THE BLOG
01/15/2015 12:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Digital Business Transformation Starts With the CIO

There is no better time than now for chief information officers (CIOs) to champion and lead digital business transformation. Successful adoption of mobility, social networking, cloud computing, and data analytics will require IT organizations to be agile, responsive and forward looking, while sustaining operational excellence. Led by the CIO, IT organizations must also actively cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship and customer centricity. To achieve business relevance, IT organizations must train as marathoners (able to deliver long-term, complex and difficult projects) and sprinters (deliver quick wins, on time and on budget) - Gartner refers to this as bimodal IT.

Adobe Systems has been going through a massive business transformation, from the traditional world of shrink wrap product software to a service and SaaS subscription base model company - one of the reasons why Gerri Martin-Flickinger chose to join Adobe seven and a half years ago as CIO. Today, half of Adobe's revenue comes through subscription services models as opposed to product purchase models.

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Gerri Martin-Flickinger (Twitter: @GMFlickinger) Senior Vice President and CIO - Adobe

Martin-Flickinger has been a CIO for three high tech companies, McAfee, VeriSign and now Adobe and likes to think of herself as a "career CIO". As a lead technologist within the company, Martin-Flickinger gives an eye-opening view from the IT perspective of what it's like when a company makes the transition from pure desktop to cloud. Having successfully shifted the conversation regarding IT from cost to value, she offers practical advice for how to elevate IT from help desk to a business partner that is enabling products and accelerating marketing and sales as organizations make the shift from providing on-premise to cloud products.

6 tips for elevating IT from cost center to a value center:

1. Moving the conversation from cost to value is a journey - Depending on the size, age, industry and go-to-market strategy of your company, it may take IT professionals years to move the conversation away from cost to value. "I think I would be remiss if I didn't say it's a journey for everyone everywhere. So don't be disheartened if it's a journey that's taken you years. I'll be completely candid, in seven and a half years I've been through many phases of many of those transitions and sometimes you circle back," says Martin-Flickinger.

One of the biggest challenges for IT in a company that is more than 30 years old and built by software engineers has been getting to the table and to a place of mutual participation with the engineering community. Martin-Flickinger shares a couple of thoughts about ways to make that happen, "First of all you don't mandate that kind of change, it's something that you do in combination of letting the people get to know each other and then proving that you can be valuable. Secondly, making sure that whatever is successful gets mutually recognized, not only by myself, but by the engineering leaders that are my counterparts on that side. If you do enough of those kinds of projects where people see that there is mutual recognition and skill sets that are coming together to make a better solution than if they had not come together, it takes care of itself."

2. Declare your intent to customers - One of the things Adobe spent a lot of time thinking about as they decided to go down the path of transforming their business to the cloud was to declare their intent to their customers. "You know we didn't sort of dribble this out a little at a time to trap people in the change in business model. We declared to our customer's our intent," shares Martin-Flickinger, who says that in doing so they also became very transparent with the price point they were setting out on a monthly basis versus the package. In doing so, they tried to get the price in a place that it isn't any different from a total dollars out perspective, but the value to their customers is faster integration of their products and faster innovation that they can start to deploy in their own use of Adobe products.

3. Enable the back office - Martin-Flickinger has always been really passionate about the fact that the investment that most companies have made in their back office - if done responsibly and well - is an asset to be harnessed. And as people start building products that are cloud connected, information that sits in the back office can actually be part of that engagement with the customer. "One of the things we did five years ago, that we strategically set up to do in conjunction with the business changes to our products for cloud enablement, was enabling our entire back office so that when our product teams want to, for example, put that buy button inside their product at some point in time in the future, they only have to make a service call and it's done. They don't have to worry about all the security and the compliance, and the linkage and the entitlement. They don't have to worry about any of that, it's all within the service catalog call," says Martin-Flickinger.

Providing this web service's layer that will help the engineers build their products faster by unleashing capabilities that traditionally lived in the back office is one of the ways that her team has become deeply embedded in the products. According to Martin-Flickinger, there are lots of different ways for IT organizations to be thinking about how they can actually unleash the power of the company's products. She says, "IT needs to get ahead of that and not wait for someone to come and ask them, because in this new world nobody's got time to come and ask you for something."

4. Form partnerships with the business - One of the ways that Martin-Flickinger adapted the culture of IT during the significant transition that Adobe undertook was by placing a huge emphasis on partnerships. "I think messaging from the top is really important and one of the things that my team will tell you is that I am a huge advocate for the word partnership. So every time we talk about things like alignment of IT efforts with business needs it is always in context with partnership. When I meet with IT leaders, I like to see them in the room with their business partners; not solo. I do think if you really believe partnership is part of the value proposition and is going to move the IT organization up the food chain, that partnership cannot just exist at the table; it has got to exist at every level across the business and IT," says Martin-Flickinger.

To demonstrate that the partnership is the grounding culture change that needs to be made, it has to be something that is promoted, rewarded, acknowledged and celebrated. To that end, Martin-Flickinger employees a simple, yet powerful, "thumbs-up note" program which has become a source of pride with her employees. Every time she gets a kudos note from a business partner about something someone has done in IT, she sends out a little recognition mail from her personally, that talks about why this was great behavior and what it was that the person in IT did that really demonstrated that partnership and the alignment to the business.

5. Leverage analytics to make better informed decisions - CIO magazine recently published their 2015 state of the CIO survey of over 500 CIOs and IT leaders and one of the interesting survey points was how business leaders perceive IT. With only 13% perceiving IT as a business leader, Martin-Flickinger sees using data to empower companies and drive customer engagement as an opportunity that is front and center for IT organizations to morph into information management leadership and change this perception. "The value of information and data, and the role of the CIO becoming a very strong focal point in bringing that together holistically for most corporations and enterprises is extending beyond financial data and sales pipeline data and into the realm of digital marketing, which is an area that Adobe has a lot of engagement in as a supplier. The digital marketing arena has opened this whole new aspect of analytics for the marketer. And now the CMO is becoming a very primary business partner with CIO's as they deal with harnessing and stitching that enterprise data with marketing data," says Martin-Flickinger.

Martin-Flickinger feels that with all of the data interchange and integration, there is no organization better positioned to help with that than the IT organization because it is right up their alley.

6. Use consistency and simplicity to formulate a story - Martin-Flickinger has found that it's really important to boil your message up to your audience. She found a sweet spot a few years ago where in talking to the CEO and the CFO, she finally got them gravitated around three KPIs that told a story and gave them a really simple way to have a conversation and show how investing in IT could help them achieve those three numbers. "It's not to say you don't have the deeper conversations, but you have got to find whatever formula works in your company to get to the deeper message, so that the sentiment is clear about how you are doing the work that you are doing. So it's a journey, but for us simplicity worked," says Martin-Flickinger.

You can watch the full interview with Gerri Martin Flickinger here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.