During the economic malaise that commenced in 2008, more companies looked for more opportunities to do things in a more standard, shared way across departments to create better process and technology standards and to reduce the technology and vendor footprint. At that point in time, there tended to be a fair amount of “low-hanging fruit,” so to speak, as many companies had not been doing this sort of reconciliation during prior good economic times. For many companies, the best CIOs were at the center of these conversations, thinking about how to automate more, to do more in a standard fashion, and to take greater advantage of economies of scale.
Likewise, as the growth prospects for a number of firms improved a few years later, and different divisions of the company started leveraging data analytics software or social media or mobile technology, the best CIOs put themselves in the center of these conversations and invited a wide variety of constituents to join. This helped form a strategy for the entire company, and the number of investments to meet the needs of the many would be relatively few. However, CIOs should not change their way of operating to reflect the vicissitudes of the business cycles. During good times or bad, IT leaders must constantly collaborate with the leaders across the company to promote growth and to ensure that growth is undertaken in an efficient manner.
Consider the example of Automatic Data Processing’s CIO. Mike Capone has long had one foot in information technology and the other in the business. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, but he also has an MBA. He spent time as a vice president of IT at ADP, but he went on to be a general manager of a global HR and payroll outsourcing business within the company. In July 2008, he became ADP’s first-ever global chief information officer. Capone probably did not realize that he was taking on that role on the cusp of the worst economic downturn of his lifetime, but as he was leading the new function he did what any good CIO who is new to his or her role would do: he had a number of conversations with his peers about their needs. He met with customers to understand where ADP had delighted or disappointed them with technology. All the while, he took notes and made sure that IT had a more active role in the planning process with the rest of the organization, while also being more transparent as to their own plans.
When the economy crashed, Capone, like most CIOs, was asked to cut costs, and many painful steps had to be undertaken. That said, he did not forget the many new opportunities that he had identified through his conversations with colleagues and customers that continued well past his honeymoon period as CIO. In early 2009, when most other CIOs were focused only on efficiencies, Capone identified a small cadre of high performers in the IT department and made innovation their primary focus. It was during this time that Capone recognized the need for ADP to do more with mobile solutions to meet the growing demand of customers to access their information from any device anywhere. He and this overachieving group that he had assembled developed a highly popular mobile application that delighted customers and was downloaded at a record pace. More important to the company culture, Capone also instilled an awareness that, because it understood the strategic opportunities of the entire company, IT always needed to be a source of innovation and could not take a few years off from developing new, technology-enabled products. In the second half of 2012, Capone added the role of corporate vice president of product development to his CIO title, adding a very business-centric role to his one in IT.