By Peter High, published on Forbes
Angela Yochem joined Rent-A-Center as chief information officer in May of 2016. Her skills as both a technology savvy CIO but also one with unusual business acumen were apparent early in her tenure, and she was asked to lead the digital transformation at that $3 billion revenue company, which is the largest in the rent-to-own industry.
She has also been unusually active as a board member, first at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, and since October of 2016 at data analytics company, Rocana. She offers advice on how to achieve board membership for those who wish to follow in her footsteps among other topics we cover herein.
Peter High: Angela, you are the Chief Information Officer at Rent-A-Center, which is the largest furniture rental company in the U.S. Since joining the team last May, you have led a digital transformation of the company. Can you give us an overview of the journey to date?
Angela Yochem: Digital transformations are happening across the world, in every company and in every industry. This is largely because technology advances no longer only enables business evolution, they drive that evolution. Technology advances create new channels to reach the customer and allow us to generate new products for our customers. It is shifting, with or without our engagement, the customers’ expectations of how we should engage with them and on what level of intimacy.
In our case, digital transformation is about customer and coworker engagement. It is about operational optimization and the expansion of channels and products. We are lucky that we have an engaged and informed stakeholder community at Rent-A- Center that has supported my team acting quickly to design new channels that engage customers in ways that are nontraditional for our space. As digital transformation relates to operational optimization, in a few short months we have stabilized our technology estate. We have cloud enabled many of our key tech components while shoring up the design of our critical business systems and data environments. One notable example is the point of sale system. We completed this stabilization in one quarter through intensive redesign and cloud adoption. We also changed the way we manage privatization across all of our business activities; not only those of the technology component. Ultimately, Rent-A-Center is going to run like a software company where desired outcomes are linked to required capabilities, which in turn are managed and prioritized in epics and sprints across the board. This allows us to quickly adjust to the continuing changing customer expectations and emerging market opportunities.
High: Clearly, you have both an internal and external perspective on digital transformation. For pure IT leaders that are working to get past that divide, to have more actual customer engagement, how should they think about the divide? Especially as it relates to digital and implications on the end customer versus implications on the enterprise?
Yochem: That is an excellent point. As CIOs, we sometimes become so focused on meeting the needs of our colleagues and of our partners that we forget to think about what the end customer needs or how they want to engage with us, or we fail to consider how we can change our priorities to better serve the end customer in order to affect the way that they think about our company, about our company’s services, and about our company’s products. That is a real miss. It reminds me of the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford that says, “If I asked my customers what they needed, they would tell me they wanted faster horses.” CIOs get caught up in this if we spend too much time listening to our colleagues who may not have the necessary perspective required to understand what is possible given the rapidity of technology advances. Technologists and leaders in the technology space have an obligation to their companies and to their shareholders to actively engage in finding ways to better serve their end customers — and ultimately benefit everyone involved.
High: It strikes me from meetings with peers of yours that, like you, have leadership and IT responsibilities, that the digital topic is something that needs to draw inferences and insights from every part of the organization; among other reasons, because it is both internally and externally focused. How do you think about collaboration and engagement to ensure that you are pulling from all of the relevant parties across a complex world?
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