CIOs: The New ‘Chief Enablers’ Of Digital Transformation

Modern-day chief information officers (CIOs) recognize that the traditional role of the IT department—supporting the back office—just skims the surface in the age of digital transformation.      

The CIO role also has evolved to become customer-facing, revenue-driving, value-contributing, and, according to a CIO panel discussion at Adobe Summit, ideally suited to lead that digital transformation within an organization. The panel was moderated by Forbes CIO columnist Peter High.

“I’ve always considered myself to be a customer-facing CIO,” said Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard. “And that is really being the advocate for the customer, looking at what their pain points are, and taking that outside-in view.” For Stoddard, “customer” is defined as the people and companies buying Adobe solutions, as well as those within Adobe who turn to IT for help.       

Accenture CIO Andrew Wilson, who once equated the CIO role to that of the chief experience officer, said he now sees it as the “chief orchestrator” as well.

“Think of the conductor in an orchestra,” he said. “The conductor doesn’t play an instrument, just like the CIO doesn’t actually own a lot of the IT that runs our business. But the CIO blends and integrates these things together in seamless harmony and creates something greater than the whole.”

Stoddard agreed. As the conductor, she said, the CIO enables the business, arming various lines of the organization with the tools, technology, processes, people, and mindset they need to do their jobs.

Indeed, the experts all agreed, the CIO is now the “chief enabler.”

Chief Enabler Of: Data And CXM

Data is the heartbeat of any company, flowing through multiple systems and technologies, the panelists said. It’s the CIO’s job to ensure that people within the enterprise can interact and make intelligent decisions with that data.

Adobe’s move away from boxed software to cloud-based solutions has been key to more data-backed decision making within the organization, Stoddard pointed out, since the company now has more insight into how people interact with its software.

“You know who your customers are, and you can build that relationship with your customer in a different way. It becomes possible to really go along that customer journey and find out what works and what doesn’t work, and actually inject different features in that might help the customer.”

Atticus Tysen, CIO at Intuit, which also made the move to cloud-based software, agreed.  Having a cloud offering enables his organization to share aggregated data back to its customers so they have better insights for decision making.

“So if you’re a driver for a ride-share company, you might get insights back on which hours are most profitable,” he explained. “Or if you’re a small-business owner, you might get a sense of which of your offerings customers are getting the most benefit from.”

CIOs also are getting more involved in customer experience, specifically in the enablement of customer experience management (CXM). For Stoddard, this means bringing all of Adobe’s data together into a single, real-time view.

“Some of the cornerstones of bringing the data together include consistency of measurement, having a governance process in place, and having the technology framework put together,” Stoddard said.

Adobe is using a data-driven operating model (DDOM) to make the most of real-time insights, she added. DDOM has essentially democratized data throughout the company, where all business lines are consistent in how they measure outcomes and how they handle taxonomy and data governance. This unified data architecture stitches together the entire customer journey, from discovery to post-purchase and renewal.           

Tysen made the point that CIOs need to be monitoring the pipeline of data starting at its very source. Intuit’s IT department has spent the past year focusing on monitoring and instrumenting the data pipeline, and has added its measurement as the newest set of metrics for success.

Chief Enabler Of: Testing, Failing, And Learning

Stoddard often reaches out to people within Adobe to help solve customer pain points. She said she has often been surprised by their ability to create, innovate, and experiment.

“You have to create that space for failure,” Tysen added. “You have to make it OK to fail, and you have to put the right structure around it so that failures are kind of limited in their impact. … If you can make mistakes easily undoable, you can make a lot more of them.”

It’s a culture shift, one that encourages experimentation and accepts failure because that’s where you learn, he said.

“And I think that we have to adapt with governance, with spending models, with prioritization, because the days of fixing the budget at the beginning of the year and then diligently forging ahead and delivering it with business cases—that’s very out-of-date as well,” Tysen said. “So the behavior has to change.”

He provided the example of TurboTax Live, which is an experience inside of TurboTax that allows users to ask an expert a question via videoconference, or even have an enrolled agent or CPA file a return on their behalf. Intuit ran this as an experiment three years ago in conjunction with the product team.

“They had the idea, but the IT organization knew how to schedule agents, we knew how to do video calls, we knew how to do all of the plumbing to make that happen,” Tysen said. “And so with a little bit of bailing wire and chewing gum, we kind of made that work.”

CIOs have to be the ones who are championing a new way of working, where teams don’t have to build a big, new system from the beginning.

“[After] the first year, we knew that we actually had something for customers and could scale it out,” he said.

Chief Enabler Of: The Right Technology

The panelists also discussed CIOs’ role in guiding their enterprises toward the right technology—which, according to Adobe’s Stoddard, doesn’t mean ditching all of your legacy tech at once.  

“You can’t throw everything away,” Stoddard said. “That doesn’t work. That’s a multiyear journey, and it usually doesn’t bear the fruits you think it would.”

Stoddard’s advice: CIOs must look at the technology an organization uses, break it into different pieces, and convert them into the types of micro services or technology that the company needs to be resilient.

It’s also important for CIOs to be experts in the businesses they serve, Accenture’s Wilson said. No one is going to come to IT and ask for “6 kilograms of AI,” Wilson joked. They will come to IT with a problem, and it’s the CIO and IT team’s job to coach, guide, consult, and solve it, whether with new technology or existing capabilities in the current tech framework.           

Wilson also warned that technology today becomes “legacy” at much greater speed than in the past—but CIOs can’t just throw everything out.

“[CIOs] have to really reimagine ourselves again,” he said. “If we’re going to move at this speed, leverage [technology to] help our businesses grow, and be successful in this digital and post-digital world, we actually have to understand more about business than [anyone else] so that we can insert the technology in clever, meaningful, sticky, secure, and scalable ways when it’s ready.”   

Added Intuit’s Tysen, “Don’t fall in love with whatever piece of technology you have today.” It’s very important for the IT organization to continuously disrupt itself because, as great as today’s product is, another product is on its way from a startup that’s going to be the next big thing, he said.

That’s why today’s CIOs need to speak fluently to business outcomes and know the business better than almost anybody. “CIOs are at the intersection, and you have to be intuitive on where the business needs to go,” Tysen said.

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