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The One Piece of Advice CIOs Should Follow in 2017: Be Bold

be boldIf I had just one piece of advice for CIOs and IT departments for 2017 it would be this: Be bold.


The cloud and SaaS have brought massive changes to the industry in the last decade, but there’s even more change in store as big data, predictive analytics, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence move into the mainstream. Nonetheless, I see a lot of IT organizations that are still doing things just a little bit better, a little bit more efficiently, just implementing a few more features and functions here and there. That’s not good enough.


More and more, businesses are expecting the same kind of experience people have in their personal lives, whether that’s voice interaction with Amazon Echo, receiving personalized recommendations while they’re shopping, or getting proactive data insights on their personal finances in their inboxes. However, too many enterprise IT organizations are still focused on servicing the big ERP suite and aren’t exploiting advanced technologies.


It’s time to stop nibbling around the edges and take bold steps to move IT from the cost to the revenue-generating side the organization. That means challenging the way in which we service our customers, structure the organization, the way we look at data. In every area of human endeavor, we’re going to be interacting with technology in a whole new way within a few short years. If you don’t get moving this year, you're going to be way behind the eight ball as all this new technology comes down the pipe. Here’s where you need to apply bold thinking:


Focus on the end customer

Think differently about who your customer is. IT has traditionally considered its customers to be internal, but as technology moves to the cloud and becomes more self-service, you need to think more about external customers--the people that are paying your company for its goods and services.


What are some of the challenges that they are having that you, as an IT person, can solve because you either have the information or the wherewithal to get it and deliver it to them? I’m talking about helping them with simple things such as, helping them see where their delivery is, or helping them find things more easily in your store.


It's to your benefit to proactively bring ideas and start supporting the front-end, revenue-generating part of the business. Not all of your efforts will lead directly to cash, but it’s time to take a hard look what services you're delivering to the business, as well as your external customers. Are you giving people tools that they like and use, or making their lives a living hell because you can't get out of your own way? Take a chance and move into as-a-service offerings to give yourself bandwidth for this shift.


Rethink the organization

Think digital, digital, digital. That means rethinking all of your enterprise technology and supporting technology, what data you have and what you can do with it, what humans you need to staff your department, and how all of these elements fit with the business.


For example, if you have an ERP team of 75 people, maybe you leverage a cloud solution where you push support, innovation and upgrades outside of your organization, so you can focus on the customer.


You may also need to rethink your leadership. You need a leader that brings the organization together around digital. And you need data scientists.


A data scientist can look at data more broadly, understand how different data sets relate to each other, and develop algorithms that can automatically pull the data together to serve it up to the business in the form of insights and recommendations.


These people are in short supply, so in the short term, think about hiring an experienced consultant to help you put a plan together. It doesn’t need to be a detailed five-year roadmap. You need something more directional to guide the short term the changes you need to make and the different skills that you're going to need on your team as you move into the future.


It’s the data, stupid

As the SaaS industry matures, a lot of SaaS providers are sitting on a mountain of data. They should be looking at that data to see how they can use it to help customers. Benchmark data that allows customers to compare themselves to other similar companies around metrics such as cost, quantity and speed is an opportunity for SaaS companies across the board to consider.


Other opportunities are more company specific. At Coupa for example, we’ve been able to use cost data from millions of purchases to let companies know whether they’re getting a good deal on a particular commodity. We're also able to give them the Coupa Advantage program, which looks at the market and leverages buying power for 600-plus customers.


But data opportunities are by no means limited to SaaS companies. Data collected from the Internet of Things can also spur innovation. For example, at a previous facilities management company I worked for, we used sensor data to help customers save money by automatically turning off the lights and heat when nobody was around. It can be something that simple. The main goal is to take the data and come to the customer proactively with insights and recommendations.


You also need to be thinking outside your four walls at what data you can use that isn’t necessarily yours. That could be social data, data from public sources, from the Internet of Things companies or SaaS solution providers you’re doing business with.


Look outside your organization

As you’re rethinking your organization and studying your data, don’t just look at your industry and your competitors. Look outside your industry too. You don't just want to mimic what your competitors are doing, or try to do it a little better. You have to innovate, and that means getting ideas from everywhere. Increase your networking with IT leaders outside your industry and see what they’re doing and what new technologies they’re using. Go to a conference you’ve never been to before.


Consider hiring outside of your industry. Businesses need to start cross-pollinating IT leaders because all too often people who have been inside their industry have an unexamined bias for technologies and processes that they've used in the past. Someone who comes from outside the industry is more likely to challenge the status quo and ask those questions that insiders long ago stopped asking.


Come 2020, people are not going to be using people with laptop screens to search the Internet. Voice recognition is going to be widely available. No one is going to sit home for a four-hour window waiting for a delivery or repairman. Providers are going to be able to pinpoint arrival time and notify you in real time. Your smartphone will fill out your expense report for you, based on geolocation and spending data.


These things are already happening in the consumer world. The enterprise is always slower to adopt new technologies, but the time has come. You can’t hide from it any more. You have to start making changes and looking ahead to making sure that as you plan to replace technologies and tweak skills, those changes support the future direction of the company.


Get some help if you’re overwhelmed, and take a page from sales and marketing’s playbook and start listening to the voice of your new customer—the end customer.


Kendra Von Esh, Executive Strategic Advisor, Coupa

Kendra Von Esh, a former CIO at Veolia, has been a trusted advisor and CIO for the past decade developing value added strategies and solutions transforming businesses with technology. She has experience merging multiple lines of business and rationalizing application portfolios leveraging cloud strategies and solutions, thereby enabling IT to be agile enough to support a constantly changing business landscape.


Von Esh joined Coupa last year to leverage her executive experience and active involvement in CIO communities and industry boards to create inspiring dialogue and change strategies cross-functionally.