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Transforming Business Through a Connected Digital User Experience

Sandy Jacolow, CIO, Silverstein Properties, Inc.

When I first became a CIO nearly 20 years ago, computers and technology simply supported a business. Today, technology is the fabric of our business and how we connect. To quote Jay Baer author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype (Penguin Publishing Group, 2013) “Technologies change, people change, users change, and you have to be there to adapt to it or else you will be making cassettes when the CD comes around.”

In an age where disruptive technology has become the norm, CIOs must be prepared to support the continuous exchange of information on the road to create value. Furthermore, we must embrace a digital ecosystem empowering firms to drive faster innovation, seamless collaboration, and real time customer engagement. As technology frenetically redefine how we interact, how does today’s CIO stay topical and connected?

Today’s Ubiquitous Digital Ecosystems

At the heart of our ubiquitous digital universe is a comprehensive ecosystem designed to deliver collaboration and transparency while supporting a corporate brand and vision. For true success, a CIO must place real time personalized one-on-one interaction at the forefront, while incorporating this dynamic into a strategic holistic lifecycle. In a society with over 2 billion smartphones, and Millennials projected to make up the majority of the workforce by 2020, it’s easy to see why mobility is at the heart of this digital transformation. With an ever-expanding social media network and unique creative content continually sprouting, a CIO must continual challenge the status quo. After experimentation and analysis, I believe the following drivers and metrics should be regularly evaluated to ensure successful targeted engagement:

  We must embrace a digital ecosystem empowering firms to drive faster innovation, seamless collaboration, and real time customer engagement 

What Are Your Objectives and Measures of Success?

• Dissemination of information;
• Lead generation and conversion;
• Building a sense of community;
• Brand and reputation management;
• Increasing website traffic and social engagement.

How Well Do You Know Your Audience?

• What are the demographics of your audience?
• What are the right digital platforms to find your audience?
• When is the best time to reach your audience?
• What are the messages you are trying to convey?

What is Your Response Plan?

• Do you have guidelines for appropriate content?
• How will you monitor digital engagement?
• How quickly will you respond?

Vital User Experience (UX)

Contrary to the Field of Dreams, “If You Build It, They Will Come”, a poor user experience and interface will doom even the best and brightest of ideas. In an era where the connected customer is royalty, and digital content is king, user experience is the holy grail.

To put this into a broader business context, we recently decided to explore overhauling our residential leasing process. Our goal was to reduce the number of systems deployed, improve data analytics, provide a greater level of self-service and simplified intuitive user experience.

Based on antidotal conversations and feedback we started to analyze the related roles and responsibilities. It became apparent many of the daily tasks were disconnected and layered with duplicate entry. As we started to rethink the way we worked, our end users struggled to visualize the possibilities and were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with change. This is a dilemma every CIO has faced, knowing without stakeholder’s support, moving forward is fraught with risk and uncertainly.

In collaboration with Salesforce, we began to explore a new digital approach to selling our vision, storyboarding. The idea of storyboarding was first developed by Walt Disney during the early 1930s, typically being a series of illustrations and notes displayed in sequence for the purpose of previsualizing. Convinced of its merits, we scheduled a series of meetings with stakeholder delving into current processes, pain points, system usability and reporting needs. We then used Sketch, an inexpensive tool created for designing graphical interfaces, and brought our findings to life in a simple intuitive fashion. Upon presenting a “Life Cycle Storyboard” our end users were able to visualize, in terms they were comfortable with, how technology would enhance their user experience and efficiencies. This process also provided our developer with a detail roadmap to accomplish our goals.

The Mobile Shift in User Experience (UX)

Energized by the Internet of Things, our expanding digital ecosystem now touches every aspect of our day-to-day existence. According to Salesforce “State of the Connected Customer” research, fifty-one percent of millennial consumers run their lives from their mobile device. This paradigm shift, where personal computing drives innovation has redefined how we view the user experience in the workplace. Regardless of a software’s purpose, inevitably users will ask “Is there an app for that?” Although 2.6 and 2.2 million apps are available on Google Play and iTunes, respectively, most apps fail as a result of a poor user experience or not addressing an existing need.

As CIOs, each day we make business decisions to invest resources, both capital and human, predicated on a tangible and intangible Return-on-Investment. The decision to build a mobile app requires a radical shift in the way that we think about business development and the UX discovery process.

Simply put, if a user can’t easily access desired functionality on your app, it will fail. Engaging a demographically and technically diverse cross section of users will result in robust divergent feedback translating into strong UX. Questions we posed to the focus group and ourselves were as follows:

• Are we solving an existing problem?
• Is our user interface intuitive?
• Are features easy to access?
• Have we effectively considered cross device platform nuances?
• What is our testing program and does it represent our target audience?
• Have we considered a launch strategy to raise awareness?

As technology reinvents the way we consume information, and our degrees of separation lessens with each passing day, we are truly all connected. How we react to these changes define our successes and failures. Two of the greatest life lessons I’ve learned, that inspired adaptability and sustainability as a CIO are “passionate curiosity” and self-awareness. In concert, an inquisitive sense of wonderment creates a clear vision of endless possibilities as we embrace our connected customer and transform our new digital universe.

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