When Trish Torizzo joined the learning company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as SVP & CIO, her first priority was to rebuild IT into an organization capable of driving digital transformation. Torizzo is the latest subject in our ongoing career series, How I Landed My CIO Job.

Steve Rovniak: Where were you working before you joined Houghton Mifflin Harcourt?

Trish Torizzo: I was Divisional CIO, Enterprise & Analytics at Charles River Laboratories. That role gave me an opportunity to do something I hadn’t done in the past, which was to develop an advanced analytics capability from the ground up. And since I aspired to an enterprise CIO position in the future, the divisional CIO role was a good step forward. I also had 11 years as International CIO at Boston Scientific on my resume.

Why type of CIO opportunity were you looking for?

I was looking for a transformation opportunity. What excites me is the chance to design and develop a new IT operating model that suits the needs of the company and enables what they are trying achieve strategically.

How did you prepare before your interviews?

Trish Torizzo, CIO, Houghton Mifflin HarcourtThe most valuable thing I did to prepare was listen to a recorded investor event. It was amazing as job interview preparation! Every member of the executive leadership team presented to investors on the call, so I learned all about HMH’s business cycles, their strategy and projections for revenues in the coming year. In fact, I listened to it about five times because I wanted to feel like I knew the CEO, the CFO... to get to know the members of the leadership team before I actually met them in person.

Then when I went in, I was able to dig right into the challenges and opportunities they were facing as a company, and feel comfortable with each leader I was meeting with. I think that gave Jack and the others I met the impression that I am someone who does my homework, and that I had a keen interest in how the business operates.

By Jack, you mean Jack Lynch, CEO of HMH?

Yes. In fact, my very first interview for this job was with Jack, to whom I now report. That amazed me at the time, and it set the tone for how the company perceived the importance of IT, and the role CIO.

During our discussion, it became clear that IT would need a redesign and rebuild so that HMH could achieve its objectives. My promise to him was that after three months, I would have a much better idea of the magnitude of the transformation, and a completed proposal for a new IT operating model.

What was your first month like?

By the end of the first week, I had completed a draft 90-day plan. I had also started meeting with all of my direct reports as well as my peers in an effort to build relationships, understand our challenges, and get an early read for quick wins.

Next, I visited our distribution centers, warehouses, reviewed processes and tools, listened in on customer service calls, met with sales and marketing, and went to Dublin to meet with employees who design HMH products. As I met everyone, I showed them the latest version of my 90-day plan. We discussed it, debated each section and continued to build it out. Everyone I met with had a hand in its development.

In parallel, over that time, I collected massive amounts of data about IT and the company.

What came next?

Month two was all about pulling together the data I had collected with what I had learned on the listening and learning tour to understand where the company was going – its aspirations. The company would be undergoing a transformation and I had to know exactly what that meant.

I worked hard to understand the gap between the existing IT operating model and the operating model the company needed to achieve its goals, and I started painting a clear picture of that. I created a deck that highlighted the inefficiencies and missed opportunities the data had revealed, and exactly where the current model didn’t square with where the company was heading.

Over these weeks, I worked intensely with my peers to repeatedly test the data and the story I was putting together about where we were, and where we needed to go.

In the third month I was designing the details of our new IT operating model. We started with a Vision and a Mission Statement which became our compass. The goal for our new IT operating model was to enable IT to be the lead organization driving digital transformation at HMH, so our approach was not to make adjustments to the current model, but to design it from scratch.

The new IT operating model covered 200 positions - every position in the new IT organization - and addressed job families, levels, titles, descriptions, and qualifications.

What is the headcount in IT?

IT has close to 200 employees, plus 100 resource in a managed services operation, and about two dozen contractors. There are another 30 positions currently open in the IT department.

Have you launched any major new technology initiatives?

We didn’t want to let a whole year go by with nothing but the IT re-org to show for it, so we pursued several initiatives of a manageable size. We were realistic about what we could take on while making huge organizational changes. We weren’t going to launch a 3-year SAP overhaul.

Can you give an example?

There was a big problem that I was hearing about everywhere and from everyone: the manual work that was still required across all areas of the business. Everywhere I was hearing, “There are too many manual steps that are slowing things down. Can you help us reduce the manual work?”

I sat down with our CFO, Joe Abbott, and asked him if he had ever heard of RPA - robotic process automation. It is becoming hugely popular in some companies. Then I started sharing some articles with the executive leadership team, and I talked to Jack about it. Both our CEO and CFO were extremely excited about the prospects of RPA, and signaled their full support. RPA has massive applicability for solving huge pain points without requiring a massive investment.

Have you implemented RPA?

Yes. We wanted to do it in a rapid way. We were determined from the start to set 'perfect' aside and to be fast, and prove this out for ourselves. I started a task team by grabbing a VP from finance, one from sales operations, another from supply chain, and one from my team. They introduced the concepts to the rest of us, showed some demos, and went through a fast vendor selection process. And last month we created our very first digital worker – a bot that is doing the work of four FTE’s on manual, repetitive, time consuming tasks. It frees our people up to focus on more complex work that they are needed for.

What work is the bot doing?

In the trade publishing part of the company, many people have to login to different websites to manually pull down sales report on each and every one of our books, then drop the data into our databases, like SAP and SalesForce. The Bot is removing a lot of that time-consuming manual work, which is what people were asking for on my listening tour.

Will you implement more bots?

Yes, but we are going to be smart and deliberate about it. As we find these opportunities, we will be working with the business functional leaders to set clear goals. For example, “If we build this bot, how is that going to affect Opex? What do we expect to happen to the expense line? If we remove manual steps from the workload of a team, how do we plan to deploy that new capacity? “

About Trish Torizzo

Trish Torizzo joined Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017 as the Chief Information Officer where she focuses on leveraging the company’s enterprise software solutions to streamline all internal operations. She started her technology career as a consultant with Accenture and went on to hold IT leadership positions at Boston Scientific, National Grid and Charles River Laboratories. In various Divisional and International CIO positions, Torizzo has built and led global organizations for the successful execution of large scale business transformations and integrations. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Central Florida.

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