Enterprise Mindset: 3 Questions a Former Credit Suisse CIO Always Asks When Evaluating a Technology Experiment
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While concerns of an economic downturn are driving cost-cutting measures across the enterprise, IT spending – including digital transformation budgets – is expected to remain strong. Not only can technology hedge against prolonged economic instability by driving efficiencies or increasing security, but the stakes are too high to slow down on transformation projects now.
“You can’t afford to not think about digital,” according to Radhika Venkatraman, Insight Partners’ CIO-in-residence. “This is not ground zero of digital transformation; we are now at a point of revolution.”
While the economic climate won’t cut off technology spending, it will bring project prioritization into sharper focus, making it more critical than ever for ScaleUps to understand the perspectives of enterprise leaders. Venkatraman – who served as a CIO at Credit Suisse and Verizon – can offer a peek into how top tech executives think about innovation.
“You can’t afford to not think about digital. We’re at a point of revolution now.”
During her five years at Credit Suisse, Radhika Venkatraman built a “well-oiled machine” for sourcing, evaluating, and scaling technology experiments. While serving as a chief information officer and chief digital officer for its investment bank, she built a process that helped it fundamentally change how it approached innovation.
“Having a digital mindset is not about taking your old process and just asking someone in IT to automate it,” she said. “At the end of the day, if you want to disrupt yourself digitally, you must reimagine your data, operations, talent, and culture.”
As part of this process, she honed her ability to efficiently filter ideas and select which experiments were worthy of funding. While her evaluation criteria mainly focused on internal projects, it’s instructive for ScaleUps to peek into her process: When pitching a leader like Venkatraman, be prepared to explain how your technology solution fits into this equation.
3 questions to ask when evaluating an idea
First, what’s the probability of success versus failure for a given project?
Leaders like Venkatraman want to surface bold ideas balanced with risk appropriate to the firm’s appetite.
“If the idea is absolutely going to succeed, you should just be funding it,” she said. Then, those ideas should flow through the typical business evaluation process versus the innovation pipeline.
For ScaleUps, the real competition to your product isn’t other similar solutions in the market: It’s the home-grown tools an enterprise could build internally. You should be able to articulate why it would be challenging to replicate your solution – and more importantly, its impacts – without a partnership.
“And if an experiment has almost no chance of succeeding, then why bother funding it?” Venkatraman added.
Share several robust case studies on how you’ve worked with other major enterprises to give leadership confidence in your credibility and experience.
Next, she asks whether an idea is focused on incremental efficiency gains or something more ambitious.
“When you’re creating small amounts of efficiency through your experiments, I’m not interested in that,” she said. “I always tell people to go for a new market opportunity or a new pool of revenue, something which indulges and engages your creativity.”
Have a clear-eyed pitch on how your solution will genuinely move the needle. Don’t just tell the technology story: Prepare to explain the business rationale of your solution, with insight on the rewards that make it worth deploying. Finally, tell them how your product will help them gain an edge in a market that’s getting increasingly tight.
“If your experiment is outlandishly successful, but your output is tantamount to giving birth to a mouse, that’s not an experiment you want to spend your precious resources on,” she said.
Finally, she asks: What timeline is required for testing?
“Fail fast,” she said.
It’s best if you are prepared to quickly spin up a proof-of-concept in an enterprise’s sandbox environment with synthetic data and prototyping tools. Leaders like Venkatraman are juggling so many potential ideas and experiments that they don’t want to wait nine months to understand whether a given partnership could work. Make it clear that testing your product won’t require Herculean effort.
Then, once you score a deployment, start proving your value right away. Producing small wins right out of the gate will help you build a case for winning additional buy-in and potentially larger scope
During her time at Credit Suisse, Venkatraman’s innovation pipeline received over 400 ideas and funded about 18 different experiments. Ultimately, 10 went to production and 3 became new business opportunities – including a so-called “Netflix for bonds” project, a recommendation engine for bond traders.
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About Radhika Venkatraman
Radhika Venkatraman worked at Credit Suisse between 2017 and June 2022, heading the data and technology functions for the global investment bank division of the group risk and compliance office, Under her leadership, the division developed and implemented a comprehensive data strategy and delivered several bank-wide regulatory programs. She also spearheaded the bank’s innovation agenda, including developing and implementing large-scale platforms for trading, client experience and mangement, compliance, and risk management.
Before joining Credit Suisse, Venkatraman served as SVP and CIO of Verizon’s network and technology organization. There, she worked closely with leadership teams in strategy, finance, and operations on initiatives to expand margins, increase operational efficiency, and enhance the customer experience.Prior to being promoted to Verizon’s C-suite, Venkatraman led the software teams that scaled Verizon’s premiere internet service (Fios) to support 65% year-over-year growth. Her teams’ efforts resulted in 99% on-time customer performance and a 71% reduction in customer complaints.
Alongside her role as Insight Partner’s CIO-in-residence, she’s a member of the board of directors at internet provider Brightspeed.