BI Means "Business Impact": The CIO Interview with Emily Ashworth, American Water
What is the most valuable project, program or innovation your IT organization has delivered in the last 12 months?
We stood up the entire infrastructure to support SAP and we are six months from go-live. Our approach to data clean-up and business intelligence has been pretty innovative for a utility company that has been on same technology since early 1990s. We have also migrated physical servers to virtual servers and built the whole stack on Linux, which has been pretty exciting for our folks.
What does your IT organization do best?
We are great at architecture. We have really invested in our enterprise architecture group and we are doing architecture the right way. We’ve invested in multiple architectural domains including applications, infrastructure, telephony, and data architecture, and we’ve worked hard both on standards and on R&D. We have a good architectural framework and a solid process to make sure everything fits together and to be sure we are not enabling parallel standards.
What book has had a major impact on your leadership style?
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson. I’ve gotten a great deal out of that book.
Can you tell a brief story about some valuable career advice you were given?
One of my very favorite colleagues once said to me, “You’re going to have to manage your standard or it will hold you back.” He knows that I have high standards, and he was cautioning me not to expect that everyone would perform to my standard all the time. I would have to do some work through delegation and coaching and relationship development to achieve the same standard of performance for a team or organization. I cannot just put the standard out there and have everyone operate to it the way I do. I would have to work hard to manage it. He told me that pretty early in my career, and it stuck with me.
"What we will be able to offer [the business] is beyond what they can even imagine at the moment."
What is an interview question you ask candidates for your senior level roles?
One question that I ask everyone is, “What’s your passion?” The answer tells me so much about the person. What gives them energy? What makes them happy? Do they have a passion at all? That first question leads to discussions we might not otherwise have and I learn more than I would with standard interview questions.
What technology innovation or business trend are you most excited about?
For me, it is the ability to use SAP as a foundation, particularly when it comes to business intelligence. Once the business figures out the power of the tools and all of the data that is available to them, it will have a tremendous business impact. What we will be able to offer them is beyond what they can even imagine at the moment.
If you were not a CIO, what other profession would you have pursued?
I am so analytical that in my next life, I will have to be a lawyer.
About Emily Ashworth and American Water
Emily Ashworth is vice president and chief information officer of American Water. Ms. Ashworth is responsible for developing and implementing information technology services (ITS) strategies and transformation roadmap. Leading the ITS management team, Ms. Ashworth has day to day operational responsibility as well as responsibility for providing the vision for the future. Ms. Ashworth has been instrumental in creating an enterprise architecture discipline, providing the vision to launch a business transformation program and implementing ITIL based processes at American Water. Prior to joining American Water, Ms. Ashworth was a Partner with Computer Science Corporation's (CSC) Consulting Group.
Ms. Ashworth is a 2010 recipient of the University of Central Florida's professional achievement award, the winner of the 2009 SIM leadership award for the Philadelphia chapter, and a 2010 Computerworld magazine Premier 100 IT Leader.
Ms. Ashworth holds a bachelor's degree in both industrial engineering and liberal studies from the University of Central Florida and a master's degree in industrial engineering from the University of Tennessee, where she was included in Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities.
Founded in 1886, American Water is the largest investor-owned U.S. water and wastewater utility company. With headquarters in Voorhees, N.J., the company employs more than 7,000 dedicated professionals who provide drinking water, wastewater and other related services to approximately 16 million people in 35 states, as well as Ontario and Manitoba, Canada. More information can be found by visiting www.amwater.com.