Last June, Sanjib Sahoo became EVP and chief digital officer at Ingram Micro Inc., where he is responsible for accelerating at scale the development of innovative, world-class digital experiences that will create competitive advantage and differentiation for the business and the global technology ecosystem. This includes modernizing the IT architecture, consumption models, and customer experience at the privately held, $50B global technology distributor. I recently discussed this massive, multiyear transformation with Sahoo, and the following is an edited version of our discussion.
Martha Heller: What is the business transformation underway at Ingram Micro?
Sanjib Sahoo: With the advent of marketplaces and subscriptions, we are changing our distribution model. We’ve traditionally focused on serving our vendors, the technology providers; today, we are expanding to focus on improving the experience for our associates and our customers, the resellers. That’s a major shift from a channel-driven to a demand-driven approach and in how we structure our operations.
Our entire digital transformation is geared toward creating a single pane of glass for the lifecycle of customer engagement. If you think about Ingram Micro’s scale: more than $50 billion in revenues, serving 170,000 customers in 160 countries, our digital transformation will have a huge impact locally, regionally, and globally.
What is an example of how technology is driving this shift?
Our resellers want our recommendation, instantly, about technology solutions for their businesses or customers. Rather than waiting for them to ask, we will anticipate their needs, as well as their customers’ needs, by utilizing machine learning to push recommendations to them. So, we need to take data from our ERPs and create a real-time data mesh. We use cloud platforms and universal data lakes to deliver those real-time insights back to our customers.
What is the technology strategy behind delivering these insights?
Our strategy is to have global data feed intelligent engines, which are business use cases, which then create a frictionless experience. Pricing, recommendations, and renewals are all examples of use cases. First, you collect the base data, then you add intelligence—through machine learning—to make those use cases intelligent. These intelligent engines deliver a modern experience across all form factors for our team and our customers. Ultimately, the experience is reflected in a single pane of glass that captures all of these engines.
While collecting the data is foundational, it is equally as important to prioritize the use cases by value creation. This can be done through internal automation or by enriching the customer experience.
What advice can you offer for building the architecture to support this strategy?
Use an API ecosystem to containerize your services for auto-scaling, and make sure that you are decoupling monolithic systems, using a message bus architecture, and writing code for independent services. If you can use APIs to create a real-time data mesh in a universal lake, you can harmonize and distribute the data in a different way. You can distribute data to subsets with data marts, or to your AI and ML factory. But you have to stitch all of the data sources together through a message bus or pub sub architecture, because they have to be completely independent of each other. This strategy creates an intelligent modern experience for the customers in the front end.
Let’s shift from technology to culture. What are you doing to create the right culture to drive digital change?
I find that taking a design thinking view of the customer journey brings everyone together. We need to bring design thinking to the way we price, build, and do lifecycle management. To me, design thinking is more of a spirit than a process. It is about solving problems in a more collaborative way. When we build a new intelligent engine, we don’t care where people sit in the organization; we want everyone focused on how the use case can improve the customer experience.
When we map the customer journey, we look at the entire value chain and talk to sales, marketing, international operations, billing, and our customers. We put ourselves in other people’s shoes. My favorite phrase is “communicate with compassion, but execute with passion.” Your digital team must approach everyone in the value chain with compassion and empathy. That’s how you bind people together and create change.
What qualities do you look for in your senior team?
First, I want to know that everyone on my team can be their own CEO, which means taking ownership over an entire capability end-to-end. Second, I look for people who can focus on the why and do not work within or write technology in a silo. Third is they need to be results-driven. For every single technology you write, does it increase EBITDA and positively contribute to the experience? And finally, I look for CQ, EQ, and IQ in that order. CQ is competency quotient, which means you are really good at something. With EQ, I want to know that you are a team player and will work to get along with your business partners and do what’s right by the company and customers. For me, IQ is about focusing on the “why” and connecting the dots.
What are the success factors for digital transformation?
First is mindset. Digital transformation is all about spirit, so your change management program has to be successful in rallying the organization. Second is the ability to create an execution plan that balances risk to current performance with future transformation. It is about sequencing change to show value incrementally, but not pausing—or even disrupting—your current business. Third is architecting your technology so that you can pivot, because the market is always changing. If you architect for infinite business models, you can protect yourself against new competition and market dynamics. And finally, you need the governance to make sure your top initiatives are really creating value. There is always a temptation to do 50,000 things, but you need to focus—very hard—on the top levers that will actually move the needle. It’s about being an inch wide and very deep.
What is the future of the chief digital officer role?
Once a company has transformed from a traditional IT organization to a platform-driven business, the technology leadership role has to shift all of its focus to value creation. The technology leaders of the future will have the technology depth and business acumen to be the bridge to value. Maybe the CIO, CTO, or CDO becomes the chief value officer, but whatever the title, the focus is not on developing an AI engine or another cool mobile app. The celebration is not in bringing a new tool into the market, it’s in improving EBITDA margins and the experience of everyone involved in the journey. The focus is on business model change not just another technology tool in the bag. That’s the digital mindset.