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This article is by Featured Blogger Peter High from his Forbes.com column. Republished with the author’s permission.
Cathie Kozik is the Chief Information Officer of PSAV, which is an 81 year old events management company that helps bring to life roughly one million events per year. She was a CIO of Tellabs in the 1990s into the last decade, and went on to become an IT executive at Motorola, as well. In 2001, she became one of the earliest board-level CIOs when she joined the board of an individual hospital that would grow through acquisition to become $5 billion Northwestern Memorial Health. She did not set out to be a trailblazer, but now that she has been for 17 years, she has a variety of lessons to share with other CIOs who'd wish to follow in her footsteps.
Her breadth of experience as a CIO and as a board member have helped her with the current transformation she has led at PSAV for the past three and a half years. She has pushed IT to go from roadblock to strategic enabler for the business. She now leads a digital transformation, which is focused on the technician experience and business insight through data analytics. Her vast experience has earned her a spot in CIO.com's prestigious CIO Hall of Fame.
Peter High: You are the Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President at PSAV. Could you provide a background as to PSAV's business and your role in it?
Cathie Kozik: PSAV is the world's largest event experiences company. We see our role as connecting with and inspiring our customers, so they can connect with and inspire their audiences. We help our customers around the globe put together different event experiences, then enable them to reach out to their audiences in new and different ways. It is a great and exciting business to be in as we are always doing something different. We put on about 1,500 different shows per day and more than a million over the course of a year.
As CIO, my role has been to help bring the organization into the next generation and prepare us for growth. We have been on a great trajectory as we have acquired a substantial number of companies over the past five to ten years. Despite this, between the acquisitions and organic growth, the business system had not kept up with what the business was trying to accomplish. Therefore, when I joined the company three years ago, my core focus was about stabilizing the environment and then bringing new technology to bear. It has been about bringing the company into the information age where technology is an enabler as opposed to something that was preventing the business from getting its job done. As we continue to grow, digital transformation is impacting us just as it is impacting every other company in the industries that we serve. Because of this, we have to make sure that we are keeping pace and are thinking about new technologies that can not only improve our operational efficiency and our interactions with our customers, but also improve the event experiences that have been part of the innovation cycle that we have been on. For example, we have focused on mobility as approximately 95 percent of our employees are out in the field. We need to make sure that we are communicating with these employees. They need to know what to expect for the day, what customers are coming in, and what these customers past experiences have been with us. We need to communicate with these employees so that we can ensure that today's experience with PSAV is just as great or even greater than the last experience. Additionally, if something goes wrong, it is important that we know about it. We have to talk to the customer as we know them and support them in the ways they are expecting. For example, we need to ensure that a customer who is expecting a high-resolution projector, gets that high-resolution projector. We need to make certain that they get the right experience that they need for their customers.
High: Could you talk about the way in which you define the digital transformation that PSAV is undertaking? Additionally, could you distinguish between the customer-facing digital aspects of the business versus the operational aspects of digital?
Kozik: From the operational perspective, the key thing that we focus on is the technician experience, as they are extraordinarily valuable employees for us. The technicians have great skills, and we want to continue to invest in them and make their job easy so that they can focus on the customer. Our focus has been to get more information into their hands as well as into their direct managers' hands. The technicians have a mobile phone that has the experiences that are happening today in a particular hotel venue or exhibition hall. This includes what that technician should be prepared for, and for the manager of those technicians, what is happening at their venues. An example of a venue might be the Gaylord Palms, which is a large location with many events going on any given day. We want to make sure that everybody is on top of every one of those events and giving each event a personal touch. We must provide them this information on the mobile phone, and provide what some of our managers have called the digital fireplace, where they can huddle in the morning and see what they need to be ready for. We are working to change the conversation from running around with pieces of paper to being an end-to-end digital environment on the venue and hotel floor.
Another area we have been focused on is business insight. We have made a substantial investment in data analytics to make sure we understand our business and that we are able to move the organization forward digitally. Three and a half years ago, it would take us five weeks to know how we did on a particular day. We now know what we need to do as the day is happening, whether it is in terms of aligning labor, materials, or something else. In many ways, the events industry is a digital laggard as it has not been web friendly. There are some new organizations that are coming into the industry that are doing more business on the web. Similarly, we are focused on that web experience and entering that same marketplace as these new organizations. We want it to be so easy for our customers to do business with that they would think twice about going to any other vendor or partner to deliver the service. We want to respect our venue partnership across the hotel venues that we work with and make sure that the experience that the venue has in that event is every bit as good as that of our end customers’.
We look at all different industries for ideas. For example, we look at [website and online community about architecture, interior design and decorating, landscape design and home improvement] Houzz and how it engages the customer in terms of how they redecorate. We believe we can use that same type of model for the event experience. Additionally, there are other things that we are looking at in terms of customer experience. In order to keep in touch with what Google and Microsoft are doing in terms of translation, we do real-time translations for some of our customers. We can be the first to market with the right partner to deliver the right type of service for our customers.
High: You and your team members must be invited to a great number of CIO, technology, and PSAV events. Could you talk about the opportunity these events provide, not only to be edified by the content of those very conferences but to understand how it looks to draw ideas and inspiration?
Kozik: That was one of the most interesting experiences for me since I joined the company. I spent a lot of years in the telecommunications equipment business, and I have been to a lot of conferences. Before, I never thought anything about the rigging that was hanging over my head or what type of projector or screen was being used. The first conference that I went to as a PSAV employee was enlightening because we were not the ones providing those services. I realized I have become an event snob. I now notice things such as whether the cables have been dressed or if the right draping is being provided so that it looks seamless with the ballroom. Going back behind the scenes and being mic'd up, I was always focused on the nerves before I went out on the stage. Now I am focused on things such as how they talk to me, what they do, and how the backstage looks.
We always look for opportunities to learn. For example, one of the things that I do is require every one of my staff, from my service center to my developers, to spend a day each year out in the field as a technician to get a glimpse of a typical technician’s day. This gives them the opportunity to learn, first and foremost, how the company makes money. Additionally, they learn how our tools are used in real life and how these tools help or do not help the field in doing their job or give information that is meaningful in terms of improving that interaction with the customer. We look to make every event experience a learning experience, whether it is one of ours or a service provided by another provider in the industry.
High: You currently serve on the Board of Trustees of the Northwestern Memorial Health Organization. Thankfully, there is a growing club of Chief Information Officers who have been asked to join boards, but it is still a small and exclusive club. Could you talk about your path into board membership as well as your perspectives on what a board gains from having a CIO join?
Kozik: I would say being on a board has been one of the best things that has happened to me in my career. When I was first connected with the board of directors, it was an individual hospital. I am proud to say that today the board oversees one of the top community-wide health care systems in the country. The way I initially got connected was completely by accident. One of the members of the board of the community hospital asked the founder of the company that I was working for at the time if they knew any great technologists who could join their board. They were about to make a big investment in IT and were looking for someone who could help them think through some of their challenging decisions. The founder reached out to me, and the rest was history. Some amount of it was luck, but the fact that I have continued to participate over the past twenty years has been an intended and proactive action to continue to be a part of it and continue to learn about the healthcare industry.
Healthcare, and healthcare costs in particular, impacts all of us, no matter what business you are in. It has been critical to learn about the industry and about the challenges that healthcare uniquely faces. Additionally, as an IT professional you have to understand that the healthcare industry is going through the same challenges in terms of implementing large ERP systems. In fact, they are going through it approximately tenfold because of the government mandates that have been in place in terms of becoming electronically aware.
I have taken several things away from my board experience. First, as an industry participant, you can help companies in completely different industries. Personally, I am not a doctor and I have not been an expert in the medical field. Despite this, I have been able to add value to the organization because of my industry experiences in terms of what it takes to be a good leader. Additionally, my ability to do things such as implement large systems and cultural changes and to do a digital transformation has allowed me to add value.
There have been tremendous lessons in leadership as well. I started when the health care system was one community hospital and now we are up to seven community hospitals in many diverse locations. Just going through that change alone has been a great lesson in terms of how you move an organization through these mergers and acquisitions, yet while going through these changes, making sure you never lose sight of the core vision and mission of the organization. This is important because as a healthcare organization, we cannot lose focus on our patients and on our patient care and quality. Being able to watch how other leaders and managers run their businesses and deal with the challenges that they have has been a great learning lesson for me. I am then able to bring back these experiences to my own business and industry, allowing us all to grow and develop in the process.
High: You have made clear that it was not a plan of yours to join a board. As someone who has been on the board since 2001, what advice would you give to peers to prepare themselves appropriately?
Kozik: First and foremost, I encourage people to reach out to organizations they love and make it known that it is something that they are interested in. It is important to speak up and let people know that you are interested because, if nobody knows, nobody is going to think to ask you. Additionally, it is crucial to put yourself out there and find other organizations to be a part of beyond your own. This allows you to get known by different people and build your network. You have to make sure people know what you are good at and what you are interested in becoming as you look forward in your career. For example, for those looking to get into the nonprofit space, every nonprofit is looking for people to help. Reaching out to the organization that you care about and becoming active with them is a great way to start that. There is nothing quite as impactful as joining clubs, something that every major city has. Chicago, for example, has the executives club and the economic club, among others, and joining one of those entities and getting known is critical. Start participating in subcommittees, and award opportunities so your name gets around and so people are aware of what you want to do and who you want to become. If you can do this, your profile gets a little higher than it would be if you stayed at your desk all the time and continued to labor away on your daily tasks.
High: You became a CIO quite a while ago at Tellabs and have been a CIO multiple times within Motorola, at the Hub Group, and currently at PSAV. Not only were you a board level CIO early on, but you were also a female CIO at a time when you did not have a lot of peer female CIOs. Thankfully, there has been a lot of progress made in both those areas. Where do you think we are in the overall evolution of the state of the union of women in IT?
Kozik: I would say we are making progress, but we have an incredibly long way to go. Although it has improved, it has not been a significant improvement. When I became CIO at Tellabs, about ten percent of the CIO population were women. Now it is around a “whopping” twelve percent. We have more work to do in both directions. We need to encourage more women to get into the industry, which is something I try to stay active in. We need to show young women, starting as early as elementary school and their teachers that going into any type of technology profession is something that is fun, exciting, challenging, and creative. This will allow us to draw more women into the pool. The good news is that we are drawing a lot more women into the traditional computer science arenas, however, some of the other technology areas are still lagging. To keep women engaged in the industry as they go through their own careers and their life choices, we have to encourage women to know that it is possible to be a successful wife and mother as well as a successful business leader. I am disappointed and it is unfortunate that decades later, we are still having the conversation, noting that it is hard and there is not the right support to do so. Because of this, I believe we still have extensive work to do to encourage and build the pool at the beginning and keep the pool of young women engaged and committed in the middle of their careers and then continuing to advance them.
Most importantly, we must give them the business experience that is necessary. I personally consider myself a business person who happens to be in technology. We need to make sure that we demonstrate that and coach all of our employees, that in that sense, you cannot just be a pure technologist and become an IT leader. You have to realize that the only reason we are here is to help the business be successful and to help the business look for and find new opportunities. I believe that we are all guilty of encouraging people to continue to grow and develop just their technology skills. Instead, we need to encourage all of our talent to grow and develop their business skills as well.
High: As you look to the future, what are some trends in technology that are particularly exciting for you and that are beginning to make their way onto your roadmap?
Kozik: Something I am continuing to pay attention to and something my CFO and I have a conversation about approximately every six months is bitcoin. While I am still not a buyer, it is certainly important to make sure that we are paying attention to not necessarily bitcoin, but blockchain and what blockchain can do for us in terms of tracking assets and helping us manage and confirm ownership of individual items.
Additionally, the AI route is something that we are all paying attention to, particularly in terms of what it means in regards to services that we can offer, or how it could change these services. An example of a possibility of this is voice translation. In addition, what you can do with camera technology as it continues to grow and evolve is something to keep an eye on. We continue to double down on analytics. Not analytics for the sake of analytics, but analytics in terms of storytelling. We are all humans, and most of us think visually and learn better from stories and parables. We have to be able to tell more stories with the data that we have and meaningfully get people on the journey in a quick and intuitive way as we look forward.
Another area that we are focused on is user interfaces. How can we bring Alexa and Siri into the business? How do we make these technologies speed up our efficiency, effectiveness, and most importantly, simultaneously continue to make technology more human as opposed to sitting in front of the keyboard typing away to get the job done? We have to make it a more natural human experience because in this industry, in particular, it is about human reactions and interactions, and how to make technology fit with the culture of the company. That is what I am spending my time on because there is always the oddball things that come in terms of infrastructure technology, but that is not going to change my business. I am far more interested in the things that can light our way to new and different paths.
High: It strikes me that having grown up professionally in places such as AT&T, Tellabs, and Motorola, a lot of the trends that you are seeing going forward, you have insight into where history is repeating itself. To what extent do you see your background providing key insights as to where we are going based upon what you have seen in the past?
Kozik: There is no question that it helps. One of my standing jokes is cloud computing is nothing other than timeshare computing grown up. Mobility is a blessing and a curse. We could not do our jobs without our mobile phones, but on the other hand, we have ruined everybody's life because of the mobile phone. Knowing that technology can be a blessing and a curse, and hopefully plotting a practical course through them is something that I certainly aim to do. I do keep up with what is going on in the telecommunications industry because it is plumbing, but it is critical plumbing to what we need to do and some of the services that we offer from PSAV. Similarly, I need to keep up with those basics to make sure that the plumbing continues to work and that it is always going to be there when we need it for the services that we are looking to offer well into the future.
Originally published on Forbes.com