Two years ago, Kevin Field was recruited to build IT from scratch for a new company, something he'd always dreamed of.

I had often thought that if there were no constraints, I’d love to start with a blank slate and rethink IT.  But then, reality would set in. In speaking with friends and colleagues, I realized that we all shared this same dream. 

Sometimes an unexpected opportunity presents itself.

Just under two years ago, I was recruited by a multi-billion dollar global enterprise to partner with key executives and build a new primary insurance company in New York. It was an exciting entrepreneurial opportunity – a chance to work hand-in-hand with the business leadership to build a new company and to build IT from scratch. I seized the opportunity!

Building a Technology Plan from a Blank Slate

So here I was on day one with the blank slate, and then I thought to myself, “Now what?”  

I got the ball rolling by creating a 30-60-90 day plan. Though this job was different from my former CIO position, there were enough similarities that I could borrow from the previous plan as a starting point. 

From the outset, I invested a lot of face time meeting with key stakeholders in both the new company and at its parent. I learned about the business, its goals, objectives, and critical success factors, as well as the customers and markets served and to be targeted at the new company. After a few weeks, I felt that I understood the vision and strategy, and had begun to develop relationships.

In terms of IT, there were many ways I could have approached it. I could have contemplated customer journeys, customer centricity, value chains, business operations, technologies and enablers (e.g. digital, cloud, mobile, social, big data, analytics, cognitive computing) and the list goes on.   

The “blank slate” needed structure. As I thought about the company, it made sense to keep the longer-term vision in mind, but to map the company’s evolution into a journey. Next, I set these guiding principles for myself:

  • Take a broad strategic view of the company. Look for solutions that, in addition to solving requirements, facilitate lean operations
  • Build strategic vendor partnerships
  • Rapidly deliver incremental value (Subscribe vs buy vs build, Speed-to-Market, Minimum Viable Product)
  • Position the company to scale

Now that I had a general framework with which to start, I thought about each stage and challenged myself to figure out how IT could add significant value, not just to this new company, but to its business partners. My thinking was that it would be good for our business if we help our business partners to be more profitable.

Building Stakeholder Buy-in

Resorting to my old trusted friend, PowerPoint, I created a handful of slides, each representing a different stage of the company’s journey, and how IT would add value to the business.

Next, to test my ideas, I presented the slides to several business stakeholders. During each of these presentations, we had good discussions and a few slides were tweaked. I felt it important for each stakeholder to have the opportunity to modify the presentation. This ensured that the company’s evolution and IT were on the right track and closely aligned from the beginning, and it gave each business leader an ownership stake in it.

What happened next came as a surprise. I was invited to present the deck to the president of the parent company. He heard of it through the SVP of Operations, who had attended my first session. The three of us had a great conversation and I knew I was on point. 

Because some stakeholders came from established companies utilizing traditional methods, I was concerned about how my proposal for using cloud, digital, self-service, data and analytics would be received. But after these presentations, the stakeholders, president and I shared a single strategic vision for business technology.

After the budgeting activity, I led a cross-functional strategic technology selection processes.  As I was looking for end-to-end solutions, two ‘point solution’ vendors agreed to cooperate and have their products work together. This will extend their functionality into the comprehensive solution I sought, and will save us time and money each year. Deals have been negotiated, contracts executed, and implementation is underway.

Advice for Leading Change

There may be times that you find yourself embarking upon new territory, as I did here.  Personally, I enjoy working outside of my comfort zone so it has been a wonderful learning experience. 

Whether starting from a blank slate or leading change and transformations (of which I’ve led several), there are a few things that I’ve done each time that I offer as recommendations: 

  • Develop a plan, framework and/or roadmap.
  • Invest in face time and in building relationships.
  • Immerse yourself in all aspects of the business. Understand their operations (or for a new company, the plan for future operations). Learn their language.  Identify low hanging fruit and begin to formulate ideas on how IT can add new value.
  • Tailor the message for each stakeholder. Speak in their language, from their point of view, and show them, "What’s in it for them" - clearly define and articulate value.
  • Share ownership. It provides for a better solution and helps earn stakeholder buy-in.
  • Remain flexible and keep a positive attitude. When presenting ideas, there may be recommendations from stakeholders that don’t align with your vision.  How you handle those situations, through both verbal and body language, are critically important.
  • And continuously communicate.

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