How do you know when you have credibility with your business partners?
I look at it on three levels: First, we know we have some degree of credibility when we are invited to our business partners’ staff meetings. We know we have even more credibility when someone approaches us after the meeting and asks a follow-up question. The third level (and this is nirvana) is when our opinion is continually sought out throughout the meeting. That is when we know we are a trusted advisor.
It is critically important that we have that highest level of credibility right now. At Beechcraft, we manufacture, service and maintain airplanes. There is an awful lot of data that goes into and comes off the airplanes, so we need to convince the business that IT is more than laptops and email. This is a new concept for everyone. So in the last year, we have worked hard to gain the credibility to kick off two corporate programs that you would never expect IT to lead:
1. Our aircraft engineers use multiple CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems when they are designing an airplane. But, the technology they are using is from the early 1990’s. Everyone knew we had to upgrade that technology, but it is a huge data conversion endeavor, and to date no one was stepping up with a plan. So the IT group brought in our CAD systems provider and put together a two-year program, in partnership with the engineering department, so that at the end of 3 years, all of our CAD systems (and data) will be caught up with the most modern technology.
2. When it comes to aircraft, equipment predictability and performance are extremely important. However, our engineering people often say that they don’t have enough data to make a decision about which parts should be redesigned or replaced. Large airplanes have all of this avionics technology that provides engineers with the data they need. But in six-seater planes, like ours, we don’t have that technology so we need to think out of the box. One of our technology partners, Verizon has a GPS tracking unit that is the size of two postage stamps. We’ve been using that technology to track ground equipment and larger parts, speed, GPS location, light, humidity, and other data. We are currently working on a feasibility plan to integrating that GPS system into the airplane at a much lower cost than a large specialized system.
What is your advice on moving from “IT as email” to “IT as trusted advisor”?
As CIO, you cannot change the perception of IT by yourself, so you have to find a group of “true believers” in the business. My advice is to approach a respected business leader and partner with that person to design a high value program. You cannot push a stone up a mountain by yourself.
Second, if you have a corporate PMO, be sure that your IT PMO uses the same project management methodology and language as that corporate group. In our business, there is a whole process and project master plan for how to invest in, and build an airplane. When I first joined Beechcraft, I would talk to a business partners about a project and ask them to fill out an IT business requirements form. I found that I got a lot of pushback. I learned that if I used the same process at the corporate PMO, everything was a lot easier.
How do you solve the “archivist v. futurist” paradox, that is, how do you keep innovating when you have legacy systems to maintain?
I had to face that paradox when I joined Beechcraft Corporation. My team was spending most of their time and budget running a maintenance organization. I knew that I needed a budget with more room for innovation. My advice is that if you want to play in the futurist space, you need an agreement with the senior leadership team that says, “I promise to create efficiencies and drive costs out of IT. But, I will use some of those savings to reinvest in our IT strategic plan. If I save 10 percent in operational costs, I can have that 10 percent back to invest in high value programs. You have to create the fiscal space to shift your costs from keep the lights on to strategic programs.
What is a piece of career advice you have been given that you would pass on to others?
When I first took this job, I was still spending a lot of time worrying about servers and networks. A mentor of mind cautioned me to change my ways. He told me that my job now had very little to do with technology; it was now all about psychology. The success of a CRM implementation is not dependent on the software; it’s dependent on my ability to change behaviors. My mentor advised me to shift my attention from how well the exchange server is running to how people think and behave. I decided to follow his advice and am now working on a Master’s in organizational psychology. When I am sitting in the classroom, I sometimes have to laugh, because for every psychological scenario that the professor brings up, I have a great example from IT. I always have an idea for my next paper.
About Stephen Shaffer and Beechcraft Corporation
Stephen Shaffer was appointed CIO at Beechcraft Corporation in 2012. Prior, he was Chief Information Officer and Vice President of Information and Technology at AOPA, the largest aviation association in the world. Prior to that, he worked at JetBlue first as a Director of Technology Labs and then Director Technology, Architecture, and Integration.
Beechcraft Corporation designs, builds and supports versatile and globally renowned aircraft, including the King Air turboprops, piston-engine Baron and Bonanza, and the T-6 trainer and AT-6 light attack military aircraft. Its 5,400 highly skilled employees are focused on continuously improving the company’s products and services which are sold to individuals, businesses and governments worldwide. In business since 1932, Beechcraft has built more than 54,000 aircraft and more than 36,000 continue flying today. It leads the industry with a global network of more than 90 factory-owned and authorized service centers. The company’s headquarters and major manufacturing facilities are located in Wichita, Kan.
Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.