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As CIO, Do You Believe In Your Own Product?

Contributor: Alvina Antar
Posted: October 22, 2017

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As CIO, you are the primary decision maker on technology purchases. The first question you ask a company when assessing their technology is “How do you use your product internally?” This is a question any technology company’s CIO should have a clear answer to.

But, they may dread having to answer this because they don’t effectively use their own product. If you’re lucky, the awkward moments pass quickly. If not, you’ve raised more questions than answers.

As technology becomes more entrenched in every aspect of our lives, the role of the CIO continues to expand. Forward-looking companies have realized that IT must play a key role in strategic acceleration and constant reinvention.

CIOs have a mandate to balance business enablement with the traditional role of IT operational excellence — table stakes for any IT leader. Too little change will generate missed opportunities. Too much change too fast could wreck a company’s momentum, brand, and bottom line.

Before joining Zuora, I spent 17 years driving digital innovation at Dell. In my years in tech, I’ve seen enterprise businesses spend years and millions of dollars attempting to implement a solution using the wrong technology, as they were unwilling to let go of existing investments.

As an IT leader, you have to stay current with evolving business and technology trends, and have confidence to take calculated risks while embracing change.

Dell needed to streamline subscription billing and fast-track onboarding of 10-12 acquisitions per year to drive the evolution from a hardware to a software solutions company. This subscription shift is likened to changing the tires on a car that is going 100 miles per hour. 

As the Mergers & Acquisitions IT leader at Dell, I knew the significance of Zuora’s value proposition and championed the purchase, implementation, and adoption of Dell on Demand, the new Quote to Cash architecture for Dell’s recurring revenue offerings.

I saw firsthand Zuora’s vision realized, The World Subscribed, and joined Zuora with conviction. As soon as I came onboard, I was determined to understand how our value proposition was being realized internally. Our business needed to evolve. As an organization, we needed to optimize business and system processes for operational maturity.

Zuora was at our core; however, we needed to deepen our use to achieve an end-to-end ecosystem to enable compliance and governance required for a scaling global organization.

I committed to advancing the use of our own technology, Zuora on Zuora — a strategic program designed to become our best reference account. The journey began by asking basic questions:

“How are we using our product today?” “What are our business growth initiatives?”

The answers highlighted the fact that we have a rapidly growing subscription-based business that needed to establish process consistency in order to scale. We saw opportunities to extend the use of our product and mature our processes to meet these needs.

Rather than taking an insider’s view of positioning the benefits, I initiated a full sales cycle as a live customer. I wanted to internalize our customers’ experience. Our first step was to gain executive sponsorship while confirming business value.

The initial sales discovery workshop began with an introduction of The Buyers and The Sellers. From the get-go, it was strictly business for both sides. Our executive team was in full attendance and further reinforced the significance of this initiative.

It was followed by a review of our value pyramid centering around speed, scale, and customer success by fully utilizing Zuora’s software for recurring billing, payments, and analytics. After insightful demos of as-is/to-be processes and a detailed design blueprint, I agreed to proceed.

Implementation

As the executive sponsor, I identified the core team and evangelized the significance of this program. The key here was to make this a companywide initiative and not minimize the focus and contribution to it.

We started with detailed design, and phased rollout recommendations provided by a solutions architect from our professional services organization with expertise in taking customers live. This framed the level of investment and skillset required to proceed with implementation and deployment.

I then provided firm commitments on delivery dates, as with any strategic program, to ensure that this was given the proper priority. But that wasn’t enough. Revenue generating customers and partners will always beat you to it. And rightfully so. Proper expectations were set that investing in your own technology requires agility and dedication to stay current with your ever-evolving product.

I was fortunate to have strong advocates spanning the organization who saw inherent value and believed in my vision. And for those who weren’t completely on board, I had one simple question, “Would you say the same to a customer?” That always turned things around.

Benefits

Personally for me and my team, the biggest benefit has been the meaningful relationships it has created within the company. We are now viewed as trusted advisors and our inputs sought after. Zuora on Zuora serves as an unbiased eye of a customer, providing feedback with priorities to our Product and Engineering teams. This is an expectation for every single CIO out there.

Let’s force our seat at the table!

As CIO, I am a key member of our Product Council providing direct input on product strategy as a voice of the customer. Seeing how the product is used in real-time has benefitted the entire company.

We have a direct, unfiltered view of usage patterns, requirements, and performance and are now our own testbed for alpha releases — customer zero. We understand implementation and user hurdles from the inside. Today, we are highlighting the journey and results as a credible reference for Zuora. I am now a trusted CIO-to-CIO reference.

Key takeaway

Always be positioned to share your own implementation with pride. This is the power of transparency. What better sales tool than an incredibly successful implementation of your own product!

Prioritize building functional and technical expertise in your own products and you are guaranteed to have a profound impact on your business transformation. Exploit your genuine passion for your own technology and insights on best practices, design principles, and implementation strategies.

I’m betting on the power of investing in our own technology. Are you?