Kodak Alaris CIO's IT strategy pays off big time

CIO John Milazzo shares his journey to successfully establish a spinoff organization and new technology strategy at Kodak Alaris.

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Remember the photo you emailed to your local drug store to be printed on a 5x7 matte finish so you could frame it and surprise a friend or loved one with a memorable moment? If so, you probably used the Kodak Print Place solution from Kodak Alaris, the 2013 Eastman Kodak Company (EKC) global spinoff, whose mission is to unlock the power of images and information for businesses.

A major challenge for a spinoff is to establish an independent technology infrastructure, organization and strategy as quickly as possible. No one knows this better than John Milazzo, Kodak Alaris CIO. With a stellar career in EKC's IT department, as global IT executive in mergers and acquisitions and sales and marketing, Milazzo was perfectly positioned for this role.

I had the opportunity to interview John about his strategy, challenges and successes at Kodak Alaris. Here is an excerpt from our interview.

Phil Weinzimer: A spinoff presents interesting challenges, especially for the technology executive. What were your greatest challenges and what was your strategy to overcome these challenges?

John Milazzo: We faced three main challenges in creating our own global computing environment. The first was the short time frame and costs associated with the transition service agreement (TSA). The second was the timing in selecting the C-suite and board. Third, was identifying the right IT resources for our new company. Let me elaborate on each.

TSA costs and time frame: We were standing on a burning platform due to the costly TSA and timeline constraints. As a result, we had to move fast and take some risks, which is contrary to the inherited EKC "low-risk" culture. An example of this was a parallel deployment of a new service system and a new ERP system. Each program alone would have been a major undertaking for a company, but we accepted the risk and successfully deployed both at the same time.

Changing C-suite and board: The management team of vice presidents set the direction for the company until a CEO and board of directors were hired. As I mentioned previously, time constraints set forth in the TSA required us to move fast. We based our decisions on solid business and technical analysis. During the first three years, the company added a CEO and a chairman of the board, and brought on executive and non-executive board members. As it turned out, the executive team aligned with the management teams' decisions, which made for a great management team and executive team partnership.

IT resources: Core to our strategy was deploying newer technologies than used at EKC for the past 10 to 20 years. A critical challenge was selecting resources that were openminded, work well in a team environment, and eager to take on new roles and responsibilities.

Personnel are an integral part of every organization, especially for an IT organization. What were your objectives in selecting IT personnel?

We needed IT personnel who wanted to take on new roles, learn new skills, be a risk taker, work with newer technologies and live with ambiguity.

Business perspective: Our technology strategy required personnel to understand the business first and think out of the box by identifying newer technologies to run and grow the business. This was a completely different mindset from their previous roles.

Willingness to learn: It was important to have personnel who wanted to expand their skills and learn newer technologies and not just revert to something they were comfortable using during their previous 10 to 15 years of EKC experience.

Risk takers: We needed individuals who could step out of their comfort zone, not realizing what role they have, but willing to take on new challenges. We needed individuals who would learn quickly, never give up, and present solutions from a risk perspective. "If we keep deploying we run the risk of X happening." We would talk through the ramifications and then make a decision. We also needed individuals to take a risk on a professional level. Many came over not understanding exactly what they would be doing going forward but were willing to take on new challenges.

Ability to live with ambiguity: We had a startup culture and were moving very quickly shaping our new company. We needed individuals that could live in an environment that could change depending on decisions outside their control. The good news is we involved personnel in all the decisions and helped them grow as business and IT professionals.

Eastman Kodak has been providing infrastructure services for Kodak Alaris under a TSA. This will end shortly. What has been your strategy to migrate to an independent Infrastructure?

The short answer is "as fast as possible." Our strategy was to evaluate the 20 TSA individual statements of work (SOW) and determine how quickly we could eliminate each. For example, migrating from the EKC audio conferencing service to our own was a quick and simple migration. Others required us to understand some key elements of our future environment. During the first 4 to 5 months, we focused on the ERP RFP process, which influenced other decisions we needed to make. A key to our success was assigning an owner to each SOW whose responsibility was to manage the transition to the new environment, as well as costs. This process ownership required personnel to work together as a team, which helped form our team.

As you look back on your journey, can you identify the key lessons learned during the spin-off process that helped you succeed?

The three key factors that enabled our success were: to be data driven; make sure personnel understood what was changing, why it was important from a business perspective, and how it would help them professionally; and probably the most important, was to communicate ... communicate ... and communicate. Let me elaborate on each of these.

Be data driven: When presented with a significant challenge, individuals find a way to rise to the challenge if supported by data. TSA costs impact our bottom line so we created a "TSA cost per minute" metric. Using this metric helped us make decisions faster.

Change management is easier with involvement: Personnel will go the extra mile when they see they are part of something significant and understand the business impact of changes. If they are consulted, involved and understand the rational for the change, they are willing to adapt at a faster pace.

Communicate: We created the theme, "The road to Independence Day” and worked closely with our internal communications department to update personnel on a regular basis.

Summary

Milazzo is a very humble leader. He recognizes that the successes to date could not have been accomplishments without a great team of dedicated professionals. The following quotes are from two of Milazzo's directors, and they represent the views of his entire team.

"This experience has taught us what the power of a small, focused, intelligent team can do when all are working towards a common goal, no matter how large or unattainable it might seem. John often reminds us that we have been a part of something most IT professionals will never be, and we were successful!" — Brandy Waring, IT director, corporate functions, and project manager

"We need to create, embrace and lead change, continually challenge ourselves to operate differently to achieve common goals. What may have worked in the past may not work in a new business model."— Darlene Ernstberger,  IT director, enterprise and supply chain applications

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