These days, it is not enough for the IT organization to be \u201caligned\u201d to the rest of the business; IT needs to go one step further and be integrated with its business partners. When IT is integrated, technology deployments and business process improvements are two sides of the same coin, each informing the other.\n\n\nThis is a wonderful concept, which makes great sense on paper. The challenge to IT\/business integration, however, is tremendous, and it involves your most important asset, your people.\u00a0\u00a0 IT people continue to grow up in the IT organization, and business people grow up in the business. \u00a0\u00a0These professionals know their discipline well (marketing systems OR supply chain processes OR network architecture OR compliance regulations) but that\u2019s all they know.\u00a0\n\n\nWe have built a culture of specialists, when what we need are what I call \u201cblended executives\u201d: professionals with subject matter expertise both in a technology area and in a functional discipline or business process.\u00a0\u00a0 But here\u2019s the rub, companies are not growing these blended executives in any kind of consistent, programmatic way.\u00a0 Some companies, mostly very large ones, do have rotational programs that send IT people into other functional areas and \u201cbusiness people\u201d into IT, and those programs typically work great.\u00a0 But the majority of companies, due to bureaucracy or culture or other priorities, do not.\u00a0\n\n\nThe CIOs of these companies need to find creative approaches to growing blended executives, or the \u201cIT and the business\u201d paradox will never go away.\n\n\nThe Dilemma\n\n\nMarc Franciosa understands the need for blended executives. When he became CIO of Praxair, today a $12B industrial gases company, in 2010, both the business and the IT organization ran on a federated model with regional businesses making their own decisions about data centers, architecture, application development and IT strategy. \u201cThis approach let the regions be nimble, but it didn\u2019t allow us to replicate processes and drive global change,\u201d says Franciosa.\u00a0 \u201cIf we had a best practice in a region, it was difficult even to recognize it as a best practice let alone scale it to our other regional businesses.\u201d\n\n\nSo, Franciosa \u201cbalanced\u201d the regional vs. global focus \u00a0and created globalized IT functions around strategy, architecture, infrastructure, application development and program management with regional resources to build relationships between IT and the regions -- and to manage local vendors.\n\n\nThe new organizational model made good sense for Praxair, but having taken the majority of IT resources out of the businesses, Franciosa ran the risk of having a \u201ctechnology focused\u201d team too disconnected from the businesses it supports.\u00a0 \u201cWhen you\u2019re always focused on technology, and your team is busy running operations and designing architectures, they are not learning about the business,\u201d he says. \u00a0\n\n\nTo address this, Franciosa knew he needed to develop blended executives who understood both IT and some major aspect of \u201cthe business.\u201d\u00a0 Rather than build a formal rotational program, he looked for singular opportunities to cultivate a blended skillset.\n\n\nMove a business function under IT \n\n\nFranciosa had an IT leader who was very effective in one of Praxair\u2019s largest regional businesses.\u00a0 He knew that this leader had the capacity to learn more about the business, especially finance, so he considered rotating her into finance and then bringing her back into IT. \u00a0But he found a better strategy. \u201cWe actually moved our finance function (for this same large regional business) under her in IT,\u201d he says, \u201cNow, in addition to her work in IT, she is responsible for accounts payable, treasury, and tax for the regional businesses she knows so well.\u201d\n\n\nFranciosa admits that moving a finance function into the IT organization is out-of-the box, \u201cBut we now have an executive who has a deep understanding of two major areas of our business,\u201d he says.\n\n\nBring business people into IT \n\n\nAnother example of \u201copportunistic blending\u201d involved Praxair\u2019s pricing team.\u00a0 \u201cWe\u2019ve had someone in the pricing function who had been in the role for many years and had deep knowledge of how we priced all of our products and services,\u201d he says. \u201cHe was not a technology person, and was comfortable with our legacy pricing systems, but he did not know our new ERP.\u201d\n\n\nSo, Franciosa moved this pricing person into the IT organization where he is now leading the pricing work-stream for Praxair\u2019s global ERP implementation. \u00a0\u201cIn learning the new platform, he also learned a new way to do pricing,\u201d says Franciosa. \u201cHis ERP work has made him much stronger in his functional area.\u201d In addition, the ERP work allowed this executive to learn business functions beyond pricing including credit collections, product hierarchy, and more. \u201cBy moving this person from the business into IT, we have broadened his business knowledge and built out his technology acumen.\u201d\n\n\nLikewise, Franciosa moved someone with distribution expertise into the IT organization. \u201cOur distribution expert knew all of the processes but he didn\u2019t know the technology,\u201d says Franciosa. \u201cHe is now in IT and has made a huge impact on automating the way we track cylinders, which is a major part of our business. \u00a0And the best part is that he\u2019s technology agnostic: If one business wants RFID, and another wants bar codes, he doesn\u2019t care. He guides the group towards what is best for the process.\u201d\n\n\nStick to your guns\n\n\nWhen seizing on opportunities to develop blended executives, Franciosa has some advice: \u201cPeople will tell you why it can\u2019t be done,\u201d he says. \u201cThey will tell you: \u2018You can\u2019t expect a business person to become a technologist.\u2019 or \u2018You\u2019re going to take an IT person and teach them collections?\u2019\u00a0 You have to have a little bit of courage when making these changes.\u201d\n\n\nMoving business people into IT or IT people into the business has the obvious benefit of allowing you to grow blended executives.\u00a0 But according to Franciosa, there is an additional advantage. \u201cAll of these people now have a greater appreciation for the connection between IT and business processes and in the end are integral to driving business results,\u201d he says.\u00a0 \u201cAnd they can build great relationships as a result. They become advocates for the IT organization.\u201d\n\n\nAnd while IT continues to develop great credibility in its businesses, a little extra advocacy can\u2019t hurt. \u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\n\n\nAbout Marc Franciosa and Praxair\n\n\nMarc Franciosa was named vice president and chief information officer of Praxair, Inc. in 2010. He is responsible for global information technology services.\n\n\nFranciosa joined Praxair in 2008 as director of global enterprise resource planning deployments in the Information Technology Services department. He was named director of business solutions in 2009. Before joining Praxair, Franciosa spent 14 years with the Linde Group of Germany and the former BOC. During that time, he held management positions of increasing responsibility in the U.S., South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom. He managed the global information systems integration following the Linde\/BOC merger. Prior to that, he was manager of information systems and materials resource planning for Armstrong International.\n\n\nFranciosa holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Villanova University.\n\n\nPraxair, Inc., a Fortune 250 company with 2013 sales of $12 billion, is the largest industrial gases company in North and South America and one of the largest worldwide. The company produces, sells and distributes atmospheric, process and specialty gases, and high-performance surface coatings. Praxair products, services and technologies are making our planet more productive by bringing efficiency and environmental benefits to a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, chemicals, food and beverage, electronics, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, metals and many others.