In the past two years, I’ve shifted IT’s focus away from cost containment and efficiencies and toward driving business growth. To accomplish that, my team has done a lot of work to operate at a strategic level.
I took over the CIO role in 2007, right before the recession. Like many other companies, Hines needed to focus on reducing costs and maintaining the bottom line without making large reductions in workforce. Then, as the economy began to recover, it was the right time to transform the IT function into a strategic unit focused on growing the business.
One of the first things I did was merge the infrastructure and application development teams under a member of my leadership team. Finding the right leader was essential, and I was fortunate to find someone with a consulting background who considered the infrastructure and applications viewpoints equally, without favoring one or the other.
It’s not a traditional structure, but it ensured that infrastructure wasn’t an afterthought–it was part of the conversation when deploying systems and applications.
For instance, when we recently upgraded our intranet to SharePoint 2010, the two teams were in the same meetings and could discuss both the redesign of the user interface and the integration with database systems, along with the performance requirements for the servers and network. The result is a fine-tuned intranet, delivered on time to Hines employees, who can better collaborate with each other to meet strategic business goals.
I groomed my leadership team to be strategically oriented, and more importantly, I chose people who can represent me. Any one of my four direct reports can travel to business units around the world to communicate the value of technology to drive business growth. They are like an “army of me,” an extension of the CIO.
Of course, the IT team of the future includes more than just the CIO and leadership team. The entire staff needs to be the face of IT. To build up their skills, I partnered with the internal training department to conduct mandatory sessions on communications, management and soft skills. Change does not always come naturally, but the staff knows the importance of being the face of IT and are starting to embrace this new approach.
The biggest obstacle is enabling team members to be strategic when they still have operational responsibilities. We have started tracking activities to make sure we’re working on the most important tasks, and we’ve implemented additional programs to relieve some of the daily tasks. If you don’t make the time, then your team members won’t be able to improve their skills.
I’m also focusing two levels down to make sure the management team is coaching staffers to be strategic in thought and action, and to build this expectation into their annual review process.
You have to find your superstars at all levels of the organization and then allow them to flourish. I only grow as a leader when I elevate my staff to think and interact at a higher level than they did yesterday or last year. And the only way they can do this is if they are allowed and encouraged to do so.
Jesse Carrillo is senior vice president and CIO at Hines.
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