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Developing blended executives

Martha Heller | June 23, 2014
Marc Franciosa, CIO of Praxair, finds creative ways to grow his own.

These days, it is not enough for the IT organization to be "aligned" to the rest of the business; IT needs to go one step further and be integrated with its business partners. When IT is integrated, technology deployments and business process improvements are two sides of the same coin, each informing the other.

This is a wonderful concept, which makes great sense on paper. The challenge to IT/business integration, however, is tremendous, and it involves your most important asset, your people.   IT people continue to grow up in the IT organization, and business people grow up in the business.   These professionals know their discipline well (marketing systems OR supply chain processes OR network architecture OR compliance regulations) but that's all they know. 

We have built a culture of specialists, when what we need are what I call "blended executives": professionals with subject matter expertise both in a technology area and in a functional discipline or business process.   But here's the rub, companies are not growing these blended executives in any kind of consistent, programmatic way.  Some companies, mostly very large ones, do have rotational programs that send IT people into other functional areas and "business people" into IT, and those programs typically work great.  But the majority of companies, due to bureaucracy or culture or other priorities, do not. 

The CIOs of these companies need to find creative approaches to growing blended executives, or the "IT and the business" paradox will never go away.

The Dilemma
Marc Franciosa understands the need for blended executives. When he became CIO of Praxair, today a $12B industrial gases company, in 2010, both the business and the IT organization ran on a federated model with regional businesses making their own decisions about data centers, architecture, application development and IT strategy. "This approach let the regions be nimble, but it didn't allow us to replicate processes and drive global change," says Franciosa.  "If we had a best practice in a region, it was difficult even to recognize it as a best practice let alone scale it to our other regional businesses."

So, Franciosa "balanced" the regional vs. global focus  and created globalized IT functions around strategy, architecture, infrastructure, application development and program management with regional resources to build relationships between IT and the regions -- and to manage local vendors.

The new organizational model made good sense for Praxair, but having taken the majority of IT resources out of the businesses, Franciosa ran the risk of having a "technology focused" team too disconnected from the businesses it supports.  "When you're always focused on technology, and your team is busy running operations and designing architectures, they are not learning about the business," he says.  


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