This week I’m joined by Yousuf Khan, CIO and VP of Customer Success at Moveworks. Yousuf has served as CIO for multiple companies and shares his perspective on the changing CIO role.
CIOs are finding themselves moving beyond operational functions and taking on customer-facing responsibilities. In this episode, we discuss the importance customer experience plays for enterprises and the pillars that enable the CIO to play a significant role. Yousuf outlines three keys to building relationships and the importance that community plays in CIO decision making.
Yousuf Khan Twitter: https://twitter.com/yakhan
Yousuf Khan LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yousufakhan/
Tim Crawford: Hello, and welcome to the CIO In The Know podcast, where I take a provocative but pragmatic look at the intersection between business and technology. I’m your host, Tim Crawford, a CIO and Strategic Advisor at AVOA.
Tim Crawford: This week I’m joined by Yousuf Khan, CIO and VP of Customer Success at Moveworks. Yousuf has served as CIO for multiple companies and shares his perspective on the changing CIO role. CIOs are finding themselves moving beyond operational functions and taking on customer-facing responsibilities. In this episode, we discuss the importance customer experience plays for enterprises and the pillars that enable the CIO to play a significant role. Yousuf outlines three keys to building relationships and the importance that community plays in CIO decision making.
Tim Crawford: Yousuf, welcome to the program today.
Yousuf Khan: Tim Crawford, how are you? Thank you for having me.
Tim Crawford: I’m doing well. It’s always great to see you, and appreciate you taking the time to join me on this episode.
Yousuf Khan: Oh, well, you know, when you call me up at 2:00 AM in the morning and say, “Hey listen, I’ve asked 17 other people and they said no and you’re my only hope.” Happy to be here, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Tim Crawford: You are the CIO and VP of Customer Success at Moveworks, and we’re going to talk a little bit about your role. You’re also the former CIO for PeerStorage. Before we dig into that, I wanted to talk a little bit about your nickname and how that ties into vests.
Yousuf Khan: Well, I can neither confirm nor deny that I currently wear a sweater vest every single day, for every single workday, and I cannot neither confirm nor deny that I have a large collection of sweater vests. It’s a nickname I acquired, there’s a bit of a personal story behind it, but I do wear a sweater vest because it reminds me of someone who was very close to me. It’s also the joking version is that it provides a calm influence when you walk over to someone for some reason because you can’t be angry at someone wearing a sweater vest if you think about it.
Yousuf Khan: If you’re a CIO, and you’re walking around, most people are just upset at the IT department. Then, when you wear a sweater vest and you turn up, they’re like, they kind of calm down immediately. I think it’s a calming influence. That’s my theory. It hasn’t always worked, like many theories, but at least it’s worked for me a large part of my career, so I’m happy about that.
Tim Crawford: Well, I’m glad to hear that that has worked for you. I think we all try and find something that becomes our hallmark or some way to break that ice.
Yousuf Khan: Well, I think calling it a hallmark is very generous of you and I appreciate that very much, but just a CIO, weird guy in a sweater vest trying to just get to work and get things moving on, so yeah.
Tim Crawford: That’s great. That’s great and it’s the different way to think about you, too, right? You’re not your typical CIO and I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with you and get to know you over the years. You aren’t the typical CIO and I think that’s incredibly refreshing, so it’s great to hear how this kind of fits into that persona.
Yousuf Khan: I think the role has been evolving for a while, so thank you for your kind words. I do think that a lot of people, especially in the CIO community in general, have really discovered that the role has moved on a lot and as a result, people have moved on with it and been much more impactful in businesses. So yeah, I definitely am not what I would consider typical, as you put it, but I think that’s becoming a general trend with CIOs who are starting to be much more forward looking with technology.
Tim Crawford: We’re going to dig into that in this episode. Let’s start out with your role at Moveworks. It’s not your typical role, and so even though you carry the CIO title, you also carry this additional title of VP of Customer Success. Can you talk a little more about kind of what you’re doing at Moveworks and some of the things that you’ve learned along the way, too?
Yousuf Khan: Yeah. For starters, Moveworks is a cloud-based AI platform that resolves IT support issues instantly and automatically and it uses the power of AI to be able to do that for large enterprises. I’ve seen that product work, I’ve seen the platform be very impactful. Two things happened when I was leaving PeerStorage. One was that I looked at roles where I could be more impactful from an operational standpoint, and I believe that the CIO role even in large or growth companies has evolved from just being on the IT side to doing a little bit more. Then, on the other piece was it’s a product and a platform which focuses on helping CIO organizations and IT teams. I was very honored to be asked to run with customer success as a function at Moveworks.
Yousuf Khan: That role is really about being able to successfully deploy the Moveworks platform into enterprises. It’s working with IT teams and I’ve managed IT teams a large part of my career. Being aligned with the customer persona and how customers work and providing some degree of domain expertise I think would be a good way to help build out a customer success team and then be able to make sure that we are successful when we deploy our product. It’s both an operational role with a broad agreement, and then I would like to think very impactful role on the customer side.
Tim Crawford: I think that that in itself is really valuable for a company. We see so many vendors that the person who you’re talking to, they’ve never walked a mile in our shoes as an IT leader, and so they’ve only seen it at arm’s length and really don’t understand the nuances. You, on the other hand, have firsthand experience with this, and so can speak to those nuances that customers are challenged with and how they experience the technology.
Yousuf Khan: Yeah, and I think one of the trends that you typically tend to see definitively at enterprise, but I would say globally even with consumers, this notion of competing in what we term as an experience economy and this aspect of being able to always uplevel the customer experience. You can do that in so many ways because the technology is available for you to do that, but in enterprise, really understanding the customer experience and optimizing for that, showing and demonstrating customer empathy and actually understanding how to navigate through a customer’s organization to successfully implement the product as well as understand what their needs are.
Yousuf Khan: That is going to become more and more relevant brand-wise. You do see both a lot of CIOs and CTOs taking customer-facing roles in companies which are selling into those or being able to deploy our products into the technical teams because they’re able to give them a lot more knowledge and depth and context about how to do that well.
Tim Crawford: To that point, you and I both know a number of CIOs, number of our colleagues who have taken customer facing roles. Actually, in an earlier episode of this podcast, I had Stuart Appley on and Stuart has taken a customer-facing role at CVRE, having been the CIO at Shorenstein prior. It’s interesting to see how that evolves. Let’s maybe kind of open up the aperture a little bit. We talk about the evolution of the CIO role and you talk about how it goes into customer-facing aspects. How have you seen just the evolution of the operational side of it as well starting to evolve over the past years? How do you see it changing on a more general level?
Yousuf Khan: I think on evolving of the CIO role, it’s definitely become much more transformational, and by that, it’s not really about just trying to make marginal improvements on existing operations and trying to make them efficient. That’s going to be part of the playbook. It’s really about being able to think much more broadly and much more creatively about how to better tool the company, but also be able to uplift both revenue as well as market share and presence. I think the role has evolved from being the leader of a big operational team to then basically extending that out and going in multiple directions. You could go in the direction of, as you spoke earlier about, moving into a much more customer-facing direction.
Yousuf Khan: I think because of kind of harnessing all of the innovation that’s available where the CIO has really been at the centerpiece of that, that’s where the role has become really, really transformational because they’ve been able to start to put this together, build out partnerships across the entire business, and have a vantage point that probably is more relevant than a lot of the other functions I would argue, that exist. Therefore being able to translate requirements and then being able to sort of execute on them in a very innovative way, rather than having to constantly respond to incoming requests. I think that’s really been an evolution of the role into a much more transformational role, and that’s being driven because of the technology that’s available to us and the innovation that’s been made available to us.
Tim Crawford: That requires some pretty significant cultural shifts, not just in the mindset of the CIO but the IT organization itself and the company as a whole and how it looks at IT. How do you think that is going to evolve? I mean, who drives that change?
Yousuf Khan: I think it’s definitely been incremental at a probably slow pace several years ago, but it’s definitely increased, and that really comes back to this aspect of the consumerization kind of experience being embedded into enterprises and people start to basically expect this into their workplace. There’s more conversations about how to basically better serve your employees, there’s much more conversation about how you can be more productive. I think all of these… it’s kind of top-down, bottoms-up, and it’s happening across the company. From a CIO standpoint, they have to be a key part of the C-suite to help drive this change. They are carrying the mantle of being able to bring more technology but also the right technology with very clear outcomes into the business, and I think that’s going to be a large reason for why those cultures change because they see a positive impact happen. They see that there’s an incentive for them to be able to change. I think it’s really about building out a change campaign that you’re able to do, and that’s kind of why people get really engaged about it.
Yousuf Khan: To shorten it from one aspect, it is much more broader than it was before from a culture standpoint, and I think the CIO is part of a larger executive team which has now woken up to this by being able to say, “Okay, we just need to be evolved. We’re competing on different fronts. We need to be able to get better. We need to use data better.” All of these things are happening, and therefore there’s just a lot more pragmatic decision-making happening about what’s right for the business.
Tim Crawford: Today, unlike in the past where technology wasn’t necessarily the game changer for a business, today it’s absolutely the game changer.
Yousuf Khan: Well, I think the big change is also been that the line of business is a much active buyer than they have before. You have seen the evolvement of SaaS has really impacted companies and enterprises all over the world and that’s really not just been the IT department. It’s about the IT department partnering up with sales or revenue operations or marketing operations, so production. To be able to embed better technology so they can be able to be much more productive and be able to get much better output. I think it’s across the board.
Tim Crawford: That’s great from an aspirational perspective, but if the CIO hasn’t necessarily built those relationships or has that deep insight as to how the other parts of the company work, how do you find that they do that?
Yousuf Khan: Well, other than wearing a sweater vest, which I’ve found very useful in my career so far, I do think that there’s probably three things I would advise a CIO in terms of building partnerships. One is it’s about mass enablement. It’s about being able to talk about and articulate in very clear fashion not just what we’re doing but why we’re doing it and being able to do that. Number two, it’s about being able to make decisions. I think a C-suite and partnerships are built because decisions are made and people can see output being driven, and I think people work well alongside other people who are making decisions. Being able to build partnerships demonstrates that you’re not just talking about stuff, you’re actually making a decision acting on it.
Yousuf Khan: I think the third thing is that there’s an aspect of measuring, so this aspect of data basically being really a currency from the CIO standpoint. If you go down here, you can have lots of opinions, but facts speaks for themselves and the data speaks for itself. Being able to both present the data and talk about it in the spirit of partnership is what actually gets people aligned and I think that’s really been something that I’ve seen and heard from CIOs and I’ve practiced it myself and so I’ve seen it work at least.
Tim Crawford: I like how you talk about the difference similar to how I speak about the difference between the traditional CIO and the transformational CIO. The traditional CIO focuses more on that operational efficiency, whereas the transformational CIO is getting into customer engagement, getting into revenue growth opportunities, and other things that are more focused on the core business, not just the internal operations.
Yousuf Khan: The bigger point needs to be about when you look at a technology trend is sort out there in the open, the question really comes down to is, what is the best decision for the business? What is the business problem you’re trying to solve. If you come down to common denominators, other people rally around that. Once you do that, that’s kind of a step change for people to say, “Okay, what does the next step of this journey look like in the spirit of that partnership?”
Tim Crawford: Where do you think that this new role of the CIO fits in to the organization? It’s given a Chief Officer title, but where does it fit in especially when you think about the role of the CIO and specifically the transformational CIO?
Yousuf Khan: The more people who are thinking about being able to transform the company, the more people and the more leadership there is that is about being able to use technology to innovate an operation, the better. I think they can very peacefully coexist, number one. I think they can be very strong partners. A big part of this is really about, what is the direction that you want to go towards as a company in terms of what your digital agenda looks like? That’s one of the hardest things.
Yousuf Khan: We are now at kind of a time in our generation that the level of innovation that’s driving companies, it’s happening at such a dizzying pace. You tend to basically be like, “Oh, well, I’ve been looking at this thing”, and then like six months later you’re like, “Well”, you’re kind of way behind. Being able to have thought partners that can help you and partner with you to be able to figure out and make decisions in a very, very concerted fashion to execute on them I think is actually a very, very healthy thing.
Tim Crawford: How much of that insight comes internal versus external for you? For example, talking with other CIOs versus working with other parts of your company?
Yousuf Khan: One of the things I’ve actually taken pride in over time is that I’ve always been very, very curious and I’ve always tried to get more insight into being able to provide a solution which is very relevant to other parts of the business. The only way I’ve been able to do that is to go quite deep and understand the nuances of it and understand the mechanics of it. It’s something that I want to be able to take great interest in. There’s that piece which helps.
Yousuf Khan: I think the other piece is that I host a monthly CIO group therapy dinner. I actually coined it a group therapy dinner because a large part of how CIOs make decisions is they’ve got access to largely the same set of vendors and technologies and how they’ve made decisions based on use case. I look across both data sets. One is a definitively across peers, a second, definitively internally by looking at the details, and third, I do do a lot of research outside, either speaking VCs, I look at startups, or definitively look at other research that is available to me to be able to help me make decisions. I have to do my homework before I basically present a big case, and I just think it’s something that is relevant now simply because there’s so much more available, too.
Tim Crawford: I think that’s an interesting trend that I’m seeing used more and more, which is CIOs helping other CIOs, and it’s not just within the same industry, either. It might be something that was observed in a completely different industry but maybe applicable. It may be how a particular technology is used or an aspect of the technology is used. It’s not… I don’t want to confuse what I’m saying with best practices.
Yousuf Khan: It’s actually not as much about best practices. It’s much more about what’s been most useful. If you boil it down, what has been most useful, it’s enough for someone to say, “I’ve found this solution very impactful, and by the way, I really like working with this vendor.” Now, it’s not in any way talking about back channeling. This is much more about, what is the relevance of a solution at a stage of company, at a stage of growth, at a size of team, at a size in business cycle? Being able to correlate opinions among CIOs, amongst peers has been very, very useful for me.
Tim Crawford: As we start to think about other trends in the evolution of the CIO role, do you think that more and more CIOs across all of the industries will take a more customer-centric perspective? Or do you think it only really applies to specific aspects or specific types situations or industries?
Yousuf Khan: I think the opportunity is that you can greatly improve the customer experience by using technology in so many ways, and who is the best person to be able to harness that technology in partnership with a number of those functions? Typically, it will be the CIO. The missing part to that is, do you have the mindset, the partnership, and can you speak to the imagination to be able take it to the next level? I do think that there’s going to be a forcing function. There are going to be some companies where the CIO is just going to be driven much more into that because that’s going to be the meat, and the meat is going to be driven because a lot of the industries that we compete in and generally are being disrupted in one ways but they’re actually seeing a lot of competition in so many different segments indirectly as well as directly.
Yousuf Khan: Therefore, really the question comes down to is, what is the best way for you to compete? That really comes down to customer experience and that’s everything from how you sell, from how you create a great buying experience. How do you create a great transaction experience? How do you manage and monitor support? All of these things, the common thread is, how do you have the best architect and technology organization to help you and help the business to meet that goal? The CIO is going to be part of that. I do see a trend where a CIO is either going to have a much more active role on the customer side. I think definitively with enterprises you see that, with enterprise software business, enterprise infrastructure businesses that I’ve operated in, but also on the consumer side because I think that there’s just going to be a lot more availability and option for them to be able to do so.
Tim Crawford: I like how you brought up a particular term that I don’t hear mentioned often but I think is a critical piece that is missing from our personas, and that’s imagination. Being able to dream and think about things that don’t exist in reality today. How might that apply? Maybe that opens up other trains of thought that could be very valuable.
Yousuf Khan: The reason that we have a lot of innovation that’s happening, and AI specifically is one of those, is because we have a lot of the data that’s available to you now for you to be able to actually understand path-matching, being able to store it, being able to process it. You have the compute power available even more so than you’ve had before and it’s getting better. I think most critically, you actually have the imagination to think about all of these solutions in a way that you didn’t think was possible in the past.
Yousuf Khan: Being able to put those together really is a very exciting opportunity if you are a CIO of a company because you can actually harness this now. You’re able to present these plans and it doesn’t sound crazy. It actually sounds very normal. In some cases, it sounds like, “Why aren’t we doing this already?” That’s going to be a critical piece for the next few years.
Tim Crawford: You mentioned data and AI, and I want to take our conversation there, and especially considering the organization that you work for today, can you maybe talk a little bit about your take on the relevance of data and AI in today’s enterprise? Is it like peanut butter and it’s everywhere? Or is it very strategically used? Or very surgically used? Where does it fit in? Where does that relevance fit in from your perspective?
Yousuf Khan: I think critical to AI, and I speak this in broad terms and, of course, Moveworks has been doing this in the IT support area for some time, you have to ask yourself a couple of key questions. Number one is, will it solve the business problem? If we definitively know that it can the business problem, then you direct resources and time and effort towards that. That’s one. The second piece is, is it the measure of output and outcome that you are able to drive as a CIO? There’s one notion which says, “Well, you can do some degree of machine learning by being able to build out machine learning models and being able to look at path-matching or otherwise.” Or, can you take an entire aspect of your business function or entire business process and really be able to completely uplevel it?
Yousuf Khan: That’s where the true power of AI comes into play because it’s able to not just scale, but able to improve the experience and it’s able to very clearly drive measurable value right from the get-go. I think that’s the critical piece to be able to look at it. My advice to CIOs is to think of it from that framework and think of it from a relevance standpoint.
Tim Crawford: It seems like AI today allows you to do things that, frankly, there just isn’t a good way to do through some other means, whether it be manual or some other technological means.
Yousuf Khan: If you look at the level of data that’s being ingested into businesses is growing exponentially and will continue to grow exponentially, and the reason for that is you’re deploying out much more devices, you’re building much more software, you’re putting in much more infrastructure in place, and all of this telemetry data that is sort of coming into play. You’re acquiring more customers, you’re in some cases getting more IT tickets in Moveworks’ case is, so being able to be thoughtful and focused on what a solution looks like, to be able to resolve issues, be able to provide outcome.
Yousuf Khan: That should kind of be a focus for AI, and AI technologies specifically like machine learning and semantic search and conversational AI and natural language understanding. These are all core subsets of AI which need to be harnessed and need to be able to be applied to an end solution and then implement where people should be focusing their effort about how they go about applying or at least deploying AI in the enterprise.
Tim Crawford: I love the way you think about that. I’m just trying to digest some of the things that you mentioned there because this is an important piece where it’s not just, “AI is AI is AI is AI”, but there are different aspects that can fit into different functions within your company and how you engage with customers and bring the different groups together.
Yousuf Khan: My advice has always been about, “Let’s get down to the basics pf getting real about where the problems are.” It’s actually a very liberating fact when everyone agrees to a problem and says, “Okay, we know that this is not going to scale.” Why is AI and solutions being built on the security stack? Well, it’s very simple. It’s because you’re increasing threat factors, which basically means you’re getting a lot more security and threat-grade data coming into your organization, and so being able to protect against that means that you need to be able to do much better path-matching. You need to be able to really be able to scale your security operation because you’re not adding many resources.
Yousuf Khan: If the role of a CIO has been focused on operational efficiency, don’t we see a huge opportunity to be able to bring efficiency with all of the technology that’s available to us specifically in the form of AI and the subsets of AI?
Tim Crawford: As we kind of wrap on today’s episode, I want to close with a… put a bow on the conversation a bit and ask you, what excites you most? As you think about the role of the CIO, how technology is enabling business, how it’s really kind of transforming business, forget about just IT but transforming business, what excites you most about the role of the CIO as part of this overall transformation?
Yousuf Khan: The biggest piece of excitement is that because CIOs have been entrenched in technology for so long, all of the technology that’s forthcoming is super exciting across every area. Being able to experience that, to be able to investigate it and then to be able to actually put it to work from a frame of reference where you could have done it better last time and being able to just do a massive improvement as a result of it, I think that’s the most exciting because you get exciting by being able to do really, really good work. I generally believe that.
Yousuf Khan: I think the second piece is that probably for the very first time, the CIO role is evolving as I said earlier into a much more broader mindset. That broader mindset could be a measure of impact could be a lot bigger. It may be a specific function otherwise. I think the third thing is, candidly speaking, the other aspect of exciting being part of the CIO is getting to speak to Tim Crawford, I mean seriously. We don’t get to spend time enough, Tim, but being able to… I mean this only half jokingly, I mean that being able to build out a community within the CIO organizations in general, I think it’s really, really important to be able to learn from each other, and so I’m kind of excited by being able to constantly learn and develop a much better roadmap and plan to be able to implement in companies. I think that’s what really excites me for sure.
Tim Crawford: Love it. Yousuf Khan, thank you so much for joining the program today. It’s been great to get your thoughts and talk about a couple of these things.
Yousuf Khan: Tim, thank you very, very much, and there’ll be a sweater vest with your name on it, soon to be delivered.
Tim Crawford: I’m looking forward to that.
Tim Crawford: For more information on The CIO In The Know Podcast series, visit us online at cioitk.com, or you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Don’t forget to subscribe and thank you for listening.