William Westrate: Tech Strategist

William Westrate, 44, was vice president and CIO at food and facilities management company Aramark Corp. until Sept. 30, 2005. While in that role, he headed up the development and rollout of a tool called ISISpro to integrate data about housekeeping, patient transportation, clinical equipment management and plant operations for Aramark's front-line managers and its hospital customers. Computerworld's Heather Havenstein talked with him about his work.

How does ISISpro work, and what prompted you to develop it internally vs. looking to off-the-shelf products? We were really creating these silos of people because we had systems that would serve housekeeping great, plant operations great ... but we would never have a comprehensive view of how we were doing in our account in its totality. There were products that would help us do plant maintenance or preventive maintenance, but nothing that would give us one tool. We've been able to win significant business opportunities now because we have an integrated offering. We can create a seamless integration from the standpoint of helping hospitals really improve their throughput. We've really helped the discharge process and making a room available much quicker because of our ability to move in a seamless way.

What is your management philosophy, and how did you motivate employees and encourage alignment between IT and the business? I consider my clients to be the people we serve every day, [and] if we are not talking with them about business issues, we can't solve their IT issues. I want those people who have that direct contact with the business to have strong business and IT skills to create the alignment.

If they aren't talking to them in their business language and aren't able to talk to them intelligently about IT, you won't get the alignment. [With] someone who came up through the IT ranks but had a more business tendency, we created a business track for them. That person was the key contact for a whole line of business. I also hired people who had very strong business understanding but also showed they understood systems development and the needs of the IT [group].

How much of your time was spent on daily tactical work vs. big-picture planning, and how did you carve out time for strategic planning? You have to be pretty disciplined about it. Sarbanes-Oxley takes so much time away from the organization that if you don't have a team taking care of that, you would be so involved it would distract you. You have to take time to understand the big issues the business is trying to address.

On a monthly basis, I got together with the senior team to review what was going on in the business. I was also involved with a number of strategic planning activities in the business. When the business was looking to expand to a new line of service or an acquisition, I was an integral part of that. If you are viewed as being second- or third-level down, you won't be strategic -- you will be an order taker. The industry continues to ebb and flow between different types of technology deployments, but it is still about being in alignment with the business, keeping your costs down and providing value to the business -- not just being a utility. If you become a commodity, there is no reason why you shouldn't be considered something that can be outsourced.

Special Report

2006 Premier 100 IT Leaders

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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