IT is not a Spectator Sport: The CIO Interview with Peter Weis, Matson Navigation
What is the most valuable project, program or innovation your IT organization has delivered in the last 12 months?
Matson operates in niche markets, logistics, supply chain, and transportation, where often third-party solutions just aren’t commercially available. In the case of Matson Logistics, where we’ve grown both organically and through acquisitions, we faced a classic legacy situation -- four different IT platforms, each with different technologies, processes and customer service levels. We’ve just finished consolidating those platforms into a single, internet-based logistics operating platform that is built on an open and highly reliable stack. It’s now viewed as a competitive advantage, which is just what we want to hear.
This success was the result of IT having total immersion in the business units, from the executive sponsors on down. We spent endless hours with business unit management, working together to make sure we got it right. We were going to succeed or fail together.
What does your IT organization do best?
We actively engage with our businesses. We’ve worked hard to change the overall perception that IT is a spectator sport for them. We’ve used formal governance, joint performance incentives and candid conversations to build trust with our business counterparts. This improves trust, which translates into speed. In fact, we’ve even gotten feedback that IT is occasionally moving too fast. I suppose there are worse critiques.
We also engage our vendors candidly and constructively. The best outcomes involve shared risk and rewards, where vendors are invested in our growth and success. Vendors want to trust us, and we want to trust them. It’s our strategy that both the transaction outcome and the ongoing relationship matter.
We also engage with our staff candidly, where people understand their value. In the SF bay area, talent retention is crucial to our strategy. We have to let our people know their role in our strategy.
"If people are not energized by change, they will not be successful in our IT organization."
Does your IT organization have a motto or mantra?
I am not a huge motto fan, but our management team all buys in to this: “To ride the wave of change.” To get comfortable with the uncomfortable notion that change never stops.
What book has had a major impact on your leadership style?
Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People, by Richard Shell, a Wharton professor. This book guides me in executive relationships, vendor agreements and other negotiations. While IT people often train heavily in more technical disciplines such as software development, QA and architecture, negotiation skills are often underdeveloped. This book provides a great framework for negotiations and lets you develop your own values-based negotiation style. The book is mandatory reading for my entire senior management team.
What technology innovation or business trend are you most excited about?
Most recently, it has to be the combination of virtualization and mobility. Both desktop and server virtualization have already driven major cost savings to Matson and there’s more to come. Our mobility strategy is also crucial; as a $1.6B global transportation and logistics company, we’re so spread out geographically that keeping our increasingly mobile workforce productive is a must. Virtualization enables the doubling up of that productivity by allowing mobile users access to data and applications that reside on corporate desktops and servers. Any information, available from anywhere, becomes a reality.
What is one interview question that you find very effective when assessing new IT leadership talent?
“Tell me about your last major career change?” It’s a gating question that helps to reveal a candidate’s attitude toward change and transformation. If people are not energized by change, they will not be successful in our IT organization.
The CIO Paradox is a set of contradictions (IT “and” the business, for example) that can prevent CIOs from delivering maximum business value. Why do you think the CIO Paradox exists?
IT has its own history, language and career path and has not typically been well-understood by those outside of IT. Even today, some business people know it’s important, and that on some level they need to understand it, but don’t have the time or self-confidence to become educated. The key to trust and speed is to teach these business leaders about IT in a way that is neither too technical nor condescending.
I had a senior vice president ask me, “I know I’m the executive sponsor, but what am I supposed to do in that role?” This was an honest question from a very successful executive. It took courage for him to ask and it revealed that business unit leaders have gained great success without historically having to understand IT. I invested the necessary time with him, and we developed a great relationship.
How do you know when you’ve “broken the Paradox?”
The Paradox is broken when the entire company speaks a common, well-understood language. The CEO and business execs are using IT language that is baked into our IT strategy, recognizing that IT is a participation sport and knowing their position on the field. Conversely, we in IT are fluently speaking the CEO’s language: shareholder value, corporate finance, operating excellence, time-to-market and customer satisfaction. Deep, long-term commitment from all is necessary to instill this common language, which is why leadership is so crucial.
About Matson Navigation
Matson Navigation Company, Inc., the main subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin, transports freight between the continental US and ports in Hawaii, Guam, Micronesia, and China. Containerships account for the majority of the company's 17-vessel fleet. Besides containerized freight, cargo carried by Matson vessels includes automobiles and building materials. Subsidiary Matson Integrated Logistics provides logistics and multimodal transportation services (arrangement of freight transportation by combinations of road, rail, and air).