Chief Information Officer

Chief Digital Officer at TIAA on “Customer Aware to Customer Led…Shifting the Mindset of a Nearly 100-Year Old IT Organization”

Scott Blandford, CDO and CIO of Retail Services at TIAA, defined what makes an e-business and how to create it.

At the opening keynote address of the 2016 Chief Information Officer Leadership Conference: Spotlight on Financial Services, held on September 8 in New York, Blandford asked the audience, “How do you know if you’re an e-business? There are two things you look at,” he said. “It’s not whether you have a website and an app. You have customers who sometimes need help and want to talk to a person, and you have other customers who want to take care of their business online without help—unless they have a problem, and then they want to talk to someone right now.” An e-business accommodates both situations smoothly, said Blandford, by becoming a company that’s both high-touch and high-tech. “Digital is at the center of both.”

Customers make all kinds of decisions every day, said Blandford. In those decisions, companies either win or lose, depending on whether they do what’s right for the customer and the business. “You need to ask yourself how many people in your company are aware of what your customers are doing all day, why they’re doing it, recommend changes to improve those decisions, and implement those changes in production immediately. This is a process of observe, diagnose, and treat. If you’re an e-business, you have a lot of people doing that every day. If you’ve got a long IT process, you’re not an e-business.”

“You need to ask yourself how many people in your company are aware of what your customers are doing all day, why they’re doing it, recommend changes to improve those decisions, and implement those changes in production immediately.”

For many of us, our website is our largest storefront, but we often don’t acknowledge this, observed Blandford. “What happens if someone gets lost on the website? They walk away and never come back. We need to think of the web as a store. Even if you have the greatest IT team in the world delivering the best capability, if no one can find it, it’s a waste of money.”

Blandford continued, “We developed a system that measures how each customer uses the organization’s websites in real time. We set up 100 dashboard kiosks in multiple locations throughout the company so people could watch our digital business happen. We made our invisible store visible.”

The next question that TIAA addressed was: How do we create actionable information for thousands of people to drive the business forward? “We empowered our CEO with relevant information he could share with the board. As an example, we created a measurement to determine at what point customers stopped in their website transaction process. Only about a quarter of those who logged on made it to the ‘submit’ step. This was sobering information, and it pointed out that no matter how great our IT is, it’s not working if people don’t use it. We presented this information to the board, and it was clear to them that the completed-transactions number is critical.”

How do you maximize the pace and impact of improvements, especially in a legacy, mainframe-environment? “Small teams can do big things. The magic often happens in small teams. In our case, we thought of our store as a group of departments, and those departments have aisles. We encouraged combined business and IT teams to own their aisle, and their job was to improve customer experience and digital penetration and completion in that aisle. This was much more successful than directing everything from the center—a greater percentage of customers over time began and finished their transactions online. The next thing we knew, we had an e-business.”

“We thought of our store as a group of departments, and those departments have aisles. We encouraged combined business and IT teams to own their aisle and improve customer experience and digital penetration and completion in that aisle.”

In summary, Blandford said, “Traditional web analytics create a customer-aware mindset whereas watching the transaction flow in real time, all the time, allows the customer to lead you where you need to go to make your store better. E-business happens in real time, all the time. Another key point is that the measures—not the data—are what’s important to change the conversation. Finally, to complete our e-business transformation, we distributed the work into many small teams dedicated to their aisle to support their department to support the store.”

“The measures—not the data—are what’s important to change the conversation.”

Visit Argyle Executive Forum's 2019 CIO Leadership Forum: Embracing the Digital Revolution, from Information to Transformation in San Francisco, CA on Sep 10, 2019

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