Hjelm tries to keep his staff laser-focused on customers. That's not hard in the grocery business because everyone shops. But he also strives to show even his back-office IT staff how their work affects sales, customer satisfaction and other corporate metrics. For example, an engineer in the data center knows that systems availability directly affects revenue. "It's vital they understand," he says.
No CIO can succed today without developing antennae sensitive to customer behavior, says Cora Carmody, CIO of Jacobs Engineering Group, a $10.9 billion technical services provider.
Carmody meets regularly with customers, including recently with NASA and an Australian mining company. She does it to learn about their issues, but also to share her IT expertise. Recently, one of Jacobs' colleagues told her that his external customer was concerned about controlling IT costs, so Carmody offered to do a presentation on the topic for the customer.
"I've always done that," she says. It's a way to build IT's credibility within the company as well as collect sparks about potential new products and services, she says.
New ideas come from imagining what consumers go through, says Rick Roy, CIO of CUNA Mutual Group, a privately held company that provides insurance, asset management and other services to credit unions and their members. That's how a lucrative new mobile product was born at CUNA Mutual two years ago. At a car dealer, a consumer wants a loan but may not want to work with the dealership or head home to contact banks. CUNA Mutual came up with a smartphone app that lets customers get a car loan from their credit unions, then and there.
"If you work your way backwards from the consumer, you think about what kinds of things they're looking to do," Roy says. "How can we help?"
About $1 billion in loans have been secured this way so far, he says.
GAF goes even further. Adam Noble, CIO at the $3 billion privately held building materials manufacturer, last year started to send IT staffers to collaborate with external customers directly. Noble brought his internal experts in security, mobile and cloud to talk about, among other topics, why it's better to do business with GAF. "People buy your products, yes, but they also buy from you because you have service no one else offers," he says. "We [in IT] are collaborating directly with customers to help run their businesses better." GAF expects to expand a product offering and service this year based on this work, he says, but declines to provide details.
The experience has been a morale booster and an education for his internal experts. "Individuals in my organization get to explore and get exposure," he says.
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