Next-Gen IT Leaders Transform the Enterprise

Ask Armand Rabinowitz about his senior-level IT position at Hyatt Hotels, and here's what you won't hear: any talk of applications, architecture, virtualization or storage. No mention of data centers, networks or the cloud. Not once does he reference a single piece of hardware. Not once does he use the word user.

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Under that scenario, Mayo sees IT managers like himself not necessarily being expert in this or that technology of the moment, but fully embracing the role of tech leader. "It's a bit of providing inspiration, a bit of being a mentor, a bit of giving good advice and a bit of getting out of people's way," Mayo sums up. "The value I can give the IT organization is to help other people be great."

Leigh Ann Thomas

Senior business relationship manager, American Water, Voorhees, N.J.

What she does: Leigh Ann Thomas is the first person to hold the title of senior business relationship manager in the Information Technology Service department at American Water, the largest investor-owned water and wastewater utility in the U.S.

In the new role, her sole focus and purpose is to demonstrate the value of IT to the business. Beyond that lofty goal, Thomas finds herself working without a road map. "It's intriguing," she says. "I define my role day to day. There are no best practices. It's a completely blank canvas."

Since June 2012, when American Water vice president and CIO Mark Smith handed her the new responsibilities, Thomas has been working her way through a five-step process to put together a model for the role, starting with a "listening tour" to collect feedback from both the ITS group and multiple business partners -- no small task in the large, geographically dispersed company. "There are a lot of stakeholders," Thomas observes. The next phase is to prioritize that feedback and "zero in our energies" on IT investments with the biggest payback for the business side.

What she brings to the table: Thomas sees her main contribution as being a conduit between business units and IT. "It's a translator role," she says. "I build relationships and credibility for IT from the ground up." She does that by going out of her way to drill down for a deep understanding of what the business needs and how IT can help. "IT folks need to have a very solid understanding of their core business," she says. "Wherever I've worked, I've always initiated my own rotational job-shadowing efforts so I can understand what the business is going through day to day. I'm a big believer in walking a mile in the end user's shoes."

Her vision for IT: "Honestly, I think what IT in general needs to do is less. In order to do more for our business folks, we need to do less of that traditional IT thing where you're heads-down working furiously on a project, but you're isolated from the business," says Thomas. That approach is what gave IT a reputation for being nonresponsive, hard to find and spread too thin. The solution, she says, is less keeping the lights on and more strategic partnerships. "Users today are tech-savvy. They can figure most things out for themselves" -- leaving IT free to focus on business relationships and "zero in on mission-critical tech initiatives that add value."

Joe Donnici, 42

Vice president, core IT, Quintiles, Durham, N.C.

What he does: Donnici is in charge of all core IT functions at Quintiles, a tall order at the tech-heavy, data-centric company, which specializes in biopharmaceutical and health sciences analytics. Donnici's group of about 300 staffers and 100 contractors oversees infrastructure, data center, security, storage and application delivery to Quintiles' 27,000 employees worldwide.

What he brings to the table: A business-centric perspective and a calm attitude -- both of which Donnici believes are crucial for today's tech leader.

"That business perspective is the most important thing for IT -- understanding the organization and where our solutions fit their needs in terms of cost and value," he says. "I started out on the business side" -- he has a degree in business administration and finance -- "but I've done the technical work too. That perspective is extremely important in figuring out what IT needs to deliver back to the business."

As for his leadership style, Donnici believes it's important to keep calm, both day to day and during a crisis. "Attitude is a big challenge for IT leadership," he says. "Things are going to break every day, and you are going to have critical incidents that can be very difficult. The key is to maintain a level of calmness -- to calm the fires, control the madness, communicate with the CEO or whoever."

His vision for IT: Donnici is excited about accelerating the company's push into mobile devices and apps. "We launched a BYOD program last year, and we've been very successful," he says. Mobility gives Quintiles an opportunity to rethink how it delivers services, with an emphasis on simplifying the employee's workday. "With personal lives and business lives merging more than ever, there's tremendous value in being able to use one device for training or to submit a requisition for approval," he says.

Donnici finds inspiration in the way his own children wholeheartedly adopted and adapted to the iPad. "I'm an IT guy at heart. I love technology and how it has the power to simplify your life," he says. "That excitement fuels me and my team as we try to make an impact with mobility. It's just a question of how quickly can we flip the culture."

This story, "Next-Gen IT Leaders Transform the Enterprise" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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