The CIO as Chief Integration Officer

Planning and orchestrating digital transformation programs has always been time-consuming. But over the past year, COVID-19 forced companies to accelerate the delivery of integrated digital experiences. The digital imperative brought on by the pandemic changed everything. CIOs went from being the Chief Information Officer to becoming the Chief Integration Officer. Make no mistake though, I’m not talking about middleware and the like. This new strategic lens is much broader, and requires leaders with an ability to orchestrate processes, data, technologies, and even other leaders in a coordinated way.

Enter the Chief Integration Officer

With their unique perspective, CIOs can accelerate their organization’s digital transformation agenda by bringing together the systems, people, technologies, and tools needed to deliver great customer, partner, and employee experiences. In my role within Salesforce Professional Services, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of “Integrators in Chief.” Based on my experience, here are four ideas that can help you embrace the new CIO mindset.

1.   Be the conductor, not the stage hand

I recently worked with a CIO who led a large-scale transformation program to reimagine the entire customer journey, spanning functions, departments, and systems. When I asked him his secret he said, “The entire company is like an orchestra and I am the conductor.”

Much like a conductor can see the entire orchestra, the CIO can see the customer value chain from an end-to-end perspective because they have experience servicing across domains. The CIO sees where the gaps are in processes, and knows where the business is failing to deliver value to customers.

To lead complex integration efforts, CIOs should embrace the conductor mindset, knowing that the various teams, departments, and functions work together. They can then stitch together the people, systems, technologies, and processes needed to deliver those “pitch perfect” experiences.

A great example might be in a retail ecommerce experience. A customer looking to buy a blue shirt in a size medium expects the retailer to know where that item is, where they can try it on, if they can buy it online, if they can pick it up at a store nearby, or how long it will take to be delivered. In an organization with a federated inventory model across different locations, knowing how to integrate all that information to meet customer needs is critical. The CIO will know where there’s a disconnect between commerce, operations, delivery, marketing, or sales, and how to integrate the data and deliver on customer expectations.

2.  Stop thinking you’re in the technology business 

Successful CIOs know we are not in the business of technology – they innately understand that technology is business. Yes, they still understand the architecture and infrastructure, but when they talk to colleagues outside of their organization, they learn to speak, prioritize, and operate in the language of their business stakeholders and focus on business value.

One example of this came from a CIO I know who was undertaking a major integration program at a global travel organization. There were 15 concurrent projects across the sales, customer service, and IT organizations. For the CIO, selecting the right technologies and fixing the technical infrastructure challenges was important. However, the most impactful thing this CIO did was to look at all the projects and create an integration strategy aligned with the organization’s desired customer outcomes. She communicated the strategy to all the teams and then prioritized resources and projects—not by the tools or technologies, but around the value aligned to the outcomes. This CIO delivered business results, not technical solutions.

To embrace this, start by aligning all of your projects to metrics that matter to your stakeholders. No matter the metric—whether it’s employee experience, customer experience, NPS, revenue increase, cost reduction, retention, or something else—business value has to be the reason.

3.   Build trust by delivering in chunks

Leading integration efforts is sometimes an uphill battle. Many companies have tried to do massive integration programs over a long period of time, only to achieve suboptimal outcomes. Having experienced difficulties in the past, executives are often cautious and skeptical about future integrations.

There is an opportunity to drive big change, but in order to do this, you need to build trust with a solid track record. CIOs should focus on tackling ambitious programs, like building a single view of the customer or transforming the entire customer journey, but deliver in smaller chunks. This means taking the vision and breaking it down into achievable components that can be delivered in realistic and reasonable timeframes.

The other reason to think big and start small involves being nimble and moving at the speed of your customer and your market. The pandemic taught us that being nimble and agile could help us respond to emerging challenges and opportunities. With each successive win, the CIO has the chance to build trust with other stakeholders and stitch together a series of programs that create a larger transformation.

4.   Focus on accountability and mutual investment

Integration efforts, by their very nature, are cross-functional and span across the enterprise. The Chief Integration Officer is focused on driving accountability, investment, and ownership across the executive team. The CIO is the one who has to bring everyone together, and serve as the glue that helps the team meet its goal.

During challenging times, the CIO must provide leadership and galvanize support across the entire organization, helping team members stay focused on the desired outcomes, communicating a consistent message, and ensuring continued investment and accountability among leaders.

I saw this work well with a global consumer products company. The CIO created a steering committee for the program and facilitated the committee through the vision, business case, and outcomes planning. Throughout the program, the CIO constantly brought the right leaders to the table, getting them to co-create and own specific metrics, and holding himself and the rest of the leadership team accountable with constant communication.

Conclusion

In 2020, the CIO came front and center as the leader who helps organizations adapt to changing conditions. By embracing the conductor mindset, leading with customer value, building trust, and driving accountability and ownership, the CIO can maintain a seat at the head of the table.

mark wakelin headshot

Mark Wakelin leads the International Professional Services business within the Customer Success Group at Salesforce. He has more than 30 years’ experience working with CIOS on digital transformation and large program execution. Prior to joining Salesforce he was the CEO of the UK’s largest Salesforce strategic implementation partner. He and his family live in the Greater London area.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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