After serving as global CIO for GE, Chris Drumgoole became CIO of DXC Technology in March 2020. DXC is an $18 billion business formed in 2017 from the merger of CSC and HP Enterprise Services.
As a customer to DXC while at GE, Drumgoole was impressed by the vision of Mike Salvino, who had been named CEO of DXC the previous September. “In many companies, there is the technology path and the business path. Both are highly valued, but they are separate,” says Drumgoole. “Mike’s vision was that a technology services company should run like a technology company. When he told me that he was putting a team together ‘to transform DXC into what we are helping our customers to be,’ I came on board.”
Just as Drumgoole was joining DXC in early 2020, COVID was becoming a reality, which intensified the already critical role of IT. “Even without COVID, I would have participated in every leadership meeting, because that is the way the CIO position is viewed here,” he says. “But COVID really accelerated our virtual-first agenda.” During leadership meetings, Drumgoole certainly weighed in on how to get laptops and phones to employees, but the focus of the conversations was ultimately about how to work differently as a company.
Stepping into the COO role
Drumgoole found that the conversations were more about business strategy than technology, which led to a conversation with Mike Salvino. “Mike said that since I understand the technology, which is critical to our transformation, but I am actually spending only a small amount of time as an IT operator, I should step into the COO role,” says Drumgoole. “He told me ‘There is nothing operationally we will do in the next three years that doesn’t involve technology, and you understand technology and our operations; you are exactly the COO profile we are looking for.’” Drumgoole was named COO in August, 2021.
Early in his COO tenure, Drumgoole considered holding onto his CIO responsibilities, since he knew the technology, but a board member who had taken a similar path dissuaded him. “He summarily told me I was crazy, and that the first thing I should do is replace myself as CIO with someone better than me, which I did,” he says. “I’m glad I took his advice.”
While Drumgoole’s combined skill of technology and business operations resulted in his promotion, he still found he had much to learn in the new position. His GE background gave him a strong foundation in operations, but he found he needed to spend time learning the logistics of running a company with 130,000 global employees, even more than he did as CIO.
Shifting from the CIO mindset
But more than learning the operations, Drumgoole had to adopt a new mindset. “As CIO, I had always viewed IT as a servant to the business, treating our business partners as customers,” he says. “As COO, my role is more about driving decision making across the company, which affects my relationship with other executive team members. That is something I’ve needed to pay attention to and not just let it happen naturally.”
Drumgoole uses the budgeting process to illustrate the mindset shift. “Most CIOs think of the budget as pre-set; they are strict parameters that guide investments,” he says. “As COO, I am one notch upstream from that, where I am making the budget decisions that impact the street.”
As such, Drumgoole pays much more attention to DXC’s shareholders, investors, and analysts when making decisions than he did as CIO. “I no longer make decisions to achieve the CEO’s plan; I actually take part in making that plan. That’s a big change.”
He has also had to shift his leadership style to be less hands-on than in the past. As CIO, he had a deep understanding of the roles of everyone on his team, where he could stand in for several of his senior leaders if he needed to. But as COO, the team is more functionally than operationally based, with tremendous breadth. “The functions in operations are very discrete and include everything from IT to accounts payable to customer delivery to travel,” he says. “My accountability is so broad that I can no longer expect to be an expert in every area. This is the first time I have put together a team where I don’t have deep experience with everyone’s role.”
DXC is currently doing a major network transformation that will have a big impact on the company. As CIO, Drumgoole would have been very hands-on. “I’ve had to learn to step away from the detail,” he says. “I am sure that the network people are thinking, ‘Dude, you’re the COO. We got this; you can get off the call.’”
Big picture outcomes
Finally, Drumgoole has needed to manage more to business outcomes than project completion or process change. With the network transformation, for example, his focus is less on what the project is and more on why it is a better priority than a different investment. “As CIO, of course I managed to outcomes, but as COO, I need to be one step away from the process and shift my focus to big-picture outcomes while figuring out how to not lose attention to detail.”
With the convergence of information technology and operations technology, the COO skillset will demand more and more technology depth and a greater ability to work across silos, something CIOs have always had to do. So, the opportunity for CIOs to move into the COO role will continue to grow. It is up to today’s CIOs, says Drumgoole, to seize that opportunity.
“With every company becoming a technology company, CIOs are at inflection point,” he says. “Do you only want to look after ERPs and manage the IT budget, or do you want to move upstream and help run the company? Every CEO needs technology leadership to transform their companies. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for CIOs who choose to take it.”