CIO interview: Ernest Gmünder, Touring Club Suisse

Ernest Gmünder is turning his expertise as a CIO into a consultancy business, offering advice to businesses that want to get more from their IT

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Ernest Gmünder is turning his expertise as a CIO into a consultancy business, offering advice to businesses that want to get more from their IT.

He has just finished a spell as CIO at Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) – the Swiss equivalent of automotive services company RAC – where he transformed the organisation’s business through customer relationship management (CRM) technologies, which put customers at the centre of its subscription model.

TCS is the largest mobility club in Switzerland, providing roadside assistance, travel assistance, legal insurance and driver training services; as well as campsites and hotels. The company wanted to get more from its subscription-based business through better engagement and understanding of its customers.

When TCS wanted to replace the 20-year-old home-grown CRM application, under Gmünder’s guidance, it moved to a subscription-management system, which encompasses digital tools from suppliers such as Salesforce.com, Zuora and IBM. It defined a new contact strategy, with an overhaul of its CRM and billing operations.

Gmünder says the project required the CIO to understand the TCS’s business, rather than just the IT. He picked up these skills through diverse roles in business and IT. He graduated in computer engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, after which his career put him on the line between business and technology. As well as holding a number of CIO roles, he has been the software product localisation manager at Autodesk, senior director of solutions at Reynolds and Reynolds, business manager for Switzerland and Austria at Carestream Health, and COO for The Lausanne Hotel School.

Marrying business and technology

These experiences have given him the background of a business-focused CIO. “These technical and business experiences are ideal for a CIO role. Having both experiences allows a CIO to speak the same language, understanding the priorities and needs of the business,” says Gmünder.

He says today’s major business challenges are increasingly linked to IT, through the adoption of technologies such as smartphones, social networks, cloud computing, big data and the internet of things (IoT). “The business needs to adapt to the fast-changing landscape, and IT is more and more challenged to follow these expectations.”

IT needs to re-invent itself in the same way the business needs to re-invent itself, he says. “In particular, IT needs to ask itself the question: ‘Is running the servers, the databases and the infrastructure still the best value of IT for the business?’ I believe the IT organisation brings most value in the interface between business and technology, not just by developing or operating technology."

He says CIOs are important partners for all parts of the business which will challenge IT decisions, based on knowledge and experience gained using their own technology. “The private use of IT on smartphones and apps in the cloud is raising expectations in the business environment greatly. The CIO needs to be able to respond to these expectations and needs.”

Exploiting IT to boost productivity

IT must support the business in critical areas, says Gmünder. Individual productivity can be improved through the variety of options in the device market, while decisions around document-sharing, groupware and the social enterprise can improve group productivity. He says process automation is an area where the CIO can make a major contribution. Supporting business decision-making through big data and analytics technologies will be vital, as data volumes explode. 

He says the customer interface is going through a major transformation in all industries as smartphones, social networks and the internet of things, replacing email and the web. IT is not just close to the business in some cases, but is the only reason some products and services exist, says Gmünder: “Products and services become IT products; for example, insurance for a single day cannot be done unless it is fully IT-enabled and sold as an online service.”

With all these tasks to juggle, the CIO will need to be proactive and flexible, says Gmünder. He says the CIO will need more support: “Some of these areas may be managed by two people, depending on the focus of the company.”

The transformation project at TCS encompassed many of these technology areas.

Capturing a view of individual customers

He says the target was to provide flexible services that would allow personalised services for customers. “It starts with marketing, to target potential customers with personalised messages over their preferred channel, then a personalised sales process on the preferred channel, with personalised billing and payment methods,” he says.  

A single view of each customer is essential. “The callcentre was a central piece of TCS’s CRM. It is crucial callcentre agents have a complete view of the customer, and have the tools to help them sell, up-sell or cross-sell products, in addition to providing great service,” he says.

The company uses Salesforce.com, at the centre; Aprimo, for marketing; Zuora, for subscription management; Cameleon, to manage the complex product packages; and has implemented IBM Varicent, for channel performance management and sales compensation. It also uses Dell Boomi, for integrating cloud and legacy systems.

Legacy systems were mainly in-house developments and the main customer and sales application was replaced. The company has retained legacy in-house applications for service delivery in some areas of the business, such as roadside assistance; and SAP remains at the heart of the finance system.

Gmünder is now a consultant concentrating on IT transformation of this type. “There are many organisations unhappy with their IT, but sometimes not sure why and often not sure what they need to do, since the basics seem to work well.”

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