Welcome to the inaugural issue of Flyover Future's weekly IT Strategy Report!
We are here to keep innovative business leaders like you informed on the latest trends in cybersecurity, data management, talent development, and other crucial tech topics driving innovation in middle America.
"You should strive to have IT treated just like any of the revenue divisions, by working with them the same way they work with each other." —Steve Brown, Vice-President of Information Technology, ECMD
IT STRATEGY REPORT
Connecting technology leaders in Flyover Country
Tech talent & breakout of support-only perceptions
Flyover U steps up to develop top tech talent
Eliminate tedious enterprise tasks
Cybersecurity in healthcare
Fast food, with a side of AI
Tech wins in Flyover Country
Test your nerd knowledge!
November 2, 2021
MEET A FLYOVER TECH LEADER
Building great IT teams and breakout of support-only perceptions
Steve Brown, Vice President, Information Technology of ECMD
Steve Brown became the Vice President, Information Technology of ECMD, a building materials supply chain company based in North Carolina, in 2001. He says he thinks the IT leadership door opened for him after he pulled a bad ERP implementation out of the fire. In January, Brown will be switching from full-time employee to an advisor for the next couple of years.
We spoke to Steve about team-building and his current focus of attention, succession planning.
Is team building more or less challenging for a mid-size business?
Brown: With a mid-size business, you have the needs of a multi-billion dollar company, but you don't have the resources or the manpower. The challenge is to do a lot of the same things, achieve the same amount of automation, standardization, and consistency that you need, but with a staff of maybe only 10 to 20 people.
What are the advantages with building a great team in flyover country?
Brown: Our location has actually worked to an advantage for me. If you hire somebody in this area, they tend to want to stay here. They want to raise a family, live in a place with lower taxes. And people don’t tend to job hop as much as they do in, say, Silicon Valley.
I interview specifically for our area and our company culture, and not strictly by certifications or resume details. To evaluate ability, we use a simple oral test of just a few open-ended technical questions. An unqualified candidate will not know the factual answer, or not even understand the reason for the question. The basically qualified candidate will answer factually, but minimally. The great candidate will answer more fully, showing interest, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the subject.
Once basic ability is established, I look for personality and culture fit with the rest of team, and for the company as a whole. We openly describe the pluses and minuses of our department and company personality and culture, partly as a sales technique, but also as a means to allow the candidate to self-disqualify if they realize we are not a good fit for them.
“If your IT team members understand how your business makes money, how it is positioned and differentiated within your industry, and what the company strategy is, then those members will be able to make better day-to-day micro decisions in so many situations."
— Steve Brown, ECMD
How did having a cohesive team make it easier for you during the pandemic?
Brown: The biggest thing for me was that my team was able to keep the company running smoothly despite the extreme, unprecedented challenges of a pandemic. Secondly, we were thereby able to validate that working from home was an option for our company, going forward. Our department had always had some degree of work flexibility, if nothing else to deal with off hours and constrained resources, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment for our team when most folks were sent home.
Aside from creating a great team, what should a CIO strive for in a company?
Brown: For a CIO in a midsize organization, one of the more important things is to develop a rapport with the business, to develop good everyday working relationships with the other department-division leaders. That means you should strive to have IT treated just like any of the revenue divisions, by working with them the same way they work with each other. IT should be an integral part of the business, like HR and Finance, and not be treated as just a low-value cost center within the company.
That’s not always an easy thing to attain.
Brown: It can be difficult, especially with companies that have grown from smaller companies. A lot of IT departments start out in smaller companies as just another ‘necessary evil.’ It’s hard to break out of the support-only perception. But in general, it's much easier today for a CIO to show the value of technology. It’s easier to show the value of what you can do even on a small scale, even if you're just talking about niche areas. You just have to break out of that perception box and develop relationships with your business colleagues, as well as build a great team.
One way to improve an IT team is to empower them with knowledge of the business itself. If your IT team members understand how your business makes money, how it is positioned and differentiated within your industry, and what the company strategy is, then those members will be able to make better day-to-day micro decisions in so many situations. They will always better understand context. They will feel part of a bigger effort, part of a true team, be thereby better motivated and engaged.
You will be leaving the company in a couple of years. What is your succession plan and how will you prepare your team for that?
Brown: A manager in a midsize company deals with a little more detail, typically, than one in a big enterprise. A midsize company, particularly one that's grown over the years and had significant growth, will have upper managers that are both tacticians and strategists. It’s a little harder for those who deal in detail to grow a second and third level of mid-management, from which to create bench strength. That means mid-sized leaders must put special effort into delegation, mentorship, and training.
Sometimes, you still will have to look outside for the right successor, though that comes with its own challenges. It can be very difficult to find the right cultural, skill, and viewpoint mix that will allow someone from the outside to fit your department and company, especially at a given point in time.
There’s also the issue of retaining institutional knowledge. It helps as a CIO to know what you’ve done in the past, why a certain technological or business decision was made. Once you know the original why, you can then evaluate whether it is still a good idea.
Ed. note: Here are some more helpful tips for recruiting top tech talent:
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Don't miss this must-read news about tech trends that will affect your IT strategy. Our Tech Trend Radar section covers topics such as cybersecurity, data management, , talent development, and more.
Flyover U steps up to develop top tech talent
Every company is a tech company. IT leaders have to manage existing talent but also depend on local universities to develop and nurture future tech talent.
The University of Michigan's Ross School of Business is an example of a university that’s stepping up its game. The school’s Business+Tech Initiative is offering innovative action-based learning and co-curricular experiences to equip students with tech knowledge and skills that they can utilize to make a positive impact in business and society.
If you’re in charge of data security in the healthcare industry, the Center for Internet Security, in partnership with Akamai, is offering the Malicious Domain Blocking and Reporting (MDBR) service at no cost to all public and private hospitals and related healthcare organizations in the United States.
Fast food, with a side of AI
Fast food franchise Wendy's, headquartered in Ohio, intends to leverage Google Cloud's data analytics, AI, machine learning, and hybrid cloud tools to create new ways customers can order food in the drive thru, on their mobile devices and through other touchpoints.
Wendy's isn't the only Flyover Country investing in AI and digital transformation. This year, Louisville-based YUM! Brands acquired Dragontail’s connected, intelligent, end-to-end AI-based solution that automates the kitchen flow, combined with the process of dispatching drivers. Great to see institutions stepping up to provide talent. We applaud the effort!
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KENTUCKY—The FCC is authorizing $554,150,641 million in its third round of funding for new broadband deployments through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, including initiatives in Kentucky. Together with two prior funding wave announcements, the commission has now announced over $1 billion in funding to winning bidders for new deployments.
TULSA, OK—Cybersecurity specifically accounts for 12.5% of all tech job postings in Tulsa over the past five years, and demand in Tulsa could grow as much as 38% in the next five years. Tulsa Innovation Labs has taken the first step towards establishing a Cyber & Analytics Skills Center (CAC), in partnership with Tulsa Community College and Oklahoma State University.
INDIANA—In less than three years, Indiana tech companies have raised more than $1 billion dollars. TechPoint's review of 2021’s third quarter shows no letting up on the record pace in capital raises that began late last year.
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