Digital Transformation and the CDO

The Crucial Link Between Digital Transformation and the CDO

Learn from a thought leader on leveraging technology and data to enhance customer and employee experiences, as Tracie Cleveland Thomas, Senior Vice President of Digital Transformation at KeyBank, lends her perspective and approach in an engaging interview with Ben Blanquera for CDO Magazine.

Also a member of the editorial board of CDO Magazine, Ben is interviewing global CDOs to gain their insights to create a “Playbook” for the industry. The original publishing of this article can be found at this link.


Tracie Cleveland Thomas has over 25 years of experience as a technology professional focused on strategic problem-solving. She holds dual electrical and computer engineering degrees from Ohio State University. Over her career, Thomas has taken on various roles across the insurance, government, automotive and financial services sectors.

She is currently the Senior Vice President of Digital Transformation at KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest regional banks. In this position, Thomas draws on her technology background to help KeyBank accomplish its business goals. Over the years, she has developed a passion for using her extensive skills to drive positive outcomes for companies.

Recently she spoke with Ben Blanquera, Vice President at Rackspace Technology and CDO Magazine Global Editorial Board Member, regarding her role as a digital transformation leader. Their conversation centered around delivering a smooth digital banking platform for KeyBank's clientele.

View the full video interview here.


Unlocking Change at KeyBank

KeyBank places strong emphasis on ensuring seamless consumer experiences by minimizing friction throughout the entire journey. The company’s customer-centric strategy involves understanding and proactively addressing customer needs, recommending personalized products and services, and taking a holistic view of each client's financial journey.

KeyBank utilizes technology as a vital tool to provide a comprehensive, seamless banking experience fully customized to each client. The company aims to satisfy financial requirements at every life stage, through its dedicated and personalized service approach.

In her role, Thomas provides strategic direction and serves as an internal consultant across all segments within the bank’s enterprise. Her focus is on enhancing both client and employee experiences, and she leads a team of engineers who work across three main pillars: people, process and technology.

Specifically, her team specializes in a technology category known as hyper automation, encompassing various terms and digital tools such as robotic process automation (RPA), low code/no code, intelligent document processing and more. By integrating these capabilities with core systems, Thomas said, her colleagues can optimize the end-to-end experience.

Thomas’ team will engage with engineers, gaining insight into their daily processes and activities. The goal is to understand how the engineers prefer to work, their ideal tool experiences for simplifying tasks and how they manage client and customer service.

According to Thomas, “By capturing a comprehensive view of internal work processes, we then develop a roadmap to optimize and leverage the hyper automation tool set, ultimately streamlining operations and delivering enhanced value.”


Decoding Success

Highlighting the crucial connection between effective data utilization, strategic oversight and successful implementation of data-driven initiatives, Thomas underscores the vital role of closely collaborating with the Chief Data Officer (CDO) and the importance of a strategic partnership with the Chief Architect.

Thomas emphasizes the crucial link between leveraging data effectively, strategic oversight and executing data-informed initiatives successfully. She spotlights the vital role of closely coordinating with the Chief Data Officer (CDO) and establishing a strategic partnership with the Chief Architect. Forming cross-team partnerships helps transform data into insights, to inform decisions and potentially ease adoption of new data solutions.

Thomas recommends a "three-legged stool" approach to strengthen this cross-team partnership. The three legs are: 1) understand data architecture, 2) comprehend how data underpins the customer experience, and 3) leverage each person's transformative strengths. These balanced strategies address gaps in data familiarity and apply individual strengths to enhance customer experiences.

However, beginning this journey requires specific foundational steps:

  • Understanding data location, especially in financial services with legacy systems
  • Recognizing the evolution of the modernization journey, with a focus on understanding the architectural landscape
  • Identifying the source of truth, often starting with creating a comprehensive inventory

In addition, Thomas advocates adopting a service-oriented process architecture as a vital part of effective data management. She contends that transitioning from vertical, business-specific concepts to embracing a horizontal perspective is essential. This shift enables scalability and promotes reusability within the architectural framework.

This signals a shift away from the traditional vertical approach.

“Gone are the days that business strategy is built purely from a vertical perspective, we really have to start thinking horizontal,” Thomas said. “And I really want to overlay not just the architecture, but the processes and services that utilize that architecture also must be more horizontal.”

Thomas also emphasizes the significance of data aggregators and underscores the pivotal role they play in understanding one’s consumer base and attaining desired goals. She believes the role of the CDO is to help in refining the specific outcomes you aim to achieve with an aggregator.

The key lies in determining how to seamlessly integrate this aggregator into a scalable architectural environment that aligns with your overall landscape.

According to Thomas, the crux of effective data management is accuracy and relevance.

“I particularly appreciate tools that leverage real-time data and employ decision-making processes through digital enablement such as APIs and microservices,” Thomas said. “The synergy of these elements enables robust validation and verification processes, empowering you to make informed, real-time decisions with confidence.”


Exploring AI 

As someone who is passionate about digital transformation, Thomas is thrilled about the prospects of Generative AI (Gen AI).

“Bringing this future closer with practical use cases for everyday people is truly exciting. To remain competitive and provide personalized experiences for clients and consumers, integrating some form of Gen AI is essential,” she said.

In the realm of financial services, complexity can arise, especially during significant life stages such as entering college, buying a home or starting a family. The younger generation, for example, values simplicity. Thomas said they prefer a streamlined process where they can make choices effortlessly.

Generative AI caters to the younger generation's preference for simplicity while presenting new options they may not have been previously considered. Thomas believes it can enhance the financial journey for younger and future generations by simplifying experiences, revealing unforeseen choices, providing a holistic view of available options and ensuring a clear and secure financial path.

Blending digital capabilities with Gen AI creates an enjoyable, personalized experience, similar to Spotify. More than convenience, it also injects intelligence into decision-making. This approach instills a sense of security and confidence, reassuring individuals that KeyBank understands, and is committed to, ensuring a long-lasting and healthy financial journey for them.


Preserving Value as the Vision

CDOs and other stakeholders should exercise caution against automating flawed processes. Rather than just digitizing the status quo, which may be inadequate for future needs, CDOs and their peer decision-makers should center efforts on enhancing value.

Key moves include deeply analyzing current processes first before automating. This optimization effort should focus on streamlining technology and experiences, while accounting for the complexities of today’s consumer journey.

Prioritization should go to technology simplification and customer experience friction removal. Modernization needs to reflect diverse consumer paths and associated touchpoints. Rushing automation risks missing chances to reinvent critical consumer touchpoints and build agility for what’s next.


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About the Authors

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VP - Evangelist and Senior Architect

Ben Blanquera

Ben is VP-Evangelist and Senior Architect with Rackspace Technology. He works with enterprises, architecting solutions to enable them to drive business outcomes through thriving in a multicloud world.    He is a 35-year veteran in multiple industries including health care, manufacturing, and technology consulting. Prior to Rackspace, Ben was with Covail, a leading-edge provider of AI/ML and cybersecurity services to Fortune 1000 clients. At Covail, Ben was VP of Delivery and transitioned to VP of Revenue and Client Success.  A recognized technology leader, Ben was named a Premier 100 leader by Computerworld. Outside of work, he loves to travel, ride his bike, and spend time with his wife and four daughters. He is an active organizer in the tech community and curates the Central Ohio CIO forum (150+ CIOs) and founded Techlife Columbus. Ben also serves on the Pitch Advisory Board for South by Southwest and the Editorial Board for CDO Magazine.

Read more about Ben Blanquera