innovation_updated DBIt's often been said that successful CIOs must speak the language of the business. A critical component in doing so requires technology executives to be able to interpret and clearly communicate to the CEO and fellow members of the C-suite how technology can be leveraged to help drive business transformation and create new revenue-generating opportunities.

"The modern CIO should be able to translate technology innovation into business opportunities that can be monetised as part the transformation of commercial products or services," said Dave Roberts, CIO at Radius Payment Solutions in Crewe, Cheshire, U.K.  

Roberts is an Advisory Board member and speaker for HMG Strategy's upcoming 2018 London CIO Executive Leadership Summit taking place on September 27 at the Hyatt Regency London. HMG Strategy recently caught up with Roberts and fellow Advisory Board member Jon Wrennall, Group CTO at Advanced, a British software and services provider, to gather their thoughts on the role of the CIO in driving business transformation and cultivating customer centricity.

HMG Strategy: What should be the CIO's role in helping to identify and then execute on business transformation opportunities with fellow members of the C-suite?

Jon Wrennall: Today's CIO should play a leading role in digital transformation, which I believe is at the heart of successful business transformation. The rise in digital disruptive technologies - like cloud computing, artificial intelligence and automation - is already transforming and optimizing existing business processes and even enabling completely new business models. It's this innovation that every business large and small must invest in - and these innovations give CIOs the capabilities to help organisations reinvent themselves like never before.

The first opportunity is undoubtedly to drive productivity, which will free up the workforce to focus on value added activities - eradicating the mundane from humans. And with the right digital transformation - driven by the CIO - a connected infrastructure will provide real-time business insights will also help to recharge the role of leaders.  So, by starting with digital transformation, in turn the fellow members of the c-suite will work hand-in-hand to review roles, processes - essentially, looking to reshape their organisation and making it fit for the future. 

However, today's CIO must also recognise that digital is pervasive, with every business increasingly becoming a software business (or at least powered by one). Stakeholder management is therefore more complicated, so CIOs are under pressure to drive real business engagement and value, and ensure fellow members of the C-suite get on board to understand the opportunity and embrace it - or risk being left behind. 

Dave Roberts: The CIO provides the technical direction and strategy that underpins and supports the growth strategy of the organisation, providing insight and thought leadership with fellow C-suite members. It is the responsibility of the CIO function to investigate and research the technologies that are relevant to the organisation's core market and that help fuel business growth and transformation. 

CIOs that can successfully demonstrate these skills are perfectly placed to move into COO, non-executive director or even CEO roles going forward.

Why is it so important for CIOs to be more proactive than they historically have been in communicating opportunities for improving the business (driving efficiencies, creating new business models)? 

DR: The CIO role is often varied with a wide variety of expectations from service delivery excellence, to driving better process efficiency, to then identifying how emerging technologies can differentiate and drive new business models and services. CIOs need to ensure they are demonstrating and communicating the value of the projects and products developed and delivered by the IT function.

Communicating this value helps move IT up the value chain from being an overhead function to a revenue and IP-generating business unit. Proving technologies within an MVP model is often the most efficient way to demonstrate the value to the board with a 'fail fast' approach to development. Innovation that can demonstrate a credible ROI and value to the business can then be scaled accordingly to either driving greater efficiencies or create new business models of operation. 

JW: Critical to any digital transformation is people. People innovate and, without them, businesses won't be able to innovate! So perhaps CIOs have been guilty of not effectively communicating the opportunities for improving in the past, but I'd argue it is probably more about being listened to and ensuring people understand the value.

In the meantime, two key realities have happened - Millennials have entered our workforce and demanded - expected - a more digital culture with the right tools to do their jobs. And the narrative about 'digital transformation' has become more pervasive - the C-suite, who make the decisions about investment in technology - increasingly understand the critical nature of driving efficiencies and creating new business models - because they see new disruptive digital-first competitors entering the market and stealing market share. The role of the IT department is recognised increasingly as a business enabler.

I believe that what is holding this mass adoption back is that the latest digital innovations are often seen as the domain for large enterprises. This isn't the case and, while some SMEs are breaking boundaries, the reality is that most small businesses are still behind in digital transformation.

If the government, along with leading technology voices and bodies can work harder to support small businesses - which make up 99.3% of the UK's private business sector - we'll see every size and shape business take advantage of AI, machine learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and predictive analytics. 

Five years from now, every business will be digital in some form. Technology will be recognised as a competitive advantage as well as the enabler for growth and change. 

What are some ways in which the CIO can help foster a culture of customer centricity - not only within the IT organization but across the enterprise?  

JW: Digital is disrupting how businesses need to deliver effective customer service. Engagement with customers is transforming as they become more digitally-savvy. Just as organisations want a real-time dashboard to glance at vital statistics across their business, customers are looking for the same level of information on the channels they wish to operate. CIOs can act as the catalyst for change here to ask the right questions and demonstrate how technology can drive insight to help foster than culture of customer centricity. 

For example, most businesses are grappling with how to keep ahead of their customers' needs, to maintain and delight them in every interaction. So, providing a digital face to a business is fast becoming the norm. In the same way as 'born-digital' Millennials have an expectation about using digital devices to empower them in the workplace, canny customers are now demanding the same level of service across all relevant digital touchpoints.  

Increasingly, businesses failing to embrace these changes are missing out as customers turn their back on brand loyalty and instead look for service that is personalised, value-added, flexible and demonstrates innovation. The results of the annual Trends Report 2017/2018 showed these incredible results: 

  • 72% of businesses now use social media to engage with customers, increased from 61% in 2016
  • 48% now use social media to learn more about new services and suppliers
  • At 74%, LinkedIn top the social channels for learning more about new services or suppliers

These digital touchpoints are critical for driving customer service and proactive engagement. The maturing of technology to do things we could only dream of only a few years ago means that, with increasingly accessible tools, people can drastically reduce the time to deliver the results of yesterday's experts. Core FMS and ERP systems - which have been used effectively to manage and run a business - are now transforming in the cloud to move beyond traditional historic and forecasting reporting, to provide business intelligence and analytics. With the introduction of deep learning, the inclusion of Augmented Intelligence, Business Process Management and Robotic Process Automation, CIOs can help the business start to unlock this data, enriching and creating new insight - enabling new customer-centric business models to be created.

The questions I'd encourage CIOs to ask fellow members of the C-suite is this - What is the potential cost to the customers of your business if you do not have a digital-first strategy and/or vision?

DR: The culture of customer centricity means putting the customer at the centre of everything you do and challenging the approaches taken to ensure they align back with the overall strategy.  

We look at the overall experience of our products and services and how we service each touchpoint on that journey and the methods of interaction we provide to customers. Our products and services are developed around what the customer needs to service their own businesses and allowing them to focus more on their core activities in an efficient manner. The aim should always be to enhance the customer journey and value through either the efficiency or experience of using your product or service.

The CIO function can help to supply the tools that provide better customer insight through the use of CRM, Business Intelligence, AI and Social platforms, ensuring that the customer experience is relevant, efficient, useful and accurate. Developing products and services with the customer in mind from the onset will ensure that the experience is engaging, intuitive, and the value proposition is clearly recognized. Organisations that take advantage of technology are able to feel more connected with their customers with a greater level of authenticity to drive a culture of customer centricity. 

To learn more about HMG Strategy's upcoming London CIO Executive Leadership Summit and to register for the event, click here