Executive consultants have plenty of advice about what CIOs must do during their first 100 days of taking on a new role. Meet the team, assess talent, and grab quick wins, highlight the necessary tasks.\nBut many CIOs do something just as critical though rarely talked about: the \u201cride-along.\u201d A CIO undertakes this practice to learn how company employees at various levels do their jobs. The ride-along takes many forms, depending on the type of business. Sometimes it literally means riding with field-service technicians as they complete work calls. Other times it means sitting in a call center, observing how customer service associates field inquiries \u2014 or fielding the calls themselves.\n[ Learn from your peers: Check out our State of the CIO 2019 report on the challenges and concerns of CIOs today. | Find out the 7 skills of successful digital leaders and the secrets of highly innovative CIOs. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletter. ]\nCIOs have been getting in the field to learn about their business for years. But CIOs are placing a premium on the ride-along today because they have an increasingly outsize role building digital products that help win, serve and retain customers and, ideally, generate revenue, according to IDG's 2019 State of the CIO report. And that means getting closer to how employees operate in serving customers.\nRingCentral CIO Trevor Schulze says it best: \u201cThe modern CIO must go beyond efficiency, focusing on top-line growth, revenue generation, customer enablement and employee productivity.\u201d\nHere CIOs share with CIO.com their ride-along experiences, along with tips to make the most of a new role.\nGet in the call center\nWhen Jim Fowler joined Nationwide as CIO in 2018 he spent part of his first 60 days observing and discussing how associates, agents, members and suppliers interact with the insurance company\u2019s digital products. Almost immediately, potential solutions to nagging inefficiencies sprang to mind.\n Nationwide\n\nJim Fowler, CIO, Nationwide\n\n\nAs Fowler fielded calls in the company\u2019s call center during one ride-along, he noticed that customer associates spent a lot of time bouncing back and forth between multiple applications to process transactions. This spurred Fowler to create a self-service app to make it easier for plan members to get information.\nFowler serves two different customers with different needs: the traditional member, or the customer who consumes property and casualty insurance; and the broker, who sells Nationwide products to consumers. Members don\u2019t want to talk to someone to pay a bill, but they almost certainly want the personal touch of speaking with someone if they experience losses. Brokers meanwhile want frictionless solutions that make it easier for them to sell insurance products. But both members and brokers require tech-enabled products for \u201cmoments that matter,\u201d Fowler says.\nTip: Drink your own champagne. If possible, become a customer of your company\u2019s products, which can help you understand how to serve your customers. Shortly after joining Nationwide a year ago, Fowler purchased home, auto and life insurance from the company, which he says made him familiar with some inefficiencies. For example, when adding a second or third insurance product, Fowler had to re-enter the same data multiple times. He subsequently eliminated this redundancy with an autofill feature.\nFrom office to salt pond\nRide-alongs can take CIOs to some interesting places. In his role as CIO of Albemarle, Patrick Thompson visited salt ponds and manufacturing plants to see how the specialty chemical company extracts and processes lithium for batteries, aluminum baseball bats and other products. Albemarle\u2019s salt ponds range from Nevada to Chile and Australia.\n Albemarle\n\nPatrick Thompson, CIO, Albemarle\n\n\n\u201cThe first year, I literally flew to every site to learn what IT organization I had,\u201d as well as to learn what the business desired from IT, Thompson recalls. These trips gave \u201cme a better feel for how IT was performing,\u201d he says, adding that he traveled to 46 locations across the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia.\nThompson is three years into a five-year technology transformation that spans infrastructure, networking, security and ERP systems, as well as new collaboration and communication tools. He\u2019s also digitizing the manufacturing process, using sensors and analytics to track the performance of Albemarle\u2019s equipment, including pumps, valves and vessels. Ideally, he\u2019d like to get to a place where sensors and software can predict failure before machines break, and to automatically order replacement parts, Thompson says.\nTip: Ask questions, by survey if necessary. Thompson circulated a questionnaire asking employees to list things that were going well and things that weren\u2019t, which he says informed strategic decisions. \u201cI gathered a lot of intel based on my observations and those surveys.\u201d\nThe view at 270 days\nRingCentral\u2019s Schulze didn\u2019t visit salt ponds, but he is still recovering from drinking from that firehose of information that comes from engaging with multiple business functions to understand their pain points. In a SaaS business where time to market is critical, Schulze sees opportunities to use data to improve employee productivity by providing them the right information at the right time.\n RingCentral\n\nTrevor Schulze, CIO, RingCentral\n\n\nMore broadly, he says RingCentral sees great potential in using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to shape the next era of video collaboration. Algorithms could, for example, enable the software to \u201crecognize\u201d when someone enters a room for a meeting and pivot the focus on the new attendee. The good thing about being at a cloud-native company, Schulze says, is that \u201cwhere we are today is where a lot of people strive to be \u2014 leveraging digital assets to drive growth.\u201d\nTip: Be a fast learner. The real trick to successful onboarding is taking information, including facts and opinions, and synthesizing and communicating what the change agenda would look like. \u201cCIOs struggle to take that cross-functional view, synthesize it and put it up into something consumable,\u201d Schulze says. \u201cAs you go from input to output, you can\u2019t miss anything,\u201d Schulze says.\nThe retail ride-along\nAt ecommerce retailer Zulily, everyone involved in building digital products \u2014 from engineers and quality assurance to product managers \u2014 visit fulfillment centers to \u201cwork the lines,\u201d picking and packing apparel, says CIO Luke Friang, who tries to get to every office, including in Shenzen, China, once a year.\n Zulily\n\nLuke Friang, CIO, Zulily\n\n\nThe same stakeholders travel to Zulily\u2019s various offices to learn how employees use the software, which they build in the agile \u201csquad\u201d model. And they also participate in customer focus groups to learn how people consume their products, which are heavily personalized by ML algorithms. This is particularly useful for ascertaining the efficacy of new features for Zulily\u2019s website or mobile app, Friang says. Evaluating how everyone touches the software helps illuminate problems in the process flow.\nTip: Sit down with key stakeholders when planning software builds. \u201cThe best product roadmap comes from sitting with stakeholders,\u201d Friang says. \u201cWe couldn\u2019t do it any other way.\u201d\n\nMore on the CIO role today:\n\n Wanted: CIOs to master digital strategy at the vanguard of change \n How CIOs can last longer than 4.3 years \n The case against the 'business-minded CIO \n CIO resumes: 6 best practices and 4 strong examples \n New CIO? Your transition playbook in 10 (not-so-easy) steps \n How successful IT leaders take charge from day one \n CIO succession planning in the digital age \n CIO playbook: 10 tips for leading IT in the digital era \n How CIOs transform IT for the digital era \n From CIO to CEO: 8 tips for taking your career to the top \n State of the CIO, 2019: CIOs get strategic\n 7 reasons CIOs quit (or lose their jobs) \n 8 CIO archetypes: What kind of IT leader are you?