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Jul 7, 2014
Follow CommentsFollowing CommentsUnfollow Comments Charlie Feld was one of the first outstanding CIOs in corporate America, as he rose to the top of the IT function at Frito-Lay. As Feld overcame the early challenges of the post, and developed a mature IT department, he found that he longed for the challenge of the early days once again. He elected to found his own firm, The Feld Group. It would provide temporary CIO services for behemoths like Southwest Airlines, Delta, and BNSF. Feld’s influence was felt across a variety of industries, and he has become an eminence gris of the IT community. He was one of the earliest inductees in CIO magazine’s CIO Hall of Fame, in recognition of his superior contribution to the IT field. Along the way, many Feld Group employees went on to become CIOs at the companies that they consulted to, and therefore, Charlie Feld’s influence in the world of IT can be measured not from his own significant contribution, but also from the contribution of the many leaders who he spawned. I recently spoke with Charlie about the importance of the first 100 days of one’s tenure, the need to get results early while creating a strong foundation that can be built upon. Given the number of first 100 days he has navigated with his clients, there is perhaps no better person to talk about the CIO’s first 100 days as Feld. (To hear two unabridged interviews with Charlie Feld, please visit this link and this link . This is the 18th interview in the CIO’s First 100 Days series. To read past interviews with the CIOs of Intel, Caterpillar, Time Warner, J. Crew, and Johnson & Johnson among others, please visit this link . To be apprised of future interviews in the series, please click the “Follow” link above. Peter High: The Feld Group was a rare breed of firm when you founded it. In providing advice and guidance to a leadership team and to the IT team in the throes of some sort of transformation, your team and you became a “CIO for hire” group that focused your attention on the early stages of that transformation when there is the most uncertainty. What drew you to this model? Charlie Feld: After over a decade of being the CIO at Frito-Lay, I felt myself getting stale. Upon examining my career I realized that the enjoyment and satisfaction I gained from my role at Frito-Lay came from the early years of my tenure. It was the uncertainty, lack of direction and employee morale, and the challenge of turning the IT group around that appealed to me. During the course of this turnaround, we were able to put together a strategy and a plan, hire the right people and rebuild the culture to have a real impact on the business. Realizing that I enjoyed the early years of a CIO’s tenure, I opted to forgo staying at Frito-Lay (PepsiCo) or becoming the CIO of another large company. Instead I decided to build my own company, focused on the beginning stages of a CIO’s role to ensure I could always be involved in solving the challenges I had such a passion for. I started The Feld Group with a “dream” of leading the early two-years of an IT turnaround at a number of companies that were struggling with – mergers that did not proceed as smoothly as desired, troubled IT initiatives, or major business model changes. The Group’s first client was the BNSF merger, where we discovered, early on, that most of the talent in the client organization was very good but lacked a well-articulated agenda that aligned with the business and the IT leadership to drive the change. The Feld Group’s “CIO for Hire” model was embedded in BNSF to develop the plan and successfully executed the merger. In addition, we left behind the roadmaps, architectures, leadership and culture to sustain long term success. I’m proud to say that 20 years later they are still a well-run IT organization. From there we went to Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, CBS, Southwest Airlines and a number of other challenges with similar success. High: Why is it so difficult for many CIO’s to connect with the business to clearly articulate a compelling agenda that is well understood and embraced by the Executive Team? Feld: Senior executives are reasonably conversant in most of the business disciplines. They can generally engage in strategy conversations around Finance, HR, Manufacturing, Sales, Distribution, etc. These professions have been around for centuries and have common languages, frameworks and “rules of thumb” that enable the dialogue. IT is in its early stages, being less than 50 years old and lacks these essential building blocks. Every CIO has a different “mental model” of how to structure the dialogue which creates a number of disconnects. First, if you have 3 CIO’s in 10 years, you’ll get widely differing models and results. This is not true in Finance. Multiple CFO’s will communicate in a common (FASB, GAP) language. Second, the technology will change geometrically in that 10 year period and the legacy base will be 10 years more complex. And last, we unfortunately have a tendency to make complicated topics more complicated. We want people to appreciate how complex our work really is. High: You and your Feld Group teams have a framework that seemed to be able to bridge this chasm and eliminate these “Blind Spots” to use in the CIOs first 100 days and beyond. Can you describe it? Feld: In most cases there was less of an idea gap and more of a communications gap between IT and the business. I’ve always felt it is incumbent on us to bridge that gap and make it easy on the business teams to absorb the concepts and become energized. We valued taking complex ideas and making them simple. For example, as I described in my book Blind Spot A Leader’s Guide to IT-Enabled Business Transformation, we used four models that enabled understanding and alignment. The Marketplace Model – WHY do anything. Is there a compelling reason to change based on market threats or opportunities. The Business Model – WHAT do we need to change about our business to either grow revenue or reduce cost to meet the marketplace demands? The Systems Model – HOW would we go about enabling the Business Model with Systems Model changes in processes, data and which technologies and architectures should we employ? The Organization Model – The WHO is critical to execution, so do I have the right Structure, Leadership, Talent and Culture to pull this off? Of the four models only one has any technical content. In most cases, they’ll leave that up to the CIO. The rest is all around business context and content that they can easily engage debate and align. Since this is our profession and the IT Agenda is our responsibility, we should be the ones that lead the dialogue. High: What other trends particularly excite you as you look forward, say, five years? Feld: After 50 years of incremental IT improvements in servers, networks, edge devices, we are now at the breaking point of where if you can imagine it you can make it happen. The trick is to deal with the 50 years of legacy that we all have. The new robust integration fabrics that are event enabled, in memory-in motion, become great enablers that can embrace the heterogeneity of legacy, cloud, sensors, GPS, functional packages, customers, suppliers and employees. That’s why I’ve been so bullish about the CIO becoming more that the Chief Information Officer. We need to transform and think of ourselves as the Chief Integration Officers. If not the CIO, then who? If not now, then when? High: That begs the larger question of: What does it take to become this new definition of a successful CIO in the 21st century? Should they have more business orientation or more technical capability? Feld: My direct answer is both. I don’t think we can or need to choose one or the other. As technology becomes more embedded in the business execution and management, they become inseparable. If you lean into a business capable and away from a technology leader, you run the risk of poor technology choices and implementation that are rigid and fragile at the same time. A large portion of what we do is more akin to engineering. If business solutions are architected and engineered poorly the cost and quality will be punishing. By the same token, if you lean into the best technologist, you may solve the wrong business problem very well. I don’t buy the argument that you can’t have both. Great CFO’s know the technical parts of their profession but they can also have a very strong business point of view and influence. That wasn’t always true. Early on the Finance leader was a Controller, keeping the books, not a true business partner to the Executive Team. That same evolution must happen to advance the CIO profession. You don’t have to be the best technician in the company or have the best business mind. You just need to be pretty good at both. I’m starting to see that happen in companies I’m currently engaged with. They are the renaissance leaders and they are working hard at developing their next generation.