Premier 100 IT Leader: Karen Austin

A retail mindset helps this CIO create better processes for the utilities business.

Before Karen Austin reached her current position as CIO at Pacific Gas and Electric, her career road map included stops in the CIO suites at Sears and Kmart. That's why, she says, she brings a strong retail focus to the utility's IT operations.

Karen Austin

"I spend 80% to 90% of my time focused on the business and looking at how we can optimize processes," she says. One of Austin's first decisions after joining PG&E was to undertake a reorganization that involved hiring CIOs dedicated to every major line of business in order "to make sure we're building strategic road maps." She wanted to bring in IT leaders who were deeply knowledgeable about the business processes they were transforming.

Austin, 53, also likes to get out in the field to see how employees are using technology. A day in the field shadowing staffers who look for gas leaks led to the development of a tablet app that makes capturing data easier. Austin also approved an initiative to create a standardized format for smart-meter data so customers and app developers can download and analyze the data. Leveraging mobile for the PG&E workforce and its customers is a big goal, she says. Most recently, the IT team launched a mobile app that lets customers monitor usage, make payments and perform other functions.

"Karen is the most decisive leader I've worked for," says Brian Rich, vice president of business technology. "She is consumed by delivering business value" -- so much so that PG&E recently asked her to take charge of enterprise change management across the entire organization.

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