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Staying Closer To The Customer

Staying Closer To The Customer

Sanjay Mirchandani is Sr. VP and CIO of EMC Corporation. Mirchandani is responsible for extending EMC's operational excellence, and driving technological innovations to meet the current and future needs of the business. Mirchandani also leads EMC's network of global delivery centers in India, China, Russia and Israel. He was recently in India, when he spoke with CIO on the changing dimensions of the CIO role.

In your opinion, where is the CIO role heading?

Sanjay Mirchandani: My background has been managing sales and service organizations. Though I am a techie at heart, I am no longer as technical as I used to be. Running IT like a professional IT services business inside a company has certain benefits that you can draw on. Frankly, I see technology as a tool to deliver against the requirements of the business.

Do you think CIOs could do a better job of selling technology to your customers?

I'll break it down into what I call the cash side and the infrastructure side. In both cases, there's place for technology discussions but I would never leave it at that. I work for an IT company, so if I want a CRM, how would you measure its benefit? How would you drive that? What are your issues and what might these issues translate into, in terms of cost or other factors? No soft, fuzzy, intangibles... those days are gone. It's got to be hardcore numbers and metrics for everything.

Then the technology decision almost becomes a moot point where you have to just lay out the structure, whether you do it in-house or use a consultant. Or, whether you go the SOA way or use the cloud. This is probably the best way for IT and business to work together. The metrics will then take care of the ROI, the TCO and technology.

Should CIOs take on roles and responsibilities in addition to IT? If so, should these roles be more customer-facing?

I would say, yes. The closer you are to customer reality -- what gets done and how it gets done in an organization -- the more connected you are.

How should CIOs leverage IT for competitive advantage -- by moving to processes that directly touch customer service, sales and marketing?

It's a fair question. EMC is a company that is extremely customer-centric. CIOs, of course, have internal customers to focus on, too. My personal mantra is that the biggest value that IT leaders can deliver is not necessarily solutions, but being an advocate of the technology that we take to our customers everyday, especially external customers. One of the things that I like best about my job is that I get to talk to customers on a daily basis. My entire team does that.

I am closer at some level to my customers today. On sales calls, I listen to their issues and share how I can use technology to address them.

CIOs should spend more time with customers. I would say that I get more standing an hour with a customer, like a richer understanding of the business issues. When you talk to a customer you pick up interesting things. This is the way I would approach it, even if I were a CIO from a more traditional industry vertical.

How important is it for a CIO to think like a CFO?

I think they've got to compliment each other. You have got to be [business-oriented] in this day and age. Look at the role that David Goulden [CFO, EMC] and I play. We might both come to the same conclusion, but we come at it from different points of view. I might not have his financial perspective, which is important, but I don't think one person can cover it all. In any case, one cannot focus only on the technology perspective.

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