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What does it mean to be a CIO in the face of digital transformation? And are your end users or customers always right?

The CIO Peer Forum has traditionally been a place for industry professionals to explore such topical questions —and the 2016 edition in Toronto last week was no different.

One panel discussion, How to Wow Your Customers, examined how the rules of customer engagement are evolving in the face of digital innovation — including marketing, social media and customer analytics tools. Moderated by ITWC CIO Jim Love, the panel included IT director Susan Doniz, Ted Maulucci, CIO of Tridel Group of Companies, and Stewart Wong, vice president of communications, marketing and advocacy at Toronto’s Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

Here are three key takeaways from the session:

Ready or not, CIOs need to adapt in a customer-centric world
Amidst all the hype around digital transformation —which refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of society — the panelists noted it is real and it’s set to change the industry, whether CIOs like it or not.

It’s the eye of the storm, Love noted, and the disruption of business models and the way CIOs operate is changing.

This specifically relates to customer relationships: if the business is still talking to instead of with the customer — and not “wowing that customer in the process” — that business is bound to failure, he added.

It’s about a two-way, interactive conversation: engaging with and listening to the customer is now imperative for success.

“Understand the customer is the person who entrusts you with their money. They have options to leave you,” according to Love.

Susan Doniz, director
Susan Doniz, Director

Doniz agreed, adding that customers are empowered by digital technology — social media tools for example — and today’s CIO must be passionate about them as well.

The customer has real power — think about how Uber and AirBnB have succeeded by recognizing this — because they have the power to change the rules of the game, she said. Understand how customers are using the latest technology tools and look to incorporate them into your business processes, for example.

“We live in interesting times. There’s the ability to do so much better than before when we have all the tools available,” Doniz said. “(It’s about) transactions to interactions — and the most powerful campaigns are the ones that evoke an emotional response.”

And in order to foster Canadian innovation, CIOs should also be focused on collaboration and building partnerships. Maulucci pointed to his participation in associations such as ICTC Canada and programs that help individual reach their full potential.

Wong agreed, adding CIOs would be passionate about what they do — and passionate about doing great work. “Gaining insights from multiple perspectives is key,” he said.

At Holland Bloorview, for example, the organization works closely with patients to ensure a high standard of care. This includes advisory panels with stakeholders — who in this case are made up of parents and patients as young as three, he said, adding that while this is a unique example the concept still applies to other sectors.

Stewart Wong, Vice President, Communications, Marketing and Advocacy, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital
Stewart Wong, Vice President, Communications, Marketing and Advocacy, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

The role of the CIO: “ To inform on what now is possible”

Taking inspiration from what technology now enables is the role of today’s CIO, offers Doniz.

Technology enables new strategies and processes and the CIO’s role is to inform what now is possible, she added. Doniz cited examples of industry disruption — such as Amazon and Uber — and noted that customers are expecting similar user experiences at every business.

Part of this process, Wong noted, goes back to developing the soft skills necessary to listen to user feedback with an eye on collaboration both internally and externally. “Partnering with people to make things happen is fundamental to success.”

“Understand you are more than a company that makes money, you do things that matter for customers,” said Maulucci.

The CIO as “champion for listening”

Love noted that it’s about value to the end user. This involves a laser-like focus on the customer: “think about changing the skills we have and maybe even restructuring how we deliver technology.”

Ted Maulucci, Chief Information Officer, Tridel Group of Companies
Ted Maulucci, Chief Information Officer, Tridel Group of Companies

Maulucci pointed to an example where he encountered staff frustration using a new technology process — coming to the realization that educating staff on not only how to use new tools, but why as well, is vital to driving awareness and adoption.

“Listening can be tough…are you listening or distorting what you are hearing through your own lens of values?” he said.

Consciously thinking with a focus on encouraging user input is the key to accomplishing meaningful work, he added.

Create a culture of listening and observation, offered Wong. Think outside of your own role; wowing the customer comes down to the CIO’s desire to both listening to input and wanting to create “amazing experiences.”

The HR department doesn’t own the people processes, the CIO does, Doniz argued. While they do have their value, it’s no longer just about simple market research or focus groups — today’s CIO must be able to weigh data and analytics against what users are telling you directly.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and sensor technologies — now enable the CIO to “be there without being there,” Doniz said, adding that the power of observation is key.

Today’s digital transformation ultimately comes down to believing in the power of customer experience. It won’t happen overnight, but the CIO needs to ensure that everyone in the organization is on board.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” he added, citing the oft-repeated maxim by American management consultant and educator Peter Drucker.



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