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CIO shares strategies for IT-business alignment and success

Celso Mello, CIO at a provider of home heating and cooling services, talks about his path to IT-business alignment and success.

For Celso Mello, business and technology are inextricably intertwined.

The CIO of Toronto-based Reliance Home Comfort, which provides home heating, cooling, and water heater technologies to 1.6 million customers throughout Canada, has launched many an IT project -- but not without a clear sense of the business benefits for his users and a strategy to test and then implement technology in the most cost-effective way.

Mello helped implement important changes to Reliance's CRM system for its contact center and sales reps. Recently he talked with SearchCRM about how these projects gave way to another initiative for the company's field technicians, his management philosophy, and why IT and business goals have to be aligned.

Where did you grow up, and does your international background inform your everyday experience?

Celso Mello: I grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, with a family of Italian immigrants. My international experience started during the mid-1990s when I worked for Consist, a software company with customers all over the world, so I spent about four years traveling to Europe and Asia doing software implementations.

Celso MelloCelso Mello

Have you always been interested in IT, or did certain experiences sharpen your interest?

Mello: I have always been curious about how things work. My mother tells me that growing up I used to take my toys apart and put them back together, particularly the ones with a little motor. When you deploy technology to support a business process or to innovate, you are indeed building something new.

You attended business school and other business programs. How has that had an impact on your career?

My most valuable education has been that technology makes sense only if it improves things for customers, shareholders or employees.
Celso MelloCIO, Reliance Home Comfort

Mello: I have an MBA from the University of Connecticut and attended an executive program from the Darden School of Business. Both greatly influenced my career, but my most valuable education has been that technology makes sense only if it improves things for customers, shareholders or employees.

Talented IT professionals often fail to reach senior IT management because they have trouble establishing a direct and conclusive link between the technology and the stakeholder benefit. I believe CEOs look for CIOs who come to the table with a business perspective first, and focus on technology second.

You've worked as a consultant. How does that inform what you do now as a CIO?

Mello: I was exposed to different businesses, each with its own unique challenges, which keeps you on your toes.

I always struggled with what I call 'consulting detachment. Not being tied to the company is what enables consultants to remain unbiased, but I tend to emotionally connect with a project, so that doesn't always work for a consultant. As a CIO though, I sometimes have to detach myself to see the forest for the trees, and that consulting experience comes in handy.

What projects at Reliance Home Comfort have made real change?

Mello: In addition to the mobile CRM project for external mobile sales and our internal contact center, which you covered on SearchCRM, we launched a mobile field service project for our 350 field technicians on the road doing service and installation work.

We've had an Oracle automated system that optimizes routing and dispatches service orders with old handhelds, but these devices were near end-of-life. The Oracle system wouldn't support mobile devices without a massive upgrade: a risky and costly option. So we created our own mobile app. We gave field technicians a new Samsung Android phone with the app pre-installed.

This project benefits technicians, who now have online access to driving directions and technical manuals and benefits customers because the app has troubleshooting features that improve our 'fix right the first time' metric, a key source of customer satisfaction.

How do you use the cloud to test technology?

Mello: I can start a new initiative with little investment and risk. When things scale up, then I can bring the technology in-house without any impact on users and making it more economical for me in the long run. It's a financial game. In some cases, there is more financial benefit to keeping technology in the cloud; in others, it's better to keep it on-premises.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Mello: To find ways to handle everything that is requested of IT and create a perception of value for investment. This challenge is indicative of a growing company. The alternative is to focus on cost cutting, which is not as much fun.

What is something people don't know about you that informs your work?

Mello: I plan to retire early and become a public speaker or a professor. I love talking to people, telling stories, sharing knowledge. At work, I secretly practice that at our bimonthly town hall meetings. As I think about it, I'm probably practicing it with you in this interview right now.

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What features are most important to you in a CRM system?
Integration, integration, integration. To me, a good CRM system needs to take into account relationships and data sources from across the business and make them accessible, rather than promoting silos. 

I think ease-of-use is also very important. The less time it takes for people to learn the system, the more likely it is they'll use it, which is what creates the most benefit for the company as a whole.