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The role of the CIO in the digital era


cio digital eraToday, every IT leader has to have a strategy for digital transformation. But what is digital transformation, and how do you craft a strategy? What is the role of SaaS solutions? Is it safe to leave the confines of the ERP?


Those were the issues that were top of mind at our CIO panel at Coupa Inspire ’17 last month. Coupa Executive Advisor Kendra Von Esh hosted a lively panel with Coupa customers Bob Worrall, Senior Vice President/CIO of Juniper Networks; Oscar Nafarrate, Director de Procesos y TI at Grupo Herdez, and Paul Tuxford, General Manager and Head of Change, Transformation and Integration at Avaloq. Paul is also the former CIO of the Global Fund, where he implemented Coupa.


Kendra: What is your definition of a digital strategy or digital transformation?


Oscar: When we talk about digital strategy in our company, it’s about how to help the global team achieve what our company wants to do in the areas of business strategy, competitive opportunities, and risk management. We try to enable the company to do it in a faster way.


We talk about how to speed processes, how to make them leaner, and how to get information about the market in a faster way so people take better decisions. It’s about how to do things faster, better, with less people, and make better decisions.


Kendra: Bob, what is the digital transformation strategy at Juniper Networks?


Bob: We purposefully try not to use that phrase. It's another one of those glorified marketing phrases. I think as was just pointed out very concisely and accurately, it's all about speed. It's how can we bring solutions to customers faster, promote our services and make technologies available to customers in a self-service mode, and how we can do our back office functions faster.


Kendra: That means that IT leaders' roles are changing. What do CIOs really need to be focusing on in today's day and age?


Paul:   Yeah, the CIO's role is changing, and it's not changing now. It actually changed three or four years ago. What the business is looking for now is a way of enabling new business models. How do I enable my salespeople to collaborate, to enter new markets, to sell new products?


That's what they're looking for technology to do, not just to have a safe backup and a good data center and a fast network connection.


Kendra: How has software as a service and cloud changed the way in which your organization operates, is staffed and supports your business?


Paul: I joined the Global Fund in 2013. It's a UN organization funding AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria programs around the world. So, very focused on the outcomes in country. IT had never been a priority.


When I got there, about 17 percent of the IT budget was running the data center, running SharePoint, running email--all that stuff that I just said that you didn't need to do. The transformation has been to move away from that infrastructure-heavy sort of organization and look at how we could project into the countries and enable business models that were never possible before.


One of the things that the CFO and CPO and myself as the CIO realized was that we were putting about $2 billion worth of funding into the countries and tracking it on Excel. We didn't have that visibility before spending was happening, where things were moving, where things weren't moving. We couldn't facilitate that.


We changed from “boxes and lines” IT to enabling collaboration in a way that could never have happened without the cloud.


Oscar: Software as a service has helped us in not thinking too much about the technical issues, more about the business. That’s the CIO role now--to enable the business thinking about the business, not thinking about the technology. That's one part.


The other part is there are some processes like purchasing, for example, that need a lot of mobility. I think it's easier to do this if you have SaaS.


Bob: I think with every sort of new iteration comes pros and cons. In the case of SaaS, for me, one benefit is sleep. It's a little bit easier to not have to worry about what's going on with my SaaS providers, so I sleep easier.


On the downside, in days gone by, I rested a little bit easier knowing that I had complete control of the data. Now the data's sitting somewhere in Amazon, or Azure, or somewhere else. And yeah, it's probably being supervised and managed well, but my board doesn't care about that. They just want to know, what are you doing to control data spread and access?


It requires a slightly different skill set from our infosec team and our data management team to handle these issues. But I think the key benefit is being able to offer solutions to the business much more quickly than we've ever been able to before.