The Ever-Expanding Role of CIOs

Episode 40

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Vala Afshar joins Ian for a discussion about how technology is impacting businesses and business leaders everywhere. They talk about how to engage with citizen developers, what the impact of AI and machine learning will be, and how CIOs can build trust with consumers.

“Trailblazer CIOs and digital savvy CIOs have been watching closely the impact of emerging technologies.” — @ValaAfshar

Show Notes

Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) is the chief digital evangelist at Salesforce and as such, he is responsible for staying on top of all the trends in the digital space. Whether he’s looking at survey data from Salesforce customers or keeping up to date with CIOs and tech leaders in the industry, Vala is constantly at the cutting edge of what’s most important in the digital world.

On this episode of IT Visionaries, Vala speaks to Ian about all the ways technology has impacted him and Salesforce. The also discuss the new and emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, which he believes will dictate the future of organizations everywhere, and what that means for CIOs and their roles moving forward. 

Introducing Vala [1:35]

  • How Vala began with Salesforce
    • Being a Salesforce customer gave him insight into how companies can leverage technology.
    • [3:12] “There are always more smart people on the outside than on the inside of your company. So my role as an evangelist is really to connect outside with our Salesforce engineers and build a better more meaningful product.”

Keeping companies in the Fortune 500 [3:40]

  • [5:47] “Trailblazer CIOs and digital savvy CIOs have been watching closely the impact of emerging technologies.”
  • Turning CIOs into CTOs
    • [7:25] “There is no better time than now for the CIO to be the next CEO in my opinion and because she has not just the technical skill set, but also the business acumen to really drive transformation.” 
  • [9:20] 7 out of 10 organizations feel like they are not keeping up with the adoption of technology. 

What companies can do to make sure they have the talent to meet customer needs [11:10]

  • [11:41] Scale is the name of the game and aligning your investment thesis to business is the big key. 
  • [12:36] Shadow IT can be a threat but can also be an opportunity to learn. 
  • [14:02] “At some point, the clever CEO is going to realize it’s the CIO’s responsibility to ensure that accompanies stays up to date with technology.” Click to Tweet
  • Active citizen development will balloon to more than 10 million
    • 60% of new apps will develop outside of IT.
  • [16:44] Creating governance with citizen developers will be a key to scaling the future. 
  • [17:30] “The CIO is creating a culture of innovation and turbocharging the organization’s on the premise of co-creating value outside of it. So if you want to be less susceptible to disruption, you have to realize that in a hyper-connected knowledge sharing economy, the fourth Industrial Revolution, the three currencies that matter most are speed, personalization, and intelligence.”

The excitement when employees feel empowered to create [19:20]

  • [20:10] “When you become a social business, when you practice radical transparency by creating connections inside and outside of your business, but especially inside your business, what you see and what you hear are ideas that can change the fabric of your organization. …You embrace that the smartest person in the room is the room.” 
  • [21:11] Salesforce has been named one of the most innovative companies in the world, and that has taught everyone a few things. 
  • The State of the Connected Customer
  • [24:06] “I believe most companies brought in a CDO because the CIO was spending the majority of the time keeping the lights on rather than thinking about how to I grow revenue? How do I optimize cost? How do I delight my customers?” 
  • [25:18] Every company is a tech company, which is why CIOs need to play an active role 
  • [26:00] Internet of things is impacting consumers at higher rates than ever. 
    • Talking about stats in how technology is ever-more present in people’s lives.
  • [27:48] “CIOs have to recognize that if you’re keeping the lights on as your primary objective and you’re not an active champion and improving the customer experience, you will not earn a seat at the CEO table.” Click to Tweet

How AI and machine learning will help transform business [28:45]

  • [29:17] VCs are investing in enterprises that will have an impact faster than in the past. 
  • [31:00] “What companies want to do is they want to graduate from answering the question what happened that’s descriptive use of analytics — which is looking in the past — to why did this happen? This is diagnostic use of analytics. Then move to once you can describe the past and you understand why the next natural question is about what’s going to happen tomorrow. So now you’re in the realm of predictive analytics. This is where you have to have algorithms. This is where you have to have clean data. This is where you have to have automation. This is where you have to look at structured and unstructured data to be able to accurately answer. ‘What’s going to happen tomorrow.’”
  • [31:36] “You want to be able to mature to a point where you can answer the question. Given what I know tomorrow, what should I be doing right now? So you want to prescribe action to your sales, to your service, to your marketing, to a field organization, to your partners and ultimately your customers so that’s prescriptive use of analytics. So this investment in machine learning ability to scale at incredible levels of insights is going from prescriptive to diagnostic to predictive use of analytics.”
  • [32:27] Netflix’s recommended movies are just an example of machine learning.
  • [33:00] You don’t even feel like you’re being sold to when Amazon recommends things because, wow, I really do need this thing. 
  • [37:31] “AI is a superpower and those who ignore it are going to find themselves in jeopardy.” Click to Tweet
  • [39:48] “I like to think about artificial intelligence and really think about the word and the first letter, “A.” To me, it’s augmented intelligence — it’s not that you are going to be replaced by a robot what you’re most likely to be replaced by is someone else who’s more proficient and comfortable with using AI.”
  • [40:30] How Netflix uses taste clusters 
  • [42:00] It can be uncomfortable thinking about robots learning things about us, but we are entering a world where data can be used for great things if used correctly.

The core value of your company [42:50]

  • [43:00] Trust is the most important thing, and that comes down to the CIO. 
  • [43:33] Everyone wants the benefits of AI bu more than half of the people are uncomfortable and don’t trust companies to use their data properly. 
  • [45:47] “If the CIO isn’t the main champion driving you toward the north star of trust, radical transparency, empathy and responsiveness, then your company is not going to be successful regardless of what investments you make in technology.” Click to Tweet


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Vala Afshar joins Ian for a discussion about how technology is impacting businesses and business leaders everywhere. They talk about how to engage with citizen developers, what the impact of AI and machine learning will be, and how CIOs must be where the buck stops when it comes to building trust with consumers.

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