Premier 100 IT Leaders: The Rewards of Risk-taking

IT leadership can be a high-wire act of managing game-changing projects at high speed. Here's how the Premier 100 make it work.

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What became most evident throughout this project was that innovation is best nurtured through collaboration, Gendron says. The open-source approach to MES dramatically increased employee engagement across all of Celestica's sites through new collaborative tools and agile development processes. That, in turn, has spurred an energy that has led to more process improvements across diverse customer requirements, Gendron says.

"It was a big risk in some people's eyes," she adds, "but for me, it was a calculated risk and one worth taking."

Rigorous Planning

Two key factors in virtually all IT leaders' risk calculations are the breadth and the scope of a project. Both are colossal for Lenovo CIO Xiaoyan Wang, who is leading an ongoing effort to migrate all of the No. 2 computer maker's legacy IT systems to a single, standardized SAP platform worldwide.

Wang's first principle is that IT will never provide a 100% solution. Instead, "we need to prioritize, first focusing on the critical capabilities for running the business. Enhancements are secondary," she says.

Her second principle is that "schedule is king." Making this a day-to-day operational reality involves working hand-in-glove with the lines of business, securing agreement up front on both change management and deployment plans.

"The businesses are intimately involved from the blueprint and planning phases all the way through to post-production support," Wang says. "The impacted businesses have to take ownership with IT on disciplined execution because we are building their future and because any missteps would impact our company's results," she says.

In cases where project risk is especially high, Wang uses a pilot program to test the strength of a system before launching globally. "Large-scale change takes time and must be approached with rigor and attention to detail," she emphasizes. "It also takes time to acquire the unwavering support of the business."

Still, Lenovo has set an ambitious deadline for completion, which is now less than 18 months away. The most recent deployment, which focused on transitioning Latin America to the new IT platform, successfully launched in January 2011.

"We studied many other large-scale ERP deployments to this region. All of the companies we looked at across industries split their Latin America deployments into several phases, due to the complexity of the business processes and business environment, especially around taxes and export/import [issues]," Wang explains.

But Lenovo's business imperatives leave no time to spare. "Taking the conventional route would have added at least one more year to our transformation journey -- time that we could not afford," she says. "Instead, with careful planning and strong top-down support for change and disciplined technical execution, we were able to execute in 12 months."

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