Kimberly Stevenson, a corporate vice president and CIO at Intel, has spent her professional career immersed in technology, working for some of the world's most recognized technology companies. Not surprisingly, she's a vocal champion for IT and how it will transform business and society. "I love to see all this disruption coming in all different industries, and it's all coming from IT," says Stevenson, one of four finalists for the 2013 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award. She shares her ideas on running an IT department, the power of technology and the importance of technologists.
How did you approach your first two years on the job? I came from within the organization, so I had a good bead on what the organization was. It was a well-run IT organization, so when you take on a new challenge, you say: "How am I going to take this well-run team and make it better?" That's the approach I took in the context of the changing business at Intel. The first thing I said is that social networking is going to be one of the strategy thrusts we had. I thought a few years ago that it will change how enterprises communicate and collaborate, and if IT wasn't leading, then the organization won't change. I championed it as a catalyst for change.
Second, I believed in the strategy I inherited because I was part of the team that developed it, but I had to look at how to refine it and how could I elevate the team to add more value. So we simplified the goals to a few high-impacting things, and we put a focus on building the right culture and added definitions around possibility thinking, risk taking, putting the customers at the center of what we did and acting as one IT. So we shifted the tide from what IT is capable of doing to learning what our customers need and figuring out how to do it by taking some risks. And then we created around these things some visible symbols to reinforce the culture. We changed what got rewarded and recognitions; we aligned them around the priorities we were trying to achieve.
What are your top one or two priorities? It helps to understand the context of Intel, which is in the midst of a transformation. There are a couple of things at the core of that. First, we have to get products to market more quickly and the types of products we're making are changing, so a priority is to help that cycle time of getting our products to market. We have many components of how we're going to do that. It ranges from using big data and advanced analytics, to doing another turn on our innovation relative to doing a more enhanced cloud version, to some application development tools.
The second one is that IT helps the company grow revenue, and we have a number of projects around that -- [such as a project to increase] field sales productivity. We have an outbound call center, and we use advanced analytics to design how that call center should operate. We're also using collaboration in the field, where we're collaborating directly with our customers to drive overall field sales productivity.
The third is about improving the operational performance of the company, so we're driving across the company a number of initiatives that help us get more efficient.
Those are the three big priorities moving forward, and there are a number of IT initiatives that nest under that.
You have tweeted stories on girls and women in technology. What's your take on addressing the issue? There isn't a silver bullet. A whole pipeline of things have to happen. You have to keep girls in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] areas. We have research that says if you educate a girl, you can change the economics of the entire family and society. So we're interested in educating girls, particularly in the STEM area. Then you have to keep them in through the university programs.
We also did some research that said that girls don't appreciate what an engineering career could be for them. They tend to think that engineering is like a train engineer or a maintenance engineer. But when you have the opportunity to explain what a career in engineering is and the income potential, you can change girls' minds about pursuing a career in the field of engineering. So we have to promote the profession in a way that's educating all kids, but girls in particular.
How did you get into the technology field? I was the first in my family to ever graduate from college. I grew up outside of Detroit in the '70s. I graduated from high school in 1980, and there were no jobs. The only reason my parents agreed to let me go to college was to get a job. I ended up interning at IBM, and I learned to program because I had a huge amount of work and it was all manual. I worked a lot of late hours, and I wanted to go out. So I learned to program so I could automate a lot of the work. I was self-motivated, but maybe not for the right reason.
What kept you in IT? My defining moment was a few jobs later when IBM was working on what we thought was going to be the first portable PC. There were a lot of challenges with the project, but when we got it done, we were quite proud of it. It was dubbed the "Luggable," and it hit the trade press and it was on every cover. I clipped every article, and I said, "This is going to change how people work and change society," and I knew that I was in this field for my career. I couldn't see anything else that would make such an impact on the world.