Selling IT to the business, means business
- 22 April, 2013 09:26
Rick Vosila, director IT, continuous improvement and quality at United Technologies.
Rick Vosila is director IT, continuous improvement and quality, with United Technologies Corporation, Climate, Controls and Security Division (UTC CCS). A bit of a mouthful, and probably better and informally described, at least to most Australians, as Chubb Security.
“In fact, we’re much more that that today,” Vosila says. He means that the company is now into such areas as fire detection and suppression, cash logistics, commercial and home electronic security and medical monitoring services for the aged and infirm. But it did start out as a lock and safe maker in the early 1800s in England, and that’s how many still see it today.
Not to say the company is resting on its heritage – far from it.
“You may notice my job title has ‘continuous improvement’ in it,” Vosila says. “Globally, as part of the UTC, we have a deep commitment to continuous improvement and quality, as inbuilt to everything we do. Our program is called ACE – Achieving Competitive Excellence – and, as the name suggests, it’s aimed at our becoming the most competitive business in the world, where we delight our customers, resulting in superior business growth and continually improving profitability.”
This means that, in addition to leading the IT department, Vosila also leads the organisation-wide ACE program.
“I have a team that works with the business on driving incremental process and performance improvements, using a mature and robust methodology and set of tools [SIPOC, VSM, Kaizen, QCPC, Benchmarking, 5S, etc] so that we inch closer every month to becoming best-in-class in every aspect of our business.”
Which might sound like Vosila has a touch of the marketing in him, and that’s pretty close to the mark. He does have a BCom (Marketing) and an MBA, and admits that “Although I have been working in the industry for over 30 years, I don’t have an IT qualification!”
“My bent has always been towards the ‘business use of technology’ rather than ‘how the engine works’. My focus for tertiary education has been on the ‘business of business’, so I can leverage my talents in support of an organisation more strategically, working effectively with its executive, leveraging the best business value from IT.”
He describes his early industry background as his “foundation” years – working at IBM Australia for 12 years in such areas as ITIL, PMBOK, SDLC etc, “way before tags were attached to these methodologies” - and his “developmental” years – eight years at Unilever where he started as help desk manager and ended up as CIO for the regional business.
A stint as project director for an ERP implementation lead to Vosila taking a lead IT role in Unilever’s food division, and then the company’s first ever IT manager titled “CIO” .
A year at Goodman Fielder, and four as an IT consultant, and he has now spent more than five years with Chubb, initially as CIO/IT director, and now in his present role.
He reports directly to UTC CCS’s Australasia president, and sits on the senior leadership team with the president, CFO and other executives.
“Between the three of us, we form the core of the ‘stage gate’ group that reviews and assesses major initiatives. Having said that, I do maintain close relationships with the business unit heads, and the functional leaders as well, and together we agree on priorities for the business.”
There are formal monthly SLT meetings where ICT is on the agenda (“in lieu of separate IT steering committee meetings”) and stage gate reviews for current projects. He also has a regular monthly one-on-one with the president where specifics can be discussed, as needed.
And, informally, he says “there are all the usual methods – we phone, we meet, we chat, we argue, etc.”
“It’s vitally important to work closely with other C-level execs if you intend to have an equal voice at the table and engage in the strategic debate. ICT is more relevant today than ever in almost every significant business initiative, whether acquisition, divestiture, growth opportunities, cost reduction and capability enabling to beat the competition.”
With this capability in mind, the IT group has delivered a number of key projects: technicians’ handheld device deployment, with field service management application, including patch management, daily scheduling, and customer acknowledgement; deployment of secure tablet devices to the sales force; and customer extranet applications, for real-time status of work orders, activity in accounts, sites, projects, etc.
Vosila says that aspiring to be a best-in-class IT department, by default, contributes directly to shareholder value.
“It’s been said many times before, but a ‘future state’ CIO must be a business leader first, technologist second. At the most tangible level, this means that we are lean and cost-effective, and yet still deliver significant outcomes for the business.”
And to achieve this?
“Don’t be a geek; don’t be known as the guy that has all the latest gadgets and iPhone apps; don’t just be the guy who knows how to get the data projector to connect to your laptop. Be known as the business executive who discusses business growth, profitability, gross margin expansion, return on sales, inventory turns, capital investment and customer satisfaction.
“Like anything in life, you have to work at it. You need to develop the relationships; get yourself educated; learn the language of business; establish credibility; and finally add tangible value, in whatever way that might be. Don’t force yourself onto your executive. Just add value, be honest, serve the company mission, and you will be a natural part of the conversation, and a genuine member of the executive.”
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