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How leading CIOs tackle business disruption

Clint Boulton | Sept. 16, 2016
CIOs share their advice for dealing with corporate upheaval in its many forms, including both intentional and unforeseen events.

Southwest Airlines CIO Randy Sloan remained in the airline's Dallas headquarters for nearly 40 hours last in July, as he and his team scrambled to find the technical problems that grounded 2,300 flights. Hunkering down, checking IT systems and strategizing in office war rooms for hours isn't ideal for any employee, let alone the IT chief.

Southwest Airlines CIO Randy Sloan

Southwest Airlines CIO Randy Sloan.

Showing personal fortitude in the face of a crisis sets an example for the rank-and-file employees, said Sloan, speaking on a panel about business disruption, at CIO 100 conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif. last month. Sloan stressed the importance of communicating to create clarity and consensus. "Your team needs to see that you're going to be in the trenches with them.”

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The culprit that led Southwest to cancel flights was a faulty network router whose back-up systems failed. Sloan declined to provide additional details about the outage though the event helped crystallize his thoughts on corporate surprises. In an era where IT is increasingly called upon to shape and drive business agenda, CIOs today are dealing with both planned and unplanned disruption.

The many forms of business disruption

"Upheaval comes in all forms and shapes," Sloan told an audience of his peers. Some of it can be intentional, as he learned when as the CIO of PepsiCo the leadership team decided to add healthier alternatives to soda and salty snacks. Other disruptions comes out of left field, such as unplanned outages and the 9-11 disaster, which forced significant changes across the airline industry processes.

"What I've learned in all of those critical experiences is that you have to be light on your feet, you have to be agile," Sloan said.

Mike Benson, former CIO of AT&T Entertainment.

Mike Benson, former CIO of AT&T Entertainment.

Communication in the face of business disruption of any kind is essential -- even when you don't know the answers to the questions your employees may have, said Mike Benson, the retired CIO of AT&T Entertainment. Benson, who was working as the CIO of DirecTV before AT&T bought it in 2014, says that he thought he would have the chance to hash out IT particulars after the deal was announced. He didn’t.

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Neither his DirecTV staff nor their counterparts at AT&T could certain details, such as market share numbers or subscriber growth. And when they did meet they were accompanied by their lawyers, an experience he likened to "dating with a chaperone."

 

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