CIO Steve McManama: Why IT has to change how it recruits talent

This CIO says IT has to change how it recruits talent.

As an IT executive at a global company, Steve McManama says he's keenly aware of the need for an IT team that's not just talented, but diverse, too. McManama is vice president of global shared services and CIO at Covidien, a $10 billion global healthcare products maker. His tenure with the company dates back to 1981, and his other roles there include serving as the executive sponsor of Covidien's Women in Technology (WIT) program and sitting on the company's Executive Steering Committee of Diversity & Inclusion. Here McManama talks about the importance of diversity in IT and other topics crucial to CIOs today.

Why sponsor the Women in Technology program? I wanted to show Covidien's commitment to fostering a diverse workforce where everyone can reach their full potential. This is a global network, and we bring together employees across regions and across the globe. Having said that, it's a new network -- it's less than six months old. So right now it's awareness, what we can do, what we hope to do, what we're planning on doing.

And beyond that? What I hope to do is create a very level playing field in the area of recruiting from a diversity perspective and from a female perspective. And I hope in the next couple of years we do a better job at developing a much more diverse leadership organization within my IS organization.

Isn't it enough to have IT workers with strong tech and business skills? First off, people who work in my organization have to be technically skilled and competent. But it's equally important, if not more important, that they understand the business and can partner with the business. The technology world is moving fast, and the healthcare landscape is changing rapidly, and we need to [keep up]. A diverse organization is going to help us get there.

What are the biggest challenges to creating a diverse IT workforce today? The first challenge is finding the right talent, and we as an organization have had to reconsider how we approach recruiting and not rely just on what's worked in the past. Historically, IT organizations have hired to fill a specific need. We can't continue to do that to get the right talent. We also need people who have the talent and potential to grow versus just the specific technical skill we need. And once we're recruiting that talent, we have to ensure that they have the tools, resources and training to grow. We have to make talent development a priority within our organization more than we have in the past.

Does this view of recruiting ensure you get the diversity you want? What we're also doing is having a diverse slate of candidates through our recruiting process. That's something we've focused on in the past 12 to 24 months. You still end up hiring the right person for the job, but by looking at more than that technical need, we have seen a significant increase in more diverse hiring and people with higher potential.

You've had a lengthy tenure for a CIO. Does a long-serving CIO have advantages? A long-serving CIO does bring advantages. On a daily basis, he or she crosses over all areas of the business and needs to have a thorough understanding of the whole business.

But even though I've been with one company, we've transformed ourselves many times over. We've acquired many companies and divested many companies. I've had the opportunity to see how companies around the globe operate. So I think I have the benefit of both areas: being in one company for a long time and seeing many other companies.

What do you and other CIOs need to focus on in the upcoming years to ensure your organizations are competitive? We have to focus on getting information to the people immediately and getting it to them accurately and securely. That's not something we're used to. We're used to controlling information. People still want it accurate and secure, but they want it yesterday. That's a huge challenge for us, to provide for the ever-changing needs of our customer but keeping it secure and accurate .

Ever-changing needs -- how do you anticipate and prepare for those? I've hired some very good people and part of their jobs is to help me and the organization stay current, so I have individuals who are constantly doing the research with the organization regarding infrastructure, what's happening, what's changing.

What's your biggest technology initiative today? We're defining global processes and implementing an ERP system matching those global processes. We've actually traveled around the world to understand what the business processes are, what's needed and what's nice to have, and we're bringing it all together.

You also serve as a board member for the Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX). Does that make you a better CIO? All the medical device companies got together to form this organization. So I serve on that board with members of companies that we compete against. The main thing I've learned is not so much from a technology perspective, but I've learned about the [industry] as a whole. And to be a good CIO, to be a good executive at any company, you've got to understand who your customers are, who you're there to serve. [So through this] I've learned a lot more about what's important to the customer.

-- Interview by Computerworld contributing writer Mary K. Pratt (marykpratt@verizon.net).

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