by Martha Heller

Air Products CIO overhauls IT to support business transformation

Nov 17, 2021
CIOCloud ComputingDigital Transformation

To enable the $9 billion industrial gas provider to deliver new 'mega projects,' CIO Brian Galovich has put self-service at the center of the target architecture, moved infrastructure to the cloud, digitized key business processes, and updated the IT operating model.

brian galovich cio air products
Credit: Air Products

Last December, Brian Galovich joined Air Products as SVP & CIO after serving as VP, Digital and CIO at Collins Aerospace.

I recently caught up with Galovich to learn about the business transformation underway at Air Products, how the IT organization is changing to help drive that transformation, lessons he’s learned along the way, and more. Following is an edited version of that conversation.

Martha Heller: What is the transformation underway at Air Products?

Brian Galovich: When Seifi Ghasemi became Air Products’ Chairman, President and CEO seven years ago, he began to divest the chemicals business and focus on the core business of industrial gases. Building on the strength of that core business, we are building, owning, and operating large-scale gasification, carbon capture, and hydrogen projects designed to produce cleaner, more sustainable energy and environmental solutions. We call these initiatives “mega projects,” and over the past several years, the company has seen the largest and most complex projects in the history of Air Products.

In the past, our focus was on producing smaller, more standardized plants, which were similar enough that we could take a more predictable, consistent approach to production. But each of these mega projects—clean hydrogen to support transportation markets (for buses, trucks and heavy vehicles, for example) and decarbonization—is different, so it is critical that we have a scalable, end-to-end engineering, procurement and construction process to support that kind of complexity.

How is IT helping to drive this transformation?

Like many companies, Air Products evolved over time by creating point solutions across the business. But what we need to do now is look at the value stream holistically to enable the end-to-end processes. In order for us to deliver solutions for our customers, we need an enterprise architecture and platforms that allow data to flow all the way from the initial bidding process, through procurement, and all the way to construct and operate.

To enable this architecture, we’ve moved the vast majority of our infrastructure to the cloud with the target of moving fully out of data centers by the end of 2022.

In addition to our focus on these mega projects, our core merchant business is where we transport liquid products and a large number of industrial gas containers, including cylinders, to different customers. There, we are working to build and deploy a new IoT platform and applications to further optimize inventory tracking and logistics for cylinders.

How are you changing your operating model to support the transformation?

We are moving from a traditional IT organization structured around applications, infrastructure, and security to a structure of vertical lines of service. We still have infrastructure, security, and applications as service lines, we but we are creating a few new lines of service to support Air Products’ growth strategy.

One new area is focused on operational excellence, led by a leader who has come into the role from the business area. This vertical acts as the funnel from the business into the IT organization. Business and functional experts from that group are embedded into each of the major functions and regional organizations in order to understand their goals and objectives. They then funnel that demand into IT, so that we have a good capacity planning process and are using all of our IT resources to drive top- and bottom-line value for the business.

Our other new line of service is focused on data and architecture. All of our data scientists and enterprise architects are in this group; they work together to ensure our systems are integrated and that data flows end-to-end.

Because our new operating model adds two new vertical lines of service to the three traditional lines, we believe that we are positioned to capture value and change how we deploy solutions. The model is focused on continually driving and creating even more business value.

What is your target architecture?

Our target architecture includes a focus around the concept of business self-service, because not every solution has to come through IT. If IT puts the right controls in place, our business partners should have the ability to access, and in some cases contribute, their own solutions. That’s why I consolidated all of our enterprise architects into a single team and combined them with our data and analytics group to create a focused line of service; the better our technology solutions are stitched together, the more integrated, seamless, and optimized our end-to-end business processes will be. Our architecture is cloud-enabled, open, self-service, and scalable, and it all starts with having a strong enterprise architecture team.

Any lessons learned in setting up this architecture?

First, eliminate pride of ownership. Companies like AWS and Microsoft have R&D teams who develop the best tools for their platforms. There is no reason industrial manufacturing companies need to build an IoT tool or an API management platform. Technical people can fall into the trap that ‘if it’s not built here, it’s not the best solution.’ So, the first lesson is we know we will continue to take advantage of cloud-based technical solutions. 

Second is the importance of application programming interface (API) management. It’s not hard to manage 12, 13, or even 20 APIs, but when you get into the thousands, if you don’t have a way to manage those APIs for reusability, you will start to create the same API over and over again, because that can be easier than finding the one that was already built. But when you duplicate your APIs, you wind up with a complex, unusable platform. At Air Products, management and reusability of APIs will be at the forefront.

Third is that not everything needs to be built within the IT organization. When you build your platform for scalability, the end result should be that those business partners who have the right skills can contribute to the solutions. Give your business partners the framework and tools to allow them to create their own solutions in the appropriate situations.

What is the culture you are building in IT?

First and foremost, it is ‘people first.’ You can buy every tool on the market, but if you are not connecting with your teams, and not really knowing what’s going on with them, you will not be successful. In the current market, employees have many more opportunities than they did in the past. If you don’t focus on your people, you will lose them. My leadership team and I are working hard every day to contribute to a culture built on meaningful connections with this ‘people first’ approach.

The second thing is customer focus—both internal and external Air Products customers. We created the new organizational structure around “lines of service” to balance and prioritize the needs of our customers.

And third: diversity, inclusion, and belonging are very important to me and to our culture at Air Products, including diversity of thought. I’d like our culture to operate more like a board of directors where everyone has deep accountability and a voice. If you are on the security team, but you have a business idea, bring it forward. Everyone has a voice, and we want to create an environment where everyone fully contributes.

How will the CIO role evolve over the next few years?

Even as citizen development increases, CIOs will still need to manage infrastructure, architecture, and security. But with business users able to use technology with greater ease to manage business process change, CIOs can shift their focus to value capture and business model change. The CIO will stay current on new technologies and will bridge the gap between new technologies and business strategy. As more technology moves to the cloud and into the business, CIOs will shift their focus from foundational IT and business processes to the application of ever-changing technologies aimed at creating more business value and new revenue streams.