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The Grill: Cynthia Nustad creates a culture of transparency

Mary K. Pratt | Sept. 10, 2013
This CIO builds executive trust by combining honesty with accountability

What's been your biggest technology initiative? We've had two huge ones so far. One of them was our data center consolidation and modernization, so we have a platform that's highly flexible and scalable for our high growth, and our next-generation big data analytics. Since we are a company whose entire foundation of products and services is built on data, we engineered our future state with some very key technologies. Both have been done in the last two years, both were millions of dollars in investments. The challenges? Certainly keeping your initiatives alive while keeping the company's lights on and doors open and operational. But these two strategic initiatives were very well communicated to our executive management, we had a lot of buy-in on the process and expectations, and therefore the successes that came out of it. We had a very engaged management team, so they knew what our statuses were all along and what to expect from us.

What's your biggest initiative moving forward? One is project innovation. We are in an emerging field, and the more we lead the field in our data analytics, the better we'll serve our clients at large and our company. Second is keeping up with our growth, so making sure we have a scalable human infrastructure as well as technology and process infrastructure.

How do you get value from your core IT services? One thing that's a key priority for me is that the executive team, including some members of our board, has a very educated understanding as to what we're doing. I make sure that I take the veil of secrecy off IT and that [investments are] communicated at a level that anyone can understand what we're doing.

There are key things we do to make sure of that. We use our annual IT vision maps. It's a visual image of the journey we're taking as an IT team that year and what goals and objectives we put forth, and some key milestones the business can recognize as we achieve them. [We also] communicate our IT investments in a portfolio manner. Just like you would be managing your 401(k), you might fine-tune that portfolio. We explain our IT budgets in that manner and how you might want to move investments around.

What's the value in doing that? It's a chance for them to help select. One of the key values here is I don't hide any [items] in the IT budget, they're all transparent and exposed. As a CIO, you going to have risk putting them out there but you have tremendous reward in what gets funded.

What's the reward? Their vote, their courage for funding these specific initiatives, their buy-in and their involvement. And when executives have a voice in clear goals, there's a higher chance for success.


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