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Cloud technology frees CIOs to focus on partnership

The cloud is changing business and no one is feeling that more than CIOs. At Inspire last month, we brought together a panel of industry-leading CIOs to hear hear how the cloud has changed their roles, and how they’re bringing value to their business partners in this new landscape.

Our panel, led by Ravi Thakur, vice president, customer success for Coupa, included Tom Carbonaro, who heads the IT and Program Management Office for Sanofi's Global Services Division in North America; Greg Higham, CIO of Marketo; Oscar Nafarrate, CIO of Grupo Herdez; John Strain, executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer for Williams-Sonoma, and Kendra Von Esh, who recently served as senior vice president and CIO for Veolia North America.

Ravi: What one word best describes how cloud technology has changed the role of the CIO?

Tom: The word that comes to mind most is "liberating." It's really liberating in the sense that we can tap into shared solutions to common problems, so we can free up our resources to focus on things that are truly unique and differentiating.

Greg: Security is top of mind for me.

Oscar: Business partners. The CIO before was all about technical issues. Now we have to understand the way the business wants to perform and help them do it in the best way.

Kendra: Business outcomes. We're here to support where the business is heading and the strategy. Gone are the days where there's just technology. We have to be solution providers for our partners.

John: I'd say, "elevate." I think having an opportunity to work with cloud providers gives us options and alternatives. In the constrained capital environment, I don't have millions of dollars to spend. I can let my cloud partners help me on operations and refocus my effort on business value.

Ravi: Our audience is full of procurement, AP and finance executives. How are CIOs generating value for these business partners?

Oscar: We have to understand how valuable the process is. More than 60% of revenue in my company is related to something we are purchasing for someone. We need to be aware that the process is very complex. Everybody in my company does something with this process. They buy a pencil, they buy raw material. So what we have to do is help them streamline this process.

Tom: The thing that we've created over time has been complexity. So it’s asking, how do we simplify the processes within the company so that it becomes an easier place for people to work? So that scientists can focus on the sciences instead of administrative processes and marketers can focus on marketing and sales reps can focus on selling. That's what I've tried to really focus on quite a bit in getting people together on common solutions.

I think that that's starting to really show benefits with the kinds of solutions that we've been rolling out on the supporting functions like procure to pay, hire to retire and other types of employee services and employee-oriented applications and capabilities.

Greg: Really, it's about being a good business partner. Having that IT/Business alignment and working together focused on a common goal. Long gone are the days of "IT will tell you what to do and how to do it." To really partner and look for solutions to a common goal together, that’s magic.

Kendra: I'm a hands-on individual, so I'll go out and I'll be at the waste-water treatment plant to see how the business operates so we can translate that into the technology. I look at myself as an educator to the business because IT is changing.

If you don't educate your business and partner with your business, the vendors are going to go straight to them. It is a SaaS world, and they don't really need IT to be the gatekeeper. So, you really need to build that relationship with your partners all across the organization. Otherwise you'll be that last roadblock or the one that says, "No, we can't do it."

John: I think Kendra started touching on shadow IT. The reality is, it's there. It's going to happen. Frankly, it's more and more right up front, in broad daylight. We, as CIOs, as technology teams, need to acknowledge that this is actually a really good thing. This frees us up to go focus in a different direction.

When I think about the value that technology partners should bring to their companies, there are really two primary components. One is translating the business requirements down to that next level of detail, and helping work through some of the unintended consequences, the implications, that sort of knock-on effect.

The second thing is, we're there to help screw it in. We're there to make sure the implementation goes well. That's really hard, by the way. Cloud providers take some of that challenge off our plate. If you take that away, that frees us up to go spend more time on the front end in terms of the business value and the business engagement. I think that, as CIOs transition, that's a big part of where we have to head.