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A CIO whose function serves employees in 24 time zones knows the importance of meeting the needs of his internal stakeholders.
By John Thomson, CIO, KBR
KBR is one of the world’s largest engineering, energy and government services companies, with a history stretching back more than 100 years. The business (formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root) is involved in areas ranging from offshore oil drilling to space exploration.
My team of 400 IT professionals serves two sets of customers. One is the 20,000 KBR employees, who work in some 40 countries across all 24 time zones. The other is the end customers of KBR. The more effectively we serve our internal customers in helping them do their jobs, the better the outcome for our external ones – and for KBR itself.
Employees Around the Globe
We are trying to offer improved service to our employees in a variety of ways.
For one thing, we’re working to improve IT internally so that it takes into account the influx of millennials into our workforce. These employees represent the future of the company, and we want to create an environment that is responsive to their needs and preferences, thereby making them more effective in their work.
We moved to a cloud based ticketing system two and a half years ago that not only improves our service to employees but has allowed us to better measure our goals. We're moving to a centralized HR system in the next couple of months to provide a single source of truth and all of our HR records in one place. With this we can run all sorts of analytics to make our employees’ lives easier.
We're deploying a lot more automation within the firm to reduce mundane tasks, such as creating a virtual server or getting other utilities to the customer as quickly and efficiently as possible, while still complying with our legislative and security requirements and individual service level agreements.
One of the most significant initiatives involves worker safety. KBR employees, especially those working in the field, are often involved in difficult and dangerous work that sometimes results in serious injuries. Recently, in partnership with HCL, we redeveloped and deployed our Zero Harm app to better track, log, and avoid safety problems.
The app allows any of our employees to log a safety issue. This doesn’t only ensure that every single safety issue is treated with the utmost importance. It also is enabling us to build a database of historical data around safety – the type of incidents we've had and what could have been done to prevent an incident that has occurred in the field or even in the office.
Future versions of that product will enable pictures to be taken and tagged with the latitude and longitude of where an incident occurred. We're also looking at sensors that people will wear, either on their hardhat or on their overalls, that will alert us when somebody has had a fall and where on the site that it happened. This will allow us to respond quickly with an emergency team to support that person. In Canada, we've already saved at least one life with this type of technology.
Contributing to the Top and Bottom Lines
At the same time that we’re working to better serve KBR employees we’re also working to serve KBR customers. Like many IT departments today, ours is being asked to help generate revenue for the firm. In fact, generating revenue is now our number one KPI, or key performance indicator, and we therefore engage in a lot of client-facing and proposal work.
Another way we contribute to the top line is by reducing the amount of time it takes an employee to get up and running on a new client account. Time wasted while an employee waits for a piece of equipment or a piece of software, is time that the employee isn’t doing billable work for a customer. Automating and optimizing our workflow can have an immediate top-line – and bottom-line – impact. And of course, this at the same time makes work easier for your internal customers, as well.
I've only been in this role at KBR for three years now, and we’re still not moving at the speed I would like to. We’re in the process of establishing a number of new positions in our function designed to improve the effectiveness of what we offer the business.
These include a business liaison role, which will help align IT closely with business needs. The liaison will sit inside a part of the business to help us understand its problems and needs, while also educating the business on how various new technologies might be able to help them. Businesses do not want to hear about zeros and ones and spinning disks. They want to hear about solutions that will make business processes easier and faster.
Advice for Aspiring IT Leaders
I’m often asked what young people entering our profession can do to maximize their chances of career success and become an IT leader. Of course, they should stay on top of rapidly evolving technology. Of course, they should get outside of the IT cocoon and understand the business they are supporting.
But I often offer this simple prescription for success: listen. Listen to what people are saying. Ask people for their advice. And then take their answers to your questions and use them to better inform your own answers.
And I’m not just talking about your direct reports. I’m talking about people farther down in the hierarchy who may be in better touch with the latest technology – and that includes millennials who have just joined your team.
These days, everyone needs to be able to pivot faster than before. Listening can play a big part in making this happen.