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BoxWorks 2016: How three different CIOs handle digital transformation

CIOs from Coca-Cola, Uber and the GSA discuss the impact of tech on their business and the importance of digital innovation

Coca-Cola, Uber and the General Services Administration (GSA) are three very different organisations, each using technology in different ways.

While Uber was created with up-to-date technology, Coca-Cola has had to adapt its legacy background to make modern tech work. As a US government department, the GSA can struggle to implement technology change at a fast pace.

Coca-Cola and Uber are both customers of collaboration and workflow management firm Box. At the company's BoxWorks event in September 2016, speakers included Uber CIO Shobhana Ahluwalia, Coca-Cola CIO Miriam McLemore and GSA deputy CIO Steve Grewal.

Uber's Ahluwalia told the audience how the lack of legacy at the company helps it to quickly adapt to customer demand. “We don’t have a ton of legacy. Digital comes very easy to us,” said Ahluwalia.

Uber: born into digital

Uber turned six years old in 2016, though many believe it to be younger. Since the company was created in the tech era, it has not needed to go through a mass digital transformation yet, said Ahluwalia.

Since it still needs to partner with some third-party organisations such as Box for particular functions, Ahluwalia said it was important to find partners that are the right fit for Uber and whose services can scale as Uber’s 30,000 worldwide user base grows.

There has been a trend in recent years of companies taking up shorter, cheaper IT contracts with third parties to provide services or assist with projects, rather than the monolithic contracts of old.

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But adopting new technology for the sake of it is not the way to ensure digital transformation and eliminate legacy systems, according to Ahluwalia.

“Going to the cloud might be sexy, but it doesn’t solve a problem unless there’s a problem to be solved,” she said.

Uber decided to use Box due to its high levels of data, collected from those who use its service and those who provide its service. This data is used to create intelligence to determine where the company should go.

“We’re a very data-driven company and content comes to us from various sources,” added Ahluwalia.

“Going to the cloud might be sexy, but it doesn’t solve a problem unless there’s a problem to be solved”
Shobhana Ahluwalia, Uber

Due to the large-scale adoption of technology globally, lots of firms in different industry sectors are being forced to adopt new technologies to interpret data and react to customer and employee demand.

“If you’re not constantly thinking about the future, you won’t be part of it,” said Ahluwalia.

Employee and customer demand

Uber considers itself a “mobile-only” rather than a “mobile-first” business, as users or “riders and drivers” interact with the firm through its application only.

Ahluwalia said being such a huge part of the smartphone generation means Uber’s employees expect a lot more from the firm’s internal tech, and companies should use the technology they are presenting the public to influence how the business works internally. For example, making it intuitive, frictionless and foolproof.

“I don’t have 200 people in my organisation, I have 9,000, because everyone is a tech expert nowadays,” said Ahluwalia.

“What they use in everyday life defines what they expect at work and what they expect from the product.”

Coca-Cola: digital data for customer engagement

For Coca-Cola, the digital focus is more outward than inward, and Miriam McLemore, Coke’s CIO, said despite the firm’s push towards digital, there is some legacy that cannot be entirely eliminated.

“The company has always put the consumer first. Digitisation, for us, is consumer focused because we are a consumer product. We are consumer-centric,” said McLemore.

Part of Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy has always been public visibility around the world, and some of its internal activities include supporting its “social interaction centres” which ensure the brand’s message is appropriately adapted from country to country, as well as the creation of billions of dollars’ worth of social content per year.

“We also have the great benefit of consumers creating content for the Coca-Cola brand,” said McLemore. “Sharing that content and making it accessible and available is an important part of what we do.”

Coca-Cola creates a huge amount of data from sources such as its e-commerce platform, with each of the different sites requiring different prices, requirements and regulations which must be internally recorded and shared.

“Digitisation, for us, is consumer focused because we are a consumer product. We are consumer-centric”
Miriam McLemore, Coca-Cola

The brand has been working on moving some of its company content and systems into the cloud to make it easier to access across its global business, with functions such as marketing needing to share different strategy documents across regions.

“One of the most important [things to digitise] is the content we need to share with our partners and customers. Partners like Box can get us out the volume of legacy documents we have,” said McLemore.

“Solutions like this can faster get us out this legacy world and into the cloud,” she added.

McLemore joked the Coca-Cola formula would still be tightly guarded, and would not be finding its way to the cloud.

Coca-Cola has recently undergone some large moves internally, taking its HR systems and data to Workday and leaving its legacy SAP contract.

“Just getting the HR data to Workday and going to an SAS provider for HR is a huge change for the company,” said McLemore.

“Once you do a few of those, other pieces start following pretty quickly,” she added.

Digitising the physical

Much of Coke’s presence in the world is physical, ranging from signage to fridges and vending machines in retail outlets. McLemore says there is an effort within the organisation to digitise these as well.

Ideas such as virtual reality catalogues are being explored by the company to replace “old school” paper catalogues. McLemore said these digital catalogues allow retailers to properly experience how equipment would look in their stores.

“Otherwise you’re ordering a product or doing several visits to the store which has expense,” she said.

The benefit of the internet of things (IoT) was also highlighted by McLemore, as connected technology would help with the firm’s logistics worldwide.

“We have trucks and merchandise moving around and parking in big cities with congested traffic, and being able to service outlets is a challenge for us,” said McLemore.

GSA: the struggle for digital change

For Steve Grewal, deputy CIO at the US General Services Administration (GSA), digital transformation is a different story.

As well as being held back by some legacy systems, Grewal explains it can be difficult to initiate change at a fast pace for government departments.

The UK government, with the help of the Government Digital Service (GDS), has been working over the past few years to break down internal silos and create new processes for creating government systems, as well as promote more data sharing and open datasets.

Knowing and having a plan about where you want to go is important
Steve Grewal, GSA

The main driver for digital transformation at the GSA is improving the experience for its users.

When undergoing digital transformation in any kind of business, Grewal advised taking “continuous feedback” and building communities of practice to lay down the best way to go about certain projects.

“Knowing and having a plan about where you want to go and aligning yourself with it helps you realise it,” said Grewal.

“Be very honest with yourself in terms of what your strengths and weaknesses are,” he added.



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