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CIOs must know their customers to know the business

Clint Boulton | March 14, 2016
CIOs who aren't learning what their customers want risk losing focus as they augment their business with digital capabilities.

Mastering customer insights requires leaning in

But McNamara says he gained customer insights during his stint as CIO of U.K. grocer Tesco, where he spent time in every position in the retailer's stores. He worked as a cashier and call center representative, an experience he described as humbling. "You go from feeling like you're the master of the universe to feeling like an imbecile," McNamara says, of taking customer calls.

Despite the wealth of data analytics piping customer insights into today's businesses, working the store floor is the only way to grasp how the business operates as well as how the decisions a CIO makes impact the lives of employees and customers. "What doesn't flow through the bits and bytes is customer emotion ... how customers feel about the brand and their experiences," McNamara says. "To get in tune with that customer, you've got to get out there."

World Bank CIO Stephanie von Friedeburg has become an advisor to the broader business for the nonprofit organization, which offers financing and other programs to help governments alleviate poverty. With the support of President Jim Yong Kim, von Friedeburg reorganized IT to better serve customers in 186 countries.

She centralized IT by replacing widely dispersed on-premises hardware and software with social, mobile, analytics and cloud solutions, including public cloud services from Box, Microsoft and AWS, and expanded the bank’s Internet connectivity. Such technologies have laid the foundation for extending technology outside the office to serve its government customers.

For example, World Bank lends money to governments to maintain roads. But figuring out where that maintenance ought to occur is challenging. So the bank is equipping cars with sensors to determine where road decay and congestion are greatest, which will tell them where the funding is getting spent. "We can disperse our money using sensor data and actually become more effective and inefficient," von Friedeburg says.


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