NCR: From ‘cash register’ company to digital leader

by Stephanie Overby

posted 09-10-2020

When Bill VanCuren joined NCR in 1984 the then-century-old, Dayton, Ohio-based computer manufacturing company was focused on maintaining its position and brand image as the “cash register” company.

Some 36 years later, everything has changed.

“Not only was our approach to IT and marketing radically different at the time, NCR was positioned and thought of as an almost entirely different company,” says VanCuren, who serves as NCR’s senior vice president and CIO.

Over the past six years, VanCuren has worked hand in hand with Marija Zivanovic-Smith, the company’s senior vice president of corporate marketing, communications, and chief external affairs officer, to transform NCR’s customer engagement strategy.

“Not only have our strategies and tactics changed, but the narratives and technology driving them have as well,” adds Zivanovic-Smith, who joined NCR in 2008.

The two executives have been focused, specifically, on retooling NCR’s marketing and IT infrastructure to compete in the digital experience economy.

“This coincides with our evolution as a company into the software- and services-led enterprise provider we are today,” VanCuren says. “This required us to dig deep internally and understand the gaps and synergies between IT and marketing to create a vision for NCR’s digital strategy.”

Here’s a closer look at how they’ve collaborated over the years, from the early days of digital transformation to managing the many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The start of something big

Zivanovic-Smith and VanCuren began strategizing and building their road map for digital transformation in 2014. They had big ideas but zero funding. “But that never stopped us,” Zivanovic-Smith says.

The duo outlined for the C-suite and business unit owners the long-term value of their transformation plans: to drive organizational efficiency, innovation, customer satisfaction, and revenue. The investment followed. And in January 2018, when NCR moved its headquarters to Atlanta for better access to technology talent, the marketing and IT leaders doubled down on their efforts to digitize NCR as much as possible and create more seamless, agile operations.

Today, more than two-thirds of NCR’s internal systems are running as software-as-a-service (SaaS) or on a public cloud, and the remaining one-third — custom applications — reside on a private cloud. The all-cloud infrastructure offers the flexibility, scalability, and support for experimentation that transformation demands. Additionally, it frees up resources to focus on the customer.

“NCR is truly becoming a digital-first organization,” VanCuren says.

The benefits of the close IT-marketing partnership are illustrated in the building of an entirely new NCR.com — “It was a significant project for both marketing and IT,” VanCuren says — and the creation of a new company intranet as a one-stop shop for all companywide collaboration, application access, and content.

Zivanovic-Smith also made significant investments in solutions within the Adobe Experience Cloud suite of digital marketing tools, including Adobe Analytics, Adobe Audience Manager, Adobe Experience Manager, as well as Adobe Target and Marketo Engage.

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“[The investment into Adobe solutions] has led our marketing team to achieve a new level of customer insight and better understand how different audiences connect with our brand stories,” Zivanovic-Smith says. “We used these tools to not only reinforce our newly reimagined brand narrative, but to take a customer-centric approach to marketing, enhance the brand experience, and truly represent NCR as a software and services-led technology partner.”

Fixing what wasn’t broken

Both Zivanovic-Smith and VanCuren anticipated the challenges of digitally transforming a company with a legacy as long as NCR.

“We invested a great deal of time listening and collaborating with teams across NCR to drive change,” Zivanovic-Smith says.

The two established a digital commerce council with key executives and business unit owners to drive internal awareness around digital-first brands and practices. The forum enabled them to create a shared vision for NCR’s digital brand experience, agreed-on outcomes, and definitions of success.

“Like any large company with some history and tenure, we faced the challenge of pulling people out of their functional silos — which already had optimized processes and systems — and asking them to work across boundaries to solve problems on behalf of our customers and their view of NCR,” VanCuren explains. “And to do this as one company with a digital-first mindset.”

It was clear that technology would be the key source of growth and revenue for the company going forward.

“But [technology] is only as beneficial as the vision, goals, and outcomes driving its use,” VanCuren says. “When making a strategic technology investment, we always ask ourselves whether it supports NCR’s employees, customers, and/or the company’s corporate objectives.”

VanCuren requires a positive net present value (NPV) business case for all IT capital investments and an executive sponsor to co-chair the business case and steering committee necessary to deliver the solution.

Pull Quote

Bill VanCuren, SVP & CIO, NCR

“In the past, those IT business cases were 100% operational cost reductions. But now, with our CIO-CMO partnership, I’m proud to say we have a growing mix of IT business cases with top-line revenue included.”

Bill VanCuren, SVP & CIO, NCR

Looking ahead, predictive analytics and AI-based solutions top the tech agenda.

“Today’s environment requires marketers to move fast and remain relevant to their audience,” Zivanovic-Smith says. “Deeply understanding emotional profiles of your audiences, how they respond to your narrative, and the ability to acquire real-time insight throughout a campaign will forever change the way we see marketing.”

Mobilizing for crisis management

The close ties VanCuren and Zivanovic-Smith have established have also proved crucial for navigating NCR through the many changes brought on by the global pandemic. At the onset of the outbreak, Zivanovic-Smith was charged with leading NCR’s Global Response Task Force. Working closely with VanCuren, in just two weeks she shifted more than 95 percent of the company’s global employees to work from home, while also keeping NCR’s field and operations employees safe.

The task force created best-in-class pandemic management frameworks, tools, and resources to help NCR navigate both the public health challenges and customer support. VanCuren oversaw the tripling of VPN networks to support the 30,000-plus employees who were connecting from their home. The two also collaborated with NCR’s teleconference providers to optimize the video experience and create a unique approach to streaming the CEO’s weekly broadcasts to employees in real time.

“Overnight, our communications team created content for employees to better understand what was happening, to interpret complex pandemic data into facts, to enable an orderly transition, and to empower employees to protect themselves and their families,” Zivanovic-Smith says.

The team also created a content hub for resources on the intranet. “Our goal was to be as transparent as possible with our workforce, so we had to work quickly to share verifiable, fact-based information,” Zivanovic-Smith explains.

While the IT and marketing teams always had a close working relationship, “COVID-19 brought them together even more as we worked to broadcast a critical message daily,” VanCuren says. “This meant we had to act quickly to help employees understand the essential role they play in keeping commerce running.”

The main priority was employee safety and business continuity, but customers were also top-of-mind.

Pull Quote

Marija Zivanovic-Smith, SVP of corporate marketing, communications, and chief external affairs officer, NCR

“Rather than focus on pitching or selling, we wanted them to know we are there for them.”

Marija Zivanovic-Smith, SVP of corporate marketing, communications, and chief external affairs officer, NCR

“This means listening to their needs and responding with valuable, useful information that helps them keep their business running,” says Zivanovic-Smith, whose team helped NCR customers do everything from navigate the Paycheck Protection Program to clean point-of-sale devices. They also created a collection of COVID-19 resources for restaurants, retailers, and financial institutions.

“This was a significant undertaking that required a great deal of communication between our two teams,” VanCuren says. “Not only did we want to move quickly, but we wanted to provide the most up-to-date information possible in an easily accessible format.”

Since launching in March, the hub has seen more than 140,000-plus unique visitors and 188,000-page views — a level of engagement enabled by the marketing-IT integration efforts the two have focused on over the previous eight months.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike other crises of our time. [It] evolves each day. This means we must fact-check ourselves to ensure we are sharing accurate information and updating our hub as new knowledge of the disease becomes available,” Zivanovic-Smith says. “We would not be able to share this valuable content without Bill and his team’s support building out the infrastructure on NCR’s website, working with us to ensure it is up to date and making sure it is available to the public.”

The ROI of partnership

At NCR, the IT-marketing bond will continue to be critical going forward.

“Bill and his IT team are the infrastructure backbone of everything we do in marketing,” says Zivanovic-Smith, who calls IT the unsung heroes of marketing. “We have a relationship built on trust and mutual accountability. Every year we uncover opportunities to join our creative and digital dexterity to significantly enhance NCR’s digital brand properties.”

That, in turn, has boosted the profile of IT in the organization.

“In IT we generally work in the background, keeping business applications and infrastructure operating as seamlessly as possible,” VanCuren says. “Marketing helps us shift that narrative by highlighting the critical role IT plays internally. Working together, Marija and I can shine a light on IT and demonstrate the meaningful value it brings to our organization, while also helping marketing spread that message externally.”

Topics: CMO by Adobe, Customer Stories, Leadership, Digital Transformation, Insights & Inspiration, B2B, Digital Foundation, Information Technology, Marketing, COVID-19, Experience Cloud,

Products: Experience Cloud,