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The oil and gas multinational Shell is currently transforming its organisation to be more agile, flexible and competitive: no mean feat for a corporation more than a century old. However, data-centric cloud technology solutions such as Salesforce are proving themselves to be a major enabler for transformation, says Craig Walker, VP and Global CIO at Shell Downstream.

Walker’s remit spans the globe, which means his IT strategy has far-reaching effects for Shell Group. It employs around 93,000 people across the world and has operated in the UK since 1897. Walker is particularly interested in the hundred years of data that Shell has collected, which the company aims to utilise more effectively to increase its efficiencies and competitive edge.

Walker explains, “Shell and Salesforce have a strategic partnership that is enabling and growing the use of the Salesforce platform across a range of Shell businesses. The scale of Shell’s business means there is a significant opportunity to collect data from a wide variety of sources.”

“Salesforce allows Shell to collect this data and make it available to the relevant business teams, where it can be shared and analysed to generate customer and business insights. Shell is now working with Salesforce to take advantage of the latest analytics capabilities on the platform in order to drive further value from both this historical and newly generated data.”

Salesforce’s disruptive capabilities

Salesforce also gives IT teams the ability to disrupt established IT processes and create a more agile organisation, which is something that Walker is actively engaged with.

He comments, “The Salesforce platform is helping Shell to digitize processes, automate manual activities and create more consistent and improved user experiences. Speed is a key value driver and Salesforce is enabling Shell to rapidly implement new and enhanced capabilities. In this way, the business is more agile and is able to prototype ideas, prioritise and adapt them based on feedback, and then implement solutions quickly and in a way that focuses on business value.”

To date, Shell’s use of Salesforce is traditional rather than disruptive, for example, improving the tooling available to mobile sales teams and automating much of the processing, says Walker. By deploying a market standard process as a SaaS-based solution, Shell has been able to deploy quickly and achieve the business case faster. It’s beginning to exploit the force.com platform to add more capability and standardize processing across the business.

“The disruption is not to the business processes, as we are trying to deploy ‘out-of-the-box’ ‘market standard’ processes. The disruption is to the IT process, meaning that we are able to rapidly prototype and deploy new functionality to business users globally; and to enable best-practice processes,” Walker says.

Shell is also conducting a “Hackathon” exercise where teams from across the IT organisation submit ideas to improve processes. These teams are being coached by experts from Salesforce and Shell, to help convert their ideas into prototype solutions, using the Salesforce platform. “Experimentation is encouraged and the most well-received solutions will be implemented across the enterprise,” Walker comments.

The CIO comes of age

However, while IT can make transformation happen and help the business gain competitive edge, the CIO must also come of age, argues Walker. He says today’s CIOs need to be commercially minded, play a part in strategic business discussions and share a wide vision.

Walker says, “These days I don’t think there’s a thing that my company doesn’t do that doesn’t require IT to make that happen. And it’s no longer just about making it happen. It’s how do I get ahead of the opposition? How do I gain competitive advantage? How do I do it better, faster, slicker than somebody else? This is about me being an integral part of the leadership team. Part of the strategic business discussion. And bringing my skills and knowledge across a very wide vision and sphere of influence, as most CIOs have.”

IT leaders also need to inspire their teams to have a business-first approach with a commercial mindset and external knowledge - as well as being technically astute, Walker advises.

Teams need to understand how and where the business makes money, how it can do that better, and how technology can support new business models. “My people need to think in a different way. They need to think: how can I harness all this wonderful stuff, how do I put it together in a different way that others haven’t?”

CIOs and their teams are on a journey, and need to think in a different way, Walker concludes. If they can harness platforms such as Salesforce to get real differentiation from their data and business processes, business transformation will follow.