Technology vendors like Salesforce always value feedback from their customers, but until today I had never heard a CIO come on stage to say something like, “Nice shoes, Mark.”
It was a rare funny and unscripted moment during Mark Benioff’s keynote at Dreamforce 2012 Wednesday morning from Richard Schmid, CIO at game developer Activision, who was among the special guests the chairman and CEO of the cloud-based provider called up for live comments. As several attendees commented on Twitter, Salesforce and Benioff are unusual in that they put the focus of the keynote less on their company or products and instead use customer stories as a way of communicating their progress in the market. Their approach to telling these stories is a good opportunity to explore how CIOs contribute to such events, and how best they can handle themselves.
Lots of vendors call upon CIOs as part of their presentations, of course, but usually their presence is restricted to a video appearance or in a highly staged conversation about their particular deployment. Benioff managed to convey a lot more credibility and connection with his customer base by weaving the videos and the slides with a live Q&A with the CIOs of each organization immediately afterwards, walking down with mic in hand and asking the same question each time: “What does the future look like to you?”
Each of the CIOs involved seemed well-prepped for their less-than-five-minutes of fame. “Social for me gives us new revenue streams, and new ways to bring value to customers,” said Charlene Begley, senior vice-president and CIO at General Electric. “It’s accelerating learning, communication, connecting the right people at the right information at the right time on any device.” Her delivery was effortless and genuine.
“Our industry is really in need of trust. It’s one of the core tenants of our brand,” said Brad Peterson, CIO of Charles Schwab, a few minutes later. “To be a social business, you have to have it supported as part of the DNA of your company.”
Activision’s Schmid told a brief story about how he used the company’s internal social network to post a question about supply chains. When he asked a colleague why she hadn’t replied, she said that her boss hadn’t replied, nor had his boss.
Herein lies the challenge of social business, Schmid said. “It really shows how this is more about a cultural change,” he said. “It takes more time to penetrate into the enterprise.”
Had these CIOs been rehearsed? Without a doubt. Was there any kind of incentive for them to participate? Probably. Did they truly answer the question? Schmid came the closest – by attempting in a very short time period to convey the real complexity behind the so-called “social revolution” Benioff talked about.
Although customers aren’t always given a lot of leeway in how they contribute to an event like Dreamforce 2012, CIOs always have a choice to make when they appear on stage. They can offer a canned endorsement, or they can start a conversation. Much in the way the best IT leaders have learned how to articulate the value of technology to their CEO and management board, they can take an opportunity for a testimonial and turn it into a chance to share an insight that can educate their peers and move the profession forward as a whole.
“What does the future look like to you?” is a great way to open a dialogue about innovation and the enterprise, and it would be great to hear more. Either way, Dreamforce 2012’s kick-off has offered the biggest proof yet that customers deserve to be the real stars of these shows.