ChessThe top 10 “ah-ha” moments you can leverage by thinking like a CIO

Written By Liz Smith - Senior Sales Enablement Manager, Verifone. Originally published in Slice, Verifone's Hospitality and Retail newsletter.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a very exclusive Q&A with a CIO from a fast-casual restaurant, and as you guessed, he/she shall remain nameless. The key takeaways from this session were incredibly valuable.  So, let’s dive into what we can learn and what I left the session thinking about.

Lesson 1: Change the way you think about technology investments

Typically, technology spend is capped at 1-2.5% of sales.  And as a technologist, you probably receive pressure to fit into that range on a daily basis. But what if you can shift away from the ‘what’s expected’ and in turn excel from it by shifting the mindset?  What do I mean?  If you could reduce operational spend by 3%, who cares if technology spend is 2%.  If you can organisationally break out of thinking within set limits and instead think about it as achieving a business benefit versus hitting a number, the results will follow.

So try this:

Business Problem:
Business Benefit:

Outline how it benefits each group to pitch, “How are we going to help…”

  • HR
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Finance

Make sure you keep focus on the objective and the big picture. When IT can explain the business problem, benefits of the solution and the goal, the other teams will line up as well.

Think like a CIO: Transform the mindset of technology investments from a culture standpoint.  


Lesson 2:  Encourage your team to grow and push themselves

There was a recent survey of IT retailers that revealed that it’s becoming a burden to maintain legacy systems. The issue is that IT resources are focused on maintaining and supporting legacy systems versus building and implementing new solutions. This is a problem that many merchants face. So how do you tackle this issue?

If a team member has been in a certain role for several years, try to get them to switch it up and become a master in several areas versus one specific skill set

Think like a CIO: It’s important to grow your team and continually encourage them to push themselves. Find coaching points for your team and look for areas to cultivate them. When (not if) you give feedback, do it with authenticity and encourage them to grow.


Lesson 3: Start with the business problem

Sometimes big projects can be overwhelming and it feels like it’s always a race to the finish line to beat the competition. But sometimes your “business problems” need to be looked at as a long-term journey that is divided into a series of sequences. For example, there is a lot of chatter around identifying the consumer and providing in-store staff actionable data about a consumer’s preference, read Customer Identification: The Key to Frictionless Commerce. Many industry experts point to the consumer’s individual device for this issue since not many people leave home without it these days.

Think like a CIO: Start with the business problem and work backwards from there.  What questions are you trying to answer?

How do you make it so that you are prompting the consumer without prompting everyone else?

How do you prompt a consumer-facing display and make that a simple step?

Outline each step to answer these questions and make them into a sequence.  From here, divide them up into manageable portions and do one sequence at a time.


Lesson 4: Be strategic with data management

Between siloed systems and smart registers, store technology and architecture are going to play an important role in the future of retail and hospitality. So much so that you will have to almost anticipate the five items that a consumer may pick before they do so that you can load pricing, upsell opportunities and add-on items for a fast and frictionless experience.

Think like a CIO: Data is becoming much more strategic and you have to be very good at it.  So ask yourself this simple question:  What data do you have that you can utilize to optimize what you do and how you do it?


Lesson 5: Don’t let POS be a hindrance for you

For years POS has been the boat anchor for innovation. As merchants start to cycle through POS, it creates an opportunity to be fast and innovative. And sometimes when you do evaluate new technology, how nice would it be to get feedback on what your peers are doing. What works, what doesn’t work, what you wish you would have known and the all-important lessons learned.

Think like a CIO: Once you get the right POS platform, you can start to think about Omni. And even more powerful- think Omni in a software world. This is going to change the payment world and give you the opportunity to go beyond just payments.


Lesson 6: Know your long-term vision

Have a solid understanding as a company of where you are going and what your goals are. As you conform and create the retail of tomorrow, there will always be some overlap as a technology organisation, but having a very sound understanding of where you will end up is key.

Think like a CIO:  You don’t have to know the exact details of how you are going to get to your ultimate destination, but knowing where you are going and having the right team in place is half the battle. 

Can everyone on your team state your long term vision? Try this:
“We are a (what)____________
who (does what) ____________
to (who) ________________
in a (how do you want to be viewed by your consumers/brand image) _______________________ way.  


Lesson 7: Be consistent and Agile

With an Agile development process, your team will be able to release ideas, achieve goals and be flexible to make modifications for priorities when needed. Sometimes you will have pushback; we’ve all had both champions and adversaries to processes at one point or another. People will say no I can’t commit to being at every 8 am meeting, yet other business people love it and will be your champion.

Think like a CIO: Even with variety, try to be very consistent. Make a list of all critical things you have to do this year, stay focused, be Agile and flow when needed. 

But be careful not to over correct.
Put parameters on where you use Agile.  It’s okay to enforce Agile change on business systems, but
be sure you keep more rigorous change control on core systems like email, phone systems or ERP.


Lesson 8: Sometimes you have to focus on development operations.

You may be asking yourself, how do I deal with infrastructure with Agile?  With payments, terminals, POS and the processor, it can be a lot to manage (especially when it all needs to be bi-directional and functioning).  Add software updates, testing, management, new integrations, patches and compliance to the mix and it’s outright overwhelming.

Think like a CIO: Put the focus on development operations and emphasis on the entire team to be fast and dynamic. It needs to be a given. This goes hand-in-hand with being adept to change and the rest will follow.


Lesson 9: Benchmark against the best

When you benchmark your team (and yourself), you have to think about what your boss (and sometimes the board) will measure you against.  Perhaps ‘they’ will measure you on overall spend at the IT level, or they may say that your spend is inefficient and ask how you can get better at it.  And naturally the questions will eventually lead to measuring business stats against your competitors and how you as an organization measure up.

Think like a CIO: Rather than looking at other merchants like yourself, look at who is the best at what you are trying to accomplish.  Look at who is the best at virtualization and how do you relate to them?  Who is the best at the digital experience and how do you relate to them?  Who is the best at customer retention, repeat purchase, etc. and stopped comparing yourselves to any peer. 

Set a specific goal. For example, we want to repeat business up 40% and how do we get there? Don’t set your sights on any peer benchmark, but rather who is doing it the best. You have to break that apart a little bit. So when you come back and showed frequency up XX% and ticket average up as well, no one will care about your peers. Don’t play catch up, be the change leader.


Lesson 10: You will face challenging times.  It’s how you act in these moments that make you a leader.

We all face some pretty challenging situations. In times of rockiness, you have to encourage and have confidence in your team.  Those are the learning moments; the strategic shifting moments.  Ask yourself, how do you work through and after the train wreck and how can you still be relevant?

Think like a CIO: What defines your character is not how you act when times are good, but rather your character in times of stress and uncertainty. And how you lead in that moment. How do you get over a challenging moment and perform thereafter. Get after it, learn from it and move on.

So as you rethink your go-forward strategy, stick to these top 10 ‘Think like a CIO’ tips and reevaluate how you look at yourself, your processes and your strategy.  To accommodate these tips, it may require organizational changes, adding key roles or even reskilling employees.  This is a journey, not a race.  Put the processes, teams and technologies in place and the rest will follow (one bite-size piece at a time).



Lesson 1: Change the way you think about technology investments.

Lesson 2:  Encourage your team to grow and push themselves.

Lesson 3: Start with the business problem.

Lesson 4: Be strategic with data management.

Lesson 5: Don’t let POS be a hindrance for you.

Lesson 6: Know your long-term vision.

Lesson 7: Be consistent and Agile.

Lesson 8: Sometimes you have to focus on development operations.

Lesson 9: Benchmark against the best.

Lesson 10: You will face challenging times.  It’s how you act in these moments that make you a leader.