New Delhi: Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice-president and chief information officer (CIO), Adobe Systems Inc., spearheads the company’s global strategy for operations and delivering services. In a recent interview, she spoke on a gamut of issues, including millennial expectations and the changing role of CIOs. Edited excerpts:
How are millennial expectations driving workplace changes in Adobe?
Millennials are definitely driving the workplace into another area. They have different expectations, have grown up with technology, are used to mobile phones and doing things quickly. When millennials come into the workplace, there is some clunkiness in terms of all their screen sign-ons—so they drive us to look at things differently. We looked at the workforce and came out with a set of personas—builder, communicator, customer-facing or an enabler—and you have different tools for these different personas. Millennials fit within this (framework) and are forcing us to do things quicker and better, with less overheads.
We also have within Adobe, what we call Lab 82, which is like an experiential conference room where we bring in different technologies—it might be a different style of a whiteboard, or 360-degree conferencing, a shaped table—and people sign up for this. We observe them (employees) in this room and figure out which office designs and which types of technology will work, based on the diversity that we have in the workforce.
How is Adobe eating its own dog food and using its marketing analytics prowess for its clients?
We actually think about it as drinking our own champagne. Yes, we use a lot of analytics. I have a data analytics team and the bulk of the team is located in Noida. We have a whole personalization engine, so we can personalize your experience based on different product feeds, and what you view on our website. All that feeds through our data warehousing and gather that information and passes that off to marketing. Another example is what we call the data-driven operating model. It looks at different attributes of the customer and the customer journey to determine where there might be pain points that could help us engage better with the customer and maybe (revisit) some marketing campaigns that may or may not be working. We take all this information to our data warehouse, analyse it and pass those actionable insights back.
What do you consider the opportunities in tech over the next 3-5 years?
We have been experimenting with AI and ML and IT by creating different frameworks. One such framework is what we call ‘healing as a service’. What this does is if you have a problem in your infrastructure, you can note it or see how a human would fix it, and you can create a knowledge base and automatically detect. ‘Healing as a service’ looks for anomalies in your operations and allows you to build a knowledge base to self-correct, eliminate issues and deliver a higher level of service to the organization using AI and ML. Another opportunity is in the testing space. Instead of manually running test cases, we have used AI and ML in testing to select and push the right cases through.
How has the role of the CIO changed in the last few years?
If I think back to some of my other CIO roles, they were largely back office, keeping the systems running, but now it is more about embracing the customer and being more customer- and experience-focused; bringing a level of experience in dealing with the customer and your dealings with the employees and focusing on that.
We look at injecting robotic process automation into our back office processes, embracing data and having a proactive view of that data, so we can make forward-looking decisions. So, CIOs are involved in strategic conversations, and we have a voice in how products are used and in decisions.
You have a BS in Accounting and an MBA but are now in IT and hi-tech. What prompted the transition?
I have always loved Math and used that and got the accounting degree but I have always been interested in technology and what it could do. When I graduated from college, I joined a programmer training and started as a programmer in travellers’ insurance, programming pension calculators since I loved Math formulas. I have done lots of different jobs in IT throughout my career. I’ve been in the insurance or financial services, transportation and logistics, retail and then landed in IT because I think it is an enabler and you get a horizontal view of different , and while the layer of the vertical is different, there is a lot of commonality too and there is a lot of common problems you can solve.
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