In 2013, the original SAIC split into two separate companies, and the challenge was to deliver a new, modern IT operation for a $4 billion company spun off from an organization with a $12 billion infrastructure.
I was hired in 2012 as the CIO, responsible for executing separation. To achieve separation, we adhered to a design model that moved the IT services from a distributed support model into an integrated enterprise service.
Our approach was, and still is, implementing a servant/participatory leadership model, in which the business and IT collaborate, with shared decision-making authority, to achieve the necessary efficiencies to support, grow and optimize the business.
During my initial interview with CEO Tony Moraco, there was little to no discussion about technology or IT strategy; instead we focused on how to lead the company into the future. As it turned out, we both have similar ideas on how leadership can and will enable the growth of SAIC.
One of our first things we did was to declare that IT isn’t a functional support of the business—it is the business. We eliminated a previous command-and-control, hierarchy-based atmosphere, then we streamlined budget processes, empowered employees to make decisions and required them to be responsible for their actions. This involved a major cultural shift, but starting a new company provides a unique opportunity to establish new streamlined processes driven by a culture that rewards creativity and innovation.
The IT department was one of the first areas to adopt a new mindset. No longer seen as a large cost center that was used to balance the budget, the IT department has become known as a responsive, reliable and respected capability within SAIC. This is the most powerful thing a CIO can do for the company: Provide excellence in the financially sound execution of the company’s IT investments in support of the business.
Our second move was to take steps to foster confidence in IT. Previously, IT was decentralized, duplicating investments and solutions for common business requirements. Now, we are organized along functional delivery capabilities and have seven key leaders who plan, budget and deliver proactive IT support while at the same time reducing the complexity of IT systems.
Third, we made an effort to improve the management of our technology investments. We redefined the way we initiate, communicate and track corporate investments using an IT investment portfolio approach.
There are two key principles that we now live by in IT. First, we strive to respond to user requests by asking “How are we are going to support you?” instead of saying “No, we cannot support you.” Second, we recognize that our role is to work with people to help them achieve things they couldn’t achieve on their own.
As CIOs, we can be our own worst enemies. When we don’t clearly define our roles, fail to speak the business’s language or refuse to internalize business objectives, we may alienate the very people we are here to support. We also increase the risk that we will be out of sync with where they are going. The days of doing IT for IT’s sake are over.
Bob Fecteau is CIO at SAIC, a provider of technology services to government clients. He is a member of the CIO Executive Council.