Tangerine’s CIO is fearlessly asking himself the scariest question in IT

At a recent Toronto CIO event, Charaka Kithulegoda and Allstream’s Mike Strople discuss the shift to a digital enterprise and the challenges involved

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The CIO of Tangerine has no idea where his customers will be coming from next.

“It could be online, it could be through our app, it could be from their wristwatch,” said Charaka Kithulegoda, speaking at a recent event with the local industry association Toronto CIO, which was sponsored by Allstream. He didn’t sound particularly worried about the uncertainty, though. Kithulegoda is one of those IT leaders who is learning that the key to success in business means getting really good at creating digital experiences for customers in whatever form they choose. If you’ve at least started focusing more of your energy on that versus managing back-end legacy infrastructure, you’re likely to be ready for anything.

Of course, not all CIOs are there quite yet. In fact, the theme of the Toronto CIO event was oriented around helping IT executives mapping out and successfully navigating their journey to a digital enterprise. It’s a priority because, unless you want to compete on price, most mature industries are led by organizations that compete on the quality of their customer service or customer experiences. With more of those experiences happening through digital channels, CIOs have a huge opportunity to create value, but are equally challenged by the risk they will be ignored or displaced by other parts of the business.

Even Kithulegoda admitted the shift to digital experiences can be uncomfortable at times. Recently, for example, his firm moved from a traditional e-mail system to a cloud-based version, because part of optimizing front-end experiences for customers means getting your house in order internally. Despite the logic of making the move, however, some Tangerine staff had been managing e-mail servers on premise for years.

“There is sometimes a perceived or actual loss of control that happens,” he said. “One of our core principles now is that whenever we look at an activity, we ask a question: Should we still be doing this? Sometimes the answer is no.”

By the same token, Kithulegoda suggested that rather than taking baby steps towards a digital enterprise, CIOs should launch IT initiatives more quickly and more often — something in six weeks as opposed to six months, for example. Get your mobile app out the door today. Enable a social media monitoring program right now. Be where the customer is because it’s imperative.

Mike Strople, Allstream

Mike Strople,

These changes mean the vendor partners who work with CIOs also need to think differently, said Mike Strople, Allstream’s president. He recalled a customer who was promised 24/7 reliability in terms of network uptime but didn’t want it. “He said, ‘I don’t care if you’re down at two in the morning, I need you to guarantee me uptime between seven and nine, because that’s when my business is at its peak,’” he said. “You can’t just always offer one hundred ‘nines’ of availability any more. It’s about working within customer cycles.”

The attendees at Toronto CIO seemed to accept that the digital enterprise would become a key priority, but not without some reservations. Recent data breaches at Target, eBay and elsewhere have meant the security implications of some digital experience need to be thought through more carefully. While some thought what our panelists were discussing was a huge leap forward, another commented, “If you’re a CIO and you haven’t been doing this, where have you been?” The pace of progress is relative.

Finally, while the shift to digital customer experiences may bring CIOs a lot closer to their counterparts in areas like marketing, those at the event suggested they would need to be equally prepared to innovate on the fly. “We need agile development in the business,” one of them said, “not just in the IT department.”

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