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As business and technology become increasingly intertwined, CIOs are expected to take on more responsibilities than ever; driving innovation, building customer experiences, leading the enterprise to success—and all while monitoring their IT environments' everyday operations. Given such high expectations a new CIO's first days on the job can be daunting. What takes priority? What foundational steps will achieve the best results?
In this interview with Scott Alcott, founder of Aluminate, former CIO of Comcast Cable, and new TenFour Board of Directors member, we'll look at what new CIOs can do to help their organization harness the power of new technologies to create better business outcomes, maximize operational efficiency, and exceed customer expectations. This interview was conducted by TenFour content writer Devin McKernan via email and lightly edited for clarity.
Devin McKernan: Hi, Scott! Thanks for taking the time to talk. We're thrilled to have you on board and have this chance to pick your brain. Can you briefly tell me a bit about yourself and your CIO experience?
Scott Alcott: Hi! I'm a career telecom person—I worked up from the lowest ranks and have had commercial, operational, technical, financial, and executive roles. Most recently I was the CIO of Comcast, the biggest provider of broadband and cable television service, plus telephone, cellular, and other services in America. In addition to all of their corporate systems I had the privilege of running all of their service-enabling platforms involved with everything from sales, customer support, and service activation to billing and incident and trouble management; really everything that supports the business and operations. In my career I've had jobs like that all around the world. Currently, I run my own consulting firm and am busy trying to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites.
DM: New CIOs are often brought on to facilitate "Digital Transformation," but it means something different for every organization and leader. What does "digital transformation" mean to you?
SA: For me, digital transformation is a two-sided model; it's about making the customer able to have seamless, smooth, hassle-free, and delighting self-service experiences via apps and online tools, but also giving the same kind of attention and tools to employees.
DM: During this transitional time in technology, how do you select those that will best suit your business objectives and environments? Do you have a method for researching and testing new technologies?
SA: In addition to traditional methods for identifying and becoming aware of new technology trends—being a member of industry trade forums, attending conferences, running RFIs and RFPs, etc.—I've been lucky to be in forward-thinking companies that get exposure to emerging technologies via business development. I've participated as a venture investor in early stage start-ups, incubated potential partners and attended "shark tank" style pitches in Silicon Valley. For testing new technologies, we create proof-of-concept (POC) tests, we deploy to lower non-production test environments, launch in production sandboxes and geographic carve-outs with friendly users: all to get technical data across test cases.
DM: How do you see IT's role in the development and improvement of an organization's products and services? How do you identify and capitalize on opportunities for enhancement?
SA: IT's role is no longer (only) about ERP systems, corporate tools, and back office. IT is truly service and experience enabling and should be integral to the offered service portfolio, product catalog, business line extensions, and new markets a company plans to enter. IT can no longer live isolated in a technical factory—agile development, co-located technical and business teams, business/system analysts all working in tandem should together have dedicated time for developing new features, enhancements, and offerings.
DM: As the customer experience becomes increasingly integral to differentiating a business, how do you see IT and the technical infrastructure helping to facilitate those important customer relationships? How do you ensure IT is aligned with and helping to achieve business objectives at large?
SA: IT needs to be measured as a component of NPS (net promoter score) and isolated as a driver for customers' experience and satisfaction. The reliability, performance, and availability of IT-enabled customer experiences must be measured, but also the satisfaction with policy, process, and work-flows (UI/UX) supported by IT. If processes for authenticating customers, managing identity, and the number of clicks and response time are unsatisfying, it doesn't matter how good your product or price is.
DM: We often hear that IT staff are being asked to do more with less. Given the importance of technology in most business operations, do you think IT has enough of a say in business planning? How do you measure the value of IT and the solutions it provides?
SA: Every department is being asked to do more with less, not just IT. IT luckily has many more options than other departments to automate their workflows, outsource non-critical functions, and profit from utility cloud services to do its jobs. So, we are lucky to have systemized, multi-tenant, efficient options available to us to manage resource constraints. I find modern IT teams no longer have the "not at the table" problem. On the contrary, every work-package of every department wants IT intimately involved. The problem isn't lack of inclusion in the business anymore; it's prioritization, collision management, and business alignment that more often challenges the IT department.
DM: As cyber risks incur increasing costs cybersecurity has become a top priority for businesses. What is the CIO's role in mitigating cyber risk to the organization and do you have any thoughts regarding best practices, organizational adjustments, or vital technologies?
SA: Security is integral to every CIO's function. It's as foundational as providing available and reliable service. It isn't a role, it's a mandatory. Two best practices I like to highlight are: 1) Security is part of development. It turns out that secure code and systems are well‐designed as a side‐effect. Security cannot be something bolted on after‐the‐fact, it needs to be integral to the design, architecture, and coding and included from day one of development. 2) Checks and balances are important. I favor a CISO separated from the CIO who has permission to challenge the CIO, and I like the CIO having dedicated security people who work with the independent CISO team for counsel.
DM: What can a CIO do to drive innovation within their organization, even as budget restrictions force difficult choices between keeping the lights on and pursuing new initiatives?
SA: Digital transformation cannot be implemented via a hard‐coded ugly Frankenstein bolted on top of inflexible legacy systems. The maintenance of that is expensive, it is slow to add features and make changes, and creates this tension between "new" and "technical imperatives". The modern CIO needs to get his house in order with light weight micro‐services, well‐exposed API's, flexible cloud infrastructure and logically separated processes, policies, and UI/UX's so that the business, as much as possible, can configure things themselves without a 2‐year IT project.
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