Under that scenario, Mayo sees IT managers like himself not necessarily being expert in this or that technology of the moment, but fully embracing the role of tech leader. "It's a bit of providing inspiration, a bit of being a mentor, a bit of giving good advice and a bit of getting out of people's way," Mayo sums up. "The value I can give the IT organization is to help other people be great."
Leigh Ann Thomas
Senior business relationship manager, American Water, Voorhees, N.J.
What she does: Leigh Ann Thomas is the first person to hold the title of senior business relationship manager in the Information Technology Service department at American Water, the largest investor-owned water and wastewater utility in the U.S.
In the new role, her sole focus and purpose is to demonstrate the value of IT to the business. Beyond that lofty goal, Thomas finds herself working without a road map. "It's intriguing," she says. "I define my role day to day. There are no best practices. It's a completely blank canvas."
Since June 2012, when American Water vice president and CIO Mark Smith handed her the new responsibilities, Thomas has been working her way through a five-step process to put together a model for the role, starting with a "listening tour" to collect feedback from both the ITS group and multiple business partners -- no small task in the large, geographically dispersed company. "There are a lot of stakeholders," Thomas observes. The next phase is to prioritize that feedback and "zero in our energies" on IT investments with the biggest payback for the business side.
What she brings to the table: Thomas sees her main contribution as being a conduit between business units and IT. "It's a translator role," she says. "I build relationships and credibility for IT from the ground up." She does that by going out of her way to drill down for a deep understanding of what the business needs and how IT can help. "IT folks need to have a very solid understanding of their core business," she says. "Wherever I've worked, I've always initiated my own rotational job-shadowing efforts so I can understand what the business is going through day to day. I'm a big believer in walking a mile in the end user's shoes."
Her vision for IT: "Honestly, I think what IT in general needs to do is less. In order to do more for our business folks, we need to do less of that traditional IT thing where you're heads-down working furiously on a project, but you're isolated from the business," says Thomas. That approach is what gave IT a reputation for being nonresponsive, hard to find and spread too thin. The solution, she says, is less keeping the lights on and more strategic partnerships. "Users today are tech-savvy. They can figure most things out for themselves" -- leaving IT free to focus on business relationships and "zero in on mission-critical tech initiatives that add value."