Manitoba CIOs: Success Stories in Digital Transformation – Nigel Fortlage

Nigel Fortlage | CIO/CMO at GHY International

NigelFortlage-Jul15Nigel Fortlage is the President of CIOCAN’s Manitoba Chapter, and a member of CIOCAN’s National Board. GHY is an international customs brokerage founded in 1901. It’s a 4th generation privately held firm that has achieved Platinum status as one of Canada’s best –managed companies.

Dual CIO/CMO role enhances Digital Transformation
The process toward this dual role began in 2009. We had no marketing lead at GHY, and the rapid emergence of social media was prompting us to examine our thinking about how we needed to enhance service to our customers, and how that would affect our business processes. GHY’s executive group, represented by one of my C-suite peers, commissioned a cultural audit around that time; we hired a firm to detect and evaluate variances between who we said we wanted to be, how we wanted to be perceived, and what we were actually doing.

We gained a new understanding of the importance of branding and culture, and of the need for optimum communication with all our target audiences. We began to look at ways to improve these through a comprehensive digital strategy that resulted in changes to our customer service communications model, and to our internal communication processes. We’re adding social business applications to our internal platforms – this also helps us develop our talent.

How has adding the CMO role affected your perception of IT services?

I’ve gained insight into a whole new level of contribution that IT can make, and a much-increased appreciation for the importance of deep collaboration across the C-suite. I’ve learned that when you start with the customer-focus, and work collaboratively on an organization-wide business process re-engineering model, you can make really significant changes that benefit all parties.

Our customers are importers/exporters who need to get goods across borders. GHY facilitates that process in accordance with international laws and regulations.

The digital solutions we’ve created are custom-designed for customers to mitigate their risks, achieve certainty on (and in many cases reduce) their costs, optimize their duty drawbacks (similar to tax rebates), and enhance their company growth. We remove mountains of paperwork and hours of time from their cost equations – and not just because of automation and online service, but also because of our liaison services with regulatory bodies, and our dedication to improving our customers’ compliance profiles. Our front-line transport customers typically communicate only by mobile phones and email, and we can serve them 24/7 at any commercial border crossing.

Not surprisingly, these advances have enhanced our business results as well – they’ve made us much more competitive. The customer focus is the ongoing key.

The more I put on my CMO hat, the better I get as a CIO. I’m better able to achieve buy-in across the C-suite, and I gain new insights that can help to drive us digitally.

When the focus is on the customer, internal collaboration rises to the top

Internal fiefdoms no longer make sense. All leaders need to work cohesively to better serve the customer – when I added the CMO role this became even clearer – the change put me in front of customers, and I learned a whole new language. I educated myself in the use of social media by applying the Nike formula – “just do it”- and now I have new tools with which to develop my team and their capabilities.

Editor’s Note: Nigel won the “Top Tweeter” award for Day 1 at the CIO Peer Forum.

Do you have any Advice for other CIOs?

Digital transformation will not be the same for every organization, but it will always be driven by business priorities. It’s inevitable that technology is going to change your corporate culture. You want to make sure that you’re part of the team that’s driving the bus. If you don’t spearhead digital transformation, your CMO will.

That’s why it’s important that we share insights. The theme of this year’s CIO Peer Forum really rang true for me “Drive Business Transformation; Master Change”. That’s what all CIOs are engaged in, and it’s so valuable to be able to exchange stories and experiences – we all benefit, as do our organizations.