How CIOs Can Use Technology to Drive Business Outcomes

“I want prototypes, not PowerPoints.” -Craig Walker, CIO of Shell Downstream

“If we can not leverage technology to turn product into service, we’re in big trouble.” -Craig Walker

Startups are known for their ability to ‘pivot,’ but how does a $35 billion company maneuver to meet changes in technology and innovation? That is the question facing Craig Walker.

Craig Walker, VP and Global CIO of Shell Downstream, steers the supertanker that is Shell. On IT Visionaries, Walker joins us to discuss the changing nature of IT and how he encourages innovation. He also explains how Shell incorporates new technology and utilizes massive amounts of data to streamline Shell’s operations.

When Walker became the CIO of Shell Downstream in 2014, he called a meeting with the company’s leadership. Together — and with the help of tons of sticky notes — the team analyzed everything that they didn’t like about the current way things were running. They determined that most of their problems could be fixed by improving three things:

  1. Commerciality
  2. The idea of ‘one team’
  3. Focusing on business outcomes

“The number one thing we said was commerciality [understanding the business, not just technology]. IT had lost focus, it was focused too much on the technology and far too much on just being a service…

“The second thing we hit on was forming ‘one team.’ I don’t want to hear any more ‘us’ and ‘them’. IT is an integral part of the downstream business. If we fail, we will fail that business…

“The third one was business outcomes. Everything is about the outcome, everything is about putting a dollar on the bottom line of the business in a safe, secure, sustainable way.”

When deciding what type of new technology should be adopted at Shell, Walker always brings the focus back to these business outcomes. He says you should ask yourself, “What’s the outcome I’m trying to drive? What are we actually trying to do? What data do I need to do that? Do I have that data? Where is it? Can I move it? Can I process it? Can I display it?”

“Start with the business outcome. Look at what data you need, then you determine what technology you’re going to use that is really going to deliver this.”

But ‘looking at the data’ isn’t always an easy task. Companies like Shell have endless amounts of information available to them, but this data is only as valuable as its utility.

“If my people understand where I make their money and where the value is generated and where we could be disrupted, so do a million startups out there… And what’s the big advantage we all have as established companies? It’s not the business model. It’s not the applications. It all comes back to the data. If I have more data than you and that data is of value and I know how to use that data to create knowledge, to create information… I have an advantage over you.”

A wealth of data and an understanding of how to use it can only go so far. If you don’t have the resources and mindset to use that data to innovate, then you risk being overtaken by a competitor.

“It’s all very well me having the data, but if I can’t move at the same pace and with the same type of innovation, and the same risk reward mentality as the startup, ultimately, I think I’m going to lose that battle.”

So how does one encourage innovation and forward thinking in a company as established as Shell? Walker suggests that his employees (and everyone at the company) spend at least 10% of their week learning. Walker feels this pressure personally because the knowledge now required to be a CIO extends far beyond the single silo of IT.

“If you are up against a startup that specializes in one particular thing, they are probably always going to move faster and have more knowledge about it than you will. But as a CIO, I have to constantly have a 101 knowledge of many of these new things… I spend a lot of my time now reading, listening, going to CIO panels, talking and listening to what others have to say because you have to know so much.”

When new ideas crop up in the company, Walker doesn’t want them to work their way up the pipeline of approval through a series of ‘gold-plated reports’. He doesn’t want to hear about the idea; he wants to see it in action.

“I want the end of powerpoint. I want prototypes, not powerpoint. For example, with a platform like Salesforce, you can spend 2 to 3 hours workshopping something and then go back in the afternoon with a prototype connecting to real data…. You can very quickly bring a new way of working to life, without changing the core too much.”

Throughout the interview, Walker stresses that IT is no longer a ‘backroom’ part of the business. Increasingly, it influences all levels of a company.

“I think it is an incredibly challenging time to be a CIO, but this is the time for the CIO and the IT department. If it is still considered a service, if it is still considered a backroom, that is a recipe for disaster for a company.”


Quick Hits

What app are you using on your phone that’s the most fun?

“An app called One Second Per Day. Every day you post a second of a video or picture and at the end of the year you can play it back.”

Favorite time-saving tool?

“Alexa.”

What’s the role of AI?

“To take the robot out of the human and liberate the human to do their job best.”

Favorite team, sports or otherwise?

“My favorite team is Manchester United. Has been for the past 50 years.”

Favorite podcast?

“There’s a lot of podcasts out there. I can’t pick a favorite one, but I like ones that are personal where someone talks about a journey they’ve been on.”

Favorite recent book?

Origin by Dan Brown.”

Favorite TV show?

“Oh, Black Mirror. Love it. I love Westorld, as well.”

Favorite one-day getaway in London?

“Just to get on one of those boats that cruise up the Thames and see everything that’s going on.”

Favorite Dreamforce moment?

“I think three things stood out for me from last year. The interview between Marc Benioff and Michelle Obama was something else. Alan Baldwin over lunch very good. Will.i.am and Steve Jobs’ wife, that was an excellent interview.”


To learn more about transforming IT and using technology to drive business outcomes, check out the full interview with Craig.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.