CIOs urge companies to embrace digital disruption
IT executives ponder the challenges of inevitable change at Microsoft Envision in New Orleans on Monday.
By Lukas Velush
NEW ORLEANS – April 4, 2016 – OK, so what if digital transformation is not a threat to your business? At least not any time soon?
That’s the question the senior leadership team at Northwestern Mutual asked themselves a few years back. The venerable financial services company was on solid ground, said CTO Karl Gouverneur. But looking ahead, they saw not a threat, but an opportunity. And so they chose to embrace it.
Gouverneur and Microsoft CIO Jim DuBois told an audience of business decision makers at Microsoft’s Envision event that the issue of digital disruption is inevitable – and one that they should lean into.
DuBois said transformation is actually an opportunity for CIOs to have more influence in their companies. He used a story about CEO Satya Nadella’s first days as Microsoft’s leader as an example.
Two weeks into the job, Nadella received a direct email from an employee asking why he was unable to watch the new CEO talk at a Town Hall. Never mind that the employee was on a phone in a Sydney, Australia subway.
Nadella’s response was to say “Good question. What can we do about this?” He told DuBois he was in charge of fixing the problem. He told leaders from all of the involved product groups to help. He asked for daily updates on progress.
DuBois said it was unprecedented for a Microsoft CIO to lead on a project involving multiple product groups. That cooperation led to getting agreement on a solution that could be deployed in just four weeks.
“When I told Satya about that, his response to that was ‘Awesome! What can we solve next?’” DuBois quipped, adding that it soon became clear that the pace at which work got done at Microsoft was going to suddenly accelerate and be much more collaborative.
Gouverneur said that CIOs need to step up and be the person who helps their CEO and boards get ready for and move through their digital transformations – if they don’t, someone else will step in and do it for them. “It’s that important,” he said.
The two leaders were peppered with questions during their session, many of them from other IT executives. One of them was a question about how far each company has made it through its digital transformation.
Microsoft is “half way through,” DuBois said, explaining that the company has long moved away from shipping product on disks every three years, but adding that there is still much work to do to make sure that the company is truly supporting customers in an end-to-end way.
Northwestern Mutual has been fortunate because its core business model hasn’t been fundamentally disrupted yet, Gouverneur said. But it’s coming, and competitors will attack in a way least expected, so the company is getting ready for it now. “No sector is immune,” he said.
The goal with LearnVest is to have a way to engage with a younger generation that is familiar to them – through a website, app, or other online experience. Then, once they’re engaged, the company would still reach out with its traditionally very successful model of human-to-human contact – just in a much more abbreviated fashion than someone like a baby boomer would expect.
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