by Martha Heller

Developing a business-driven, customer-obsessed IT strategy

Feb 27, 20198 mins
CareersCIOIT Leadership

For Oshkosh Corporation CIO Anupam Khare, the goal is for IT to enable the business strategy and add significant business value — all the while ensuring customers' needs inside and out of the company are met.

Chess pieces on a chessboard with the knight (horse) as focal point.
Credit: KTSimage / Getty Images

When Anupam Khare became CIO of Oshkosh Corporation, the $7.7 billion global industrial manufacturing company, in April 2018, he was impressed with the leadership team’s strategic planning process, and he wanted to make IT a more integral part of it.

The Oshkosh Leadership Team (OLT) starts the process by reviewing their overall vision and strategic objectives for the company. To achieve their vision and objectives, the team aligns on key enterprise-wide strategic initiatives. Strategic initiatives might include enabling a people first culture, aftermarket growth, and operational excellence.

Once the OLT defines the enterprise strategy and objectives, the leaders of each of Oshkosh’s four segments — Access, Commercial, Defense, and Fire & Emergency — develop individual business strategic plans that support and integrate with the overall Oshkosh strategy.

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“Since each business segment develops its own strategy to integrate with the overall Oshkosh strategy, I decided to do the same for IT,” says Khare. “Our goal is to run IT like a business, so IT should follow the same strategic planning processes as our business segments.”

IT strategic planning modeled on business planning

Khare formed an IT Strategy Board, which includes his IT leadership team. Together, they reviewed each business segment’s strategic objectives and looked for common opportunities where IT could enable or enhance the business strategy and ultimately add significant business value.

The IT Strategy Board turned those common opportunities into an overall IT strategy, which includes the following:

  1. People first — Improving the company’s digital fitness, with a specific focus on customer obsession
  2. Running IT as a business, which means providing quality products and services at market prices
  3. Modernizing and innovating current infrastructure and application portfolio
  4. Delivering advanced capabilities with a focus on analytics, digital manufacturing, and artificial intelligence
  5. Securing and enabling information, a dual focus on information security and user experience

Khare and his leadership team then met with the OLT and business segment presidents and asked, “Does this strategy advance the agenda for the company overall and for your business specifically?”

With their IT strategy validated, they then began to involve the second line of IT leadership. “We ran a workshop to review the strategy and modify it at a more granular level,” says Khare. “The entire process allowed us to create buy-in with both our business stakeholders and with the broader IT team.”

Rolling out the IT strategy

With the IT strategy validated at multiple levels and across several teams, it was time to roll it out. To communicate the strategy to the IT organization, Khare used a quarterly town hall attended by all 450 IT team members and a collaboration platform where IT people can ask each other about specific strategies or projects.

“We are cascading the strategy from the CEO to every IT employee, regardless of their title or position,” says Khare. “Our goal is that our strategy is not a PowerPoint; it is real.”

Anupam Khare, CIO, Oshkosh Corporation

Anupam Khare, CIO, Oshkosh Corporation

To make the strategy real, Khare is now integrating these strategies into specific performance management goals for his team, who will invest time and resources only into projects that further those goals.

To fulfill the digital fitness goal (#1 on the above list), for example, all of Oshkosh’s IT leaders are providing digital orientation classes for their teams. For running IT as a business, each leader now uses a “business value dashboard” to facilitate a business-focused conversation with their stakeholders. To modernize and innovate, the team is driving initiatives that range from software-defined networking (SDN) to ERP upgrades. For advanced capabilities, they are developing a product optimization model, and for securing and enabling information, the team is building better user interfaces for desktop security tools.

To ensure the entire Oshkosh employee base understands the connection between the Oshkosh enterprise strategy and IT, Khare spoke at the CEO’s global town hall. “My role is to communicate three things,” says Khare. “How our IT transformation will help your business succeed, how we are going to make your life easier, and how IT is obsessed with our customers’ needs both inside the company and out.”

To solidify the link between the enterprise business and IT strategy, Khare is also instilling the leadership traits of the executive committee into his IT leadership team. These are:

  • Humility: “Our CEO and senior leadership team are driven by the value they create, not by any personal agendas,” Khare says. “Humility is one of the traits I look for in my IT leaders. We call each other out when we see egos getting in the way.”
  • Founders mentality: Khare gave a copy of The Founders Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth, by Chris Zook and James Allen, to all of his IT leaders. “We are instilling a sense of ownership and personal commitment to the success of our businesses and avoid the complexity and bureaucracy that can slow us down,” he says.
  • Customer obsession: “In IT, we have shifted our focus from meeting our SLAs to empathizing with and providing value to our business partners and our customers,” says Khare. “Customer obsession plays a major role in how we prioritize investments.”

Khare shares advice for CIOs looking to create a passionate, strategic, and customer-obsessed IT organization:

  • “Don’t bring your own team and strategy from your previous company,” he says. “Work with business and IT leaders from the top down and the bottom up to develop a new approach and strategy. Every company’s strategy and culture are different.”
  • Engage your team so that they participate in the creation of the strategy. “Develop a strategy with your people,” says Khare. “Don’t give the strategy to them.”
  • Create a value-based brand for IT. “On my team, we never talk about SAP or Microsoft; we talk about delighting our customers,” he says.

About Anupam Khare

Anupam Khare is senior vice president and CIO for Oshkosh Corporation. He is responsible for leading the global information technology team, which plays a critical role in the strategy and future growth of Oshkosh Corporation. He brings more than 21 years of information technology experience, including various global IT leadership positions at United Technologies, Koch Industries, and DuPont, with increasing responsibilities, including CTO and executive director roles. He has extensive global experience in both strategic and long-range planning and leading large IT organizations through major change initiatives.

Khare earned an MBA in marketing from Indira Gandhi National University in India and a bachelor of engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology.

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