Alex Federucci appeared on our November 1995 cover, when she was head of IT for major oil-patch player Talisman Energy. She’s now held that position for ten years – one of the longest tenures of any CIO that has been on our cover.
CIO Canada: Our 1995 cover story focussed the outsourcing of Talisman’s IS operations to Minerva Technology (now xwave). Looking back, how did that arrangement turn out?
Federucci: It worked out very well. We’ve renegotiated twice and have made some changes to the original arrangement. Over the years we’ve learned that different organizations have different core competencies, and we’ve moved to more of a best of breed model. We use xwave for infrastructure and the application support and maintenance has been awarded to RIS.
CIO Canada: At the time of our story, you were the sole remaining person in the IT organization. Is that still the case?
Federucci: No, we’ve changed that a little, and we’ve also adjusted what we view as core competencies. We now have a group of about 15 people, and we’ve moved two key functions inside. One is the architectural group. We now also have business analysts within our internal IT group; they’re the people that maintain the relationships and who understand our business as well. They’re the go-between between our outsource providers and our business.
CIO Canada: What have been your key IT undertakings at Talisman over recent years?
Federucci: Since the outsource we’ve become very much a global company, so there have been many challenges incorporating our offices internationally into our environment, while allowing them to meet the business needs in their jurisdictions. Talisman has also undergone tremendous growth, and pretty much on an annual basis we’ve been making some type of major acquisition. This has had a huge impact on IT. Incorporating the data and the systems from these new organizations into our own in a timely manner has become a core competency of ours. We are now able to incorporate these new environments very, very quickly. We have strong processes and procedures for doing that.
CIO Canada: What IT issues most keep you up at night?
Federucci: We need to continue to ensure that we’re being quite cost effective – that’s number one. Second would be ensuring that we are able to provide data on the desktop to the business when they need it – so the whole data management piece. Third would be security.
CIO Canada: Many CIOs change jobs every couple of years or so. How do you account for your decade-long tenure at Talisman?
Federucci: I think it’s due to the constant change at Talisman. We’ve grown so much over the years that the job continues to be challenging and interesting. As we continue to expand internationally, the job brings new challenges. It never becomes boring.
CIO Canada: Over the course of your career as a senior IT executive, what have been the most significant changes you’ve seen in the business?
Federucci: If I look back ten years ago, the impact of IT in organizations was very different than it is today. Back then, if the systems were down for a day the impact to the business wouldn’t have been traumatic. Today, that’s not the case. Technology is embedded in every aspect of the business – your e-mails, your communication, your information, your data. It’s very, very different.
Another major change has been the complexity. I look back with fondness now to the mainframe days. At the time it seemed complex but really it was very simple. Today, the complexity and the ongoing changes in IT make things very difficult. It’s hard to explain to the business how complex it’s become, and that’s unfortunate.
CIO Canada: What’s the biggest challenge facing the profession of CIO today?
Federucci: I think it’s continuing to adapt to the changes in the business and technology, and trying to continue to deliver cost-effective solutions to the business. Complexity, change, and cost would be the three words that come to mind.
CIO Canada: How do you see the role of CIO changing or evolving over the next several years?
Federucci: Strong business knowledge will continue to be very important, but understanding of technology is becoming more important. The CIO role has gone through some transitions over the years. Way back when, technical knowledge was very important, and then things changed and some organizations believed that they could move business people into senior IT roles. I think that’s changing again. The complexity of technology and the constant change requires a hybrid, someone who can understand both sides.
CIO Canada: What’s the most important thing CIOs should be doing to prepare for the future?
Federucci: There are two very important things. One is to continue to understand the value that technology can add to the business and not get caught up in the hype. At the same time CIOs must understand the business really well to ensure that leveraging technology is done appropriately.
At the time we interviewed CIO Phil Cutter for our October 1999 cover, his company, Toronto-based fashion firm Danier Leather, was about to seriously upgrade its Web site, turning it into one of the most advanced retail sites in Canada. The enhanced version, which used seven software-controlled cameras that enabled customers to browse the head-office store in real time, was a success and the site is now better than ever. Meanwhile, Phil and Danier still fit like a tailor-made glove.
CIO Canada: When we wrote our cover story, you were just getting up and running with your enhanced Web site. How did it go over with Danier’s customers?
Cutter: It was a huge success. The cameras are constantly being used by our customers; in fact some customers phone in and ask for garments to be held up to the camera. We have instances where the customer is speaking to the call centre downstairs, while the garment is being shown to them, or even tried on, in the store.
We now also use cameras in our two US locations, not for the public’s use but to help us keep in touch and communicate with the stores. We can take a look at traffic, at displays, and things of that nature. The question now becomes how much farther do we want to go with this; what are the costs going to be?
CIO Canada: In what other ways has the Web site evolved since we last spoke?
Cutter: It is certainly a much different site than it was in the beginning. It’s much more dynamic, the updates are much more frequent, the garments and goods that are on it are more current than they were before, and the increase in our accessories business is also reflected in the site.
CIO Canada: With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything that you would have done differently in putting the site up?
Cutter: From a purely selfish perspective, I’d like to have had a bigger announcement, a bigger push about its capabilities. In order to do that properly, I also wish broadband had moved as fast as they said it was going to. We really need broadband to get to the stage where it is as reliable as voice phones. I can do a lot of things in a store if I can just get that to be faster and cost effective.
CIO Canada: What have been your key IT undertakings at Danier since you appeared on our cover?
Cutter: All the stores are now networked; there is an intranet infrastructure in place for all 97 stores. This improves all the electronic communication to the stores – things like newsletters, visual displays and messaging can be done through the intranet. And we also have the capability for a whole bunch of things that haven’t even been thought of yet – users will drive that. We’ve also replaced all of the legacy systems with new SQL server-based versions. We’ve now done merchandizing, production, warehousing, and finance. The next steps are to move towards the store systems. We’re going to look at point of sale in the next couple of years.
CIO Canada: What is the IT issue that most keeps you up at night?
Cutter: Total integration, including overseas. We’re a wholesaler/manufacturer, so we’re vertically integrated. I want integration from the time that somebody thinks of a design to the time it’s put into the customer’s hand. I want it to be as seamless as possible, and I want that information available to everybody. Is that keeping me up nights? Sure it is, because what we’re doing now is moving the production system to make sure it integrates with the merchandizing system, to make sure it integrates with the financial system, to make sure it integrates with the logistics and the warehousing system. Those are the things that I’m struggling with and will continue to struggle with, until the process becomes as seamless as possible.
CIO Canada: What’s the biggest challenge facing the profession of CIO today?
Cutter: I believe that it’s costs – doing more with less. You’ve got to get as much productivity as you can out of what you have; you’ve got to be much more ROI sensitive than probably ever before. And I think it’s a fine line between the bleeding edge and the leading edge. There are mistakes being made when people jump too quickly on the latest thing. And I also think a very significant challenge is going to be making sure you have good partnerships with the right vendors, because they come and go.
CIO Canada: What’s the most important thing CIOs should be doing to prepare for the future?
Cutter: This is hardly groundbreaking but I believe that CIOs have got to be more than just technology guys. They’ve got to really understand all the fundamental basics of their business, whether it’s finance, communications, marketing, the overall understanding of the business environment and the latest, and I emphasize latest, business management techniques. On a personal level, I’m upgrading my skills by taking an Executive MBA with the Ivey School of Business. The good news is that it’s reinforced that in many areas I’ve made the right decisions. In other areas, it has broadened my understanding of different departments which I hope will be useful in future decision-making. I highly recommend Ivey if you want to see the most current issues facing businesses today.
Our May 1998 cover story, “Putting SAP on the Fast Track”, chronicled the efforts of CIO Andy Woyzbun and the IS organization at AT&T Canada, Long Distance Services, as they undertook the broadest-scoped Accelerated SAP implementation in Canada, accomplishing in nine months what would normally have taken fifteen. Since that time Andy has been on a bit of a fast track himself, moving to a telecom start-up and then to a business services firm.
CIO Canada: Your Accelerated SAP project cut about six months off your SAP implementation. At the time that we wrote the article, the project was deemed a success. How do you view that project now?
Woyzbun: I still view it as a success from the perspective of the factors that we identified that were key in delivering the project: not deviating significantly from the inherent capabilities of the package; having the project perceived as a business transformation project and not as a technology project; and working within a well understood project plan, which was where ASAP came in. And those three fundamentals have worked well for me in other situations since then, so I think that the lessons learned have stayed with me.
CIO Canada: How long did you remain at AT&T, Long Distance Services and where has your career taken you since?
Woyzbun: I was with them until February of ’99, and was one of the fatalities of the merger with MetroNet. Then I joined a start-up telecom company called C1, where in addition to taking responsibility for technology as CIO, I was also in charge of facilities and human resources. The challenge that I took on, which we actually did well with, was to build up the company from a handful of people to about 500 employees (my HR role), and we opened up offices from coast to coast (my facilities role). Unfortunately, as was the case with many telecom start-ups, we didn’t make it, so in June of 2001 I joined ADP, where I am now the CIO.
CIO Canada: With regard to your present job, what’s the issue that most keeps you up at night?
Woyzbun : Flexibility of the development team. The comfort zone for typical developers is working within fairly long-term visions of the future, predictable resources, and work plans that have sufficient contingency in them to deal with unexpected things – basically a cautious, conservative approach. The world is not like that any more and it’s certainly less like that for ADP than it was. And it’s tough for people to adapt their project mindset to being flexible.
CIO Canada: Over the course of your career as a senior IT executive, what have been the most significant changes in the roles and responsibilities of the CIO?
Woyzbun: Probably the most significant change, and I don’t know whether it’s just a question of my personal circumstances or whether it’s a generic change, is that CIOs are becoming much more a natural part of the senior management team. They’re no longer relegated to being consulted only on technology matters; they are invited to say as much about the running of the business as the CFO or the chief sales person. So that to me would be the biggest thing. And it puts pressure on CIOs, especially if they come from technology roots, to work very, very hard to develop credibility as business leaders.
CIO Canada: What is the biggest challenge facing the profession of CIO today?
Woyzbun: I think the challenge really is that we still don’t have a very good track record of guaranteeing project success. And even those of us with a pretty good track record have difficulties demonstrating the full business benefit of all of the investments that we’re making.
I also think that for the first time the demand for CIOs is actually probably lower than the supply. Before, most of us figured that if we were reasonably competent we could continue to be employed in the industry. I’m not sure that that’s true any more.
CIO Canada: How do you see the profession changing or evolving over the next several years?
Woyzbun: I think that we still have almost two solitudes here: the people who understand the business problem – call them analysts if you like – and the people who are conversant with the newest technologies, the pure developers. What we really need to do is to develop more people who are comfortable in both roles.
CIO Canada: What’s the most important thing CIOs should be doing now to prepare for the future?
Woyzbun: Not to be too flippant, but I think that the reality is that probably most of our careers are going to be longer than we expected them to be. And, therefore, we have to keep refreshing our skill sets and not falling into the trap of saying, “Well, I’ve been in this business for thirty some-odd years and therefore there’s not much new that I need to learn.” That’s not true.
“Getting off the IS Pendulum” was the title of CIO Canada’s May 1995 cover feature, highlighting Doron Cohen’s efforts at taming a problem faced by a great many CIOs – striking a balance between the centralized and the decentralized IS function. The long-time CIO of TransCanada Pipelines has moved on to other career opportunities, including a stint with Gartner, but he’s still working on the IS model he developed in the mid-nineties.
CIO Canada: How do you now view the IS model you developed at TransCanada Pipelines? With the benefit of hindsight, was it a continuing success?
Cohen: Interesting question, because since then a lot of water has passed down the river. The model has the flexibility in it to adapt itself to company-specific requirements. The balance, the trade-off, between the various degrees of centralization is the key.
The model has been much improved, based on my real-life learning. I’m more than half way through implementing a similar but much more enhanced version of it at Canada Life. Being a financial services company versus an energy company, the parameters are substantially different. But the beauty of the model is that it recognizes the requirements of the specific industry. I cannot talk about how far we’ll go with the model because we were sold recently. We are now moving towards becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Great West. So I cannot predict the future.
CIO Canada: How long did you remain at TransCanada Pipelines and what have you been doing since?
Cohen: I left in 1998, and was a director of research at Gartner Group from 1999 to early 2001. While I was there I was able, amongst other things, to formalize my thinking. This was a great opportunity because when you are hands-on managing things, the chance to step back and look at the conceptual side is usually limited. By this time I thought that I would never be a CIO again. I had been CIO at TransCanada for 12 years, and spent a total 20 years as head of the IT unit – and enough is enough. But Canada Life came along and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. And lo and behold, I’m a CIO again.
CIO Canada: What is the IT issue that most keeps you up at night at Canada Life?
Cohen: At the moment it’s integration with Great West. If you’d asked me the question a couple of months ago, my answer would have been focussed around how to change the culture of a huge IT organization – the one here at Canada Life is much bigger than the one I had at TransCanada. Another focus has been around a new kind of sourcing arrangement we pioneered with IBM and our software vendor Genelco. I was in the process of extending the same concept, which I call business-outcome based, to our other business areas.
CIO Canada: What does it take to succeed in the profession of CIO?
Cohen: The secret of longevity for the CIO is to always change. You cannot be a one-trick pony. One-trick pony CIOs join the unemployment lines. You cannot repeat yourself – that’s the message. You cannot become stagnant. The solution that worked for you two years ago will not work now. You must always innovate; always challenge the status quo.
Contrary to popular misconception, technology excellence is not what makes a good CIO. The business impact of everything you do is the key. The challenge for the profession, if you call it such, is to evolve and become more integrated with the business of your specific company, and to recognize that your company is different. There are not going to be “out of the can” answers.
CIO Canada: What is the most important thing CIOs should be doing now to prepare for the future?
Cohen: Understand the business, the industry, that you are in, and the business imperatives of your company. Be a CIO, be an IT techie; but understand how it translates to your industry and the strategic business imperatives of your company. So many CIOs, after years of talking about alignment, still do not understand the main imperatives of their business and how this translates to IT actions. In designing projects, in managing projects, in prioritizing efforts – from infrastructure all the way to Web enablement – people were not thinking business outcomes. If I do this, what is the business going to get out of it? It’s very hard for the CIO to let go of IT excellence, but it must take second place to business excellence.
David Carey is a veteran journalist specializing in information technology and IT management. Based in Toronto, he is managing editor of CIO Canada.