The Internet of Things figures into this IT leader's five-year plan

When Chris LeBeau stepped into the top IT position at Peoria, Ill.-based Advanced Technology Services (ATS) nearly two years ago, he formulated a clear objective for the IT division: putting the right technology tools and capabilities into the hands of the company's 3,000 employees to help them be more efficient and effective.

LeBeau, who joined ATS in early 2010 as director of shared services, acknowledges that delivering on such a broad vision takes a multipronged strategy that addresses specific needs. To meet that objective, he's drawing on his past experience and his expectations of the future capabilities of IT tools. Here, ATS's IT director shares his ideas on how to achieve success in IT.

What's the biggest pain point in your IT operations right now?

Like most companies, you buy systems and live with them for a long time. There are a couple of things we'd like to move away from. [For example,] we have an older work-order system that we use for key parts of the business. It's on a mainframe, and we want to move away from that system and move it into other systems we have that are more modern. It's a lot of business architecture work so we can migrate people and train them and shut those old tools down.

Systems were only meant to be used for so long, and the longer that goes on for any system, the more nervous you get. I don't think that's uncommon.

What's the next big project you plan to tackle?

To improve, you have to continually look at what you're doing and ask if you're doing enough or if you can do more. My job is to listen to the folks who are supporting the customers and to help them. So [deploying] easier tools is one thing. You take what you have and make them simpler. But then you have to ask: What else can you bring in to improve? You hear about the Internet of Things -- things all communicating back to some central network to give you visibility. That's really where we're looking.

What would the Internet of Things mean for your IT department?

It changes the network aspect: What are the networking considerations, like bandwidth and security? The data coming off these [networks] would be significant, so how would you process and store that? You need to think about categorizing, correlating, giving it context and meaning so it's not just data but information you can make decisions from.

How close are you to capitalizing on the Internet of Things?

It's definitely in our five-year window. We're doing the initial work to understand the benefit, what the level of effort would be to implement and operate it, and how we will prove that benefit out.

The word efficiency frequently comes up when reading about your company. How do you identify areas where IT can add efficiencies?

We have a business architecture team that's responsible for understanding what the business is trying to accomplish, what their goals are, how they do it. Behind that, we have a systems architect group that takes those business requirements and tries to understand how to implement the tools, how we can consolidate applications.

That's what our collective mission is: to understand what the business needs and put in efficient and intuitive systems.

Companies acquire a lot of applications over time, so [we ask]: How do you simplify them? How do you consolidate them? How do we create an environment that's intuitive for our users so they find what they need the first time? That's what our collective mission is: to understand what the business needs and put in efficient and intuitive systems.

What has been your biggest accomplishment since becoming CIO at ATS?

The reorganization of the team. We reorganized to do a couple of things: change to a business-focused conversation instead of an IT-focused one, do good system design behind that and put out new functionality to support business objectives. Taking a more modern approach is starting to pay dividends.

What's the ROI?

The business feels they're being listened to, and they see results.

How did you get buy-in for the reorganization?

By architecting an organization that would meet the challenges within the company and communicating why it was important, why a change made sense and then why it would yield different results. A lot of it was a communications campaign, to be quite honest.

How did you make that an effective campaign?

We have regular meetings with senior leadership. And then, as you navigate projects and conversations, you take the opportunity to make sure they understand what you're talking about and how it will benefit them. You have to sell it. You have to evangelize.

Your company says it aggressively seeks to hire veterans. What unique benefits do military people bring to IT?

I have several former Navy and Air Force personnel in my group. And from my own personal experience, there's a level of maturity in terms of operating within an organization. There's a sense of mission and a sense of duty. There's an understanding that accomplishment matters. And veterans are objective-oriented.

This story, "The Internet of Things figures into this IT leader's five-year plan" was originally published by Computerworld .

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