As CIO of health insurer Blue Shield of California, Lisa Davis is determined to create a more personalized and streamlined experience for patients who need treatment. Aside from telehealth services, which the pandemic has boosted at most healthcare providers, Blue Shield’s tech leader is championing work on a new system that will allow people to settle things like copayments for treatment in real time at doctors’ offices and hospitals. Her team has also partnered with the state to develop a digital platform to accelerate Covid-19 vaccine distribution to marginalized communities. Dubbed “My Turn,” it uses data sharing to track vaccine statuses in the state and help users schedule appointments more easily.
“I’m a firm believer that what you do on the back end is actually a reflection of the experience your customers have on the front end,” said Davis, who was speaking at the flagship Forbes CIO Summit in Half Moon Bay, California, on May 24. “You have to position the IT organization to be ready to serve in more capacities—to not be a traditional service provider but to become a strategic partner to the business.”
When It Comes To Delighting Customers, CIOs Are Busy Thinking Back To Front
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Davis, a former tech leader in U.S. national counterintelligence who featured on this year’s Forbes CIO Next List, knows a good deal about how to gather and process information. She’s used insights from spending time with patients and clinicians to align Blue Shield’s backend tech architecture more closely with the frontend needs of customers at the nonprofit company, which generates almost $23 billion a year in revenue.
Getting closer to consumers
For a long time, tech leaders such as Davis were used to being told what customers wanted by other parts of their organizations, including corporate strategy groups and customer-service teams. But forward-thinking ones had already begun to connect virtually or in person with customers themselves to get first-hand insights into their changing needs before the start of the pandemic, which has accelerated the trend.
“There’s still a long way to go for companies to adjust toward this,” says Sara Watson, a principal analyst at market research firm Forrester, who emphasizes the scale of change needed. “It’s not just deploying laptops, data warehouses and back-end stuff. They’re really tying all of these operational elements directly to the customer.”
The underlying tech infrastructure involves everything from cloud computing to machine learning systems and augmented reality tech. At Blue Shield, Davis has moved clinical health data to the cloud, making it easier for providers to share it with patients and has tapped software-driven automation to help speed up processes to support things such as the move towards real-time settlement of claims.
Seth Cohen, the tech leader of $232 billion market cap PepsiCo, has also been using the cloud to accelerate changes that impact customers, cutting the time it takes to provision new services at the business from months to days. PepsiCo used the cloud in 2020 to rapidly create a new direct-to-consumer online offering, snacks.com, after the pandemic made people more reluctant to shop in stores.
Bringing B2C to B2B
Sysco’s chief information and digital officer Tom Peck, who also spoke at this week’s CIO Summit and featured on Forbes 2022 CIO Next List, highlighted on stage how it had used machine learning as part of a shift to a new, dynamic automated pricing model at the food seller and distributor, which reported $51.3 billion in revenue in its latest fiscal year.
By combining machine learning with e-commerce tools, Peck’s team has helped sales reps, who used to devote many hours each week to creating pricing schedules manually, spend more time with customers, helping them to get the most out of Sysco’s services. “When you think about customer loyalty and the experience, they want the ease of use—that frictionless commerce and the right product at the right time and right price,” said Peck, who added his mission is to bring a business-to-consumer mindset to a traditional business-to-business company.
The pandemic meant Peck’s team has been even more deeply involved with customers, helping to create things such as QR code menus for restaurants whose own customers preferred not to touch physical menus. Sometimes, tech leaders have had to rethink the experience of both employees and customers simultaneously.
At telecoms giant Verizon, its top tech leader Shankar Arumugavelu introduced an augmented reality app that enabled field technicians to support customers without having to enter their homes by providing remote instructions for things such as setting up cable and internet services. The app has now been rolled out to the company’s call center agents, too, who are using it to help customers troubleshoot issues faster.
Not every experiment will work and one of the big lessons from the past couple of years for CIOs is that it’s important to be willing to run rapid experiments, even if that leaves some customers unhappy. “The process…has shifted more toward rapid development [and] fail fast,” Forrester’s Watson says. “That seems old school or obvious for a tech company—a Facebook or Google of the world—but that’s still a relatively new approach to development cycles within traditional enterprises.”