3 ways to become a more customer-facing CIO

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I defined part of my role here at NetApp to serve as a customer-facing CIO. To make that a reality, I very consciously do a few things.

  1. Divide my time to explicitly include customers. I put a third of my time against working with the IT organization, a third working with the business, and another third working with customers or partners outside the company.
  2. Relay what I hear from customers back to the business. Working with customers directly is invaluable because you hear firsthand what their experiences and needs are, so you can bring that back into the organization. Working alongside our sales organization, I have brought customer ideas back to our product groups with the goal of improving our customers' experience. Focusing on the customer’s success first is a critical component for any CIO. Everybody should understand the business, and everybody should understand their customer.
  3. Stay close to employees whose business is the customer. When I worked in transportation and logistics, I used to have a program we called “Ride with a Driver.”  Everyone in my organization had to go out and ride on a pickup and delivery with a driver, so they could understand firsthand what our drivers did to service the customers.  Those IT teams came back with their eyes opened. They would say things like, “Oh, we designed something on a handheld that they can’t ever use it. It’s too clumsy.” I did the same thing in retail. I had people actually go out and work in the store so that they could share the experience with the customer. 

When I’ve talked about this approach externally, a few people have said, “Well, you’re in a product company. It’s easy for you to make that connection and implement your idea.” My point is it doesn’t matter what business you’re in. Whatever business or industry you’re in, you can get close to the customer. When you bring that knowledge back in, it’s only going to make your solutions that much more powerful.

Cynthia Stoddard is the Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer (CIO) at NetApp. In her role as CIO, she is responsible for providing a long-term technology vision that supports and is aligned with the company’s strategies and goals, business plans, operating requirements, and overall efficiencies. She provides leadership to the Global IT organization to enable delivery of worldwide business solutions and infrastructure that support the company’s growth. Additionally, she acts as the primary advocate of NetApp to external markets to promote further awareness of the NetApp on NetApp initiative.

As senior vice president and chief information officer of Adobe, Cynthia Stoddard oversees Adobe’s global Information Technology team. In her leadership role, Cynthia spearheads a global strategy for delivering services that form the mission-critical backbone for the company.

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