On the 16th episode of Enterprise Software Innovators, hosts Evan Reiser (Abnormal Security) and Saam Motamedi (Greylock Partners) talk with Sigal Zarmi, former International CIO & Head of Transformation at Morgan Stanley. Sigal is a seasoned technology executive, having spent time at some of the world’s leading companies including Morgan Stanley, PwC, and General Electric. Currently, she’s on the board at several innovative startups including HashiCorp, DataRobot, and more. On today’s episode, Sigal shares how data in the cloud is enhancing customer experiences, her perspective on building a culture of innovation, and the best frameworks for partnerships with startups.
As a long-time technologist, Sigal has seen firsthand how innovative technology implementations can have an outsized business impact. During her team at GE, Sigal was involved in a project optimizing where franchisors would open new locations: “We created an app to help franchises figure out the best place to open based on location, cost of living, and car traffic data. [Our app knew] how many people were in the area and where the hospitals, schools, and city government offices were. Based on that data, we created an algorithm that recommended a place for franchisors to open a new franchise.” Using algorithms to leverage the data coming in allowed GE to provide essential information to their franchisors, which led to better business decisions. It’s a fantastic example of what Sigal says digital transformation should be all about: “For the most part, [digital transformation] is about leveraging technology to engage better with customers.”
While at Morgan Stanley, Sigal had another front-row seat to how the company leveraged artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize their trading platforms and create a better customer experience. The immense amount of data allowed for a truly unprecedented level of analysis: “There's a lot of data moving around in financial services between clients and vendors, and companies are always thinking about how to improve that. The amount of data today is just astonishing; you can go back and analyze the stock markets of 100 years ago. The ability to use big data in the cloud is opening a lot of new ways to engage with your customers.”
Sigal’s storied career has seen her in CIO and advisory roles at some of the world's most impactful enterprise organizations (GE, PrwC, Morgan Stanley, Boston Consulting Group) and also on the board of several upstart technology companies (HashiCorp, DataRobot). Given the breadth of her journey, she has deep insights into what it takes to drive a culture of innovation. Her best practices are clear: First, find how innovation initiatives weave into the company's values; finding that synergy can produce positive results. Second, ensure the emphasis on innovation is not only confined to the most exciting, flashy endeavors. Celebrate small contributions should as much as larger initiatives. Third, always tie innovations directly towards business outcomes: “Not so much technology [implementation] for technology's sake, but really how does this help the business?”
Because her career trajectory has taken her from the enterprise to the startup ecosystem, Sigal has a unique understanding of successful partnerships. While startups are always eager to move quickly, it’s key to remember the inertia inherent in enterprise organizations - patience is a virtue. Startups should focus on solving actual customer needs, not just a feature: “...make sure that your product answers the customer’s needs because sometimes [startup] products only answer an itch or a feature solving a specific problem. [As an enterprise CIO], I wouldn't buy just a feature because that might be acquired or developed by a competitor. So think about a platform you're building rather than just a feature.” Perhaps the most impactful advice is some we've heard from other ESI guests as well. Without clear business use cases, startup-driven technology in a vacuum will never be embraced by enterprise organizations: “I've talked to so many companies that think that their technology should sell itself. ‘It's obvious what our technology does.’ That never happens; technology does not sell itself.”