Elizabeth Hackenson: Business Booster

Elizabeth Hackenson, 45, executive vice president and CIO at MCI Inc., began her career more than 25 years ago as a data entry clerk at Univac. After that, she worked at systems integrator Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Concert Communications Services, where she had a business role in building new products. She began her career at MCI as a vice president heading up strategic development for CRM and consolidated billing projects before she became CIO in October 2004. She recently spoke with Computerworld's Heather Havenstein.

You have said that leading your company through the current technology renaissance is one of your most difficult challenges. What do you mean by a "technology renaissance," and how are you tackling the challenge? People are beginning to talk about the Internet and how it is changing the way their companies operate now more than ever before. You now have information on your customer base you never had before. Companies are actually transacting business over the Internet. IT can really become overwhelming to executives who are not technologists. I try to speak to them in a language they would understand. I would not launch into a conversation about XML. I would have a conversation with them about their business problem and the process and how we would solve it.

You recently began a project to use Web services with a cable partner for order management and to manage trouble ticketing. What were some of the challenges associated with this project? We were faced with a seven-to-10-day response just to accept an order and validate it. That was not something that either company could continue ... and achieve the goals we had. We knew we had this capability of a Web service that would open up access between the two companies and allow us to communicate over the Internet. We wanted to reuse this type of interface, and so did our partner. When we were working with developers, they seemed to forget about the basic process map you have to build about what you want to automate. You have to think about all the errors that could occur. These weren't new questions. ... People just for some reason thought that some type of magic occurred on the Internet.

Elizabeth Hackenson

Elizabeth Hackenson, executive vice president and CIO at MCI

Photo Credit: Katherine Lambert

It is key to have the people who need to build these interfaces build relationships and sit down and look at the same piece of paper and the same process flow and ask about the what-ifs. We literally took a seven-to-10-day order process to one that now takes minutes, including error handling.

Your management philosophy includes "stretching" employees, having them switch from a familiar job role to a new one. What's the impetus behind that? Working for 15 years at a systems integrator, every six to nine months I parachuted into a new environment, a new location and a new business challenge.

It taught me to think on my feet. In many cases, it was way beyond my comfort zone, but I always had the attitude that I am not an expert but I am really going to try and I am going to learn something. That type of moving around is not typically in the DNA at MCI. Many people have become experts in certain domains. I am trying to help them expand, to do new things. We had a great business leader in service delivery who knew the process and could interface back to IT. She moved over to director of a development organization, and now she can see what it is like being in IT and delivering the business demands she used to ask for a year ago.

Special Report

2006 Premier 100 IT Leaders

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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