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The art of maintaining business buy-in

Brian P. Watson | June 6, 2017
IT leaders must consistently demonstrate value and hone C-Suite relationships to maintain buy-in for key initiatives — an increasingly difficult challenge in an era when speed trumps all.

During his 12 years as CIO of Union Pacific, Lynden Tennison has seen these trends accelerate. 

In addition to a number of new, agile-focused initiatives, Tennison’s organization is also busy rebuilding the $19.9 billion railroad company’s core transportation-management system. The multiyear program, called “NetControl,” was projected to cost about $200 million.

Tennison and his C-suite colleagues agreed that the new system needed to be built over the existing platform, which had been built decades before on millions of lines of assembler code, to prevent any disruption in operations. But the new system would be rolled out in discrete deliverables.

tennison lynden dsc0148 5x7 
Lynden Tennison, CIO of Union Pacific. Credit: Union Pacific

“If all you’re doing are big-bang rollouts, that seems like a good way of dying,” said Lynden Tennison, CIO of Union Pacific. “You’ve got to give incremental value along the way. And it needs to refresh along the way.”

It was a big bet, Tennison said, and the buy-in he got from his executive peers would require significant care and feeding along the way.

Tennison already had a considerable amount of credibility in the C-suite, due to his organization’s track record of building innovative solutions for the company (several of which have been commercialized and sold to competitors), as well as his past success in partnering with operations, building a strong bench and demonstrating value through key improvement metrics.

But he knew that the long effort would constantly test that credibility.

To preserve the enthusiasm for NetControl, Tennison set up a structured cadence of meetings and updates with various stakeholders, including the CEO and his fellow functional executives. They would often hear the latest on the project in weekly senior-staff and operating committee meetings, monthly operations/technology team meetings, and various one-on-ones with fellow C-suite leaders.

And as of July 2013, they started hearing how the project was actually cash-flowing more per year than was being spent on it.

For Tennison, the constant updates have been a key part of NetControl’s success. “Proactively ensuring that those communications are occurring and getting in front of everybody is important,” Tennison said. “Most IT people think they don’t need to blow their horn or sell or celebrate their successes — yet, you have to celebrate those successes so that you show you are delivering.”


Delivering on digital

Carman Wenkoff, CIO and Chief Digital Officer for Subway, acknowledges that maintaining buy-in is no easy task, even when IT organizations are delivering value at a faster pace than ever before.

Carman Wenkoff, CIO and CDO of Subway 
Carman Wenkoff, CIO and Chief Digital Officer of Subway. Credit: Subway


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