IT Visionaries: CROSSMARK’S CIO on Transforming Business, IT with a Cloud Platform

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CROSSMARK is a U.S.-based sales and marketing service organization with roughly 35,000 employees. The company works with retail and consumer product companies to reach consumers along their journey, from product discovery, to in-store experience, to purchase, to loyal customers. Since joining CROSSMARK last year, SVP and CIO Mike Anderson has been focused on his department’s overall technology strategy, execution, and ongoing operations. As a part of our continuing “IT Visionaries” series, Anderson shares his method for meeting the needs of the Business, while at the same time transforming IT into a strategic partner.

Platform_IT Visionaries_226x438_MA1. What was the landscape of IT like when you began as CROSSMARK’s CIO?

The company had a rotation of business people serving as CIO. I was the first person to come in with a technology background in several years. I observed that CROSSMARK had a mature development shop, yet a lot of very closed, siloed applications. We’d made a couple of strategic acquisitions and the applications acquired were siloed as well. We had a very broad range of services provided against a very broad range of applications, but there was no integration. We were also heavily invested in capital equipment with an on-premise data center.

2. How was IT’s relationship with its customers at that time?

We work with some of the most well-known consumer brands in the world, as well as the largest retailers. The challenge we all have is the perception that IT is slow and too expensive. Many of our company’s business users shared the same viewpoint, which resulted in a “rift” between the Business and IT. When I saw what Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) could do for us and for the Business, I took the approach of: Let me be your shepherd in the process, helping you navigate that world and ensuring that everything integrates together and truly addresses the business problem you are trying to solve.

3. How have you executed on this new approach?

Our strategy with systems-of-record is to leverage multi-tenant SaaS-based applications if they exist. With systems of differentiation, our strategy has been to look for ISVs that have built their solutions on top of the Salesforce1 Platform — solutions that are either early in their maturity cycle, or that allow us to maintain some differentiation through contractual components. If that doesn’t exist, our next path — especially with employee-facing applications — is to build those on If it’s a customer-facing application, we look towards the Heroku platform. We actually have solutions built in all three of those areas today and we consider Salesforce to be our strategic development platform for the future of our business.

4. Can you share an example of a consumer-facing app you’ve built?

Last summer, the Business mandated: “We’ve signed a contract and you have 45 days to deliver a solution.” My Afiniti is a program in which AARP cardholders can go into a retail location, swipe their AARP card, and receive discounts on products from leading consumer product companies. We had signed an agreement with all the parties, but hadn’t built the system yet; a consumer-facing portal that could take feeds from 38 million AARP members, allow them to register with their AARP card, be able to bring point-of-sale transactions back so people can see what they’ve saved, and provide the ability to see offers. We didn’t get to the point-of-sale piece in the first phase, but we did meet the deadline by building an integrated site, running on Heroku, where cards can be registered and offers can be viewed. As you can imagine, we had a positive reaction from the Business.

5. How about an example of an employee-facing app?

We currently are deploying an application built on the Heroku platform to support field force execution and replace a number of legacy, homegrown applications with similar, yet dated capabilities. This application is being distributed to our entire field workforce of more than 30,000 people with a native Android and iOS version and a responsive web client for other platforms. This new application will drive field rep efficiency and make them more effective doing their work, resulting in tremendous bottom-line results.

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6. What’s the secret to building apps that actually provide value?

When you look at our organization today, we have thousands of part time workers who never go into an office and often use their own technology to access corporate applications. This dynamic presents a lot of operational and developmental technology challenges. We have to build our applications with a consumer slant, such as making things super simple and having them work on virtually any platform. Overall, we have had a positive reaction from our customers; we have gone from “red” to “yellow” with a trend towards “green” with our internal stakeholders. The key has been seeking to clearly understand the problem, and executing the plan. It is amazing what delivering on commitments can do for customer and stakeholder satisfaction.

7. Do you have advice for other CIOs considering a move to a cloud platform?

When I sit on CIO counsels, all we talk about is how to maintain relevancy and lead our businesses along the technology journey. The answer is to find a platform such as Salesforce with an open architecture and robust ecosystem support. There are a lot of companies that claim to have a multitenant platform that is continually updated, but I have not seen a platform that matches Salesforce. When you combine that with and Heroku and the ability to integrate those two pieces, there’s not an application I can think of you can’t build or extend using the Salesforce1 Platform.

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