GE Capital's CIO Discusses the Digital Enterprise

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
CIO Sigal Zarmi of GE Capital Americas

CIO Sigal Zarmi describes how GE Capital Americas has approached digital business and offers guidance on how a company can become a digital enterprise.

A growing array of digital technologies is challenging business and IT leaders like never before. As CIO for GE Capital Americas, Sigal Zarmi is on the front lines of this transformation. The company manages upward of 60 million customer accounts (mostly middle market), has approximately 47,000 employees and posted revenues of about $8.3 billion in 2013. Recently, Baseline spent some time with Zarmi and asked for her advice on how organizations can most successfully navigate today's business environment.

Baseline: How has GE Capital approached digital business and found ways to stay relevant?

Sigal Zarmi: We realized after the financial crisis that we must compete on more than the basis of money. We needed to bring more strategic thinking to the business and find ways to create value through data. We have a vast amount of expertise across GE, including in areas such as supply chain, operations, human resources, finance, treasury applications, cash management and manufacturing.

The challenge revolves around how to make data accessible and useful—both internally and for our customers. We realized that we must address business challenges in a more creative and innovative way.

Baseline: Can you provide an example?

Zarmi: We developed an application called SmartChart. It's a mobile app that uses a big data algorithm to show a franchisee where to open the next restaurant. It has a geospatial interface and plugs in location data, cost-of-living information, traffic generator data and many other variables to show how competitive the restaurant can be at that location.

We were able to collect data from 25,000 customers. It has been highly successful in attracting new customers because they want access to the data.

Baseline: How does an organization create this type of platform for innovation?

Zarmi: We rely on a number of techniques. We have established advisory boards, and we get customers together to discuss their problems, concerns and challenges. We hold meetings with both line-of-business people and technology people so we can get a sense of what's possible and what's realistic. We also collect data and use analytics tools so that data scientists can establish models.

We engage in continuous feedback with customers, and we prototype ideas and put them in front of customers for feedback. We also use agile methodologies and small development teams—we call them pods—to create an iterative type of IT and development environment. We push these agile methods into the organization.

Baseline: Do you use any technologies or tools to support this agile framework?

Zarmi: We built a social intelligence command center for social listening both internally and outside the organization. A team monitors posts across social media platforms, news sites, blogs and forums.

We also use brand and reputation analytics. We analyze all the data to better understand sentiment and fast-moving trends. As a result, we are able to identify market opportunities customers might otherwise miss, while also helping them cut costs.

Baseline: How do you address the cultural issues associated with this type of change?

Zarmi: We have had to work to change the mindset. In the past, people wanted to put all the functionality, all the bells and whistles, in the first release. We had to work with them so that they understand that this approach often bogs things down and makes projects lengthier.

Today, there's a need to pivot and adjust constantly. There's a need to experiment and iterate all the time.

Baseline: Any final thoughts?

Zarmi: Companies need to think in terms of harnessing existing data to create new revenue streams. There's a need to think about talent in a different way, there's a need to focus efforts and measure results through different metrics, and there's a need to view the overlap between digital technologies such as mobile, clouds, social media and big data in order to identify opportunities that didn't exist a few years ago. Today, data is at the center of everything.

This article was originally published on 2014-07-22

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for Baseline.

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