Digital command and control: The CDO’s agenda
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Digital command and control: The CDO’s agenda

Jessica Twentyman — April 2014

How Blake Cahill, Philips’ head of digital and social marketing, is making the connection between the online conversation and purchasing behavior.

Blake Cahill, global head of digital and social marketing at consumer lifestyle, lighting and healthcare giant Philips, likens his role to that of an air traffic controller: “There’s a lot of traffic coming in and a lot of traffic going out. My role is to orchestrate all these take-offs and landings and make sure that the airport functions in a safe and consistent way.”


It’s appropriate, then, that he describes the company’s newly launched Digital Command Centre as a ‘cockpit.’ Located in the company’s global headquarters in Amsterdam, its bank of large, wall-mounted screens and desktop displays show a wide range of dynamic, up-to-the-minute data feeds on both Philips’ online commerce (including supply chain performance and ecommerce sales) and social activity (online brand sentiment, findings from social listening, and more).

“This is where we look to identify trends that might be significant to our business,” he says. “Watching the screens in itself is truly fascinating, but what’s important are the correlations that the team in the Centre are able to make between a surge in online conversation about a particular product, for example, and the impact that has on orders at our online stores.”
Joined-up digital

The official launch of the Digital Command Centre in March of this year marked a major milestone for Cahill. Since he joined the company in December 2012, his overriding goal, he says, has been to establish a more joined-up approach to digital and social marketing across the €23.3 billion ($32bn) company. The Centre, in many ways, embodies this approach, offering consolidated views across different markets, lines of business and products in a single location.

“When I arrived at Philips, it was quickly apparent to me that there had been a lot of organic digitization throughout the company — it’s something you see in a lot of multinationals,” he says. “Different divisions and teams, trying out different approaches, using different tools. That can lead to bright spots and amazing steps forward, but also to tremendous inconsistency.


Philips-Digital Command Center
 Philips’ Digital Command Centre

The world is moving at such a rapid digital pace that, if you want to excel in delivering a great customer experience, you need a very methodical way in which to build out new capabilities and manage the customer experience,” he continues. “There must always be room for some localization, of course, but for me it’s important that the Thai customer experiences the Philips brand in the same way as, say, the South African customer.”


One of the things that attracted Cahill to the role at Philips, he says, was the groundwork already laid by Jeroen Tas, former group CIO at the company and now heading up its Healthcare Informatics business (see Big Thinkers). “Jeroen had already laid out an exceptional technology plan for Philips and he made it clear to me from our first meeting that he ‘got’ digital. He understood that digital doesn’t just transform IT, it transforms the whole business.

“What he needed, however, was someone who could deliver the processes and behavioral change around that technology and identify where any gaps in function existed — and that’s where I came into the picture.”

“What a company needs is the CIO, CDO and CMO all speaking the same language, but coming at digitization from slightly different angles.”

It’s this kind of professional collaboration, says Cahill, that can make all the difference between a good-enough customer experience and a great one. “Ideally, what a company needs is the CIO, CDO and CMO all speaking the same language, but coming at digitization from slightly different angles. For me, that’s the winning trio that a business needs if it wants to remain relevant over the next five or 10 years.”

In order to support him in this role of delivering process and behavioral change, one of Cahill’s biggest projects to date at Philips has been to identify social and digital experts from around the business and organize them as a single team — a ‘Centre of Excellence’ on digital — responsible for piloting new approaches and tools, rolling them out to the business and explaining to employees the new working practices that they need to adopt.

“For me, consistency is crucial. If you can build a coherent operating model in digital, then when the ‘next big thing’ comes along — whether that’s Google Glass or augmented reality — then you already have a plan of action to follow. You can say: “OK, this is what we’re doing,” and everyone knows how they’re expected to deliver against the goal you’ve set them.

“The biggest challenge is just keeping up with the pace of digital change and to do that you’ve got to have an [underlying] system,” he says. “Without that, you’ll never be able to manage the digital equivalent of a Heathrow or a Schiphol.”

First published April 2014
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