The Frontlines of Digital Transformation with Salesforce CIO Jo-ann Olsovsky

Episode 82

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Now in her second year as Salesforces CIO, Jo-ann Olsovsky (LinkedIn) has been hard at work leading the digital transformation of the company while it continues to grow globally. She returns for this special episode of IT Visionaries co-hosted by Vidya Peters, the CMO of MuleSoft, to discuss how things have been going. Plus, Jo-ann gives a broad overview of what it means to be a CIO and be a part of the day-to-day business strategy, and what she’s most excited about when it comes to technology of the future.

Key Takeaways:

How has the role of CIO changed? — (2:00)

In the past, the CIO was expected to drive efficiency and cut costs. Now, because technology is so integral to almost every business, the CIO takes on a much larger role that focuses on business strategies and driving innovations that will move the company forward. 

Jo-ann also says that the relationship between the CEO and the CIO has changed. Previously, CIOs were often playing defense, she said, and the conversations they would have with CEOs would be tactical. Today, CIOs are more focused on strategic outcomes and delivering value for the business, so conversations with CEOs focus on those things.

“We have shifted because all of our companies, no matter what industry you’re in, are technology companies. We’re all enabled by technology. And it is so important for us to find ways to drive efficiencies and innovation and really be change agents throughout all of our organizations.” 

“What we really try to do these days is to make sure that we’re leveraging as much of our budgets that we can so that we can score points and so we can progress the organization and implement strategic things.”

Digital transformation at Salesforce — (7:20)

In the last year, the IT department at Salesforce has been rebranded as “Business Technology” because they are playing such a key role in every aspect of the business. In order to be effective, though, Jo-ann says that she and her CTO look at all areas to see the systems being used, understand their current capabilities, and build a roadmap for the future. Having that view is especially important because of the rapid growth Salesforce is experiencing. They have to build systems and position their technology to keep up with that growth, and doing so requires a significant amount of buy-in and trust from every level of the organization.

“We are growing quite quickly and faster than any real technology company I think I’ve ever seen in my career. We’re growing, and globally, so that introduces all sorts of complexities and we have to be able to scale the company. We have to be able to have an awesome customer experience for all of our internal and external customers. With that comes a focus on not only creating those multi-year journeys – multi-year roadmaps for where we need to go – but also getting the buy-in from our leaders.”

Working with a budget — (11:00)

Despite how important technology is, even the IT department does not have unlimited money to spend. Jo-ann says that while it would be great to have unlimited funds, having a budget forces you to ask hard questions, prioritize, and strategize, and all of that makes you a better leader. 

“None of us get an unlimited IT budget. We all have to create business value. We have to create business cases in terms of should I do project A or project B or project C? Well, let’s see what’s the return on it? What’s the customer experience? What’s the strategic value? What’s the return on investment of where I should invest those dollars? …So we are really focused on how do we stretch a dollar and how do we find opportunities to reduce costs and maximize our efficiencies internally.” 

Being involved in business strategies — (17:20)

In order to have an impact on a business, you first need to have a seat at the table. CIOs are more often being invited to the table, but you still have to prove your worth and then be comfortable taking part in those big conversations. To get more comfortable and show your worth, Jo-ann advocates for focusing on relationships. You also have to be an agent for change and cultivate ideas from everywhere so that you can implement the ones that will lead to business success.

“Success breeds success. Sometimes you have to have some small wins and then your organizations start taking note and start noticing like, ‘What’s going on over there?’ Right? And so I think building relationships internally is really important.”

“Being a change agent is very important. We’re all trying to progress our own organizations and I think that that’s really important in positioning for the future. And when you are a change agent and you’re able to really step back and realize all ideas don’t have to come out of Jo-ann’s head, [you’ll find there are] thousands of people that work in your organization and ideas come from everywhere. So it’s about leveraging the insights, the knowledge, the backgrounds of business partners, your internal IT team, and your external teams.”

What is changing in the world of technology? — (28:00)

Throughout her more than 30 years in the field, Jo-ann has seen an immense amount of change in the technology space. She has been impressed with all the advancements, but she believes that our current reality is incredibly based on the breadth and scope of technology we use every day.

We are living in a time where life expectancies are longer and people are using technologies to make their lives and environments better and healthier. And that will only continue. In fact, leveraging voice technology and new user interfaces are emerging areas of tech that Jo-ann is excited about. Additionally, Jo-ann and her team are looking closely at blockchain and how that might continue to transform companies.

“To me, this is the best time. I know we say that with every decade, but this truly is amazing when you put together the power of cloud computing, memory, storage capabilities, mobile, and  A.I. What we as IT leaders and business leaders are able to accomplish for our respective companies is daunting but amazing, right? The experience that we can lend to our employees and our customers so that everybody can work and be productive goes to a whole new level. We can work smarter. We can work faster.” 

“Leveraging voice is really huge. I don’t type as much as I used to. I leverage voice, I leverage my automated assistance. I leverage haptic technologies even in my car, right? Wave your hand and your menu shows up. So I think that user interfaces are really going to change and I’m super excited about that, especially for accessibility needs for my employees and for the world. I just think those are going to make the world such a better place.”

“I do believe blockchain holds a lot of promise in helping our customers continue in their digital transformation. So I’m personally looking forward to seeing where this evolves and certainly my team is looking at how we want to use blockchain internally.”

Mentions:

 

Articulating the business impact of IT can be challenging. However, successful digital transformation today requires a tight alignment between business and IT leaders. To explore ways that you can structure, calculate and articulate the business value of your IT initiatives, check out MuleSoft’s new whitepaper: How to articulate the value of integration.

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Jo-ann Olsovsky returns for a special episode of IT Visionaries to discuss how the CIO role has changed, digital transformation at Salesforce, and the future of technology.

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