In the lead-up to his appearance at Cloud Expo Asia Singapore 2017, DHL Supply Chain APAC CIO Steve Walker discusses the role of the modern CIO, remaining innovative, and the importance of making every decision about the customer
The changing role of the Chief Information Officer brings with it new responsibilities. Walker argues that CIOs are expected to be everything from business strategists to champions of innovation, both internally and to the public.
It would be easy to become overwhelmed by such a wide-ranging job role, particularly in a fast-paced environment. But for Walker, who has been in his current role since 2012, focussing on just one thing can help CIOs succeed in their myriad roles: getting close to the customer.
By understanding customers’ needs in depth, CIOs can ensure that their digital strategies and IT choices deliver the expected business ROI
Walker says: “This may not come naturally to CIOs, accustomed to simply ‘keeping the lights on’ with back-end infrastructure and IT support, but the intimacy of their customer relationships now determines any CIO’s effectiveness in both traditional and newer duties.
“Cultivating those relationships, rather than clinging to the status quo of server-room administration, should become the focus of all CIOs regardless of industry or experience.”
Understanding the customer
This level of intimacy with customers and their needs will help inform digital transformation strategies. Walker describes this as the ‘secret sauce’ of digital transformation. He notes that CIOs will almost always be tasked with leading transformation in their organisations – a task that is these days as much about business strategy as it is about IT infrastructure.
“Simply adopting technologies like cloud or SaaS, now well within the mainstream, is unlikely to guarantee the competitive edge they once offered.
“By understanding customers’ needs in depth, however, CIOs can ensure that their digital strategies and IT choices deliver the expected business ROI – whether by supporting new products, channels to market, or disruptive changes to internal processes.”
Digital transformation is ultimately about innovation, and to achieve that, there needs to be an innovative mindset, from the top of the organization to the bottom. Achieving that is no mean feat, but thinking of the customer can break down barriers.
Innovation at DHL
At DHL, millions of dollars were invested into its Asia Pacific Innovation Center (APIC) through which customers can gain hands-on experience of the latest technologies to challenge or disrupt the logistics industry. Walker says that visits to APIC inevitably provoke discussions between employees and customers about how these technologies might improve operations.
“For CIOs who hold increasing responsibility for business strategy as well as IT infrastructure, those conversations provide invaluable insight about which technologies we should take to market, and how to maximize their relevance to customers.”
This customer-centric attitude to innovation can trickle down the organisation. Walker opines that CIOs can use this customer awareness to reassure employees that seemingly blue-sky concepts can have a real, meaningful impact on day-to-day work. Employees are far more likely to embrace certain innovations if they know their customers already demand them.
Being able to fail fast is much easier with the support of close customer relationships
In a full transformative circle, this buy-in from employees actually returns to the boardroom when it comes to helping CIOs persuade other senior management that their proposed innovations are worthwhile.
Walker praises the culture at the top of DHL, referencing the executive support of innovation, particularly from group CEO Frank Appel, which has proven critical to entrenching innovation into DHL’s culture.
Walker sits on DHL’s innovation board, which supports and advises all of DHL Supply Chain’s operations in Asia Pacific. He summarises: “If CIOs want to energize and inspire the rest of the board to get behind innovation, they can best do so by proving that demand already exists amongst their customers.”
‘Fail fast’ is a notion gaining traction in the digital world. But being able to fail fast is much easier with the support of close customer relationships, says Walker. When customers feel they have a close relationship with CIOs, they’re more willing to test and iterate new technology. It’s a relationship that’s mutually beneficial, as the CIO can understand how to make it better, and when it gets better, the customers testing them out gain a competitive advantage.
As such, Walker leaves a final piece of advice: “The CIO’s place is no longer in the server room or datacenter – it’s out in the field, talking to customers and bringing them along on their digital journey.”
Steve Walker will be speaking at the forthcoming Cloud Expo Asia Singapore, 11th and 12th October 2017 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. To hear from Walker and other industry experts from around the world, register today for your FREE ticket.