Driving Emerson’s evolution from electronics to smart devices

To ensure that Emerson makes products customers care about, CIO Jake Fritz leads through empowerment, engagement, and collaboration.

Jake Fritz, VP and CIO, Emerson
Jake Fritz, VP and CIO, Emerson

Jake Fritz is VP and CIO of Emerson, a global $18 billion company. Traditionally known as an electric products company that makes valves and other process control equipment, Emerson has an expansive footprint as a software and smart devices company.

I spoke at length with Fritz about the critical role that he and his global IT organization play in Emerson’s evolution. What follows is an edited version of our interview.

Martha Heller: What does it mean to be CIO of Emerson right now?

Jake Fritz: My role is to champion all things IT and digital, but that doesn’t mean I own it all. My team and I have direct responsibility for “one-time” services, which include infrastructure, data centers, PCs, cybersecurity, enterprise applications, and the emerson.com foundation, so a little more than a third of Emerson’s IT resources.

What is left in the business are those applications that are specific and differentiating. I have influence over those technologies, and when something goes wrong with them, I’m our CEO’s first call, but the business knows their customer and industry needs well and is empowered to drive those initiatives.

A new technology area is emerging as Emerson becomes a software products company with smart devices and stand-alone software. Software enabled products have become 13 percent of our business, and it’s growing.

To drive those efforts, I spend a lot of time collaborating with product engineering and marketing. But whether I am leading directly or indirectly, my job is to champion good ideas and make sure that all things IT and digital are successful.

What is an example of a new software product?

Traditionally, Emerson has been known as a device and control company, but today, our products are smart devices. Take for example, a control valve, which controls anything that flows through a pipe. The valve makes sure everything is flowing properly, and that it shuts off at the appropriate time. Control valves are critical to our customers’ operations. Today, we are running software on valves, which communicate when the valve needs servicing, which helps our customer reduce maintenance costs and improve their operations.

How are you collaborating with other functional areas to develop new software products?

Four years ago, some senior leaders and I formed an OT/IT Strategic Advisory Board, which includes leaders in IT, engineering, product development, risk, compliance, legal, security, and vendor management. Our role is to identify platforms, vendors, and cybersecurity policies for innovation in IoT, cloud, and other foundational areas that will be important to all of our businesses. We wanted to make those foundational decisions once, so that all that our product groups have to think about is creating products that our customers care about.

When we first launched the advisory board, people wondered if, in spearheading the advisory board, IT was going for a land grab and trying to own IoT products. That’s where trust, and a little finesse, came in. We had to make sure people understood that we were not trying to take over their space. We were looking to form a collaborative group to do what is best for Emerson, and that if it didn’t work, we’d reel it in and try something else.  Just as with software development, our attempts at collaborative management have to be agile, too.

What’s an example of a high-value solution that has resulted from this collaboration?

Customers of our automation solutions business run massive manufacturing processes, whether in pharmaceuticals, electrical power generation, energy, or any other industry with large-scale operations. It can be a struggle for these companies to track all of their assets. So, we recently developed a tool called MyAssets, a digital record of all of a customer’s installed devices with information about them, including location, product specs, and repair reports.

Let's say the device is a pressure transmitter, and it starts sending messages that it's not healthy. MyAssets provides and integrates with digital tools that troubleshoot the problem and alert the right group, whether it’s maintenance or engineering. Maintenance can scan the device’s QR code, and see a history of the device, and a recommendation of spare parts to reorder. It will also route the reorder request to the procurement person who already has the information they need to place the order.

MyAssets is a great example of collaboration between IT, platforms, marketing, and product engineering, who are all responsible for a different aspect of the tool. If we had not created permeable lines between all of these organizations, like the IT/OT Advisory Board, and our cloud center of excellence, another cross-functional group, it would have been much harder to do this.

What are the leadership skills you bring to your role?

My leadership style is to engage and empower. I am a pretty hands-on leader, which doesn't mean I’m deep in the details; it means that I listen very actively. Whether it’s with the IT team or product engineering groups, when we discuss a problem or idea, I probe deeply with a lot of questions to make sure I understand what’s important.

As I engage, I’ll also brainstorm and problem-solve. As we identify great ideas, I’ll help to develop an action plan with the right resources to make it happen.

Once I know we have the right follow-up processes on the plan, I let people do what they need to do, with some check-ins along the way. My leadership style is to empower and help, not to say, “You’re going to do this.”

Where, within Emerson, are you currently focusing that leadership?

In early 2019, Emerson’s leadership team saw an industrial recession on the horizon, and we knew we needed to change our cost structure. Our history had been to acquire a company, give them a profitability target, and then let that business run autonomously. Over time, we wound up with a bunch of businesses solving the same problem over and over again.

So, in IT, we’ve developed a plan to determine what technologies and resources need to be at the corporate level and in the business unit, and we take advantage of all of the standardization opportunities that are in front of us. These aren’t earth-shattering concepts, just hard work to drive print, telephony, PC standardization, and application rationalization programs, at a global level, in order to eliminate redundancies and bring down costs.

IT has been the pioneer in driving global standards, but we are now looking at how finance and HR can do the same. When COVID-19 hit, we were already on a mission to drive down costs and improve efficiency, so the pandemic did not hit us as hard as it hit other companies.

What skills do you look for in your senior team?

I look for leaders who value diversity of thought on their teams; they don’t hire a bunch of people who think like they do. I want senior leaders who have no unconscious biases. They identify talent in people with diverse backgrounds, and are open to their ideas. I also look for people with passion, who are not sitting stagnant, but are always moving their teams forward.

What is your advice for future CIOs?

Most people think that as CIO, you need to know the latest and greatest technology. I’m not going to say that technology knowledge isn’t important, because it is. But that’s not where I spend most of my time. I spend my time on management, relationships, and people. As a future CIO, I would ask yourself: “How do I create the right relationships with people? How do I develop talent? How do I make my team know they are important?”

Understanding how to engage and motivate your people is one key aspect of being a CIO. The other is to know your numbers. “What are my budgets? What are my assets? Where am I spending money? Are we getting a return on our investments?” Some executives’ eyes can glaze over when you talk to them about technology, but they understand numbers and ROI. If you can talk about IT as an investment with a business benefit, you will be able to get funding for those investments, and can find pockets of extra money to drive innovation or fund more people.

Knowing my numbers over the years has been extremely important. A CIO who can communicate effectively at all levels of the organization, and can build and motivate the right team can climb mountains.   

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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