Helping the business better understand IT

How CIOs are overcoming pushback and silos to establish IT’s leadership role in business transformation

If you asked a random employee which organization embodies your company's culture, what would she say? Marketing? HR? Sales? I'll bet you my entire shoe collection she wouldn't say IT. In most companies, IT is so far removed from the heart of the company that it is often housed in a separate building.

Yet, when you look at companies that have undergone massive cultural transformation, who do you think drove that change? These three CIOs have found their own ways to combat that enterprisewide lack of understanding of IT's role.

Create a technology council. When Bill Krivoshik joined Marsh and McLennan in 2009, he was the company's first enterprise CIO. The firm had historically been managed as a holding company, and while the new CEO wanted to keep the companies separate, he saw value in looking horizontally for points of cooperation.

Krivoshik started by building a centralized technology group, but he still had to convince the business units to accept it. "People understood the need to aggregate vendor spend," he says. "But the company hadn't been run that way for the last hundred years. This was a huge cultural shift."

"The company CIOs all agreed to reduce the number of vendors we used," says Krivoshik. "But then you get down to which two, and each CIO wants his or her own." Establishing a technology council allowed the business CIOs to work out the vendor decisions at the same table with the chief procurement officer, the CFO and Krivoshik.

"There will always be tension between the enterprise and the business units," he says. "Having to make their case to the group helped to influence more collaborative behavior."

Start small. Nariman Karimi, CIO of Alghanim Industries, had his first major experience leading cultural change as head of infrastructure for Unilever's Asia operations. Karimi's job was to set up a single IT operation in Singapore to serve 15 Asian countries that had operated autonomously. Karimi had to act to counter the perception that the new regional organization was the first brick to be removed from their country's power base.

"We never would have generated support if I had announced that from now on I would set all budgets and that all country IT leaders would report to me," says Karimi. "Instead, we set up a small team to centralize Lotus Notes servers, a nonthreatening way to showcase the model."

Once Karimi and his team had a few small victories behind them, they secured a time slot in the monthly meetings of the Asia presidents. "If you get a spot like that where you can report good news, you can build real momentum for cultural change," he says.

Involve everyone. In 2003, Joe ­Spagnoletti, now CIO, was the North American deployment lead for Campbell Soup's program to roll out a single global instance of SAP. "My job went well beyond technology," says Spagnoletti. "We needed to transition our leadership from their long tradition of independent operations to having an enterprise mind-set."

The first go-live was in Canada, so Spagnoletti had employees from the U.S. business, which was next in line, participate in the Canadian deployment. Then, during the U.S. rollout, staff from Canada joined the deployment team along with staff scheduled for future locations.

"By the time we implemented the changes in our last U.S. factory we had 50 people, who didn't even work there, helping them go live," he says. "Culturally, our greatest transformational impact resulted from developing role-based communities with similar skills, processes, tools and accountabilities. Employees now have relationships and can reach out across the company to share ideas and receive encouragement and support."

Martha Heller is president of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive search firm, and a co-founder of the CIO Executive Council. She can be reached at martha@hellersearch.com.

This story, "Helping the business better understand IT" was originally published by CIO.

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