How Curves Jenny Craig CIO Abe Lietz successfully transformed the IT business relationship

What can successful CIOs share about delivering technology value to the organization? Read how CIO and VP of service operations Abe Lietz at Curves Jenny Craig transformed IT’s relationship with the business, and how he keeps ahead of technology.

From the context of enterprise applications, how do CIOs achieve success? I asked Abe Lietz, CIO and VP, Service Operations at Curves Jenny Craig about his challenges and successes, particularly from the perspective of IT delivering value to the business. This article shares his insights.

abelietz Abe Lietz, CIO & VP, Service Operations at Curves Jenny Craig

Providing guidance

Key to providing technology guidance to the business is transitioning from an order taking role to a business advisory role. In the order taking role, the business decides how to solve a problem, and asks IT to help implement that solution. In the advisory role, IT moves upstream in the problem-solving process. The business first asks for advice about how to solve the problem, and a solution is jointly developed. It’s moving from “Yeah, you're the expert, but I'll bring you in when I have a problem to solve.” to “Hey, before we go and do something new, let’s tee up the problem together and then we can find a solution.”

The key to achieving this transition at Curves Jenny Craig was taking the time to build relationships with the business through shared successes and the occasional failure. These relationships built trust to the point where the business and IT are partners in joint ventures, rather than IT being brought in just before a contract is signed, or worse.

It's also taken a commitment to build business thought leadership and experience inside of IT, and to ensure people have the time to spend with business partners on a more strategic basis. For example, IT’s marketing liaison person might not have the hands-on marketing experience, but they should know more about marketing problems and solutions and how they relate to the business than the marketing people themselves.

Nowadays, Abe spends far more time talking about things like improving gross margin, serving customers and building better customer experiences than he does talking about IT or even new applications.  This value driven, service oriented and relationship-centric approach to running IT was a catalyst for Abe transitioning into a new “CIO-plus” role of managing not only IT, but also Customer Service Operations for the company.

Harvest value from existing applications

Enterprise applications have such rich functionality that it is nearly impossible to leverage it all, and many businesses use less than half of the available features. Large enterprise implementations like ERP and CRM tend to be focused on specific use cases, and can be all consuming. After these implementation projects are over, companies have forgotten the other functionality they acquired because they got mired in the details of a big deployment. This happens a lot, especially with multiyear engagements.

After the project is completed, both the business constituents and the IT teams should refocus on the grand vision they had when they started, and examine the other functionality they acquired. While it takes people investment and time,  it takes relatively few dollars to add this value to the business. You are not re-acquiring technology, you are just using what you bought.

Uncovering requirements

Earlier in his career Abe was in projects that went live, only to find revenue impacting processes or entire lines of business were missing. Customers were asking “Where is my order?” It came down to the right questions not being asked, and requirements being missed. For years the best business analyst teams have touted themselves as knowing how to ask questions and what to listen for. But gathering business requirements is more than hiring good analysts who can ask the right questions. Rather, business analysis has matured into relationship management where analysts have a much deeper rapport with the business.

It starts by building relationships with business units. For example, as marketing thinks through their next promotional season or develops a brand strategy, an analyst from IT who has a deep understanding of marketing should have a seat at the table. That person is there to listen, provide thought leadership and contribute to the dialog. The goal is for the CMO to feel entirely comfortable making them part of their staff meetings. When the time for a new marketing solution arrives, that analyst knows what both the business and IT need. They ask the questions that never get asked. For those IT people in the business units, that is a full time job.

Those charged with gathering requirements are known as relationship managers, not business analysts.  These people come from both the business and from IT. They may have been in retail stores or operations for part of their career, been brought into IT on a project and stayed. Alternatively people have gone the other way,  where they spent several years in a domain like service management or project management, and they wanted to go back to the business and apply those skills.

Case in point: the head of ecommerce and Web development was in marketing for his entire career at the company and transitioned to IT. He now leads all ecommerce and web development and has a very deep understanding of how marketing operations run, and what they want. Marketing has a lot of respect for him and approaches him in a very engaged and strategic way rather than just asking “Can you get this done?”

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