Since June 2012, when American Water vice president and CIO Mark Smith handed her the new responsibilities, Thomas has been working her way through a five-step process to put together a model for the role, starting with a "listening tour" to collect feedback from both the ITS group and multiple business partners -- no small task in the large, geographically dispersed company. "There are a lot of stakeholders," Thomas observes. The next phase is to prioritize that feedback and "zero in our energies" on IT investments with the biggest payback for the business side.
What she brings to the table: Thomas sees her main contribution as being a conduit between business units and IT. "It's a translator role," she says. "I build relationships and credibility for IT from the ground up." She does that by going out of her way to drill down for a deep understanding of what the business needs and how IT can help. "IT folks need to have a very solid understanding of their core business," she says. "Wherever I've worked, I've always initiated my own rotational job-shadowing efforts so I can understand what the business is going through day to day. I'm a big believer in walking a mile in the end user's shoes."
Her vision for IT: "Honestly, I think what IT in general needs to do is less. In order to do more for our business folks, we need to do less of that traditional IT thing where you're heads-down working furiously on a project, but you're isolated from the business," says Thomas. That approach is what gave IT a reputation for being nonresponsive, hard to find and spread too thin. The solution, she says, is less keeping the lights on and more strategic partnerships. "Users today are tech-savvy. They can figure most things out for themselves" -- leaving IT free to focus on business relationships and "zero in on mission-critical tech initiatives that add value."
Joe Donnici, 42
Vice president, core IT, Quintiles, Durham, N.C.
What he does: Donnici is in charge of all core IT functions at Quintiles, a tall order at the tech-heavy, data-centric company, which specializes in biopharmaceutical and health sciences analytics. Donnici's group of about 300 staffers and 100 contractors oversees infrastructure, data center, security, storage and application delivery to Quintiles' 27,000 employees worldwide.
What he brings to the table: A business-centric perspective and a calm attitude -- both of which Donnici believes are crucial for today's tech leader.
"That business perspective is the most important thing for IT -- understanding the organization and where our solutions fit their needs in terms of cost and value," he says. "I started out on the business side" -- he has a degree in business administration and finance -- "but I've done the technical work too. That perspective is extremely important in figuring out what IT needs to deliver back to the business."
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