This article is part of CMO.com’s December series about 2018 trends, predictions, and new opportunities. Click here for more.
Back in the “day”—we’re talking digital time—chief information officers were masters of the IT universe. They handled all the decisions about what systems, software, and devices an organization used.
But clouds, mobility, and a spate of digital technologies have radically altered the landscape. Decision-making and procurement are now distributed across the enterprise, with say-so coming from CMOs, COOs, CFOs, and even HR directors.
This doesn’t mean that the CIO’s role is diminished, however. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Today’s CIO must juggle a growing array of tasks and challenges around managing a technology framework for the organization and orchestrating initiatives across divisions, departments, and people.
Doing so ultimately comes down to addressing five key “I’s’”: integration, information, intelligence, insight, and innovation. Here’s a look at how four influential CIOs tackle each one.
The widespread adoption of digital technologies has changed the dynamics of business and IT in profound ways. Today, it’s vital for CIOs to ensure that a disparate array of systems function together to produce the desired results. However, integration—and digital transformation—involve more than connecting servers and applications to automate processes and workflows.
“The goal is to create a framework for real-time decision-making,” said Cynthia Stoddard, CIO for Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company). This translates into a need for a modern IT architecture that harnesses the cloud, supports a single source of truth for data, and taps the power of APIs and code libraries to facilitate the unfettered flow of information.
“The right IT and data framework allows organizations to scale quickly and plug in new components and capabilities as needed,” explained Jeffry Nimeroff, CIO for customer lifecycle marketing firm Zeta Global. Indeed, a robust IT governance framework is essential to ensure that applications and systems conform with business goals and IT requirements. It also reduces the risk of a security breach or the leakage of private data.
How can a CIO achieve seamless integration? At Edgewell Personal Care, a $2.4 billion global corporation with brands including Schick, Wilkinson, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, and Playtex, CIO Tony Bender has focused on building a cross-functional team that spans business and IT. A VP of e-commerce serves as the “quarterback.”
“You have to break down the silos, understand the needs of different constituents, and have an IT framework in place that supports integration and program execution,” he told CMO.com.
The traditional CIO role has been to cultivate, manage, and distribute information. All of this hasn’t changed in the digital age. “It’s the transactional element of running IT,” Bender said. “It’s at the foundation for operating the business.”
However, the task is now complicated by a growing array of structured and unstructured data sources, including the IoT, machine data, POS and online transactions, Web data, social streams, log data, and e-mail. It’s also complicated by internal data governance requirements and external regulatory compliance needs. “Today’s business environment demands a high degree of confidence that the data and information is accurate and valid,” Bender said.
A CIO must place data veracity at the center of everything. Yet the task involves more than robust data governance and a laser-like focus on data hygiene. As both the frequency and sophistication of hacking and cyber-threats increase, the risk of tampered data grows exponentially. A holistic approach is paramount.
At Memorial Hospital and Physician Clinics, a 445-bed not-for-profit hospital located in Gulfport, Miss., vice president and CIO Gene Thomas has identified 12 core sources of data, including a hospital administration system and an ERP application. They feed two data warehouses and support a growing array of reporting and analytics functions. “You can’t get to more advanced intelligence and insights without sound information,” he explained.
A CIO who ties together the mélange of systems can usher in an era of real-time decision-making and introduce powerful predictive analytics. What’s more, when employees, customers, and business partners have the right tools available, they can grab information and make decisions at the ideal moment.
Sliding the dial from reactive to proactive is at the center of digital transformation. “It allows different departments and groups within the enterprise to more closely align behavior and actions with metrics and key performance indicators,” Stoddard told CMO.com.
Although information is the sun around which all data and analytics planets orbit, it’s not the endpoint for an enterprise. The goal is to reach a higher level of intelligence by applying data in new and innovative ways. This is typically achieved through human analysis or emerging machine-learning methodologies. Data scientists who understand how to package, repackage, and manipulate data to produce deeper and broader insights are crucial.
However, “intelligence” can also require the expertise of anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, and other experts who can bridge the gap between data and real-world human behavior.
These specialists cannot operate in a bubble, however. Machine-learning systems now digest mountains of data and spot patterns and relationships that would otherwise go undetected. To be sure, the use of AI is increasingly broad; it spans everything from marketing and operations to IT administration and enterprise security. AI can also automate processes and workflows, thus introducing efficiencies that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
As Bender put it: “Once systems operate in an automated way and an organization has a high degree of confidence in the data flowing through them, breakthroughs often follow.”
At Edgewell, Bender combines data from an array of sources in order to extend the boundaries of intelligence. This includes understanding relationships between things, including trade events, marketing campaigns, special promotions, and order cycle times, as well as plugging in third-party data about consumer buying and consumption patterns. It also includes analyzing data about inventory levels, accounts payable, and day sales outstanding.
“We strive to visualize data and information in different ways so that we can draw insights from it,” Bender said.
When a CIO connects all of the digital dots and aligns technology with processes and people, the result is insight. Answers to key business questions become more obvious. How to increase the value proposition for partners and customers becomes more apparent. Ultimately, all of the data and information becomes more actionable. “You know what problem you need to solve and you know how to solve it,” Bender said.
At Edgewell, this translates into a more sophisticated approach to business decision-making, he added: “How can we better manage inventory levels? Where do pockets of inventory build up and why? How do we dispose of obsolete and slow-moving inventory with the highest possible gross margin?”
While factors and challenges vary by industry, the underlying opportunities remain the same. For instance, at Memorial Hospital and Physician Clinics, Thomas views digital technologies—including the growing array of IoT devices—as a way to transform health care and improve efficiencies internally.
“We can deliver better medical outcomes through data modeling. We can create a better experience for patients and their families by optimizing processes,” he told CMO.com. “When you’re able to conjoin data and information from various sources—and you have data scientists to make sense of things—you unlock answers to key questions.”
Ultimately, a best practice approach creates a dynamic framework—where a CIO gains insights from lines of business and delivers them back to executives. With this foundation in place, it’s possible to unleash innovation, the final “I” in the value proposition.
Today, the ability to innovate is everything. Standing still is essentially moving backward. How a CIO approaches the task determines whether an organization soars or stumbles. Innovation might mean adding speech recognition and image recognition to apps and services to streamline, if not eliminate, interfaces. It might also translate into using augmented reality, virtual reality, or machine learning. It could encompass AI to introduce advanced search capabilities on the Web or design smart supply chains and marketing campaigns.
The common denominator? Adding value for consumers, business partners, and employees.
A recent e-commerce initiative at Edgewell, for example, introduced direct sales and subscription-based purchases to consumers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Bender had to work with internal teams to essentially reinvent the business. This meant moving to a new ERP system, working with credit card companies to authenticate third-party logistics, designing an appealing e-storefront, creating a mobile app, and completely revamping marketing.
“We had to focus on how to care for customers throughout the entire life cycle,” Bender said. “We had to think about how we could do things much better.”
Nimeroff said that Zeta Global relies on a diverse set of experts to deliver a deep understanding of technology and the business—and to translate ideas and concepts into new and better ways to do things. Meanwhile, Adobe’s Stoddard said she believes that CIOs should look everywhere for ideas and inspiration: competitors, other industries, and entrepreneurs. A CIO should also consider internal innovation labs and open innovation frameworks that intersect with incubators, venture capitalists, and startups.
“The goal is to explore concepts, test ideas, fail fast, scale fast, and advance,” Stoddard said. “Innovation doesn’t come from a single place. It comes from a lot of different sources.”