How CIOs Transform Companies Into Digital Leaders

Orvis is an outdoor adventure brand with e-commerce, catalog, retail stores and endorsed fly fishing and hunting lodges all around the world. The brand promise at Orvis is to “inspire a deep connection to adventure and wonder in the outdoor world.” Since 1856 when Orvis opened its doors in Manchester Vt., Orvis has built a brand based on quality gear that is field tested and authentic. Extraordinary customer relationships and personal connections are the foundation of the company’s success, and increasingly technology is an enabler of this.

Dave Finnegan is the company’s CIO and vice president of Technology and Interactive, and he explains in this interview with CIO Insight contributor Peter High that the company’s demographic segment is one of the fastest growing adopters of digital technology right now. As a result, innovation and a technology-enabled organization is one of the core strategies and is essential to the organization’s future success.

CIO Insight: You have been the CIO and head of Interactive for multiple companies, including Orvis. What does Interactive entail, and is this run as a division of IT or a separate function altogether?

Dave Finnegan: Interactive is really all about the guest experience. Our guest experience is the foundation for all of our work in technology. For each strategic initiative in our company, we create “playbacks” that are literally a story and prototype of what we want the guest experience to be in the future. These playbacks are often a blend of customer interactions with our Orvis staff and the right technology that enhances that customer interaction. Playbacks serve three purposes. First, it allows us to craft best-in-class experiences in prototype-story form so everyone is clear what the target experience is of our investments. Second, playbacks allow members of our organization to add ideas, innovate and elevate the experience. And third, it sets a clear vision for what our team is working towards.

The Interactive is not a separate team for us. The “Interactive experience” is embedded in our entire team.

CIO Insight: Why do you feel that the CIO is well equipped to run Interactive?

Finnegan: The vision for getting the most out of technology in the business is often elusive for members of leadership teams. Often they don’t know what is possible and so don’t have a “technology vision.” In my view, the role of this next generation of CIO is helping people to create a technology vision for what is possible. Not in a “that’s cool” kind of way, but in a how does technology help to add the “magic” to the our customer experiences. That makes things easier, faster, less expensive and better for the customer.

CIO Insight: Who do you partner with in order to establish your interactive strategy?

Finnegan: We don’t have an “interactive strategy,” we have a customer experience strategy. And that is a blend of people and technology that delivers on our brand promise. All of the members of the leadership team (CEO, CMO, COO, CFO) help to inform the customer experience strategy.

CIO Insight: You are more involved in strategic planning than the average CIO. What is it about the role of CIO that lends itself well to becoming a strategic facilitator on behalf of the enterprise?

Finnegan: The wide use of mobile, e-commerce and store interactive digital technology has literally reshaped how customers are interacting with our brands and, as a result, it is reshaping the way executive teams work together. This is not your “old-school technology” of yester-year, sitting in a back office somewhere monitoring the financial systems and databases behind the scenes; digital technology is literally in the hands of our guest. Designing well-crafted technology that enhances customer experience with our brand is at the core of our commitment to deliver the best-in-class Orvis experience. CIOs who really get this shift in customer interactions with brands can play an important role in helping lead the charge, arm in arm with the CMO and COO to help deliver results.

CIO Insight: You spent seven years as Chief Information and Interactive Officer at Build-A-Bear Workshop. You spearheaded the development of the “store of the future.” Can you describe the ideas behind that concept and the results upon implementing it?

Finnegan: At Build-A-Bear Workshop, we took a step back and asked if we were starting the company again from scratch, knowing what we know about interactive retail, kids play and digital, how would we design the store? Our demographic at Build-A-Bear is the most digitally connected generation in the history of this planet, so we knew we needed to speak the language of digital while providing the high-touch experience of building a bear. We created a rapid prototype of our new store concept. Literally using foam core to build the fixtures and prototype software. We created a special consumer group called the Cub Advisory board, made up of kids who would come into our lab every three weeks to see the progress we were making and to give us their feedback. When we rolled out the concept, we had an hour and a half wait to get into our new store. The results were fantastic.

Two key learning’s for me. First, it’s not about the technology. It’s about the experience. Technology was part of the magic, but the experience included great store associates, great product and great execution. And two, we get our highest guest satisfaction (even with this digitally connected generation) when one human in the store connects with another. As a result, we designed a store that is a blend of guest and associate interaction blended with digital technology.

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