AUGUST 11, 2021
During each episode of the Next Big Question podcast, we speak with executives and thought leaders about a big, timely business question. In this episode, I spoke with Piyush Chowhan, chief information officer at Lulu Group International. We asked Piyush: What does a focus on the digital consumer mean for the C-suite?
Piyush has seen several paradigm shifts for the role of CIO in his time as a leader: order-taker, service-provider, and “transformation” guru. But he’s resisted these boxes because he’s always seen very clearly that true business value comes from anticipating and satisfying the needs of the customer. For Piyush, that singular focus brings clarity to complex digital demands of a global enterprise and leads to better outcomes.
But to place the customer at the center of digital strategy is a shift for all aspects of the business, not simply IT. Every executive community has to evolve and align, and each of them will do so at their own pace. Bringing those leadership purviews together in an evolving context is what it really means to be a CIO. Here, Piyush talks about the “glue” that holds the C-suite together through this transition:
There is no enterprise that says, ‘I want to go into the future’ that doesn’t have digital at the core. Technology leaders are in the best position to play that role of catalyst and change agent and driver of this digital journey.”
“Structurally, the CIO seat has enough power, but you derive that power by working with the other C-suite members. There are essentially three sets of organizations. One set wherein the board and the CIO own the digital charter – which I think is the right thing to do. Then there is a second set of organizations that says, ‘We don’t understand much about digital, so let the CIO run that,’ and they have very low interest. Then there is a third set of organizations which predominantly say, ‘Alright, the technology isn’t scaling up; let me bring in some fresh talent from outside and title them the CDO or Transformation Officer or whatever.’ All three exist in today’s context, but it’s important for CIOs to understand how to bring the entire C-suite – the CMO, the CFO, the CEO – together so that you are able to bridge the so-called digital silos that have been created.
I’ll give you a very simple example. The marketing team will always want to spend a lot, because their job is to make sure you acquire customers, reach the customers. They don’t care too much about saving money. Whereas if you go to the CFO, the CFO would say, ‘Why are the marketing guys spending so much? What’s the ROI or the value they are deriving out of it?’ If you go to the supply chain guys and head of operations, they’d say, ‘We have to be the most efficient, most cutthroat in terms of operational efficiency.’
So, every CXO has their own agenda which they are trying to solve towards. Nothing wrong in that, but there needs to be glue, which can tie everything together. And to me, that glue is your ability to make each of these functions data-driven. You should make sure that your team is serving the data requirements of each of these functions. Show the CFO, ‘Look, this is the ROI that the marketing guys are achieving,’ and then the CFO can have honest conversations with the CMO about marketing spend. These kinds of conversations are things that the technology leader can enable with the power of data.
You break the silos by enabling the organization with data-driven decision-making capabilities – with the ability to bring in collaboration and build collaborative platforms by which all CXOs are able to share data and bring in the power of digital. You as a technology leader will be able to drive a lot of discussions that are part of the digital agenda of the enterprise. To me, that’s a game-changing event: drive data-driven decision making with the help of technology. If you can do that, everybody will just love you.”
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