The Benefits of Servicing Internal Teams Like Clients, and Other Lessons from a CIO/CISO

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Click to learn more about author Lenin Gali.

The modern business era is being fueled by the digital transformation, inspiring consumers to embrace online experiences that are engaging and highly convenient. This has forced businesses to respond quickly or lose ground to competitors that have already made huge strides digitally.

I joined my company four years ago, at a time when the digital transformation, particularly the evolution of data and the critical shift from paper-based coupons to digital coupons, was accelerating. We built a transformational technology pipeline for targeting ads, promotions, and messaging. We also wanted to manage activations and put together a measurement pipeline for analytics and insights. In short, my collaboration with teams at the core components of our retailer, advertiser, and consumer assets – as well as the complex nature of technology, data, security, privacy, legal, and governance matters – really helped me to understand the business intricacies and the needs of our external and internal users. This is now helping me in my current role as chief information officer (CIO) and chief information security officer (CISO), and I have learned a lot along the way. 

Whether leading a company as CIO, CISO, or both, there are a few takeaways from my own experience that I would like to share with the community: 

Takeaway 1: Internal teams will benefit by being serviced like clients

Data is always evolving, and organizations should be equipped to evolve with it – relying on technology that can help them use data to serve a particular purpose and answer key questions. These are crucial components of any data platform.

Our initial intent was to focus solely on serving our clients – brands, retailers, and agencies – with the data they needed to reach and better target their customers. Data makes it possible for them to build and deploy messaging that resonates with shoppers wherever they are. And what we found is that, in addition to the needs of our clients, our internal teams needed data as well. Instead of looking elsewhere for that information, we realized the potential in using our own technology to satisfy those objectives. Other businesses had been successful in this way – providing self-service data by building solutions for internal use – and we were eager to do the same.

We started working with our internal teams to build a self-service portal that mirrors the external customer experience. All of the same features, including single sign-on authentication, can be found within our internal solution. And as colleagues first tested the UX, they found that it is much more user-friendly than a typical product experience that they would get from a free-form analytical application. We also broke things down into different categories to meet the needs of more basic users versus advanced users and ultimately gave our teams whatever they could utilize. This idea of using the same technology to serve our internal data needs improved our efficiency, optimized costs, and expanded our teams’ capabilities – thus, higher retention.

Takeaway 2: Self-serviced data leads to actionable insights

When providing data, every business will need to decide whether or not they want to offer self-service analytics or a more traditional data structure in which IT, data scientists, or analysts are in charge or a hybrid of both. It’s another journey that many organizations go through as data becomes part of their day-to-day business. The demand for that data comes from various sides of the business, so the leadership should look at the organizational needs, prioritize, and determine how to provide access and service data requests.

Traditionally, data-driven decisions are led by the business intelligence teams. They would more or less control the data and, upon request, provide what others needed. We flipped that concept: We have the data, you tell us what you need, and then we just service it for you. In other words, now the responsibility is on the internal team versus one centralized business intelligence team. We also closely partner with those teams that are consuming the data and help prioritize the demands. 

The other part that really helped us is the awareness of data is already happening in the industry, and our teams are educated by our analytics and insights organization. Our analytics and insights teams are at the forefront, working hand in hand with our sales and business development teams. Business leaders recognized that data is an asset, not only externally for their customers but internally as well. And as a result of making that jump for our customers – providing the data, analytics, and insights they need, when they need it – it has been much easier to do the same for our internal teams.

Takeaway 3: Manage expectations and empower your team with technology

I’m a big proponent of building relationships within organizations and establishing credibility and trust. I strive to create a partnership ecosystem, which is another critical component of this process. The old saying “underpromise and overdeliver” might sound overplayed, but it’s true. You’ve got to manage not only your expectations but your capabilities and what you can actually provide to customers. Focus on excelling within your level of expertise versus trying to do what everyone else is doing, which will not yield successful results.

It is also important to have a team that is empowered with decision-making, has the right technology, and has the background and necessary expertise to achieve our goals. One of the first things I set out to do was build a cloud-scale-ready infrastructure, as well as cloud-scale-ready products and services. It’s not simply about building something for a year and figuring things out. I set a road map for three to four years to ensure that when we looked back, we had gone through the necessary transformation, achieved our goals, and produced the results we were seeking. That strategy was important in helping myself and my team to see the vision and purpose and excel at both. We are very focused on improving and upgrading everything that is a technology debt in our organization, especially for the data. I encourage other CIOs and CISOs to do the same.

Takeaway 4: Managing shadow IT and enterprise risks through leadership and partnership

Our senior and executive leadership teams are one cohesive unit. Starting with the CEO, president, CFO, and the rest of the senior leadership, everyone meets regularly to talk about initiatives of strategic importance. We focus on driving the culture from the top down by cultivating the values that shape our future. This has helped establish a respectful relationship and partnership among all the senior leaders. Going through transformational business growth requires strategic and inspiring decisions. Our leadership team has made key decisions in close collaboration between engineering, IT, security, finance, and legal by connecting procurement at the center. Our procurement team gets involved very early in the evaluation process of selecting technology and vendors to help leaders be aware of what’s coming down the pipe that requires IT, security, legal, and other subject matter experts’ involvement. The enterprise and cybersecurity risks are addressed at the executive leadership level down through committees. These steps helped us prevent shadow IT spread and address enterprise risks.

Make a Difference with Meaningful Changes

CIOs and CISOs have an opportunity to make an important, everlasting difference within their organizations. They can be a source of empowerment, enabling their staff to work smarter and make more intelligent decisions with data.

But it goes even further than that; these important leaders also have the ability to service internal teams in the same way that the business serves its clients. They can empower employees with the freedom of self-service analytics. And they can use technology to make real, meaningful changes.

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