IT executives leading their organizations through a digital transformation could accelerate their progress by following the money, starting with their marketing departments, attendees at the IDC Directions & Canadian CIO Symposium in Toronto were told last Thursday.
“Our marketing department seems to have more money than any other department, and they like to do things fast,” Helen Polatajko, a former CIO with CIBC Mellon, said during a CIO panel discussion at the annual industry conference, sponsored jointly by global tech consulting firm IDC, the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), and IT World Canada (ITWC).
During a wide-ranging discussion titled Digital Transformation: The Executive Mandate for Investment, the three CIOs on the panel exchanged views on what the digital transformation means for them and the challenges they face. The panel, moderated by Jim Love, ITWC’s CIO and Chief Content Officer, included Polatajko, Charaka Kithulegoda, CIO at Tangerine, and Rob Miekle, CIO for the City of Toronto.
In the preceding session, IDC’s senior vice president and chief analyst, Frank Gens, told the audience that more than 80 per cent of Fortune 100 companies are expected to have digital transformation teams in place by the end of this year, focusing primarily on what IDC calls the Third Platform – mobile, social, cloud and big data.
Polatajko, whose resume also includes a stint at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), said one of the most compelling aspects of digital transformation for her is the opportunity to create new services and revenue streams.
Even a public-sector organization like the City of Toronto is examining digital revenue possibilities to help reduce the city’s reliance on taxes, said Miekle. “We’ve got to think a little bit different,” he added, “to take some of the pressure off.”
But ultimately, he noted, the success of digital transformation in Toronto will be measured by its impact on residents. “How do you bring those digital pieces together to improve the experience for those who live, work and play in the City of Toronto?” he asked. “One of the things we’ve realized is it’s a journey versus a destination.”
Customers often set the pace for innovation
As Canada’s first online bank, said Kithulegoda, digital transformation at Tangerine also comes down to the customer experience, and customers play a large
role in influencing the pace of change. While smart phone apps have attuned people to a world of continual updates, he observed, customers may only want three options instead of six – and CIOs should not get caught up in technology for the sake of technology.
In some cases in the past, technological change at Tangerine started in the back office, he said. But “when we have gone back to the basics of always looking at what our customers want, it has led to changes at the back.”
Through it all, added Kithulegoda, data security, privacy and transparency have reigned supreme. “In a straightforward way, we tell customers what we want
to use the information for and we ask their consent,” he explained. “Not everybody wants to use these things. If you want to use it, opt in and we’ll take you on the journey.”
For private-sector firms, Polatajko noted, digital transformation is also driven to a large degree by the competitive landscape. “It’s the competitive nature of business that’s going to force us into a particular space, whether our people like it or not,” she said.
The CIO’s role has become increasingly ambiguous because technology is embedded in so many aspects of an operation today, said Miekle. That trend has underlined the importance of having a vision for digital transformation that includes a strategic trajectory towards demonstrable progress.
“Progression in my world is very important because elected officials are elected for four years,” he told the audience. “They’ve got to demonstrate tangible results before the next election.”
Don’t be afraid to fail
To build discipline into the process and remove some of the emotion from decision-making, Miekle said his team has created procedures like a “cloud decision framework,” which makes cloud-related decisions easier by looking at aspects such as total cost of ownership over an extended period.
Partnering with the right team members and departments can be critical in achieving progress, the panel members agreed. Miekle said he has tried to engage teams with two-way communication, focusing on those individuals with a clear passion for customer service and technology.
In one instance, he noted, he arranged a team meeting focused entirely on innovation, which produced three new ideas to move forward with. “For me, the game-changer has been people’s attitudes,” he added. “If we can unleash them, we’ve seen some great ideas come forward.”
Borrowing from startup culture, CIO’s should move forward with prototypes and should not be afraid to fail, said Polatajko.
But fail fast, she recommended, and move on with the next iteration. CIO’s should also follow in the footsteps of paradigm-shifters like Uber, she added, and should be bold enough to break conventional business rules when necessary.