How top CIOs are winning the battle for IT talent in a competitive market

Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 3.43.42 PMNone of the items on the CIO’s agenda for digital transformation will succeed without a staff that can help co-invent the future of the business. But many CIOs say that they have a hard time competing for scarce talent in a world where tech giants like Amazon and Google seem to get the first pick. It’s clear that CIOs will need to work harder, and spend more time, on attracting talent than ever before, but they may lack the bold strategies required for today’s difficult talent environment.

My latest IDC report, “CIO Practices for Winning the Battle for IT Talent” ($$$$) compiles the best ideas from several CIOs for dealing with the stiff competition for IT talent. These executives look beyond conventional recruitment strategies; develop deep partnerships with universities; work differently with their HR partners; and streamline the hiring process.

The report is based on interviews with CIOs Thomas (Tom) McKee Jr. (at Kennametal Inc.); Adam Noble (formerly at GAF); Joseph (Joe) F. Eckroth Jr. (at TE Connectivity Ltd.); and Scott Names (at Church Mutual Insurance Co.).

For example, Joe Eckroth is proud of how quickly his team can go from interviewing a great candidate to providing the offer letter (he calls it “speed-to-hire”). And Scott Names created a unique IT Scholars Program, which essentially pays 100% of college tuition for IT majors and then guarantees an IT job at Church Mutual upon graduation.

My conclusion: The winners in the IT talent wars will be the CIOs who take more aggressive and more creative approaches than just showing up at a few job fairs.

How to get started with AI and automation projects

Artificial intelligence technologies (broadly defined here, including machine learning and intelligent process automation) represent new territory for chief information officers. Traditional IT processes won’t work, and the technology isn’t mature, yet CIOs know they can’t wait on the sidelines while competitors plunge ahead seeking to disrupt their industry.

This IDC PeerScape ($$$$) — “Best Practices for Launching Artificial Intelligence Initiatives” — explores how several early adopters of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies got started on their journeys, in a field full of hype, risk, and (potentially) great business value. These pioneers developed a set of guidelines for how to pick the first applications for AI, how to balance in-house and external resources, and how to make sure they have the right quantity and quality of data to feed AI systems.

For this report, I interviewed Sherif Mityas chief experience officer at TGI Fridays Inc.; Rajeev Ronanki, chief digital officer at health insurer Anthem Inc.; and Tom Sheppard, CIO at Brake Parts Inc.

My conclusion: To launch their first AI projects, CIOs must become educators, evangelists, and coordinators of cross-functional teams.

How the CIO at CarMax is working on transforming the used-car market

CarMax-Test_Drives_DeliveredSometimes there’s synergy among my journalism ventures, where one activity feeds another. For example, I found out Stitch Fix Inc. was doing interesting things with its style-matching algorithms, wrote it up in my “Digital Business newsletter — and then interviewed their CTO for CIO Dive. Similarly, I covered CarMax Inc. in my newsletter, and then interviewed their CIO for CIO Dive.

It helps when you’re lining up a CIO interview if you already know they’re doing something worth writing about. At CarMax, the nation’s largest retailer of used cars, CIO Shamim Mohammad is helping the company roll out an omnichannel business model in which customers can buy 100% online, or start online and finish at the store, or vice versa. A key development was creating an online portal where customers and CarMax associates can see the current status of the transaction and collaborate to complete it. They’ll even deliver the car to your home or workplace for a test drive (that’s what the photo above shows).

The clever way that Stitch Fix gets more data to feed its style-matching algorithm

Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 5.42.31 PMMy latest article for editorial website CIO Dive profiles Cathy Polinsky, the CTO at Stitch Fix Inc. It’s the fast-growing (and now public) online clothing retailer known for having personal stylists — backed by data & style-matching algorithms — select items customers might love and deliver them in a box.

In about two and a half years, Polinsky has:

  • doubled the size of her team so it could support, rather than constrain, the burgeoning business
  • helped Stitch Fix expand into additional markets: menswear, plus sizes, “extras” (such as socks & underwear), and kids
  • supported international expansion — starting with a launch in the U.K. later this year
  • adapted systems to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and California’s privacy law

My favorite part of the article covers the clever way that this company gets additional data to improve it’s style-matching algorithm.

To gather even more clues about customer likes and dislikes, Stitch Fix developed an application called Style Shuffle. The Tinder-like game shows a series of clothing items and lets clients give each one either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down — thus providing more data to feed the style-matching algorithm.

“Clients love it. It’s super engaging. It’s fun. We have over a billion ratings now on this platform. Over 75% of our active clients have tried it at least once. Clients who have played with Style Shuffle have better ‘keep rates’ — they’re keeping more items because we’re sending more relevant items and really getting their style,” Polinsky said.

The company must be doing something right: Stitch Fix reported net revenue up 25% from last year in the second quarter of 2019. The number of active clients increased 18% to 3 million — and on average they each spent 6% more than the previous year.

Digital Business newsletter: an update

I’ve been producing the Digital Business newsletter for almost six months now. I’m up to about 73 subscribers — some journalist/cronies, some CIO-types, some competitors. Recent lead stories have included:

Each issue also includes brief summaries of digital initiatives; and a list of job openings and career moves of digital executives. One conclusion from my newsletter research is that more and more digital executives (e.g., CIOs) are being appointed to the board of directors at other (non-tech) companies, thus adding much-needed digital expertise at the board level.

My goals in 2019 are to produce more-but-shorter editions, at a steadier pace — and then figure out when to start charging a subscription price (though some editions will remain free, as a showcase of the valuable content).

Related: Debut of the ‘Digital Business’ newsletter