skilled technologists to work on new innovations.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned over your career and on the path to becoming an Agent of Transformation?

Never accept the status quo. People tend to think of digital transformation as this huge, monumental task but transformation and innovation can – and should – happen at a much smaller scale.

In the early days, I was in a very labour intensive and boring role. I knew there was a more efficient way to get the job done, so I decided to write a programme to automate the process. It was my own initiative – no-one asked me to do it. I believe if you go above and beyond your day job, and push yourself to be a driver of change, that your efforts will be rewarded throughout your career.

Have you had a mentor on your journey to becoming an Agent of Transformation? How did he or she help you most?

In the 90s, I worked for a telco start-up that was looking to disrupt the market and challenge the national carriers who dominated the sector. I was thrown into the deep end by my manager. He gave me the space to imagine – and then build – what I believed was right for the business. It was a huge opportunity, and to have someone believe in you, and trust you to that extent, was really empowering.

How important is big picture thinking for Agents of Transformation? How do you turn a big idea into an actionable plan?

Most technologists unfortunately only get to spend a small percentage of their time focusing on the big picture stuff; the rest of their time is spent on day to day tasks and keeping the lights on. For me it’s essential that you also apply your transformational thinking to the small tasks. Whilst they might not seem as important at the time, each of these small innovations will culminate in meeting the company’s digital transformation goals.

What are the organizational qualities that are essential to enabling and supporting Agents of Transformation?

Trust in leadership is absolutely critical. It is a two-way street. The team needs to have complete trust in me, believe in my vision of where we are headed and how we are going to get there. At the same time, I need to have full trust in every individual in the team to help us in this journey.

Only then do we have a foundation for success where every individual in the team will have a chance to shine and grow in the process. Of course, the bigger the team, the more challenging this can be, but I truly believe it’s important to build a relationship with every member of staff, to get under the skin of everything that is going on, and to understand the challenges they face in being able to contribute to the change process. During this time, it helps to display your own technical capabilities and have technical empathy for the technical challenges the team is facing.

What should technologists that are aspiring to become Agents of Transformation be looking for in their current role or next role?

Technologists need to make a conscious decision about whether they want to be Agents of Transformation, because it’s not for everyone. If you do decide it’s the path you want to go down, then first find a role in a company that has digital transformation at the core of its strategy, where you can work alongside smart people who you can learn from. 

Second, you need to continuously develop domain expertise and maintain depth and breadth of IT knowledge. Look at what’s happening in the wider industry and share case studies and success stories with others. Broaden your network and look to different sectors to see how technologists are transforming the businesses they work for. Consider what you can learn from them, and how you can implement something similar in your organization to drive real value.

Has AppDynamics helped you to drive innovation in your business?

At the Emirates Group, we have many applications and a complex environment, so a small team of dedicated AppDynamics specialists just wasn’t going to work for us – they wouldn’t be able to scale to deliver the innovation we need. We took a very deliberate decision to roll out the solution across the whole IT engineering team, training each of them, and creating a large population of AppDynamics experts.

We introduced the AppDynamics Award of the Month, a competition where teams from within the Emirates Group demonstrate new ideas and innovations, and showcase their impact on the business via Business iQ dashboards. It’s a fun way to drive adoption and aligns with the Emirates Group’s internal culture of innovation.

What advice would you give to a technologist that is about to roll out AppDynamics?

Adoption starts with you! Business iQ makes it so easy to create your own dashboards, giving you access to a level of real time insight into your business that is immensely powerful. On a regular basis, I identify issues or opportunities from the data and use it to prompt discussions with the wider team: “Look, I found this – did you know this was happening. Are you looking at this as a priority?” Making the technology visible in this way has created an incredible level of adoption and will ensure we deliver the return on our investment.

Do you anticipate AI/ML taking a bigger role in the future? And if yes, what are the anticipated benefits to your business?

There’s a huge opportunity to redefine what proactive means for businesses. Today, it’s seen by many as hoping that they spot a problem before the customer does, or before people start complaining on social media. Consumers today will not tolerate poor digital performance, so businesses need to move to a model where proactivity means identifying the issue before it evens happens. AIOps is the answer. Machine learning will be able to identify patterns and build out different scenarios, allowing it to predict the future impact on the business. This will allow companies to finally become truly proactive and address issues before they occur.

What are you likely to be focusing on over the next two years? Are there any exciting new innovation projects on the horizon?

The Emirates Group has experienced steady growth, year on year. To create efficiencies in our business, we will look to AIOps to build automation into our processes and close the loop between detection and remediation. Today, when an issue occurs, we lose most time in the human diagnosis of the issue. Automating that part will allow us to refocus energy into the investigation as well as putting measures in place to avoid similar issues in the future. Quality of service will improve, cost of operations will reduce and customers will be happy. It’s a win-win for everyone.

How important is it to you to leave a lasting legacy through your work as a technologist, and in driving positive change within your organization and beyond?

It’s not about having a statue built in my honour (although that might be nice!), but instead about leaving my fingerprint on the company I worked for. In years to come, I would like people to associate my work with the transformational projects that changed the way they manage their IT Operations, and continually improve the experience of their customers. That will be the sign of a job well done.

"Never accept the status quo. People tend to think of digital transformation as this huge, monumental task but transformation and innovation can – and should - happen at a much smaller scale."

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