Special Report: 2015 Premier 100 IT Leaders

Premier 100 IT Leaders: Primed for business

These 100 top tech professionals ensure IT is delivering maximum value by building strong, productive partnerships with their business cohorts.

Special Report

2015 Premier 100 IT Leaders

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To get there, Marcella first established "communities of interest," grouping together city departments and offices that share common tech needs. For example, building and safety, operations and maintenance, planning and public works all comprise the Development & Operations community of interest. Other communities include Public Safety, Community Services and Internal Services.

Premier 100 Priorities [2015] chart: Hiring Thinkstock / Fotolia

Two business relationship managers within the IT department, who report directly to Marcella, coordinate services for these communities of interest, aided by two or three business partners who are embedded within the various city agencies. "They actually live within the organizations," says Marcella of the business partners. "I still ‘own' them, but we needed to have somebody on the floor to function as a community partner. They report back to the relationship managers on a weekly basis, so I can be sure we're aligning IT with what the business needs." With that flow of hands-on information, Marcella says, "priorities and funding are seldom an issue."

That structure has served Marcella well as he has moved to significantly expand the city's portfolio of digital services. With the motto "Serving you online rather than in line" as a guiding light, IT has partnered with multiple municipal departments to create a full-service, high-quality online experience for the citizens and businesses that interact with the city government.

Just one example: Applications for business licensing, permits and planning are all now online, which is of particular importance because the city is once again in the midst of a building boom, Marcella points out.

Citizens can do everything online, from checking the status of court cases and looking up warrants to locating inmates. And a new mobile app lets them report on or check the status of transportation and public safety issues, such as graffiti, potholes or out-of-service streetlights. Crews receive real-time alerts out in the field, and a GPS component ensures accuracy down to the street level.

On the administrative side, the advent of online payments has increased the total amount of fines and fees collected, a boon to city coffers, while at the same time streamlining city employees' jobs.

"Overall, from the city's standpoint, it's much easier to process and query data, to develop more advanced business intelligence systems and to improve internal procedures," Marcella says of the online push.

With the entire region finally beginning to climb out from a particularly deep trough during the recession, Marcella is conscious of the part he and his department play in keeping and attracting business development within the city limits. "Our goal is to be the municipal government of choice," Marcella says.

Solving problems, brainstorming innovation

The Harvard Graduate School of Education's mission is as sweeping as it is simple: to change the world through education.

As CIO, Indra Bishop was mindful of the part that technology plays in fulfilling that mission: "Higher education is going through transformational change to ensure access to education for all, and technology has been the catalyst of that change," she says. Advances in online and digital learning increase affordability and accessibility, she explains, and they enable learners to progress at their own pace, wherever they are and whenever they can. Bishop left the school in December 2014 to launch her own firm, EdTech Consulting Group, where she is CEO, and to serve as CTO of the nonprofit World Computer Exchange, which aims to better the lives of women and girls through education and technology.

At Harvard, Bishop's responsibility, as she envisioned it, wasn't to provide commodity IT services or spend her time addressing network outages (Harvard University has a central IT division for that) but to offer up proactive, value-added services that help faculty and staff to advance that digital learning strategy.

Step one toward reaching that goal was to re-architect an existing group within IT to be less operational and more strategic. Over nine months, IT worked closely with faculty to draft a new mission for the former Education Technology Services group, identifying skills that needed to be developed or acquired and making several new hires. "The result is an agile, forward-thinking group with a new title — Learning Technologies Group — and a new focus on promoting and sustaining innovation within digital learning," reports Bishop.

The new group's first task was to build an agile course-development framework to allow educators and other stakeholders to quickly create learning experiences for a variety of users and on a variety of platforms. The framework has been used to develop two MOOCs (massive open online courses) with enrollments of more than 35,000 and 65,000, respectively, as well as several more traditional online experiences, Bishop says.

Indra Bishop [2015]

Indra Bishop

Less formally, Bishop and her team had success identifying and solving specific business needs via cross-functional technology working groups (TWG). Informally known as "twigs," these ad hoc groups, typically of seven or eight people, must include at least one IT staffer and one business counterpart, often a subject-matter expert rather than an executive.

The most important rule for TWGs is that IT can't lead the charge — the need has to come from the business side, which is one easy way to ensure that IT is working on projects that will truly benefit the business. "User buy-in and understanding are already there," Bishop says, "and the documented recommendations produced by the TWG usually provide a clear road map for IT to follow, so we can quickly be able to provide the solution."

Sometimes a TWG is all that's needed to develop a solution — for example, making the case for a software upgrade or enabling cloud-based storage. Other times, a TWG's work becomes the basis for a more formal project, as when the school began the 18-month process of choosing and rolling out a new customer relationship management system.

It's not lost on Bishop that the success of both the TWGs and the Learning Technologies Group hinges on getting the right people in the room together, early and often — an approach she plans to embrace as she grows her new company.

"My philosophy has been to actively promote collaboration and to partner very closely with business users," Bishop says. "That way, we hear about the new ideas very early, at the inception stage."


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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