7 Trends CIOs need to follow to be successful in 2020

As the role of CIOs becomes increasingly important, Chiranjoy Das (former CIO 100 award recipient and former advisor to Gartner) shares the trends to look out for in the new year.
By
Chiranjoy Das
December 17, 2019

In our C-Suite Conversation Series, Heyday welcomes a thought leader to share their insights on the evolving digital landscape and the trends that are shaping their strategy and transforming the face of their organizations. 

This month, we welcome Chiranjoy Das, CIO at Randall-Reilly. CJ, as he is fondly known, comes with several accolades under his belt. He is the recipient of the CIO 100 award and former advisor to Gartner. Today, he shares his views on the evolving role of CIOs and the trends they will need to follow for 2020. Over to CJ!

As we shift to a digital-first and AI-driven world, the role of Chief Information Officers will become more and more central to any organization's future. The new reality is that every company, big or small, old or new, is now forced to embrace technology and treat it as a driving force and a differentiator.

Juan R. Perez, CIO at UPS, stated that “UPS is a technology company that happens to be in the logistics business.” 

With 2020 around the corner, here are 7 digital trends CIOs need to watch out for

1) Integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is sweeping the digital landscape as the top new disruptor, and the time to join in on the trend is now, and timing is just as important as implementation. The sooner you start testing and the bots start learning, the faster your AI grows and gains a competitive advantage for your business. 

Building proof of concepts (POCs) is a good way of demonstrating AI’s practical potential and bringing to light ways in which it can have an immediate impact, while also managing risks and budgets responsibly. 

If you’re looking to get AI working at streamlining your supply chain or augmenting your customer service team, the ideal situation is for you to start small, test fast and scale iteratively. Once you get a clear return on investment (ROI) and solid partnership with a vendor, you can then scale your efforts to impact the core of your business.

SimpleTire is a classic example. As the CIO, I used the lexical analyzer-generating program—Lex—to build a chatbot. Though the project started as a simple bot trying to answer a few standard customer questions, it soon started guiding and helping users with their buying decisions and quickly became another important sales channel for the company. 

After building the bot, we integrated it to a customer relationship management software (CRM), inventory and product management systems, as well as an enterprise resource planning system. By doing so, we gave our technology a full 360-degree view of customers’ buying behaviours, as well as what the brand had in stock, in one fell swoop. SimpleTire also integrated the cloud communication platform—Twilio—to the bot to smooth out communications by making them more natural and conversation more human-like. 

Another example to demonstrate the power of AI are conversational chatbots for ecommerce. These chatbots can help automate support queries up to 80%, allowing agents to focus on high-value interactions. Through these chatbots, stores turn their cost center—customer service—into a revenue-generating engine where reps engage with customers to close the sale. 

As your competitors grow more efficient—thanks to their own AI projects—you need to turn potential ideas into concrete ones. Rather than introducing them into your business in a piecemeal fashion, it’s way more worth your resources to apply AI across your organization so that it can smoothly do what it does best—gather data across the board and leverage it to streamline every facet of your redundant day-to-day operations. 

Get your skin in the game by turning towards an interdependent, interconnected and integrated AI platform to move past the era of fragmented and siloed legacy infrastructure in favour of a fast-learning, across-the-board solution. 

2) Putting customer experience (CX) at the heart of your business

Customer experience (CX) should become the number one obsession of every company. In this day and age, you not only compete with your industry's usual suspects but you also compete with customer-obsessed brands like Netflix, Amazon, and Uber who have elevated customers' expectations of speed and personalization. CX is increasingly tech-driven. As such, CIOs must now sit at the same table as CMOs and work in partnership with the entire C-Suite to build strategies, systems, and processes that put customers first.

Great CIOs understand that in order to deliver a superior CX, you must work to identify areas of friction in the customer journey and leverage technology to remove those. 

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands are a great example. D2C companies like Warby Parker and BarkBox, along with Amazon’s megalithic dominance, have completely transformed how people interact with companies. Notably, these enterprises cut out the middleman and build direct relationships with their customers. Immediacy, convenience and around-the-clock availability are now thought of as baseline standards, and these high standards are the markers of what makes D2C companies such a smash hit. 

Even though it sounds counterintuitive right now, I believe CIOs must become the greatest CX champions of every organization and leverage cutting-edge like AI to create smart and seamless shopping experiences at scale.

3) Syncing your data across channels

CIOs are the digital enablers of organizations. As we've seen in point two, they should be championing new ways to streamline the back office and logistics of businesses in order to offer a more seamless customer experience. That promise starts with—hold your breath—Information. 

For informed decisions to be made swiftly and personalization algorithms to be working efficiently, data needs to flow across the organization in order to keep internal teams and AI assistants in sync at all times. That also means being able to create a single view of the customer across channels, whether their first interaction started on their mobile and their last interaction with your brand resulted as a visit at the leadership, or vice-versa, you need to be able to deliver a relevant, timely service that feels personalized. It's by reducing barriers inside the organization and synchronizing all systems to make information free-flowing and readily available that CIOs can bridge the divide between physical and digital stores and create a more delightful and frictionless experience across channels.

4) Building your own platform(s)

People are continuously searching for ways to be more in touch with brands, so it makes sense that platform-driven business models are on the rise. If we look at the gold standard of this style (not to mention of ecommerce industry as a whole), we can see how the platform format has the potential to completely make or break a business. You guessed it, we’re talking about Amazon.

Because platforms act as points of connection between people and direct inventory, truly doing away with the middleman, they create a smooth link between consumers and the goods they want, minus all the noise in between. 

Removing friction from the equation means you’re creating an experience that consumers not only want to return to, but will become more and more used to. Before you know it, customer stickiness has increased to the point that your users can’t do without your offering and you become the gold standard of your very own field. 

5) Automating robotic tasks and processes

Companies start by looking at the strategic and operating drivers for process improvement in their organizations and industries. For instance, in today's global market, nearly every company is feeling the pressure to get goods to market quickly and to be the first to market whenever possible. In a highly price-competitive environment, companies are under great pressure to economize their operations to improve their margins.

CIOs need to explore the automation options for their business, and focus on tasks where human error rates are high and the implementation barrier is low.

Whether it’s processing flows for order filling, inventory management, shipping, billing or jumping in on customer service, there’s a bot for that. It’s also a win-win situation, as error inevitably goes down with AI implementation and human resources are freed up to put their brains to work on tasks that require the critical thinking a bot can’t provide. 

Your employees’ own experience of the company can also be smoothed out by automated options. For example, employee self-service portals allow staff to make changes to their 401k retirement savings plan or take online training courses from anywhere at any time, without the need for an already busy member of the HR team to oversee the process. 

Automation is also looking out for employee safety on a broader scale, as companies turn to robots for tasks in higher-risk jobs, like mapping out a treacherous path on rugged terrain or entering a radioactive facility. When there’s a robot that can do the hazardous work, human jobs get a whole lot safer across the board. 

6) Rethinking security 

The average security breach costs a Fortune 500 company $8 million a year, so if you care about your bottom line, there’s no time to waste. Platforms like Cylance, DarkTrace and Abnormal Security are all pioneers in this area since they offer antivirus software that’s proactive rather than just reactive. They act like online flu shots, meaning that they prevent attacks in the first place before they happen rather than simply detecting them once the harm has already been done. 

Gone are the days when tools like Norton and Trend Micro are enough to protect your data. Your top safety priority should be to understand your opponents and implement software that can stand up to fast-learning AI-powered malware. Though these tools are still on the newer side, the fact that they’re made to learn with every interaction means that the more companies use them, the smarter and better at staving off attacks they’ll be. 

7) Killing the Data Centre

It’s time to lose the hardware, get rid of the data centre and move all of your operations to the cloud. Unless your company is in data or hardware management, there’s no reason for you to hold on to that physical heft. 

Things have come a long way since the dawn of internet security and, though owning your own data centre might have felt safer when your company was starting out, it’s time to face the fact that things have changed and there are easier options available that won’t be a safety compromise. 

For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) can provide you with all the web-based services you need, as this type of storage has become safer over time. Think about it: tech giants like Google, IBM and Amazon all bet their businesses on their cloud-based options. There is no reason why you shouldn’t.

Every company is a technology company

No matter if you’re in the footwear business or the makeup industry, you’re now also a part of the tech world, as you reach an increasing number of your customers online. With this digital shift, the role of CIOs has become more and more important because they champion the innovation and change that keeps companies relevant, while they also pave the way towards a brighter, sustainable future. From data mining to AI, cybersecurity, customer experience and product design, information technologies will be at the heart of business models for years to come. This is also why your quick-thinking CIO’s visionary outlook should be encouraged and nurtured with the support of your entire team.