Scott Howitt has held multiple executive roles including CTO, CIO and CISO during his 35-year career. He is now chief digital officer at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), where he draws on the full range of his experiences to drive transformation.

Mary K. Pratt: Your role as CDO seems quite expansive. What does it entail?

1621519012482Scott Howitt: I lead IT, data, risk, and security. I was brought on board to unify these functions, which were all working in pillars, but are all intricately tied in with each other. My job was to get them to work in harmony instead of as four different teams.

Have you seen other CDO roles with all these responsibilities?

It’s a little bit unique to this organization. Often, when you see an organization going through transformation, like UKG is in bringing two companies together and transforming it into one, you often see the CDO role. The traditional CIO role wasn’t known as an innovator, you are seeing the CDO often pop up as a transformation leader.

What appealed to you about this role?

I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had the ability to be a CIO, CTO and CISO, so having a role where I get to merge those together and work in harmony is a lot of fun. I like bringing people together.

What’s your strategy for bringing people together and motivating teams?

It goes back to teaching. It is hard for people to see how sometimes the teams all relate to each other. For example, right now I’m trying to get people to understand that my process team and my data team need to get together with the application team before we go to build whatever it is we need to build, because those first two teams understand the data and process needs better than the developers. And, by the way, you’re going to have to sneak in the CISO at some point because he will have to look at security as a part of the process.

I also talk to my team about being vulnerable with each other, because if you can’t be vulnerable, then you’ll never learn to trust each other. If we admit our weaknesses and lean on each other to shore up those weaknesses, we will have much better result; the teams will be happier, too. I’ve never had a team where over time, employee satisfaction didn’t go up, because everyone is working toward a common mission that is bigger than just their department.

Going back to the expansiveness of your current role. Is this a trend in IT leadership? Does it suggest a change in the CIO position?

I say the CIO should be chief innovation officer, not chief information officer. But I don’t think the title matters; that’s just semantics. What’s important is how you are going to lead a transformation. You’ve got to be the innovator, not just the person who keeps the tech running.

Speaking of titles, you’ve been a CISO as well as a CIO. Why did you decide to lead security?

I had been CIO of a smaller company, and I realized I didn’t know anything about security; I figured if I want to be a CIO at a Fortune 500 company, I probably should learn security. So I went over to the security realm and fell in love with it and stayed in security for 15 years.

What did that experience teach you?

Having been in both roles gives me an understanding of why the relationship between the CIO and the CISO so often is conflicted. I’ve seen research that says about 70 percent of CISOs feel like they have a contentious relationship with the CIO. The CIO and CISO bring complementary strengths, and if they leaned on each other a little bit more, and built a stronger relationship, they could bring more value to the organization.

How should CIOs build a stronger relationship with their CISOs?

Join your CISO at their next off-or conference and see what subjects they’re talking about.

What else can CIOs learn from CISOs?

CISOs have realized, more so than CIOs, that security is a team sport, so they network very well and they share their experiences.

I have a huge network of people I can learn from, and so whenever I get stumped on the subject, I think, “Who’s already been through this before?” And I give them a call and download information from them.

 

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How did you build your network?

I started speaking at conferences and sharing my experiences to get over my fear of doing it. My advice is to just get involved. What you’ll find is your peers are nice and they’re not very judgmental. And you’ll learn a lot from them. This industry changes so rapidly, and no one has written the definitive book about where technology is going, so, you’ll have to have to gather experiences from those around you. The more you progress in your career, the more you will rely on your network of people, because you will be out front of your business paving the path ahead.

What do you see as the top challenge of being an IT executive today?

Making sure you really understand what makes your business tick and then bringing innovation into the organization. It’s being able to say, “I know your business, so let me talk about some things that we could do with technology that would make it even more efficient or generate more revenue.” If you can make sales grow faster or make expenses shrink, you’re going to be a key stakeholder at the table.

You’ve said that you enjoy spending time with customers. Tell me a little bit more about that.

I really got into it more when I was in the hospitality and casino space because sometimes my security team would say, “We should make people do this.” And I’d say, “Let’s go walk the casino floor,” so they could see that people were there to have fun and that we needed to figure out how to make it easier – not harder – for them to do that. It is really about sitting with the customer and listening to their pain points and understanding how they’re interacting with you.

Anything else you want to share with other CIOs?

Find your mentors. And don’t find just one; find about 30. Some will help you with presentations, some will help you with technologies, some will help you keep your sanity. I would never be where I am today if I didn’t have a lot of people who were willing to make time for me and help guide me. And then, when you arrive, you pay it forward to the people who are coming up behind you.

 

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