Navigating the Evolving Role of the CIO
At a time when digital disruption is constant, chief information and technology officers face critically important challenges in terms of how, where, and why information is generated, shared, stored, and accessed. As technology continues to evolve, these leaders are tasked with being more strategic, proactive, and innovative to keep their companies’ infrastructure up-to-date, and in many cases, ahead of the curve.
To learn how CIOs and CTOs are approaching data and security, and how they’re planning for the future, Twin Cities Business hosted its annual CIO Forum on July 17 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley. The forum was moderated by editor in chief Allison Kaplan and sponsored by RSM, Coherent Solutions, Robert Half Technology, the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business and MHTA.
Joining TCB as panelists were John Avenson, vice president of technology for the Minnesota Twins; Anthony Hoang, CIO of CliqStudios, a Bloomington-based custom cabinetry startup; and Tiffany Snyder, CIO of animal nutrition for Cargill.
What follows are edited excerpts from the forum categorized by topic.
Tiffany Snyder: In the past, the role of IT was mainly around operational excellence, we focused a lot on delivering the day-to-day needs to run our operations around the world. Now that’s just expected. What’s different is now we are at the table crafting the strategy and helping leaders understand how we need to disrupt our own business models because we have non-traditional competitors like Amazon that were born digital.
We look at a lot of other industries to see how they are optimizing their businesses and creating new business models. For example, we are partnering with the startup community to see what we can learn from small companies who see our industry very differently and how we can develop an agile approach to bring that innovation inside our company.
Anthony Hoang: Our founder Andy Juang once said to me, ‘You have to remember the role of the CIO used to be about everything after the sale: order fulfillment, production, delivery. Now the role is critical to the marketing and sales functions too.’
The cycles around marketing tech are highly compressed. The innovation around online behavioral tracking, marketing analytics, personalization technology, and building native apps is happening in 6-month cycles, and that requires constant re-education.
Snyder: We like to say, you never let a good crisis go to waste. The WannaCry ransom attack is a good example. That really changed the conversation with our leaders. We created what I call the Cyber Acceleration program, and a huge part of that effort was an educational campaign with our users. You can do a lot with technology to protect networks and data that are housed on those networks, but people are your weakest link.
John Avenson: Everyone in your organization has to be participatory in data security. If you isolate your decision makers from how your data is constructed and where it’s coming from, they won’t understand the importance of how to protect it. The more they understand, the more interested they are in how its protected.
Hoang: When it comes to how companies use information they have about consumers, it starts with transparency. It’s transparency in how you are tracking, how you are understanding user behavior, if you are bringing in third party sources or demographic data. Transparent data practices are the foundation of trust and building relationships.
Technology for the future
Snyder: At Cargill we look at trends in the population growth. By 2050 we will have 9 billion people to feed around the world. The way we are going to do that sustainably is with data and technology. We just invested in a company that has facial recognition, so now we can put cameras in barns to watch the behaviors of individual cows and deliver personalized nutrition to each cow. Farmers no longer need to be on the farm around the clock, now they can use an app to get alerts when conditions in the barn aren’t right or a cow isn’t behaving properly.
Avenson: One of the things that is going to continuously change is how we broadcast games. Very recently, Major League Baseball entered an agreement with Facebook to only broadcast certain games on their site. I think MLB is trying to experiment with how things may change in terms of how this product is consumed. The unique thing that Facebook delivers is a socialized togetherness.