The latest subject of our series, 'How I Landed My CIO Job', is Steven Carter, CIO of CNX, an independent natural gas exploration, development and production company.
Steve Rovniak: Where were you employed prior to joining CNX as CIO?
Steven Carter: I was the first CIO of C&J Energy Services, an oilfield services company.
How did you hear about the CIO opportunity at CNX?
At the end of 2017 I had started to tap my network, and I had people keeping their ears to the ground about potential CIO jobs that may be right for me. I first heard about the role at CNX from a principal at a consulting company with whom I had a working relationship. I also saw a post about the job on LinkedIn.
Why did this CIO opportunity pique your interest?
Actually, my first reaction was that this may not be the right job for me. It was a much smaller company than I had in mind, and it wasn’t in the Houston area. But as I learned more about the company and the opportunity, I was excited by where the company was in its history, the people I met, and most significantly, the important role that CNX’s leadership felt technology could play in the future of the company.
What was CNX looking for in their new CIO?
The IT organization had developed into very much of a backoffice operation and wasn’t proactive about enabling the business. CNX was looking for a business executive who was also an IT leader – someone able to drive the IT organization back toward the business. They needed IT to become proactive partners with the business and enable a more user-centric approach. They wanted an IT organization that could transform its information systems and drive innovation.
And that was pretty much my professional brand. I know the energy business. I actually started my career as a petroleum engineer, so I am able to put myself in my customers’ shoes. I can empathize with end users because just a little while ago, I was an end user. I understand the urgency, and I can talk the language of the business, and most importantly, I can connect technology to business challenges and opportunities.
CNX Resources Corporation (NYSE: CNX, $1.5B) is one of the largest independent natural gas exploration, development and production companies, with operations centered in the major shale formations of the Appalachian basin. With the benefit of a more than 150-year legacy and a substantial asset base amassed over many generations, the company deploys an organic growth strategy focused on responsibly developing its resources in order to create long term value for its shareholders, employees and the communities where it operates. The company is a member of the Standard & Poor's Midcap 400 Index.
How did you prepare for your interviews at CNX?
I contacted people who had worked here, including some consultants, to help me understand the company and the culture, and see it in an objective light. I also spoke with contacts of mine at technology companies who serve companies like CNX to get smarter about some of the themes I felt would come up during interviews.
How did you prepare to start your new role?
I started laying the foundation for a First 100 Days plan before I even started the job. I have made several transitions during my career, so I had a framework to start with. Much of the early plan was focused on developing a clear understanding of the expectations people had for IT.
As I learned more and more and continued to develop the plan, I repeatedly reviewed it with my executive peers: “This is what I think you want from me. Is anything missing? Do you agree that this is what success looks like?” Once I had that down, it was a really good platform to start building on. I was also very transparent with my new team, sharing the plan – and early observations – so they could react and contribute.
Who do you report to?
When I joined CNX I reported to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), who also had legal, HR and procurement. This recently changed and now I report directly to the CEO. This is an acknowledgement that IT is an important part of our business and that the company has a focus on technology. Symbolically, it has been meaningful to the entire IT staff, who, after years in the “back room”, now see how critical their work is to the success of the company.
What is the headcount in IT?
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What did you focus on first?
I identified five priority areas where we would need to focus. This all came together in the early weeks.
- Make the ‘run’ organization hum – This includes reliability, security, cost management, continuous improvement, finding dollars for innovation, and improving service.
- Renovate the core – Simplify, reduce risk, improve the effectiveness of the IT environment, and take a platform approach rather than a collection of best of breed tools.
- Make data useful – There was a very strong desire here to leverage data for decision making, but to borrow our COO’s term, we were “data dark.” It wasn’t that we didn’t have the data, rather it was not readily available or visible.
- Build innovation capability – We had to think through how we would organize, staff and fund innovation. And we had to learn how to move fast, take small risks, and accept and learn from failure.
- People – We need to attract the right talent through our doors, provide opportunities for professional growth, training, and rotational programs, and help people see how meaningful their work really is.
What have these focus areas produced so far?
We have been able to enhance information security while more appropriately balancing risk and convenience to reduce the burden for security for users. This was a win because it demonstrated empathy toward our users.
On the simplicity front, we replaced our old WAN with a software-defined WAN, which has reduced costs and simplified support.
We have made a lot of progress with data, including a detailed road map, and we’ve added predictive analytics capabilities on our gas wells.
We also simplified our SAP system and finance structure to enhance understanding of business performance, and developed a new SAP roadmap. For the first time, we have a fully integrated SAP test environment, including all the other applications SAP touches. We went live last month with an updated SAP implementation that completely changes the way we manage financials and reporting, and will also be easier to work with.
What about the innovation capability?
We recently went live with an integrated real-time operations center that will become the heart of our gas-field operations. Its staffed with engineers, technicians and analysts who manage and optimize performance supported by real-time information, visualizations and analytics.
Using machine learning AI and edge computing, we are working with partners to improve our well operations, optimize pump parameters and predict well shut-in events in time to prevent them. This is very much an iterative, learning experience for us.
At the headquarters, we have started to invest in robotic process automation, or RPA, which can help us to be more efficient and free up time for more value adding work. .
One of the terms I coined here is “grow without scaling” – can we grow production without growing headcount by working smarter? RPA is part of that. I cannot share all of the details, but they are designed to automate highly transactional, repetitive tasks. We have completed a successful proof of concept and selected a vendor, and we will roll it out in 2019.
Another priority that you mentioned earlier is people. In this tight market, how do you attract and retain top IT talent?
I spent 20 years in Houston so I have dipped into that market and successfully brought some very talented people up here to Pennsylvania. I am actively getting involved in the local IT community here in the Pittsburgh area. For example, I am supporting an IT skills development organization as a mentor, and I joined the board of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. These are deliberate steps to build my network locally and for CNX to become more visible as a tech employer in this region. Participating in media opportunities such as this blog series helps get our name out there, and I am sending members of my team to conferences as participants and speakers.
We have to make it clear to people that we are doing some interesting things, that we have complex challenges, and we are working with really cool data. We have an opportunity for people to impact the future success of this business, which is something that plays well when you can get people to hear the message.
How do you know when your IT organization is succeeding?
The change in my reporting line from the CAO to the CEO is a pretty big indicator of success for the technology organization. Also, I have picked up new responsibilities recently that aren’t considered IT, a result of the halo effect from what we have accomplished so far.
Of course, you have those formal things, your classic metrics like whether projects are delivered on time and so forth. But there are things that are more important, I feel. When you find yourself in meetings that IT wasn’t invited to before, for example.
What advice do you have for an IT executive thinking about entering the job market?
Be really clear about “what you are selling” as an IT professional, and what it is “people are buying”. In other words, be clear about what your brand is, and what companies want. Some employers can be unsophisticated when it comes to hiring IT leaders. They have a sense that IT is broken or needs to improve, but they may not be particularly good at articulating what is needed to fix things.
Secondly, while you only have two ears, your network has hundreds. When you are in search of a new role, be as transparent as possible with people in your network about the change you are seeking in your situation, and that you need their help. Explicitly ask for help. I have been amazed at the results when I do this. For one of my previous jobs, as a result of networking I had done, my name was suggested to the company multiple times by different people. That creates an advantage ahead of even the first conversation.
About Steven CarterSteven Carter is VP, Information Systems & Technology, and CIO of CNX, an oil and gas exploration and production company based near Pittsburgh, PA. Prior to CNS, Carter was CIO of C&J Energy Services in Houston, TX. Earlier in his career, he was the CIO for the Western Hemisphere at BP. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in petroleum engineering from Royal School of Mines, Imperial College, London.