‘Customer expectations are through the roof – businesses have to keep up’

12 Feb 2021

Adam Spearing. Image: Salesforce

Salesforce’s Adam Spearing discusses how AI is becoming ‘even more critical’ and the importance of keeping up with customer expectations.

Adam Spearing is the field CTO for Salesforce EMEA, having joined the company in 2012. His career in the tech industry spans 27 years and includes stints at Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems and a number of start-ups.

At Salesforce, Spearing guides CIOs on how to get value out of the Salesforce portfolio for their organisations. He is also responsible for Salesforce’s partnerships with other technology companies such as Google and Amazon.

‘With past customer interactions, preferences and history all in one place, organisations can get far closer to their customers’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

As field CTO and SVP of solution consulting, I help companies get the most out of technology, including how to augment it with existing solutions. I spend a lot of time sharing what I’ve seen in the industry, and the lessons learnt about how to drive digital transformation.

Companies are looking for trusted advisers to help them navigate through the fourth industrial revolution as well as the ever-evolving economic, geopolitical and social circumstances businesses must operate within.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

Over recent months, the way we live and do business has transformed forever. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen business strategies rewritten and technological innovations implemented within weeks, which previously would have taken years. The shift to digital shows no signs of slowing down, yet our economies risk prioritising short-term results over sustainable success.

According to a recent Salesforce survey of business leaders across Europe, 82pc of respondents say that they have digitally transformed their business as a result of the pandemic, however nearly 60pc believe these innovations are only temporary.

The top concerns they raised included serving customers effectively and engaging their workforce – all of which are only going to become more complex as the digital economy evolves.

I’ve been working on several initiatives over the last few months with our customers, and all are focused on improving either the customer or employee experience. By doing so, you both improve top line and build resilience into their business so they can adapt.

Alongside my work with our customers, I have set up an undergraduate apprenticeship programme which I am very proud of. It’s so important that we give everyone an opportunity to kick-start exciting careers in technology. This UK-based apprenticeship programme, now on its second cohort, is doing just that. In Ireland, we have similar initiatives underway working with partners like Fastrack into IT and TU Dublin.

How big is your team?

There are several hundred in the team working with customers large and small. We operate at all levels from FTSE CEOs through line-of-business owners and all aspects of their technology teams. The team is balanced between industries and technologies so we can bring the best of both together for maximum impact.

We don’t outsource as such but we do work extensively with partners throughout the programs. Integration partners bring a huge amount of skills in areas that we don’t such as programmatic change management, and the earlier we start working with them the better the results.

My advice to anyone who is looking at a major program is to get all the parties together, not in separate streams or rooms; be clear on who’s playing where and, with good architecture and governance, you’ll get amazing results.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

The full benefits of any digital transformation can only be realised once initiatives are rolled out across the entire organisation. Doing that may well require internal restructuring and the recreating of departments, in order to better orient themselves around the new ways of creating customer value. If only some teams have the capabilities in place to fully take advantage of the smarter use of data and digital systems, it holds the organisation as a whole back from truly innovating.

The old internal reporting and working structures need to be reconsidered. They may be serving established interests and hierarchies more than customers. Leadership needs to be prepared to be realistic and critical, to drive this from the top, and be clear about the need to get closer to that coveted single view of customers. After all, their expectations are going through the roof – businesses need to keep up.

That single, 360-degree view of the customer is important because it’s only when data is brought out of silos and combined together that the bigger picture becomes apparent. With past customer interactions, preferences and history all in one place, organisations can get far closer to their customers. This is much easier to do when IT, customer contact and workflow tools are upgraded in a single, standardised way, rather than using individual piecemeal tools.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Without a doubt, AI is becoming even more critical as businesses need to make faster decisions, based on richer datasets.

AI is increasingly underpinning much of our personal and professional lives with examples all around us. It’s enhancing patient services in healthcare, making online shopping easier and even proactively running diagnostics on our vehicles to keep us and our loved ones safe. And there’s huge potential for it to go further. AI has the potential to transform the way we do business, as well as transform the jobs we do and how we do them.

With this incredible amount of potential comes an equal amount of responsibility. Right from the very beginning, ethics must not only be incorporated into the application but also usage of AI. Thankfully, this appears to be the case in the vast majority of examples we have of AI in our lives today.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

As companies transform by unlocking the value of their customer data, it has to be done in a privacy-centric, values-based way. Trust is our number-one value and the protection of our customers’ data is paramount. It belongs to them and our customers control how it is used.

Our products and technology are built, provisioned and operated at the highest level of security and privacy by default, without further configuration by customers.

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