CIO Report

Information technology provides hardware and software solutions to the users that design, sell, manufacture, ship and account for our products.

However, information technology generally and the CIO specifically, are uniquely qualified and uniquely positioned to foster collaboration and teamwork to fuel the rest of the manufacturing enterprise since  manufacturing companies are technology-driven.  This is the first of four articles on the role that CIOs should accept, and actually demand. If you are a senior leader of a manufacturing company, this is an introduction to a potentially untapped resource. If you are a CIO, this is either a wakeup call or a validation of an invaluable service you should or already provide.

Everything I do as a CIO affects one of three business aspects: people, processes, or technology. People are the resources you manage and the users you support. People are the least predictable of the three aspects. I feel that I should end that sentence with ‘‘Bless their hearts.” Processes are the documented procedures we follow to get our tasks completed. Operations has well-ordered processes for ordering raw materials through shipping finished goods.  Processes overlap, conflict and have gaping holes. More on that later. Technology is why we are here. Technology is the hardware, software, applications and other products and services we offer to our internal and external users.  Let’s dig just a bit more deeply into these aspects.

Everything I do as a CIO affects one of three business aspects: people, processes, or technology.

People – First, let’s talk about the “technologists” or the IT team members.  CIOs have primary responsibility to build and motivate the best team of technologists given our budgetary constraints. The CIO must interview every potential new hire prior to extending an offer. I look for personality and the ability to make IT a stronger team. I often just ask two questions: “Would you please tell me the story of your life?” and “Would you rather be the best player on a mediocre team or a mediocre player on a championship team?” Neither has a correct answer. It is all in the WHY.  Why did you choose to start the story of your life with college? Why do you want to be the best player and not on the best team?  After the candidate starts, our job is to celebrate their successes, to constantly mentor and to groom your replacement. 

The second, but equally important group are the “consumers” of the technology we provide, the subject matter experts (SMEs). They understand what they want. They do not understand technology. It is up to us to provide an environment where they feel comfortable asking for help without the fear of humiliation.  (Stop reading – remember some humorous anecdotes – move on.) They also need to feel that they are empowered to take ownership of their solutions. We have a select group of users at American Textile that we call “process owners.”  They decide on the features of each solution and the order in which we work on projects. They own the testing and training responsibilities for each solution.  Again, more on people in the next article. 

Processes – The CIO is uniquely positioned to facilitate real process improvements. We own the applications, which are designed to make the processes more effective. We have already done the work to analyze gaps and the desired state.  Why not re-engineer the process along with the automation?  If you are a Six-Sigma or Lean Manufacturer, you are doing this daily on the Operations side.  One of my responsibilities as CIO is business process re-engineering. I facilitate a lot of sessions with the SMEs to drill into problem areas, categorize issues, and collaborate on prioritized solutions.  Again, more details in a future article.

Technology – As CIOs, we own our company’s technology. When all goes well, we praise our teams. When things go south, we take full responsibility. I wish I had a dollar for every email of apology I’ve written for a system hiccup or technology outage.

It is important for your organization to see you as a trusted, responsible owner of the technology they use to drive success. But there is more to it than taking ownership. You also need to be the proponent of change. You need to recommend enhancement, research and “sell” them on new technologies and solutions. Show the return on the investment and deliver that return. We can no longer sit back and respond to service requests. 

If you want to be a strategic partner with the business owners, then drive technology deep into the enterprise and show how you can contribute to their success. Drive efficiencies with wireless technology on the shop floor. Deploy analytics on mobile technology that allow executives to be more effective wherever they are. Insure the highest data integrity in the product, customer and routing master files.

Finally, protect their intellectual capital with solid security systems.  Above all, manage their expectations throughout the process. The VP of operations can tell them what is being produced right now, how many, when it will be complete and which work order is up next. They deserve to know what IT is working on now, what is next according to their priorities, and when it will be completed. Alert them to project threats before they ask. Read everything, technical and industry-related. Learn constantly. Be proactive. They will never understand technology. You need to understand manufacturing and be the translator.

In the next issue, we will take a deeper dive into the people aspect and what a CIO can do to mentor and unite. The following article will focus on the CIO’s responsibility to foster collaboration on business processes. And the last article will address technology and how we should be the driving force to exploit it.  No one in your organization should love technology more than you.  Share the love!

American Textile Company is a global manufacturer and distributor of utility bedding products serving all major retailers with headquarters in Duquesne, PA.

By John Miller, VP of Information Technology, American Textile Company