Jeff Fithian, VP, Strategic Initiatives and CIO, Dynamic Materials Corporation
When I arrived at Dynamic Materials Corporation (DMC), one of the things I told my IT team, and even my CEO, was “There is no such thing as an IT project anymore.” Initially this caused some puzzled looks and raised eyebrows, but the point is that what we historically have called “IT Projects” need to be approached as cross-functional enterprise projects, which we undertake in order to achieve our business goals, and not as technology projects for technology’s sake. Too often, IT projects are considered complete when code is tested and successfully deployed to a production system. However, measuring success this way misses the point. What is important is that we understand what business goals are going to be achieved by implementing a given technology, and only consider the project “done,” or a success, when those goals have been met.This kind of mindset and approach helps set the tone that IT is here to help us grow and succeed as a business, and not to just keep the printers and laptops running. I can’t divulge specific details about some confidential projects we are working on now, but the DMC IT team is playing a critical role in helping DMC expand into new markets and products, and in leveraging digital tools to transform our business.
Creating Competitive Advantage
Industrial Manufacturing has traditionally been low-tech and this sometimes presents challenges to adopting the newest technologies. Without sounding too cliché, the leaders in our industry will be those that successfully digitize their businesses. A significant portion of our customers are in the oil and gas services industry, often at remote locations in the field. If we can provide our customers with apps and tools to reduce friction in the buying process and interact with us from their mobile devices while in the field, we will be able to create “stickiness” with them. In addition, technologies such as customer facing analytics that allow them to see buying patterns and spend categorization can be extremely valuable to our customers, especially in this challenging environment in the oil and gas industry. These are all things very few businesses are doing in our industry today, and that could truly create a competitive advantage.
“The CIOs that will be successful in the future are those understand their business as well as their peers in the executive suite”
The Transformational Role of IT
By far the emergence of cloud-based enterprise software has transformed the way that IT operates and interacts with the business. The next enterprise application deployment is only a phone call away for almost any employee with the budget to pay the monthly subscription fees. Because of this, it is more important than ever for IT to be seen as a trusted partner and nota roadblock to getting the business users the applications and functionality they need. What’s important, however, is that IT needs to be able to offer an alternative or a solution that meets the business user’s needs. The reason users are signing up for Salesforce.com or Dropbox themselves is because they don’t feel (or trust!) that IT can deliver the functionality they need, in the timeframe they need it.
Debunking Myths with the Opinions of CIOs
It is becoming more and more critical that IT is not seen as just a bunch of geeks who sit at their desks and code all day. Technical skills are increasingly becoming a commodity and easy targets for outsourcing. If the only value you bring as an IT organization is technical know-how, you run the risk of becoming obsolete and having you and your team shipped overseas. Instead, if you focus on staffing your team with business-savvy analysts and project managers who know your business and the challenges it faces, then you have an offering that, by definition, can’t be outsourced. I make sure to spend a significant amount of time with my staff and during all-hands meetings educating them on the details of our business, and making sure they understand and are constantly thinking about our business goals and how technology can assist. When hiring new employees, I always look for more than just technical skills: business analysis skills, communication, and business acumen are becoming more and more critical.
Security is not just an IT Problem
Security is a huge concern and is a board-level topic now, even for a manufacturing company like ours that might not seem like the typical targets you read about in the paper every day. Phishing and social engineering attacks are becoming more and more commonplace. Due to the size of our company we aren’t considering a separate CISO role at this time, but the board is demanding we assign specific responsibilities and roles for cyber-security within my team.
Lessons from a CIO
IT is becoming more and more commoditized, so the CIOs that will be successful in the future are those understand their business as well as their peers in the executive suite. Ask yourself if you know what the average gross margin is across your business, or for each line of business. How about EBITDA as a percentage of revenue, SG&A rates, etc? Showing that you have a command of these topics will demonstrate you aren’t just another “IT guy”, but that you are first and foremost an executive charged with the continued growth and success of the enterprise. Once you have established that credibility, you can have much more effective conversations about how technology can be leveraged to make your company successful.