IT management: Zero in on business impact

Push users to think past the idea that technology will be a cure-all

by Diane Frank, CIO Executive Council - Within five years of moving into IT management, Jay Kerley found his purpose: working with the business to affect business outcomes and results. And he set his sights on the CIO role when it became clear that the best way to create change and effect a business impact on as wide a scale as possible is to have that executive-level, strategic role. "With a CIO's cross-division view of processes, you are in the position to shift and turn the company," says Kerley, who was promoted to the position of deputy CIO at Applied Materials in 2009.

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Kerley, a winner of CIO magazine's and the CIO Executive Council's 2009 CIO Ones to Watch Award, identifies three milestones in his path to the c-suite: building business outcome-focused IT leadership teams, taking on risky challenges with big payoffs for the company, and cultivating a portfolio perspective.

Kerley's first taste of driving business results came in his first leadership position, where he discovered that he had a knack for rallying and motivating teams to tackle complex, business-oriented challenges. What motivated him -- and his team, in turn -- was the chance to create and enable business improvements. He built a close-knit team of people during his time in that position -- many of whom have stayed with him as he moved to new companies and new locations -- that led projects with far-reaching impact on the company, including globalization of processes for more efficient and consistent operations, and merging acquired business units without disrupting service to the customers.

Kerley realized that a willingness to face new challenges would bring greater benefits to the business, and he had this in mind when he joined Applied Materials, the world's largest supplier of manufacturing equipment to the semiconductor, display and solar photovoltaic industries. There he took a risk by evaluating applications that hadn't been meeting the engineering users' needs for years, pushing people to think past the idea that technology would be a cure-all, and examining the underlying processes as the source point for potential improvements. He then partnered with business leads to develop new processes and a technology solution to enable them. In the end, the engineering team not only had a better user experience, but was able to use the system in ways it hadn't before, including collaborating across the globe.

Much of this came together because Kerley found a strong CIO mentor early on, who complemented weaknesses -- while Kerley came up in IT via infrastructure and applications development, this mentor came from a leadership development and project and portfolio management background. Being exposed to that side of the IT world was a revelation, Kerley says. Having a portfolio perspective enables IT leaders to serve as a bridge into the business and to see the potential for cross-functional improvements, a skill-set necessary to being a results-oriented CIO.

Jay Kerley is deputy CIO at Applied Materials and a member of the CIO Executive Council. The Council's Pathways Program was created by CIOs to build business and IT leadership skills in senior IT leaders through group mentoring with CIOs, 360-degree competencies assessment, targeted seminars and community forums. To learn more, visit council.cio.com/pathways.html.

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