CIOs who want to test their mettle should join a company where the IT department is disorganized and disconnected from the business. Then throw in the potential issues associated with a megamerger for good measure.
Sven Gerjets is facing such challenges as the CIO of Time Warner Cable (TWC), which sits between its failed 2015 acquisition by Comcast and a pending merger with Charter Communications. “It’s an interesting transformation opportunity because with the Charter deal looming, we’ve got a lot to clean up and a lot things to get ready and a short time to do it,” Gerjets tells CIO.com.
CIO looks to bring organizational focus to IT
The “clean up” entails modernizing the company’s IT and business processes and aligning them with the business’ priorities. Prior to his arrival from Pearson in October, TWC had been sans a CIO since 2014, leaving the IT department operating at an organizational deficit. It lacked a cohesive structure and operating model, and it had little accountability for who was responsible for what, or whether IT services were delivered consistently to the business. “IT had a long history of not focusing on the organization as much as we need to,” Gerjets says. “My focus is on driving quality up and aligning better with the business.”
Poaching CIOs to transform IT is a time-honored tradition in corporations. And CIOs who consider themselves experts in change management tend to embrace such challenges, including the risk of committing to so much blocking and tackling despite the uncertainties swirling around a business in evolving markets. That suits Gerjets, who recently published this LinkedIn post describing how consumerization is forcing organizations to deliver technology at a crisper pace, just fine.
Normally when a CIO lands at a new company, he or she crafts an IT strategy and lays it out for the IT leaders and rank-and-file staff, Gerjets says. But that wouldn’t work at Time Warner Cable, where Gerjets was an unknown quantity among an IT staff of 600 located in several offices around the country.
“What’s tough to ferret out [coming to] a new organization is whether there are bureaucratic, organizational or technological things that stop people from progress and lining out to the business,” Gerjets says. “With the time I had to make some actions, and with the acquisition uncertainty, I felt it would be better to get them to tell me what was going on, what we need to modify to get better.”
Crowdsourcing software proves invaluable
But how does a CIO go about gathering that information when no one knows who you are? For Gerjets, the answer was a Reddit-like crowdsourcing application called POPin. In December, Gerjets used POPin to pose a broad question to his IT organization: “What is keeping you from greatness?”
In other words, what did the IT staff think it needed to do to transform the business and to position IT as a strong business partner that drives high-quality business value in everything they do? What steps might give IT the proverbial “seat at the table?” He hoped rendering the question in an open-ended fashion might cultivate valuable feedback that could help him figure out his next steps. It would also enable him to take the pulse off his IT organization.
Gerjets was correct. More than 60 percent of the staff provided feedback, and commented and voted on the best answers, which bubbled to the top of the stack. “What they were seeing as impediments were also the things that I was seeing as needing change,” Gerjets says.
Gerjets peeled off the top five answers and conducted an offsite planning meeting with his IT directors to hash out the strategy to tackle those challenges, which include concerns about process implementation and the consistency with which IT tools are used. His next step is to ensure that the team feels engaged in the process. Gerjets says he’ll use POPin to lay out the strategy and request feedback on those plans. He may also use it in the future to engage with TWC’s business leaders, and to foster leadership in his own IT department.
In the meantime, Gerjets is improving TWC’s IT “hygiene.” To ensure this, his team must boost quality, reliability, predictability and transparency, all of which are table stakes to becoming a valued, trusted partner to the business, he says. If this proves successful, IT will secure a that seat at the table to start understanding the business strategy, and then align IT to that strategy.
How much time Gerjets has to clean up TWC’s IT is unclear, as the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department are scrutinizing the $56 billion deal. Some of his short-term priorities include pulling together CRM data to reduce customer churn and upgrading a legacy billing system.
“Once you understand the business you’re in and stop thinking like an IT person. You can start innovating in areas that make sense,” Gerjets says. “We’re starting at step 1 so we’re moving down the path.”