2017 Premier 100 Leaders: IT in the driverís seat
Forget continuous improvement. Toss out conventional IT and business agendas. Tear up old marching orders.
Lead the way instead. Create and deliver new business models and revenue streams. Recruit the resources required to execute these goals expertly and efficiently. And above everything else, do it all lightning fast, ahead of the competition.
Welcome to the world of Computerworld's 2017 Premier 100 Technology Leaders. They've outgrown previous roles as digital and operations experts, and technology collaborators. Now they're in the driver's seat. More often than ever before, IT leaders are orchestrating a wide variety of complex integration projects, cutting-edge technology rollouts and new business strategies - all while building highly skilled teams that can pivot with shifting business needs. (Read about the honorees' projects and priorities, below.)
The upshot is an impressive cross-industry array of digital transformation initiatives that are enabling new business models, revolutionizing enterprise operations and customer experiences, and bringing in new revenue.
Today's tech leaders also are consumed by scouting and recruiting new talent, shifting the hearts and minds of a sometimes reluctant workforce, and educating board members about what is possible with technologies on the horizon. Part talent agent and psychologist, part visionary and educator, they are modern-day business maestros who simultaneously must keep the enterprise tech basics up and running flawlessly, anytime and anywhere.
"One of the reasons they asked me to be CIO was to bring new thinking, new processes and new ways of getting work done," says Phil Potloff, a 2017 Premier 100 honoree who spent several years in operational roles at Edmunds before moving to the CIO job six years ago.
Last spring, Potloff's role changed once more. As Edmunds' first-ever chief digital officer, he is leading the team that last year created and launched Edmunds Advertising Solutions, a system that leverages big data and analytics to help auto dealers better target their marketing. It's also the fastest growing new product Edmunds has released in 10 years.
"My job now is to take technology and continue to create new business models for the company," Potloff says of his role as CDO. Today, technology leaders like him are "much more at the core of the strategy of the business. We're much more involved in that," he says.
Driving new business models
That rings true for Kim Felix in her role as vice president of IT at UPS.
"We're at a transformational point with technology, where the role is about bringing technology strategy and business strategy together," Felix says. "It's about totally inventing new models."
For Felix, this means collaborating intensively across the business to understand first-hand what operations teams and customers want and then figuring out how technology can make that vision a reality on a global scale and at a flawless performance level. Today that technology is all about the internet of things; Felix says IoT and deep analytics capabilities are the two most strategic business drivers at UPS.
"A large part of our responsibility is effective asset utilization," she explains. This requires ongoing evolution and innovation in the tools and technologies that UPS uses to dynamically manage its global transportation network.
Instrumentation of key assets enables UPS to collect status and location data in real time, which in turn enables it to offer new tools, such as Follow My Driver, to customers. Analytics takes the process steps further, enabling predictive alerts and real-time changes in the face of rising and continually changing customer demand.
Achieving these high levels of operational efficiency and proactive customer service means continually innovating, which leaders say can happen only when a bullet-proof IT infrastructure and seamless, customer-focused workflows are in place.
To be truly innovative, "you have to keep your [IT] organization always thinking about your customer. You have to make sure you understand your customers' workflow and how they use your technology. That's first and foremost," says Col. Richard Wilson, chief of the Defense Health Agency's Solution Delivery Division.
The Military Health System is in the midst of a gargantuan and exceedingly complex transformation project to modernize the electronic health record system across all branches of the military. The system supports more than 9.4 million beneficiaries for whom patient safety is paramount, especially during the transition from the legacy system to the modern system.
"You have to stick to fundamentals," Wilson emphasizes. "That's agile development, very rigorous testing and a governance structure that keeps your stakeholders involved."
Standardizing workflow is imperative to the success of any clinical technology, which is why professionals from other functions across the military are being recruited to work shoulder to shoulder with technologists in IT. Among them are acquisitions professionals and medical and administrative experts. About half of the members of Wilson's leadership team are clinicians or administrative experts with hospital experience.
"This allows us to accelerate change management and integration activities that impact workflow," Wilson says. "The goal is to reduce the gap between technology and functional lines. This multiplies the number of change agents you have out there working for you across the organization."
At Mitre, a not-for-profit company that operates multiple federally funded research and development centers, continuous innovation involves repeatedly leveraging extensive expertise with four key underlying technologies - artificial intelligence, natural language processing, analytics and cyber security - to solve highly diverse and complicated challenges across multiple industries.
It works like this: Mitre is a trusted third party that collects, combines and analyzes public and private data from various companies across an industry, then makes its findings available to all players.
In aviation, for example, "we improve flight safety by looking at flight patterns, high-risk behaviors and approach patterns that result in delays," explains Michal Cenkl, director of innovation and technology. "We can do this in the aggregate then make information available to all of the airlines. This is information they wouldn't share with one another," he notes. The same format is applied in healthcare to help identify patterns of fraud that no one insurer could see with its own data.
"We used to think of analytics as providing the infrastructure for others to run analytics on," he says. "Now, providing infrastructure is just table stakes. The next thing is making it easier for any project in any of the domains we operate in to go from having a hypothesis to actually testing the hypothesis and getting meaningful results. Our objective is half the time and half the cost to spin up an analytics environment to get to the impact faster."
"To a large extent, IT is driving the vision," Cenkl notes. "We have a CIO strategy team with senior-level officers represented from all of our operating centers. They get together monthly to discuss things like how to bring predictive analytics to bear on each particular business." The challenge, he says, is leveraging the in-place innovation network to create even greater value.
"I have the benefit of having multiple roles," Cenkl adds. "One is innovating in the IT space, the other is reporting to the CTO of R&D and bridging the gap for identifying those opportunities." At Servpro Industries, a fire- and water-damage restoration franchisor in Gallatin, Tenn., the most recent strategic innovation to come out of IT is Work Center, which has driven the transformation of a manual, paper-driven business process to a web- and mobile-enabled technology platform.
"The restoration industry is not historically known for being technologically innovative," says CIO Jeff Fields. "Performing work on a water loss would usually involve a clipboard full of disclaimers to be read, documents to be signed, as well as a Polaroid or digital camera to document the damage for the insurance carrier. All relevant information would be hand-written, sometimes duplicated several times, then handed to an office worker and re-entered into a locally hosted desktop business application to store basic job data."