The Five I's Approach to Business Performance

Brian Letzkus, VP & CIO, The Williams Companies (“Williams”)
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Brian Letzkus, VP & CIO, The Williams Companies (“Williams”)

Job as a CIO

Balancing your role as a Technology leader with being a Business leader. I have found the biggest issue I face is getting invited to the table to help solve a business problem regardless if there is a technology solution. We have made progress on this and in fact, Williams is moving IT out of the “Corporate” function into Operations to have that tighter alignment and be a part of those conversations.

Changing Landscape– One of our biggest transformations in IT is the move from being a Technology Contractor to a Service Partner and in some areas of the business, drive value.

Four years ago, IT at Williams was perceived to be an “Order Taker”.

The IT leadership team wanted to change this perception, therefore we created a Playbook.

Shifting Operating Model

We developed a Playbook for how we operate as a team in the organization.

First we clarified - Why do we exist?

We exist to enable Williams to serve its customers and grow profitably.

We are not a technology company; we use technology to enable the automation of processes, capture data, provide insights to the data, and improve overall efficiency.

 ​Reduce technology complexity through innovation and elimination of redundant tools and applications 

Next we asked -What do we do?

We fuel business capabilities by providing “right fit” technology (cost, timing, and quality).

This is important when we look at our strategic projects. At Williams, our Strategic Imperatives require us to have certain Business Capabilities to achieve those imperatives. If we have gaps, then that is where our investment in technology should take place.

Our biggest challenge in moving away from being a “Technology Contractor” was to change our behaviors. We had to ask- How do we behave?

We developed an easy to remember Five I’s approach:

We will impact Williams’ business performance through positive interactions, influencing decisions, innovating with technology, and improving our people, processes, and technologies.

To drive this home, we had to challenge and empower IT employees.

I asked them first to “Think Big”. Look beyond their desk or a request for IT services and understand how that fit into the big picture. I write a regular Blog for our employees that I attempt to stress or give examples of how to “Think Big”.

We also wanted to ensure that IT employees understand the business. We call this “Know Williams”. For the past several years, we have had regular all IT employee meetings where we provide insight into all areas of the business. Sometimes it is IT presenting to IT, or we will bring in a business partner to talk about their area of business.

The final thing I asked every employee to do was “Ask Why?”. There is a ferocious appetite for IT services. We must make sure we provide the right service and that it really is adding value. I want our employees to be consultative in nature and to understand the problem before we just “Do”.

Then finally, we had to answer the question - How will we succeed?

We identified 6 areas of focus that we must balance to move the organization forward. All our IT goals align to the following areas:

Operate Safely. Perform our jobs with Safety, Cybersecurity and Compliance top of mind in everything we do, every day.

In the energy industry, Cybersecurity threats have become a big risk to the Safety of our employees, and our communities. We can no longer treat the problem with just a single Cybersecurity team; it must be a part of everything we do.

Do the Right Work. Do the work that makes an impact to Williams Strategy. Influence the organization to prioritize demand by being transparent about the work and the cost/value being provide by the IT organization.

This is a very challenging area of focus for IT. Our goal is to make sure we get a good return on investment and provide value. What value means to one business unit, may not be the same for others. At Williams, we have focused on “hard dollar” savings over “soft dollar”. Even then, there is technology spend that is required to operate which does not always have a clear ROI. We are still maturing in this journey.

Serve it up Quickly. Focus on delivery of what has been defined as the most strategic for Williams. This includes Projects, Services and Operations.

One of IT’s key services is the delivery of projects. Last year we ran over 230 projects in IT and it is key that the leadership team is focused on the success of key projects. We review our top projects every week as a leadership team to make sure we are removing obstacles and all areas of IT are focused on the right priorities.

Team Collaboratively. Interact with others across the Williams organization to deliver consistent solutions.

There is a people relationship aspect to this focus, but there is also a technology focus. We must teach the organization to be effective in the use of technology (Skype, SharePoint, Outlook).

Drive Process Discipline. Drive consistent process execution and look for opportunities to continuously improve through streamlining or automation.

This area has matured the most. 3 years ago, we did not execute projects that same, we did not track our work consistently and therefore, did not have a good handle on how we were performing.

Today, we all speak the same language, measure our performance, and can track the volume of work being requested. We measure our performance in Quarterly Business Reviews and look for those areas of continuous improvement.

Our next level of maturity to is to automate as much as possible.

Reduce Technical Complexity. Reduce technology complexity through innovation and elimination of redundant tools and applications.

Williams has over 20 years of investment in IT and have growth through various acquisitions. It has created an environment of technical complexity that creates Technical Debt. We have been aggressive in reducing the complexity by focusing on a few key vendors and technologies and making sure we get the most out of those assets. Last year alone, we decommissioned over 350 environments which not only improved our cost structure today, but it is sustainable in out years.

It will take another 18 to 24 months to address our current opportunities, but we have a plan and we are executing well.

A Word for Budding CIOs

Being a new CIO myself, Make sure your time is balanced internally and with your business peers. It is very easy to spend time where you are comfortable but the real value lies in the relationships you build external to your organization.

Develop your leadership team to run the day to day operations. Make sure they operate as a single team. This will give you the time you need. Balance quick wins with investments or initiatives that will take several years. If you are like me, you inherited challenges that took years to create. You cannot expect to solve them overnight.

Build out a plan, communicate your plan, communicate your plan, and communicate your plan. The areas of focus we discussed above are the same areas of focus 3 years ago, what is different are the initiatives that drive further maturity. Use multiple forms for that communication (Town Halls, Blogs, small employee meetings–I use “Breakfast with Brian”).

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