Dr. Zoya Kinstler, Educator Specializing in Enterprise Digital Transformation Shares Insights

Dr. Zoya Kinstler

We recently listened in on a “Fireside Chat” about “Reshaping Business Strategy for the New (Ab)Normal,” which was part of the 18th Annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. We came away impressed with moderator Dr. Zoya Kinstler, a consultant and educator specializing in enterprise digital transformation.

As a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Verizon Communications Inc., she successfully designed digital capabilities for strategic business systems. More broadly, Dr. Kinstler has more than 30 years of experience in telecommunications, business-to-business integrations, and multi-channel web platforms. Her business acumen is deeply grounded on technical expertise in enterprise architecture, communications technologies, software engineering, and computer science.

A native of Latvia, Dr. Kinstler transfers that knowledge to students of the at Harvard Extension School, where she teaches graduate courses on Digital Enterprise and Enterprise Architecture.

To learn more about her unique role in the industry, we sought her out for an exclusive interview, which follows below:

Question: Please tell us, briefly, about the work you did around digital capabilities for strategic business systems at Verizon and why it was significant?

Answer: I was an IT architect in the enterprise business line; every customer contract for network services came with software and integration requirements. My job consisted of two fast-moving elements: on the customer-facing side, I implemented incoming requirements for integrating new software tools into our customer-facing portal and underlying systems, so that customers could have visibility and control over their network. The other side of the job involved designing new features for intertwined employee-facing systems, ensuring fast performance and maximum service automation.

We implemented a rather sophisticated role-based authorization system for business customers that allows the customer’s organization to control what features their users can access and what data they can see.  As a result, data security was strengthened for both customer and service provider.

Of course, there were also the typical tasks that any enterprise architect does in their day-to-day work: drafting custom solutions for high-end customers, evaluating IT impacts and costs, road-mapping system migrations for company mergers, reviewing application portfolios and running security audits.

Q: How has the art of digital transformation changed over the last ten years?

A: The Covid-19 pandemic triggered more digital transformation than the last nine years combined. Businesses are now reliably connected via VPNs, operating remotely via Zoom or Teams, and offering “digital everything-as-a-service.” Larger enterprises have adopted start-up tools (slack, github) and culture (employee hackathons and gamification).

In the past, digital transformation ran on two parallel tracks: business and IT.  They were expected to align – “business and IT alignment” was buzzword of the last decade.  You had two separate stacks of strategic plans, investments, and metrics: one for the business, another for IT. Now, “alignment” is becoming a bad word because “aligning” is not enough. Business strategy has to be based on technology strategy and vice versa. It is a great time to innovate because so much technology is at your fingertips: not only building IoT and AI-based products but upgrading and extending the mundane back-office systems by taking advantage of the cloud infrastructure, common API protocols, high-performance analytics, and overall interoperability of modern software.

Q: What can and should be done to get more women involved in IT?

A: What can be done to bring more ladies into the field? Let’s make it cool to study STEM disciplines. Let’s celebrate science and technology achievements the way we do sports and music.

Q: What do you see as the most pressing issues that software and enterprise architects will face in the next few years?

A: The challenges facing software architects: It will become harder to debug code as application architecture becomes more complex, evolving into a collection of interconnected, independently designed, impenetrable black boxes spanning across a given network. It used to be that one person could debug a piece of software, from a glitch in a user interface up to the configuration parameters at the very depth of the back-end server. We have to learn to accept that nobody can possibly know everything, and it will increasingly “take a village” to debug something.

The challenges facing enterprise architects: keeping up with business turbulence; building up a “resilient” enterprise that will be positioned to withstand ever-more sophisticated security attacks. And of course, delivering the big transformation by API-ing, IoT-ing, AI-ing, and securing EVERYTHING ☺

Q: What is the best part about being a professor?

A: Learning and discovering. As the saying goes, if you want to learn something, teach it. My enterprise architecture course, by necessity, is dynamic: I update my course materials every semester to ensure that the syllabus reflects the state-of-the-field.

And of course, the joy of seeing my students succeed. Teaching enterprise architecture means doing away with rote memorization and focusing on systems thinking instead. We learn by studying cases: reading other people’s solution implementation stories teaches us how to diagnose and solve all kinds of issues. With master’s degrees from Harvard Extension School, my students win new and interesting jobs, launch their own companies, and pursue PhDs. They make me proud.