With more than 25 years of experience as a technology leader, Cynthia Stoddard has developed significant expertise and knowledge on IT’s role within an organization.

Now the senior vice president and CIO of Adobe, Stoddard is instrumental in leading the global strategy for delivering the software giant’s services and operations, and here she tells us about her role as a digital leader, responding to a global pandemic, and her vision for the future of work.

Design tools to empower employees

Employee experience has always been close to Stoddard’s heart, and her approach to employee experience was no different when the coronavirus pandemic first hit. Unlike other organizations who were left scrambling trying to adapt to the new way of working, Adobe’s CIO was equipped with the know-how to enable her team to react quickly and effectively.

“I had experience with this type of challenge — of having to react quickly to unpredictable change — in previous roles I’ve had, so I know the importance of contingency and scenario planning to prepare in order for the IT organization to react to uncertainties,” Stoddard explains.

There are many strategies the IT team at Adobe has deployed in order to empower employees to continue working productively with ease, even when working from home:

  • Since launching the Zero-Trust Enterprise Network (ZEN) platform in 2018, employees have been able to access enterprise applications from anywhere, with heightened security and multi-factor authentication (MFA) methods.
  • From improving the network routing to expanding the virtual private network (VPN) bandwidth worldwide, collaboration tools were adapted to handle the influx of use.
  • In order to create a community for peers to help each other and relieve pressure on the IT support team, a new channel called #wfh-support was created in Adobe’s internal messaging system.
  • Support for desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) was enabled to provide a virtual desktop experience for employees, in addition to a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) system for employees to work more flexibly.

Creating a secure work ecosystem and maintaining a collaborative culture proved a success. “I was pleasantly surprised to discover my inbox was full of compliments after the shift to fully remote work, and that employees were sharing good experiences with this rapid transition,” says Stoddard. “Our email and collaboration usage metrics indicated business as usual and no loss of productivity.”

The pandemic challenged not only the transition to a hybrid work environment, but also challenged digital leaders worldwide to become more empathetic if they wanted to maintain a good relationship with their team and ensure a good employee experience. With employees opening up about personal issues, Stoddard says, “this dialogue actually made our culture at Adobe stronger, which has created a foundation of respect and understanding for the circumstances and challenges that we are experiencing.”

“As leaders, we need to listen, observe, and connect with team members to understand what they’re going through. Helping my team with prioritization and allowing them to focus on what really matters has been critical, because we’ve all faced increasing demands both on a personal level and at work.”

Stoddard continues, “I’ve given my team the space to try new things, and this has proven very effective with projects. We’ve all learned we are much more nimble than we thought – projects that took one year to complete pre-pandemic were completed in a month in our new environment.”

Increase efficiencies with AI and ML

Many organizations are beginning to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to improve internal efficiencies and, as a result, improve employee experience as well as business outcomes and customer solutions. This technology can be utilized in a number of ways across the business, from automating and streamlining business processes, to heightened personalization in marketing and sales. Organizations are designing sophisticated AI systems to recognize operational problems and autonomously improve those methods, as well as monitor and prevent cybercrime. Another benefit some organizations are discovering is the capability of processing, analyzing, and interpreting data in large quantities at high speeds, or even in real-time using AI.

For Stoddard, AI and ML are strategic priorities required to scale and increase efficiencies within the organization.

“Some companies use tech to drive down costs. In our case at Adobe, we do it to create capacity – we’re doing it to enable our people to add more value and do creative work without the constraints of manual processes.”

In the move to remote work during the pandemic for example, AI/ML chatbots that use natural language processing (NLP) and deep learning were designed to respond to employees’ FAQs in order to support them and resolve issues quickly. The same AI bots are incorporated in the helpdesk email channels, funnelling emails to the relevant support groups quickly and with at least 98% accuracy.

Knowing that optimization is an ongoing process, Stoddard tells us how they continuously monitor the bot’s effectiveness and add to its capabilities.

“Our goal is to use AI and ML to automate services and processes or shift them to a self-healing platform, as well as to continue using AI to identify problem patterns in operations and use automation to make them more efficient.”

Priorities for the CIO of a forward-thinking business

As shown by Stoddard, employee experience and facilitating a hybrid work environment is a priority at Adobe.

“Our objective is to integrate new and progressive technologies and tools to make it easier for our employees to effectively work and collaborate, wherever they are located. As hybrid work environments globally continue into 2022, we’re actively working to source and provide new and innovative collaboration experiences to ensure continued creativity and innovation.”

In order to ensure customers continue having amazing experiences with Adobe products and services and the business continues to grow, Stoddard believes it’s important to challenge the status quo. Encouraging employees to solve problems with creativity and innovation..

Stoddard leaves us with this final thought: “change is constant, so it’s important to have curiosity to keep learning and constantly look around the corner for emerging technology trends and experiment.”

To hear more from Stoddard and other digital leaders from around the globe, click here to listen to The Living Enterprise podcast series. Alternatively, find out more about how AI can benefit your business, as well as the importance of ethical AI.