John Abel from Veritas Explains How the CIO Role Has Evolved in the Digital Transformation Era

If digital transformation is “the process of exploiting the latest digital technologies and practices to create a new sustainable digital business model”, John Abel, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Veritas Technologies then posed the following question – “Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last 30 years anyway?”

John was one of the speakers during the welcome keynote session at the Veritas Vision Executive Forum held this week, where he gave an insightful view into how the ever-growing wave of digitalisation and certain trends have completely changed the role of CIOs within organisations today.

He started off by saying that unlike in years past, we’re now speeding to the digital age and technology is being adopted exponentially faster with each passing generation. As an example, he shared that while the telephone needed 78 years to reach 50 million users, Facebook required two years and it only took Pokemon Go 19 days to achieve the same. “It’s becoming more and more challenging for CIOs, as heads of IT, to respond to this ever-evolving technology speed,” Chris commented.

As for what’s coming over the horizon, John said according to a recent survey, CIOs named advanced analytics, IoT, digital security and business algorithms as the key technologies that will deliver major change to their organisations over the next five years. John himself believes that advanced analytics is the technology that will differentiate companies in the future in terms of their success and growth.

Going back to the topic of digital transformation, John said digital transformation could be defined differently by different people and organisations. Some view it as changing business models, driving growth, improving the customer experience, he said before adding, “But most important of all, I believe that the core of any digital transformation in any organisation and certainly, the one that I represent for Veritas IT, is data.”

The Age of the Customer-Centric CIO

What does Netflix, Amazon and Apple have in common? According to John, “First of all, they’re all consumer-based companies, and that’s extremely important. Second of all, they all provide a phenomenal customer experience.”

He continued, “But most importantly, every one of these companies is now in a completely different business with a completely different revenue stream than they started out with. Every one of those companies has moved, so what was it that moved them?”

John believes that businesses are now entering what he calls the “experience economy” and this is extremely important for IT leaders. That means from the perspective of customers, you can’t be a business that is “hard to do business with”. They now expect to have that Netflix- or Amazon-like experience wherever they go.

“In today’s IT industry, more and more CIOs are going to be asked to step up to the plate and lead the charge towards digital transformation, a new connected experience, and to improve the customer experience,” John explained. He shared that in a recent survey, over half of CIOs said that offering new, innovative ways to create a better customer experience or revenue-generating opportunities were among their primary business objectives over the next 12 months.

“Statistics show that if you’re not involved in revenue growth, if you’re a laggard, if you’re not paying attention to that, then you will get left behind. Customer-centricity should be at the heart of everything you’re doing in your organisation today,” he said.

John definitely speaks from experience, being in the IT industry for almost 30 years. He himself is responsible for leading and transforming the Information Technology function for Veritas, including its infrastructure, systems, processes, and security. Even the fact that he was sent all the way from California to be at the forum in Bali was a way for him to connect with customers in this region with the goal of helping Veritas provide a better experience for them.

The CIO To-Do List

So how do you go about being customer-centric or providing a great customer experience? John listed the following steps that CIOs should adhere to:

·        Embrace a technology platform
·        Emphasise customer-centric
·        Embrace advanced analytics
·        Cultivate strong business alignment
·        Create a culture of innovation
·        Educate the business users

Reiterating Peter Drucker’s famous quote, “The relevant question is not simply what shall we do tomorrow, but rather what shall we do today in order to get ready for tomorrow”, John found it shocking that many leaders and IT people around the world are not even thinking about their new business model or how they can change the equation.

John then shared statistics that say two-thirds of businesses recognise that their company must digitise by 2020 in order to stay competitive. However, he said many major players, such as GE and Ford have poured up to $1.3 trillion into transformation initiatives, 70% (or $900 billion) of which was wasted on failed programs.

Interestingly, the single biggest factor for digital transformation trouble among these companies was the failure to effectively communicate their goals, strategy, purpose and outlook with their employees.

Technology is critical when it comes to implementing new business models, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The true impact of digitisation can only be felt through digitisation efforts that relate to enterprise changes. These include changing siloed mindsets and culture, encouraging employees to work iteratively, collaboratively and effectively, overcoming aversion to risk and failure, championing digital dexterity and more.

Nevertheless, unlike the more obvious IT transformation initiatives, these are the changes that most executives and board members fail to notice.
No Longer “Just the IT Guys”

For the “poor” CIOs, the challenges may be mounting, but John shared statistics that would sure to bring a smile on their faces: by 2025, a rate of 25% to 50% of CIOs will go on to become CEOs. “That’s shocking because not that many years ago, I remember CIOs couldn’t even get a seat at the table (in the boardroom). That has changed dramatically,” John explained, adding that he is now seeing this trend which started out in the Silicon Valley catching on worldwide.

This is because the rise in importance of data and digital technologies has also resulted in CIOs gaining a much larger influence in businesses. After all, they’re now no longer “just the IT guys” because increasingly, data and IT now lie at the heart of the business and CIOs are the ones that call the shots and have a deeper knowledge in that area within an organisation.

Every company is now becoming a data company, even the traditionally “non-techie” companies out there. As a testament to that, John then cited a line from his good friend, recently appointed Nike CEO, John Donahoe, who came in from being the CEO and President of cloud software giant, ServiceNow. When asked what’s the connection between a software company and a retail company, Nike’s response to that was basically, “We don’t see ourselves as a retail company, we’re a data company.”

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