The new CIO – Lessons from Salesforce.com

I’m seeing interesting parallels in the Oil and Gas sector that I first encountered when I witnessed Salesforce.com start be adopted by large corporates over a decade ago. Let me explain.

What is Salesforce.com

Salesforce.com is a company started to provide a way for small businesses to access customer relationship management (CRM) in a structured way. This helped them to co-ordinate sales activities and record information about customers, conversations that had been had between different people across the selling organisation.

Salesforce.com did this by using web-pages rather than software and thus required no software to be installed, and because the information was held in the centre, it was automatically up to date and shared among the staff. In 1999 this was a revolutionary approach.

Salesforce.com now does a lot more than just sales, and is – justifiably – used as a more general information processing platform for companies. One of my clients even runs their entire global finance function using the platform.

The Salesforce.com transition to corporates

Before Salesforce.com the problem of co-ordinating diverse sales teams and sharing CRM sales information was one that was addressed with (say) Siebel. This required an on-premise server at each sales-hub, an application on a lap-top and then some form of roll-up to a central IT system so HQ could see what was happening.

The role of the CIO was clear – gather together a cross section of users, design some screens that may (or may not) mirror the sales process, have them programmed up, check they worked like you had asked for, make a standard install and then go around the world trying to get systems to talk to each other and brow-beat the sales guys into using the software (which they hated). On top of this “senior buy-in” was required to persuade the guys on the front line to change the way they worked until it fitted in with the standard IT system.

This was the old way. The focus was all about getting the blinking technology to work in the first place. Once it did, if you were lucky, you could then outsource the management of the whole cluster f*** to a call centre that “followed the sun”.

Well it was little wonder that in 1999 the dream of shared CRM was out of the reach of small sales-teams (who would often use an odd little product called ACT!), that big company sales guys hated their IT departments, and everyone hated Oracle.

Once Saleforce.com came along everything changed. The application was not installed but was delivered over the web. Because all the data was hosted in the middle, it was naturally synchronised and could be shared. Because it ran on Salesforce.com’s servers there was nothing for the CIO, IT department and the outsource guys to maintain. It was also very easy to use and quick to customise it to tune it to your business.

Small businesses took to Salesforce immediately. It was so much better than what they had before and, function for function, much cheaper. Costs scaled with the number of users and you didn’t have to buy or maintain all manner of servers and network links. It took a while for the big companies to start to “get” Salesforce because the sales pitch had been around the cost of the solution which was very clear cut for small businesses. For big companies however, the benefits when measured with traditional business-cases and the commercial logic of the procurement department did not seem as clear-cut. Add to this that traditional “IT Departments” weren’t set up to contribute to a conversation that didn’t involve “keeping the lights on” IT – it was quite difficult to generate momentum to start with.

The ten-year pause

I worked with Salesforce.com technology and was in the middle of the transition from a world of small companies and independents to major company roll-outs using the help of big consulting firms. It was about 10 years after the SME’s started to jump on the bandwagon that the corporates started to understand and deal with a compelling business case around CRM.

Around the same time that CRM was making inroads to large companies, new technologies were emerging in various “cloud” guises. This included companies like SAP, Microsoft, Oracle or others. Enterprise on-demand platforms were becoming available. But the business case for adopting them was not clear. That was about a decade ago. Now I’m seeing the big-company adoption in oil and gas starting to address the same types of problem I saw Salesforce.com overcome. Perhaps there are lessons that can be drawn?

Make cloud work in 3 areas

In the last decade, the on-demand technology, infrastructure, bandwidth have all improved dramatically. This has made some of the lazy performance objections invalid. Now the centralisation of the technology in cloud and the provision of on-demand pay-as-you use applications, compute, storage and bandwidth just works, and works better than anything a company could do for themselves. And that applies to almost every area of activity.

The three main driving forces then were: a change in structuring budgets, capturing cost of ownership benefits and understanding where value is created within the system; the enablement of entirely new ways of organising core operations; and the role of the CIO.

What’s happend at Salesforce since I last looked?

I tabled these ideas with a senior strategist at Salesforce.com to see what he’d seen in the decade since I sold my SFDC partner business and, to paraphrase, this is what he said:

Well Gareth, in my world I see that CEO’s are very concerned about the potential from disruption led by start-ups who can establish market share quickly. I see this in many industries and in oil and gas you have innovators such as Lord Browne combining smaller companies and driving innovation. CEOs like this need Agility, Flexibility and Speed to enable their business to react. They have tasked their CIO’s to provide tools that their people can use to innovate. The CIO has to find budget for innovation and the only way to do this is to remove legacy run cost from the existing landscape.

Platform’s like Salesforce also lower the cost of innovation by enabling point and click  / low code prototyping etc. However that innovation must be aimed at retiring legacy systems rather than add to the IT stack (and cost). Here, integration is the key. Meta-data driven API’s mean it’s easier to make changes and flex with the business needs across multiple systems.

I’ve also noticed that, since you left, we encountered a new generation of employees who are used to looking out across the web to find information. They are very surprised by how backward many of the corporate IT systems are, and how isolated information is between functions. CIOs who are deploying on-demand platforms simplify IT run and therefore reduce costs. They also have the opportunity to consolidate applications onto a single platform to ease support / dev teams and create a consistent user experience. This saves money, frees information access and makes technology help rather than hinder.

I’ve seen the role of the CIO change in the last decade. It is now to bring technology ideas and options to the table as a business partner for digital. The CIO needs to be aware of what competitors, the market and other parts of the business are doing. However, there is no-such thing as self-adopting application. It is laziness to assume that changing technology will be enough. Some companies still think that if they create a new system then if people use it then that’s great and if they don’t it’s the fault of IT for not delivering a great experience. There is no time for mistakes and we’re just accelerating the rate of change. We need to get it right first time. This means that the COO must lead the change enabled by an IT project and be accountable for its success and responsible for changing the business processes and management around it. The CIO is there to support the business change, not to foist unwanted technology on an unwilling operation.

image credit: http://www.iacloud.com/

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upstreamgareth

Entrepreneur, Management Consultant, Technologist - Interested in all things Upstream Oil and Gas, New Ventures and Projects.

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