CIO reflections on Dreamforce

Some key takeaways from Salesforce's colossal conference.

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Martyn Williams/IDGNS

On my way to this year’s Dreamforce, I was surprised by just how many CIOs were already sharing their Dreamforce experiences. Given this, I collected their responses to Dreamforce through a #CIOChat that I ran during Dreamforce. Hopefully, this will prove useful to Dreamforce attendees and IT leaders alike.

Digital creating a better society or not?

During his Dreamforce keynote, Marc Benioff, asked conference attendees whether digital is creating a better society—an interesting question for a technology leader. Clearly, technology has received a bad rap in the news lately. CIOs are clear that digital has become a form of power. They feel responsible for welding it appropriately. For this reason, it came as no surprise that they feel that CIOs have an ethical responsibility to protect those impacted by their purview. Clearly, all technologies have the potential to do good and bad. For this reason, CIOs believe that it is important to provide what Dove Seldman likes to call “mortal leadership”. Technology is definitely creating upheaval in the workforce as more and more jobs require digital acumen. CIOs think that education, hiring, training, and HR policies need to do a better job of keeping pace with technology change. Overall CIOs believe they can be a force for good when they lead things like sustainability or become an advocate for ensuring technology enables equality, diversity, and privacy.

Driving the 4th Industrial Revolution

Later in his keynote, Marc Benioff called out what Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum has labeled the 4th Industrial Revolution. CIOs believe that we have reach point where the only constant is change. Market analyst, Dion Hinchcliffe, suggested in our discussion, “the 4th Industrial Revolution is about the cybernetic digital transformation of industry. That means more than automation or networking. It's about unification of digital + physical using IoT as the nervous system, AI as the 'mind', if you will”. While this can cause comparison to The Matrix, CIOs believe this is a big change that should not be trivialized for its impact. From a digital ethics perspective, just imagine being Miles Dyson in the Terminator and learning that your life’s work created Skynet.

Data versus Opinion

After hearing at Dreamforce that Vinod Khosla believes that we are moving from the practice of medicine to the science of medicine, I wanted to know whether the 4th industrial revolution is about data versus opinion. CIOs feel that having digital acumen really matters. They believe that the challenge here involves moving from data to actionable knowledge. Clearly opinion can impact data too.

CIOs believe that they should collect the data their businesses need and turn it into actionable insights. They see us as having entered an era with the ability to analyze huge amounts of data and draw conclusions like never before. Clearly, the unstoppable flood of data has barely begun. CIOs, however, worry that pervasive data about everything will upend the status quo and legacy enterprises. In healthcare, there is clearly a tension between practice and science medicine. Healthcare CIOs feel that the science part of medicine has often been in the research, and not as much in the treatment of patients. This is clearly is changing with the advent of AI, Health IoT, and wearables and the ability for it to deliver personalized, scientific, precision healthcare in mass. This will over time keep patients from coming to the hospital and make a location whatever is convenient for the patient.

CIOs need to function as extensions of their business units

Vala Afshar of Salesforce said at Dreamforce that CIOs need to function more as extensions of their business units. CIOs agree with him but also believe there needs to be increasingly be focused on creating new business models using technology. The ones that do so will clearly be successful. To do this, CIOs need to leverage the right IT initiatives to drive revenue-generating business behavior.

CIOs, also, need to be truly aligned and know their businesses to achieve this. Otherwise, they cannot act as either change agents or silo breakers. This requires CIOs to take a global/systemic level view across their business units. Clearly, today’s ideal CIO is a trusted digital strategist. This requires that CIOs develop a more intimately understand their organization’s business model.

Focus on creating an end-to-end experience

Brian LeClaire, the CIO of Humana, said during his talk at Dreamforce that his focus has become creating an end-to-end experience for his firm’s consumers. When asked, CIOs believe this is a mantra for CIOs in general. They feel the underlying focus of almost every major technology trend today is how to better connect with, know, and support the customer. This means the CIO and IT need to realize they are integral parts of customer experience creation and monetization. For this reason, CIOs need to evolve from supporting siloed organizational functions to enabling, transforming, and actively driving of experiences end-to-end.

Parting remarks

CIOs clearly have a role to play in driving forward customer experience. This is why so many were at Dreamforce. There is only one question left for CIOs. Are you aligned in driving forward your enterprise’s customer experience for the good of your organization and its key stakeholders?

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