Top leadership priorities in 2023

In a challenging economy, business leaders need to move decisively to take care of the basics and drive ROI, say executives from JCPenney, Friendly’s, and others

When the economy gets rocky, is it time to invest or time to pull back? In which areas? We asked four tech leaders about the hard choices they expect to make this year, and across the board, none expect to slow down. JCPenney will focus on improving customer experience and processes, Vanderbilt University is making hybrid work permanent, and the former CIO of Friendly’s says better support from IT should be on every company’s agenda for 2023. Read on to learn more.

From omni-channel to omni-everything

Sharmeelee Bala
Sharmeelee Bala

CIO, JCPenney

For years, people have talked about the need to be “omni-channel”—to sell in stores, online, or on mobile. But COVID has raised customer expectations, so I’m going to focus for the next few years on building an “omni everything” platform that lets us be omni-inventory and omni-shipment as well. That means connecting the dots between internal groups and processes, so we can draw on inventory from any channel to make sure we can meet our delivery promise. I’ll also focus on using AI to personalize our services—say, to make smarter decisions about whether a particular customer would prefer we delay a shipment by a day so they can receive five items consolidated in one box. It’s also about building a platform that can incorporate all kinds of unstructured data. For example, if an influencer is coming to town next week, should we plan to replenish our stocks accordingly? Ultimately, it’s about building trust with our customers by meeting a lot of their non-tangible needs, like knowing that if they order something that it will arrive on time and the way they want it.

Sharmeelee Bala, CIO, JCPenney

Define and start building a post-pandemic IT work culture

Jess Evans
Jess Evans

CIO, Vanderbilt University

We’re at a critical point in the debate over remote work, and any suggestion that IT work can or should be 100% remote hinders the conversation about what’s most important: cultural alignment. Some organizations are well suited for 100% remote work, others are not. For us, true human engagement matters. Universities are like small cities with their own police force, retail experiences, academic missions, and more. Therefore, I’m conducting a listening tour to understand the types of experiences the Vanderbilt community desires, and my priority this year will be to make sure our team is aligned on how to satisfy those needs. This will take time to sort out. You can’t just mandate a hybrid work policy and hope it all works out. Cultural development needs to be shaped collectively and informed by the entire organization. And it’s critical to create a culture that gives purpose to the team. Like everyone else, we moved a lot of things to the cloud during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need people. Quite the contrary. More than ever, you need a strong team of IT professionals who can deliver results. Leaders who don’t invest in culture and the development of those team members could be hurting in the future.

Jess Evans, CIO, Vanderbilt University

Integrating human resources and digital technology teams

Jacqui Canney
Jacqui Canney

CPO, ServiceNow

HR leaders now have a seat at the table where the most important decisions are made. That presents new pressure to deliver on business outcomes, but it also presents a tremendous opportunity to make work better for people. Creating better employee experiences helps grow our people, our teams, and ultimately, our business. That is why I am focused on working with our Chief Digital Information Officer, Chris Bedi, to level up the partnership between our teams. Employees across industries already have consumer-grade technology that simplifies their lives in radical new ways, and they expect the same at work. HR and Digital Technology teams need to work together to map strategic, predictive, and proactive solutions. Beyond collaboration, we want to integrate our functions to tech-enable our people. With that kind of partnership, we can invest in our people, unlock their potential, and pinpoint the skills that drive business success. For example, we are harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to build a skills intelligence system that helps us assemble the best teams with the right talent at the right time. We can give our people new ways to learn while also developing skills that strengthen our competitive advantage.

Jacqui Canney, CPO, ServiceNow

Focus on the basics in IT: Better service, better ROI

Pete Gibson
Pete Gibson

consultant and former CIO of Friendly’s Restaurants

I’m consulting in the restaurant space, and I’ll be telling my IT clients to focus first on what most people in the organization want from IT: better service. Get them back up and running as quickly as possible when they have problems, and you’ll have a quick win that earns the support to do other things. I’m also very bullish on analytics and the ability for IT leaders to go much deeper to find ways to improve the bottom line. IT is the first to see the data about what’s happening in the world, so don’t wait for your CEO to tell you to do something with it. At Friendly’s, we used analytics to understand that our customers cared more about our ice cream during the pandemic than our other food, and developed a way to proactively raise prices when the data suggests they’re willing to pay a little bit more. Such improvements helped a beloved regional brand survive the pandemic.

Pete Gibson, consultant and former CIO of Friendly’s Restaurants