Wallington strives to better understand the business in order to maximize IS's contribution.
By Peter Fabris
Corporate vice president and CIO, Xerox Corp., Stamford, Conn.
Inductee in the Women in Technology International’s 1997 Women in Science and Technology Hall of Fame
First female president of the Society for Information Management
Vice president and CIO of the U.S. marketing group, Xerox
Senior vice president and CIO, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.
Director of information, Sun Exploration and Production Co.
Bachelor’s degree from University of Pennsylvania; MBA from Drexel University
Not getting the attention you need from your local Xerox sales representative? If you call the “document company’s” main customer service center to complain, you just might get Corporate Vice President and CIO Patricia Wallington on the line. Wallington dons a headset and fields complaints one day per month to get a firsthand feel for customers’ needs.
Hearing impassioned criticisms from customers is just one way Wallington strives to better understand the business in order to maximize IS’s contribution. She also comprehends business processes through keen observation. For instance, a couple of y ears ago she watched a customer service representative copy a customer’s account number from the first screen on the customer service system to a piece of paper. He explained that he needed to refer to that number on subsequent screens, but it appeared only on the first one. It may take only a few seconds to jot down some numbers, but the wait can be maddeningly frustrating to a customer faced with a major presentation and a broken copier. Wallington saw to it that customer service reps soon had account numbers on every screen.
Long before she began manning the Xerox complaint lines and looking over the shoulders of service reps, however, Wallington was already displaying business savvy, according to Ed Parrish, corporate vice president of information management at Johnson & Johnson. Parrish was Wallington’s boss at Sun in the 1970s and ’80s. “She always related better with business people than with the techno-nerds,” Parrish recalls.
Adaptability has also been crucial to Wallington’s success, says Darwin A. John, managing director of information communications systems for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and former CIO for Scott Paper Co. “To be a successful CIO, you need to be good at learning and changing,” John says. “The masters like Pat have their own models [for IS management], but they don’t force them upon their organizations. They adapt them to their environments.”
Wallington’s insight and adaptability in solving business problems have made her a key player in Xerox’s strategic planning brain trust. In 1992, Xerox changed from an organization with geographically delineated divisions to one with global units based on product lines. Wallington’s chief concern was how IS would reorient systems to support the new corporate structure. Xerox’s president’s council charged her with creating an innovative solution to that problem. “They told me to be bold and work wit h a sense of urgency, and they would support me,” she recalls.
Wallington’s answer–an outsourcing deal with EDS Corp. for legacy systems maintenance–was bold indeed. Begun in 1994, the $3.2 billion outsourcing pact was the largest such contract at the time and was the first global outsourcing contract as well. It was also unique, Wallington says, because Xerox didn’t outsource to replace a failing IS department or simply to save money. The arrangement enables IS to focus on new systems and strategies while the outsourcer serves as the legacy systems caretaker.
There’s no secret formula for gaining the trust and confidence of upper management, Wallington says. “It has less to do with what you do for them technically. It’s more important to build personal relationships and have a rapport with them. When they call on you to deal with an emergency, they want to know that you understand the gravity of the situation.”
Wallington hopes her legacy at Xerox is a motivated, energized IS culture. Such an atmosphere, she says, is more important than the technology she leaves behind. “When I leave, I don’t want to just leave behind good systems,” she says. “I want to leave behind inspired leadership. If I do that, then I ensure good systems for my company forever.”