CIOs harness business technology to drive strategy, insight and a better customer experience

CIOs harness business technology to drive strategy, insight and a better customer experience marquee

The digital customer experience has emerged as a key driver of strategy and growth in 2021, throwing into sharp relief the professional qualities and supporting business technology CIOs need to succeed as organisations continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s been a high-pressure situation for CIOs, many of whom have had to support the overnight migration of thousands of employees to remote work while adapting to the accelerated shift of a raft of collaborative and customer-focused technologies to business-critical status.

At the same time, wholesale shifts in customer behaviour have demanded that CIOs transform the digital customer experience, relaunching ecommerce functions, improving website experiences and supporting other technologies designed to allow organisations to quickly identify and cater for new customers with different needs, habits and expectations.

“The upheaval of 2020 taught businesses that they need to understand and act on data more quickly,” the 2021 Digital Trends Report, commissioned by Adobe, found. “Speed to insight was the key to mitigating loss and fostering growth.”

Senior executives rated the ability to be “agile and fast to act” as the second most important quality they wanted to build over the next few years; only “innovation” ranked higher.

While three in four executives (77 percent) did not rate their organisation as very strong in terms of its speed in gaining accurate insights, the 23 percent that did were more successful in the second half of 2020 than their peers, and had a greater ability to attract additional budgets for customer-related activity, such as acquisition and retention.

The complexity of managing the digital customer experience challenges every business, making it important for CIOs to choose business technology that can capture customer data and quickly generate actionable insights, accessible across the business – illuminating the way forward when traditional paths may have become muddied and unclear.

Technology leaders drive business strategy

What are the implications for CIOs as we move into 2021 – a year that began with greater volatility in many markets and sectors than last year? What are the characteristics demonstrated by those CIOs who are helping their organisations achieve success despite the continuing pandemic – and how can digital leaders ensure their organisation will be among the winners?

The CIOs in the box seat are those who understand that “business strategy, business technology strategy and consumer technology strategy” are merging, according to Deloitte Asia Pacific chief transformation officer, Rob Hillard.

As strategic partners, technology leaders must help business leaders identify and explore emerging technologies that support the strategic vision. In a Deloitte Wall Street Journal Intelligence survey, 40 percent of CEOs said their CIO or tech leader will be the key driver of business strategy – more than any other C-suite function.

It’s a concept championed by companies such as Hong Kong-based multinational technology firm Lenovo, whose global CIO Arthur Hu talks about the dual responsibilities of his role: one is providing “better capabilities, more efficiency, and a better experience for known product lines, known offerings” while the other is about “growing the business through digital transformation”.

“It requires a melding of technology fluency with business insight,” Hu says of the qualities that will stand CIOs in good stead this year.

Deloitte’s global chief technology officer Bill Briggs goes further, saying the CIO of today needs to bring the executive team and the entire business with them.

“We need to help inspire,” Briggs says. “We need to inspire that agenda – the good and the bad, the hero’s journey of innovation and growth, and the hard reality of the changes we have to make.”

Modernising legacy technology drives speed and agility

Now is the time to modernise the technology at the “core” of organisations, Deloitte’s Bill Briggs maintains: “How do we advance the migration to the cloud? How do we simplify a lot of the legacy systems that are around us? How do we make them open, interoperable, able to be the backbone to drive more front-office, customer-facing, new products and service offerings? That is such an important conversation.”

According to Adobe’s Digital Trends report, legacy tech is one of the top three obstacles to achieving the great digital experiences that CIOs are under pressure to help deliver in 2021.

“Addressing the issue of legacy systems means moving to more flexible technologies, using cloud-based platforms alone or as a management layer to disparate solutions,” the report suggests.

It’s a recurring industry theme.

“The COVID-19 response may look like a classic IT project on the surface, but a profound shift has occurred,” Forrester suggests in its Predictions 2021 report, saying canny CIOs have mobilised during the crisis “to increase IT tools and applications and modernise the legacy application and infrastructure portfolio.”

“Leading CIOs will embrace cloud-first and platform strategies for speed and adaptiveness,” the report concludes.

Conversations about speed often prompt discussions about IT architecture and business technology between IT and business leaders, creating opportunities to modernise.

Equally, agility is a big focus for technology leaders, their teams, and the organisation at large, as well as the technologies they champion.

“Starting last March, companies quickly realised the urgency of transforming their IT delivery models, with some even using them to pivot their business model in order to survive,” Hu says.

Like many others, Adobe itself experienced the need for urgent action, sending its global workforce home with little disruption, and a significant uptick in the use of collaborative work technology, according to CIO Cynthia Stoddard.

“I think people have realised that efforts that would traditionally be scoped out to be months and quarters can actually be done in a much shorter period of time if you put your mind to it,” she said in an interview with technology publication Protocol.

Customer experience at the heart of business technology

Along with remote work and operations, customer-related technology should be an area of focus and investment for technology leaders in 2021, Stoddard maintains.

“Technology will play a key role in improving customer experiences in 2021,” she says.

Successful CIOs in 2021 will take a broad focus to technology across their business – including collaborating with and supporting teams, such as marketing, that may have direct responsibility for a range of business-critical technologies, Adobe’s chief technology advisor Scott Rigby adds.

“Digital leaders need to wrap their arms around the full breadth of technology in use and understand how it contributes to your customer experience,” he says.

A case in point, Lenovo strengthened B2B engagement and improved campaigns by replacing existing solutions with Adobe’s Experience Cloud to improve the customer journey, learn through data about their customers and deliver the right marketing message, contributing to a saving of $11 million in workflow efficiencies and increasing click-through rates by 12.5 percent.

Adobe’s Digital Trends report underscores the importance of having customer data in the cloud, offering access, speed and agility across the business: Organisations using a cloud-connected platform to integrate their customer and marketing data, either solely or in concert with existing systems, are more than twice as likely to be “very strong” in speed to insight than companies with an in-house platform or ad-hoc solutions, the 2021 Digital Trends report found.

Adobe is drinking its own champagne, establishing a “D-DOM” or “data-driven operating model” to examine touch-points along its customer journeys and provide data from a number of sources to help improve those experiences.

“At one point, we were using over 100 nonstandardised key performance indicators to measure the health of the business,” Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes writes in a recent research paper published in the Journal of Marketing. “Evaluating the impact of marketing campaigns would take weeks.”

Now the team holds cross-functional DDOM meetings, where owners of each stage of the customer journey – from awareness to purchase to renewal – are empowered to make decisions and drive action based on data-driven insights on a weekly basis.

Speed to insight based on customer data now business-critical

The ability of digital leaders to surface and interpret business-critical data quickly – speed to insight – cannot be understated in the current crisis.

Australia-based regional banking group ANZ, for example, recently promoted data and automation chief Emma Gray – a former chief loyalty and data officer at Woolworths – to its executive team.

ANZ is betting its big-tech style analysis of customer and internal data will give it a competitive advantage even as it is beset on all sides by digital native fintech rivals such as Hay, Afterpay and others.

“People talk about data being the new gold,” says Gray, “but it’s only useful if you’ve got customer trust and you have an ability to use the data to solve a problem either for a customer by making their life easier, or for the bank itself in terms of being able to make a decision quickly.”

Data management is an ongoing issue, according to Briggs, who points to the need to incorporate AI and machine learning to ingest, classify, govern and interpret the data that will come from sources we never really worried about before, such as the Internet of Things.

Resilient digital leaders drive corporate success

According to Lenovo’s Arthur Hu, the best digital leaders will direct their energies towards what they can control and find ways to keep delivering on their strategies despite the continually changing macro environment.

“They view unexpected challenges as an opportunity to quickly grasp shifting problems, unleash their teams’ creativity, and find innovative solutions,” Hu says. “As a result, they dramatically improve the energy and morale of their entire teams, while also delivering for the business.”

What might that look like in practice?

Agricultural supply co-op Farmlands was planning the leisurely release of a new e-commerce site early last year when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the New Zealand government to announce a lockdown. Farmers queued up to stockpile ten times the volume of product they would typically buy before stores closed.

“It was bedlam,” says Richard Wilkinson, chief digital officer at Farmlands. The organisation  had modernised its back end in the cloud, which helped centralize and streamline orders – but it had no e-commerce function. Shareholders began phoning and emailing their orders en masse.

The co-op turned to Datacom and Adobe to build a Click and Collect service featuring 2000 of Farmlands’ highest-selling products in less than four weeks, using Adobe Experience Manager Managed Services.

With hundreds of orders pouring in each day, the Click and Collect store went live in three and a half weeks, generating in its first 23 days more than three times the revenue its previous site did in a whole year.

“While circumstances are outside of our control, we made the most out of it and are excited about the future of Farmlands e-commerce,” says Farmlands CEO Peter Reidie. “We have a system that works while under COVID-19 restrictions and can support us easily in the future.”