Dan Roberts
Contributing writer

Oshkosh CIO Anu Khare on IT’s pursuit of value

Jun 08, 20239 mins
Automotive IndustryIT LeadershipIT Strategy

The specialty truck maker’s IT chief sees tech-enabled transformation being fueled by a relentless focus on strategic fit and customer value — and passionate business involvement.

anu khare stylized
Credit: Anu Khare / Oshkosh Corp.

In his role as Oshkosh Corp.’s senior vice president and CIO, Anu Khare leads the specialty truck maker’s intelligent enterprise agenda, which includes data science and artificial intelligence practice, digital manufacturing, cybersecurity, and technology shared services to drive technology-enabled business transformation.

Khare, a Forbes CIO Next 50 Tech Leader and Chicago CIO of the Year ORBIE winner, leads an award-winning digital technology team that powers Oshkosh’s business growth and innovation efforts. Recently they were recognized with their fifth consecutive CIO 100 Award as well as the 100 Best Places to Work in IT.

When we spoke for the Tech Whisperers podcast, Khare and I had a chance to explore all angles of that innovation work, from products and services to digital to new engagement models and strategy processes to the employee experience. Afterwards, he shared some more about the success factors that keep his team laser focused and consistently creating business value.

Dan Roberts: You use the ‘VSP’ framework to summarize what drives your team and your success. Can you unpack what that is and how it serves as a guiding framework?

Anu Khare: VSP stands for value, strategic fit, and passionate sponsor. The framework ties to my fundamental philosophy of letting cost, value, and the customer decide what is valuable and what is not valuable for our customers.

We didn’t start with VSP, but it evolved as a guiding framework, as we looked at our portfolio enablement process and asked ourselves, what’s the simplest way to approach project portfolio management? First, we decided to focus on the value. We started working with the business sponsors to articulate where and what impact the technology will have on the business. We then validate with finance, and if it has a hard savings, it gets No. 1 priority in terms of investment.

The relentless focus on value also leads to the second point, which is strategic fit. The project may be valuable, but in any organization, the list of things the organization can do is always bigger than what the organization can afford or should afford. This is a capital allocation discussion? So we focus on the strategic fit. Because I have a purview of the overall Oshkosh business strategies, and my business unit IT leaders have a purview of the business unit level strategies, together we are able to prioritize in line with business strategy. For example, if a business unit wants to improve their aftermarket sales, then we should have a project which is helping them in improving aftermarket sales and margins as one of our high-priority projects. But if we’re focusing on something else, that is not a strategic fit.

The third thing we focus on is passionate business sponsors — people who are willing to spend their time, money, and resources to make a project successful. If they’re not passionate about that particular project, we have something missing here. Either value is missing, our strategic fit is missing, or timing is missing.

Generally, what happens in IT, projects get delayed because of IT but also because of business resource availability. As a result of focusing on these three in combination, business sponsors are really excited because this is going to impact their KPIs, and top business leaders are very happy because this is aligned with their strategic priorities. And since this is both of their priority, they want to invest money and resources on it. We have also experienced that the engagement of passionate sponsors has helped project timing becoming shorter than before.

So those three elements are just a summarization of how we evaluate projects, how we come up with initiatives, and how we invest our time and resources.

With the VSP as context, can you describe your major digital transformation themes?

Our transformation themes can be bucketed in three groups: business enablement, tech enablement, and digital savviness.

On the business enablement side, our focus has been to apply advanced technologies such as analytics/AI, intelligent automation, and digital manufacturing solutions — such as AR/VR, computer vision — to rethink and reimagine our manufacturing, supply chain, and digital customer experience.

On the tech enablement side, the major initiatives have been on building cloud, machine learning, and automation capabilities and modernizing tech stack such as ERP.

The third theme is creating digital savviness, including upskilling and reskilling the business and IT workforce. Digital transformation will be successful if we have business savvy and a digitally savvy business team.

You’re well regarded across the industry for having one of the leading data strategies. Can you give us some insight into what it entails?

There are really four parts to our data strategy: alignment on framework, focus on value-based priorities, having infrastructure, and talent and inclusiveness.

I didn’t want to create a framework, so I used the industry’s Delta Framework to assess current state and setting maturity target. I think it’s well-regarded and it makes the vocabulary very standard in the organization. So that’s the alignment on the framework. The second piece was alignment on where the value is and where we focus. You can apply analytics everywhere and we are applying in many places, but it has to be applied to strategic problems of the company.

For example, we are spending our analytics efforts around supply chain, manufacturing, and sales and aftermarket. These three things together are major building blocks of our revenue and margin stream. So, with these three areas of focus, we aligned on which specific opportunity we should capture and where we spend our time.

The third thing is alignment on a most modern technology stack, because you have to make sure that technology doesn’t become a roadblock for you. So that’s where we have standardized on the Microsoft Azure Stack, cloud, and analytics capability.

The final piece is having a talent strategy which is deep, but which is also inclusive. And what I mean by deep is, we needed to build data science capability because we didn’t have it, so we hired from outside, but we also opened it up for any non-data science person who has a passion. One example was an analyst in our legal team. This person was very passionate about data science, and when I was doing a road show, the person said, ‘Can I join you team?’ The passion was there, they were willing to learn, and they became part of my team.

The second part of the talent strategy is inclusiveness, and this is where we focus on the self-service analytics using Power BI. We wanted to spread that this is not IT — we should be empowering our businesspeople. So our team created a custom training with live Oshkosh examples, making it easy for people to understand. Now, we continue to see significant growth in adoption of self-service analytics. The measurement we use for analytics adoption is the growth in Power BI licenses and operating impact created by analytics.

You talk about taking people on the journey of conversation. What does that look like?

What we also do in data strategy, and in every area of digital transformation, is storytelling. We started our journey with a use case approach. When we finish a use case, we write one pager of what the business problem was, how it has been solved, and its business impact, and include any visual representation. It is just one PowerPoint slide that depicts the whole story. We widely share and communicate that, and that generates interest. If you have a story and it can be applied in one business unit, why not others. That acts as a multiplier effect.

Another process we use is called cross-business initiative meetings where, every quarter, we share key use cases. Our top 100 leaders and our CEO and business presidents are all are part of it. We invite people who are using those analytics models to tell the story. When they are telling the real story, it is not coming from us; it is coming from them.

Our CEO also makes sure that in his global all-hands meeting, he weaves in a story about analytics and automation. He’s so good at translating technology into simple words, and his words are very powerful. When I introduced the training for our top 350 leaders in analytics, it was an online course with three or four modules, and he was the biggest advocate in every forum. He took the course, and, through his example, he said why it is important for the company.

It’s clear that you come at all of these things as one of a dozen executive officers of the company first and as a CIO second. Is that how you see it?

Yes, it is. As an executive officer of the company, my focus is on business opportunities and value that can be captured through technology. I see myself as being here to help our employees and business achieve the goals for their stakeholders. Our employee base should have a delightful experience with the technology, and our businesses should be getting a return on the dollar. That’s the subconscious mind that drives me.

For more from Khare on how to innovate successfully and drive business value, tune in to the Tech Whisperers podcast.

Dan Roberts
Contributing writer

Dan Roberts is the CEO of Ouellette & Associates Consulting, host of the Tech Whisperers podcast, and author of numerous books, including "Unleashing the Power of IT" and "Confessions of a Successful CIO."