5 Takeaways from CIOs at Dreamforce

One of my favorite things about working as CIO is the opportunity to widely learn from experts at all professional levels. That’s why Declan Morris, CIO at Splunk, and I hosted an invitation-only dinner for IT leaders during Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference. The theme of the dinner was ‘life in the cloud’, with a specific emphasis on the adoption of SaaS applications to support routine business operations. Participants came from companies from a wide variety of industries, including hospitality, gaming, information services, enterprise software, healthcare and cloud infrastructure services. This diversity in attendees led to some incredibly insightful conversations. Following the dinner, I wanted to share some of my top insights after speaking with many industry professionals.

SaaS is the universal destination but the journey can be long and hard. Although there was broad agreement across the dinner table about the desirability of leveraging SaaS apps to the maximum extent possible, there was also agreement that there is no singular model for the ‘right level’ of SaaS adoption and that every company needs to establish an app portfolio that is effective and economical. One participant indicated that their company runs exclusively on SaaS apps while another participant noted that the average age of business apps within their company was 18 years.

IT should blaze the trail into the cloud by cloudifying wall-to-wall enterprise applications. IT can be at the forefront of SaaS adoption by moving commonly used enterprise applications into the cloud such as email (e.g. Office 365), file sharing (e.g. Box), identity management (e.g. Okta), project management (e.g. Smartsheet) and videoconferencing (e.g. Zoom). By deploying solutions in the cloud, IT can enable an acceleration for digital transformation.

IT should focus on managing platform apps instead of worrying about all SaaS apps. As SaaS tools become more ubiquitous across the corporation, IT needs to step back and stop worrying about apps that are used by small teams for specific functional purposes. Rather, IT should focus on platform apps such as Salesforce and Netsuite which provide foundational capabilities for many different aspects of front and back office operations.

As apps become commoditized, enterprise data becomes even more important. In a SaaS-first world, functional teams will play an increasingly important role in selecting, configuring, and administering individual SaaS tools. However, IT still has an important role to play in managing the data that flows through such tools to ensure the integrity and safety of business-critical information. In order to proactively protect against breaches, IT shops need to be constantly honing their skills in data management and information security.

Collaboration tools confound the experts. All of the dinner participants commented on the wide range of collaboration tools employed within their companies and the difficulties involved in establishing standards that would facilitate cross-functional collaboration. A few of the dinner guests were promoting standardization initiatives within their firms but when one of the guests asked the question: ‘when is the last time IT ever won a standardization battle?’ the table went silent!

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