If Bruce Croxon could go back to 1988 and his startup days at Lavalife again, with the power of hindsight, he’d put his CIO at the centre of the company.
It was 1988 when the entrepreneur and host of CBC’s The Disruptors co-founded one of the pioneering sites of online dating. There’s no doubt it was a success, attracting 2 million users, many successful marriages, and making an exit worth $180 million. But Croxon realizes that if he tried to run a startup founded in 2017 in the same way, it’d only lead to heartache and debt.
“It was on-premises, fairly static technology that wasn’t going to change a lot,” he reflects. “The whole machine ground to a halt when it required a rapid response.”
Aside from the technology, Lavalife was a siloed company, Croxon says. There was a CTO and a CMO, but the technology division and the marketing division both wrestled for control. There were separate project lists and the managers from different departments only met every six months to sort out the issues.
“I’d go back and change it so the tech people and the business people were sitting side by side,” he says. “I’d have them collaborate a lot more than they did. That’s the downside of not having the CIO role of the future where they’re the glue between those two parts of the organization.”
That’s the vision of the CIO role that Croxon will discuss when he gives his keynote speech at the CIO Peer Forum in Edmonton on April 26. The event, hosted by the CIO Association of Canada (CIOCAN), is themed around creating the digital business and driving continuous innovation.
Croxon jokes that while he’s spent his career as a tech entrepreneur, he’s still treated with scorn by technically skilled executives for not having “full depth” on the details of IT. But where Croxon does have depth is in understanding the business landscape we’re in today. He’s one of the founding members of Round13 Capital, and has been involved with mentoring startups for more than 20 years.
From the perspective of a business investor, Croxon says the role of the CIO is becoming more important. For example, the CIO can play a role on the impact of incorporating artificial intelligence into a business service, or harness is to improve internal processes. That can lead to trimming of operational expenditures and just running a company more efficiently.
“The role of the CIO is increasingly vital,” he says. “Effective use of AI in B2B offerings are taking incredible inefficiencies out of what you’d have to pay for in the past.”
The modern CIO must also juggle business challenges with their implementation of cutting-edge AI though, and that includes working to create company culture through activities like hiring.
“The days of hiring people that are uncomfortable with change, that are locked into a way of doing things, are over,” he says.
In Croxon’s mind, working closely with the business side of things isn’t some ambiguous directive for CIOs. It’s specifically about improving sales and marketing activities for the company. Data should be collected and harnessed to help answer questions about how to attract and retain customers at an acceptable price versus what they’re worth to the company. The conversion of customers has to be integrated with technology.
“The tools available to figure out the gap between what a customer costs and what a customer is worth are now available to even small businesses,” he says. “It’s the CIO’s job to figure that out.”
Those tools weren’t available in the days Croxon was running Lavalife. The cost and complexity of technology was a barrier to entry for his company, and therefore also a deterrent for competition to get into the same business.
“Technology kept people out of the market, it afforded us the time to make mistakes, to be cumbersome, and to not have a CIO,” he said. “We didn’t have to act quickly on a response because no one else could either.”
That luxury just doesn’t exist in 2017.