(CIO) Chief Information Officer Strategy: CIO Planning for 2021 - CXOTalk #688
We are speaking with two prominent chief information officers to talk about strategy in 2021. Cynthia Stoddard is the chief information officer at Adobe. My responsibilities include all the IT infrastructure, our applications, our data infrastructure, and also a group that we call the Employee Experience, which I think is quite important as we head into 2021. I also have responsibility for what we call the run component of some of our products. We call that group Reliability Engineering. It runs things like creative cloud, document cloud, and our product infrastructure. Then I wonderfully participate in incorporating and bringing our acquisitions onboard, so never a dull moment and I enjoy everything that I do. Our second guest is an old hand at CXOTalk,
Jay Ferro. He is the chief information officer at ERT. Jay, tell us about your role at ERT. We are an e-clinical solution in the pharma industry and we provide patient safety and efficacy endpoint data collection solutions for use in the clinical drug development space. Now a quick thank you to Productiv, a SaaS management platform that unlocks the power hidden in your SaaS applications to bring you higher ROI, better team collaboration, and lower license costs. What are the kinds of significant issues that you're looking at when you think about the CIO role and the challenges and opportunities that you face during this year? We're still in COVID. We've been in this world
for, what, nine months now. When I look at the challenges going into 2021, I would wrap them all around the word "experience": experience from the point of view of our employees and experience from the point of view of our customers. On the employee side, we have this employee experience group I mentioned in the intro. We've wrapped a number of personas around our workers and what we're trying to do is really help them be more productive in the world that we are in right now, not only with their work tools but also with balancing life because there is no boundary anymore between work and home. It's kind of all meshed together, so we're looking at different applications and things to really help the employee out. Happy employees make happy customers. On the customer side, it's all about
the customer experience, making sure that when they access our websites or any of our products, they're reliable, they're peppy, they do everything that their customer needs them to do. Helping our internal workers, the back-office and engineers, make that happen. When I look at my world in 2021, it's all about experience, working with employees, and working with customers. Mm-hmm.
What does that mean for the CIO role? When we talk about experience, where is the impact for you? I think the impact is with empathy and putting yourself in the shoes of your customers. I'll just give you an example. When we look at a lot of our back-office systems—and I think this generally is true for a lot of companies—they've been optimized for each department. They haven't actually been optimized for end-to-end flows. If you take an outside-in view, if you use techniques such as design thinking and look across the organization, you're going to look at things much differently because you're going to look at how the user is impacted by the flow, the ultimate customer, not the person actually doing the transactional work. I think it's important where it intersects with the CIO role. We have a very horizontal
view of companies and of the world. We can bring people together and we can bring people together to understand that business process A, if we optimize here, it may impact business process B but, overall, it's better for the customer and it's better for the company. As you think about the challenges that are associated with this, what are they? Everybody is remote. It's really important to stay connected to individuals (pulse them, understand what is going on) so that as you look at these end-to-end flows, you can take in the temperature of your different constituents into the process. Staying connected and really making the virtual rounds with everybody, I think, is really, really key. Then understanding how newer technologies
can be injected into these processes to get that better experience for everybody. We have a question from Simone Jo Moore. She asks, "With five generations in the workplace now, I think there can be an assumption that people know something we think is just every day but maybe not for them." I think this speaks, Jay, to the challenges of this broadly distributed workforce that's not just broadly distributed geographically but now in everybody's house. Jay, talk to us about that for a moment. You have to be very intentional about considering your whole team, the whole person, because they're at home, they have children, they have families, everything is blended together, everything is a mishmash. You have to be really intentional about
checking on their health, what's going on, if they're working too much. Are they engaged? I feel like it's a little bit easier when you're at work because you're in a dedicated workspace in an office. You've got to be real intentional with making sure you're taking care of the entire employee. What does that really mean? That means drop-ins, looking for virtual happy hours. I know my friend Jason James does a lot of virtual watercooler type stuff, a lot of drop-ins. Just making sure you're staying engaged and letting people know that you're there and you always have a virtual open door is key.
Obviously, the other challenge, I think, (besides connectivity today) is security and making sure you're staying on top of all the new challenges that are out there from a security perspective. Cynthia, when it comes to this kind of internal versus external set of perspectives, when you think about customer experience, even when you think about employee experience, you are taking this empathetic, outside-in view, as you were describing before. That's quite different from the historical role of the CIO, which was really looking inward toward systems and technologies. Would you agree with that?
I would 100% agree with that. It is maybe uncomfortable for some CIOs and some people to do that. But I think it's really critical in today's world to actually take that view because I actually don't know how you can be successful unless you put the customer first.
I have stood up in front of our engineering organization and talked about, "How would you feel if you were trying to do something on somebody's website and it didn't work? Would you come back again?" I think putting yourself in the perspective of that customer really goes a long way in making you think differently, and then bringing those experiences back to your team. Jay talked about staying connected with the team, socially and everything else. That's very, very important. But while you're doing that, you can also inject different aspects of the business and how people interact. Kind of use those as check-ins, but also
as education sessions to look at that end-to-end and bring that same perspective into the groups. We also do something where we reward different behaviors with what we call an IT Identity Award. We're looking at how do we change our persona, how do we change our DNA, how do we make it different and more customer-focused. Then quarterly,
we look at different behaviors—peer nomination and business nominees, our folks—to say, "Hey, they've demonstrated these behaviors," and it's really nice to give out those awards. Jay, thoughts on that one? I think we have to eat our own cooking and engage as a customer. When I was at ACS and even at AIG and other companies, whether it was forming our own relay team, creating our own fundraisers, using the tools that we provide millions of volunteers or millions of customers, you've got to be able to put yourself in the seat of the customer.
Quite frankly, don't make it a one-time thing. Infuse it into your culture that it is expected that you're going to live a day in the life all the time. I used to do ride-bys with our customer service folks, get out into the field, but also engage with your actual customers. I want my IT folks engaging as customers, but then I actually want to talk to our non-IT, our real customers, and just really understand where their pain points are. I think it's so important to understand that because most of the great ideas that we had, innovative ideas that came out of IT, came from folks who truly understood customer experience. They didn't think about themselves as just a DDA or just a .NET developer or just a DevOps
engineer. They thought of themselves as an IT person that represented an organization. They truly, Michael, had an understanding of how the organization delivered its products or services and where they fit into that value chain. When you understand that, I think you take a little more ownership and the ideas just start to come.
I think Cindy is right; you've got to reward and recognize. We had something very similar called the IT Code. We awarded an IT co-champion award to our folks who best embodied those qualities and people loved it. That's a great point. Years ago, when I was in
logistics, we had a ride with the driver program where we would send people out and actually ride with our pickup and delivery drivers. One time, people came back and said, "Hey, you know what? What we're designing is not going to work. It's just not going to work. They can't use it." I think you're absolutely right. Programs where you can immerse yourself into that customer experience—not just as a sideline watcher, but actually as a doer—it just goes such a long way. Arsalan Khan on Twitter and J.J. James on LinkedIn are both commenting on the importance of the CIO in cultivating that corporate culture that acknowledges experience and placing the customer at the center. What about that aspect, the need to be equal parts technologists and equal parts cultural leaders? People look at leadership, whatever role you're in. But again, the CIO, we touch everything.
I can't think of any part of the company that we don't touch. The culture and the ideas we bring to the table, they just go out all over the place. In my particular role, I work with engineering, I work with the business people. It could be an accountant. It could be
marketing. It could be a lot of different areas. How we talk about each other, how we look at bringing ideas together, and how we look at operating as one unit and putting titles and departments to the side is really critical. We can demonstrate that because we're not a silo. We're a horizontal organization. I agree. I think Cindy has done such a magnificent job of representing Adobe and the other roles she's had since we've known each other. I think I've tried to do the same—whether it was at ACS, AIG, EarthLink, or whatever—where I want my organization to feel really invested in what we're doing and feel that they have an equal stake in delighting our customers, to attract and retain our customers.
I want them to be excited to be part of the organization, that they're excited about, and understand that they're making a difference in people's lives, no matter what we're doing. We're delivering a high-quality product or service, we're fighting cancer, whatever it is, I want our folks, our IT folks to get real excited about that. The excitement starts when they understand how they fit into the bigger picture. The other thing I think it does, as an IT organization, is it generates credibility with the rest of the business that IT is all in and invested in the well-being of the organization and the growth and the success of the organization. To Cindy's point, we are not a black box. We're not a silo. I've been to some IT shops where they are so disconnected from what the organization does that you wouldn't know whether or not they're a manufacturing company or a pharma company.
I want our IT organization to genuinely get excited about what they do because I think it just radiates and I think it just generates this, "Hey, we want to do business with IT internally," because they understand what we're doing and they understand what we're trying to do as an organization. If you think about what we do in IT, we do a whole variety of different projects. We do these really large projects that are quite visible and then we do a lot of small stuff. When you were talking, Jay, what it made
me think of is all the small stuff and how I talk to my team about that. That is so special. There are so many nuggets there that actually can be extracted and they have a huge business impact, but they're not generally seen because they're just things that people do day in and day out to help the business users or help customers out. I think part of the CIO role—Jay, I know you've done this—is actually to be that advocate and bring those to life in front of our business people and others in the organization so that people can understand how they connect but other people can also understand the contributions that IT is making.
We have a question from Twitter, the @CXOTalk social account, which is Lisbeth Shaw is asking about the distinction between employee experience and customer experience. Do you handle those, think about those differently? Are they the same for you? Any thoughts on that? We do a lot with experience, in general. When I joined, I said, "Hey, our customers have this great experience. Why don't we take the principles of the same great experience and bring them internally?" That's why we formed this employee experience organization.
I think the principles are the same. You look at different customers with different personas and different ways of interfacing. Customers have a journey. The same with employees. If you take the same principles and apply customer journey to employee journey, you can look and gear tools to a new employee versus a more seasoned employee versus a different persona. I think how you react and the solutions that you provide may be slightly different because you need different tools internally versus externally. But I think the underlying principles of looking at a journey and looking at experience are pretty much the same.
Cindy nailed it. The principles are exactly the same. You're all about removing friction and improving. To Cindy's point earlier, happy employees or a happy team, generally, you're going to have happy customers, so the principles are exactly the same. It's all about retaining and delighting and removing roadblocks to let folks really shine and get real happy with what you're producing. I feel like the principles are the same. The mechanics are different. The systems are different, but I think the same principles apply. Chris Peterson asks about security in this work from home era where now you're not just defending a limited number of offices, but you have every employee is an endpoint. What about that?
Well, it's added a degree of difficulty. There is a lot less standardization if you're allowing folks to use devices that they haven't procured. Look. If your goal is to just throw up a perimeter around your organization, it's not 2000 anymore, or it's not 1998 anymore. It's different. There's an educational component that I think is a priority when you're working from home to make sure your staff and your team understand the risks. I think that has to be amplified. I think there are obviously a myriad of tools, whether it's VPN, MDM, all of those things, but it always starts with education. To Chris's point, and I think it's a very
good one, it does add a degree of difficulty when suddenly now there is no critical mass of people in a number of offices where you can kind of throw up barbed wire. There hasn't been that in a long time, anyway, but I'd love Cindy's thoughts. I agree. We've clicked over 25,000 people over a weekend but had been – we had a number of people who were either working remote or were traveling and working remote – assigned to an office, traveling, and remote. I agree with Jay. If you just have security around your offices or your campuses, then that's very 2000-ish. You have to
really look at endpoints and managing that and managing security in a different way. We had invested in zero-trust network technology so that made a lot of our transition and, actually, the experience for our employees a lot better. I think security is absolutely paramount, looking at how you provide it and how you extend it. My team, we're always going to be hybrid, right? Our offices, they're still there, but it's going to be a different world, so we need to look at network connectivity, we need to even look at how we provision networks and security in a much different way.
How do you think about the investments that your organizations are making? Do you look at it through the lens of technology, through business needs? How does this all work? I've always looked at investments as a balanced portfolio through many different lenses—not many, but a few different lenses—because we have different hats and we need to support different capabilities. The systems need to run. The infrastructure needs to be there. All of that needs to take place, so that's kind of table stakes. We have to invest in that to run the business, but then I think there is a balance in looking at strategic and looking at supporting day-to-day business needs. Then some of this becomes a negotiation because maybe some of these day-to-day business needs are perceived to be needed this year but, in reality, something that is more strategic will help us a little longer than that. You kind of have to negotiate with your business users on how much strategic and how much you support the day-to-day. I look at it as a pie and I look at it to make
sure that we have all the different components supported the way that we should to match our business goals and objectives. Then kind of look at the different users and the different departments and make sure that we're servicing them in the right way. I agree. I think it's always a balanced portfolio approach. Ideally, the more that you can invest in solutions, products, and services for your customers, and the more you can invest in innovation, the better. What it does is there's always going to be that component of KTLO (keep the lights on) or run and maintain. I'm a big believer in being very consistent about driving that down and constantly thinking about how we can get better, letting the trains run on time, and getting rid of technical debt because, quite frankly, when you stop looking at it is when it always starts to grow and stink. The minute you
take your eye off of it—to Cindy's point—it's time to have some tough conversations about sunsetting legacy systems, getting rid of some of those dependencies, duplicative systems, "Do we truly need it?" and taking a hard and fast look because those are dollars I want back. Not to mention, they're usually security risks, they're time sucks, they're labor sucks. There's nothing good about it, so the more you can simplify and make that just a part of your DNA to constantly keep a lens on how you simplify your tech debt and legacy portfolio because I want to put as much as I can in that growth engine over time. I want innovation and growth.
I want to retain the customers I have, but I want to continue to delight them through innovation, new product offerings, et cetera. But we also want to grow the organization and you're not going to do that with 17 duplicates of a legacy system wrapped around your neck. Cindy, how do you think about this issue of technical debt and the related issue of ensuring that as much investment as possible is spent on innovation as opposed to maintaining systems? I think Jay covered that, and I totally agree with him. You need to make it part of your process. In my role, when we do a project, an initiative, or whatever you want to call it, that is going to replace or could replace a particular system, it's part of the plan to retire. It's not something that we will say, "Say, we're going to do later." Retirement is the last step. I think that making it culturally part of what you do helps build that mindset that, "Yes, we need to retire our technical debt. We need to think about it as part of the lifecycle," because,
yeah, technology has a lifecycle and part of it is to get rid of it when you don't use it anymore. That's how we handle that. On the innovation part, innovation is an interesting topic. One thing about Adobe is we feel that innovation can come from anyplace in the company. We have a great, super research team, but we don't have innovation teams that are sprinkled around. What I try to encourage people to do is look at
problems and solve problems. I like to challenge people by giving them a problem and saying, "Hey, how would you particularly look at this and solve it?" and giving them the time to experiment and then giving them the time to fail because you learn from failure. Just putting out these problems for people, Michael, is the way that I handle innovation. Naturally, now they come up with their own ideas and bring it forward. Cynthia, then it sounds like you're looking at it through the dual lens of the technology lifecycle—knowing that technology has a limited lifecycle and we have to plan for that—and, at the same time, we have to be thinking about innovation and addressing the business needs. It sounds like you're weaving these two threads together. Absolutely. That is absolutely correct. I
think if you empower people and allow them to look at different technologies—be they open-source or whatever—and experiment, we have had amazing ideas that have been brought forward. One of those was what we call our self-healing framework, healing as a service that looks at operational processes and—if something is going to fail, run out of space, or something like that—it self-heals. That came just from innovation of a group and a problem that we had posed for them to solve. Jay, it sounds to me like that's easier said than done. What are the challenges that a CIO will face when trying to balance these sometimes conflicting or competing goals? Well, it starts with relationships and communication and making sure that you're all on the same page with what the goals of the organization are. The other thing it starts with, Michael, is facts. I'm not a big giant fan of getting into
emotional discussions because, look, sunsetting legacy systems, where we spend our dollars, can sometimes be a very contentious discussion. Product owners think theirs is the shiniest object or the one that needs the most investment. Having fact-based discussions is always a key to that. I think something Cindy said about thinking about the retirement of tech debt as you're building a system, I think it's a very interesting way to look at it. I agree. I think it's fascinating. I think making sure that, when you develop a system, you're developing it simply. You're not
just chasing a shiny object. You're reusing as many components as you've built. You're really thinking about that holistic customer experience. You're not intentionally building another stovepipe that's just going to get really ugly or with a lot of tentacles with manual processes. The last thing I'll say about that is, I think there's a huge opportunity. Cindy touched on it with self-healing networks for automation and really pushing down some of those repetitive tasks that employees and staff don't want to deal with, with technologies like RPA and other automation technologies to really get those off their plate so that you can focus on higher-value activity. We talk about that as our virtual workforce that complements our human workforce.
That's one area where we've looked at building a platform and then even allowing business users to automate some of the activities with the toolkit on top of that, so great point. I'm just trying to make that pie bigger, right? Yeah. Look. I want the pie as big as I can. Michael mentioned the pie. Yeah. I want that pie as big as I can. The way that you get it bigger, obviously, is to execute and have your team be world-class. But get rid of that technical debt, simplify your architecture and your infrastructure, continual improvement, automate wherever possible, make sure you're not fighting self-inflicted fires (whether it's security issues or all of those other things) and, ideally, that pie—which is what I can spend on product development, innovation, customer experience, et cetera—is as big as it possibly can. It's never going to be enough. There is
always more demand than supply. But I want that pie as big as it can be. To get that pie big, we have to instill the mindset in IT that we need to get out of the way, right? Right. And give people the tools and self-service because that allows us in IT to work on higher value-added activities as well. What are the technologies that you're looking at for this year that seem to be rising in importance or prominence? RPA, AI, ML: All of these, I think, are really very important, and chatbots, and how do we look at automation in our processes and also in the customer experience. Other things like 3D rendering and making things more real, adding the dimension. Adding dimensions into actually the workplace as well. Some of the things that we've been looking
at is, how do we have casual collisions, casual collisions we used to have in the office? How do we create the same type of casual collision in an online world? Maybe taking videos of some of our office space where this would occur and then creating drop-in rooms within the video settings that we use for meetings and things like that. I would say that technologies to help make things more real, to help with productivity, and to help with the experience is definitely on my plate. I think all of those that Cindy mentioned are spot on. I would throw in SD-WAN and a few other infrastructure kinds of things to get away from some legacy technologies, but I think the one thing you just have to guard against is doing it for technology's sake. Yes. I think Cindy made an excellent point earlier. What problem are we trying to solve here? Is something else going to go away? Are we
enhancing it? Are we delighting our customers? Are we improving customer experience? Are we just putting a big piece of technical debt on top of the pile I already have? Making sure you're thinking about it holistically, but I think all the technologies that Cindy mentioned are spot on. You both mentioned AI and machine learning. Where are we in terms of practical adoption of these technologies for your organizations? Are we at the proof of concept stage? Are we actively adopting? Where are we with that? Adobe, as a company, we have our AI special framework. We call it Sensei, the Adobe secret sauce of bringing things to life. In the IT world, we're pretty far along. The self-healing framework that I talked about—healing as a service—uses AI and ML in order to look at potential things that are happening in the infrastructure and do the self-healing component. We've also used it within, I'll say, our help desk, which is now pretty much virtual—it is virtual—to look at problems people are having and then inject answers and things like that.
Our experimentation and the proof of concept stage, Michael, I think started maybe about 18 months ago (or maybe a little bit longer) with little problems that we were trying to solve. Now we've expanded it out to use it in operations, using it in helpdesk activities, using it to service employees and across the board. It's been great because it's been a real career mover for some people that they've been able to really change their skillset and move from one role into another role. It's quite nice to see, actually. In my prior organization, we were proof of concept with IoT and AI. I worked for a very large manufacturer and we were looking at what it could potentially do for giving us real-time analytics throughout our operation 24/7, then being able to predict things before they happened, and find trouble spots versus this reliance on pen and paper, just intuition, and "Hey, I've been here 25 years." That's great and we always want to capture that and leverage that but, look, there's a whole bunch of tasks and data points coming in constantly. I want our folks leading
the organization. I want machine learning and AI looking at all of those different datapoints and helping us draw conclusions about problems that might be erupting before we can see them so that we can either avoid them or at least somewhat mitigate them, whether it's a security incident, it's equipment failure, it's an operational challenge, it's a quality challenge, it's a safety issue – all of those things. A question from Lisbeth Shaw is, "How and where can IT help create value for both IT and the business? Is it data, and for what? Is it dealing with supply chain? Is it operational efficiency?" It's kind of an all-encompassing question. It is really all of the above because if you think about everything that was outlined in that question, yeah, I mean data for sure, absolutely, and unlocking data. I like to
talk about unlocking data and making it really insights where people can action and action in real-time as opposed to looking back. You can do that with customer journeys. You mentioned supply chain. I don't manage a supply chain now (we don't have one) but I have in the past. That is such an area of opportunity if you look at hand-offs, quality, and all kinds of things. I'm sure, Jay, you can talk about that because I'm sure you have a supply chain component in your new role. Operational improvements, for sure, that's that
horizontal view and making sure that you look at it and help the business make those right decisions. Help them with different trade-offs. I think all of those are big components. Michael, the one overarching umbrella that I would say is, be easy to do business with internally and externally. Hmm. Be open. Be available. Don't be the old-school IT department that's filled with a bunch of people
that think they know better and everything. I think the best way that you can be of value, besides just executing and always pointing the finger inward about how you can get better, is just be easy to do business with. It goes back to that customer experience. Be approachable. Have open doors. Be collaborative. Be open-minded when it comes to tech solutions, et cetera. It all starts with that but that's where I would start. We have a question from Arsalan Khan. He's asking, "Which industries have you learned from outside of your own?" Where have your sources of inspiration for being a CIO come from? One of the industries that I tend to follow or look at a lot is – well, there are two, actually – retail and financial services because I think that, when you think about some of the points that are really important to us, like experience, those both have a real deep look at experience in different ways, the customer and a holistic view. Then also, if you think about financial services, it's just a discipline. If you
think about security and things around that, there is a lot that we can learn from that. I agree. I think retail is an excellent example, Cindy. I continue to find inspiration, whether it's shows like yours, Michael—where you're bringing in all of these world-class CIOs, technologists, and leaders—or just networking with friends. Cindy, besides being a world-class CIO, we've been friends for years.
You watch and you get inspired by things that they're doing. Why am I going to go recreate the wheel when somebody has solved a problem or maybe just has been a reminder of things that I need to be focusing on because I get mired in the day-to-day. I get inspired to maybe think about something differently. What's the hardest challenge that you faced during 2020? A quick takeaway is, stay connected to people. Right? Yeah. Yeah, I mean the technology is absolutely, critically important. But it's the people,
their feelings, and what they need to do. It's just that connection. That's how I got through it is that connection to people. Let me ask you both for your advice to CIOs who are seeing all the opportunities that you both described but also seeing the many challenges that CIOs face at this moment. [I think] it's a great time to be a CIO,
I really do. I know we're trying to be quick. I think, right now, our industry is more open-minded than ever. I think CIOs have the biggest opportunity, probably, that they've had in years, to be at the table and to be thought of as a leader first and a technologist second because we're so ingrained with what organizations are doing. Challenges continue to be the uncertainty in the
system. Obviously, COVID is still out there, but also security remains to be a challenge, and how can you continue to move fast with all of these different, weird forces that are out there? My advice—we talked about people—I would say people first. But my other piece of advice would be, don't be afraid to break things. Right? No. Challenge business models. There are no set business models today in COVID, so we need to be agile, we need to challenge, and we need to bring those ideas.
Like I said, don't be afraid to break things. You may break things and discover something absolutely wonderful. Has either of you started using or what do you think about emotional AI or effective AI? Just learning. How about that? Just learning about it. I think it's got a ton of potential. At this point, I'm in a nascent kind of learning stage
about emotional AI, but I'm excited about its potential – from what I read. I'm in the same camp. A little experimentation, but it's just that at this point. Okay. I think, with that, our time together is drawing to a close. I would like to express my thank you to Jay Ferro (Chief Information Officer of ERT) and to Cynthia Stoddard (Chief Information Officer of Adobe). Thank you both for taking the time to be with us today. Thank you for having us. Thanks, Michael. Great to see you.
Everybody, thank you for watching, especially those folks who participated and asked questions. We have great shows coming up. Check out CXOTalk.com. Before you go, subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so you can get our newsletter. Thanks a lot,
everybody. Thanks to our guests. Have a great day.