CIO's IT modernization project finds success in the cloud

Nicole Laskowski, MidMarket

Our SearchCIO-Midmarket 2013 IT Leadership Awards recognize the contributions and innovations of IT professionals at midmarket companies. We put out a call for nominations of individuals who have excelled in six categories: cultural innovation, technological advancement, business value, green IT, IT engagement and customer experience.

Pradip SitaramPradip Sitaram

Finalist Pradip Sitaram, CIO of Enterprise Community Partners Inc., set out on an IT modernization project that led him and his 31 employees to the cloud. The Columbia, Md.-based organization, a major developer and investor in affordable housing nationwide, needed a faster and better way to connect and leverage its data so it could move quickly (and smartly) on potential investments. Taking a new approach to infrastructure, Sitaram and his team built a shared platform for the 30-year-old organization and integrated data from back-office and ERPsystems, including financial reports for more than 1,700 properties. The new architecture's seamless integration helped Enterprise overcome an "industry standard problem," according to the nomination form, by keeping financial models and investment developments synchronized, an important and complex process for an organization that has raised and invested more than $11.5 billion over the years in equity, grants and loans.

The IT modernization efforts also included building a new intranet, corporate website, portals for business partners and investors, and applications for CRM and fundraising management -- all of which was accomplished in 18 months and at a fraction of the cost when compared to a more traditional approach.

Get to know Sitaram and his approach to IT leadership in our Q&A below.

Official job title: Senior vice president and chief information officer

From the judges

Mr. Sitaram's innovation, focus and vision clearly align him with the modern role of the CIO in his organization.

Number of years in IT: 24

Company: Enterprise Community Partners Inc.

Number of employees in the company: 550

Number of employees in IT: 31

Educational background: Bachelor of Science in architecture, Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.; Master of Science in software and systems engineering, George Mason University, Va.

First job: Architectural apprentice at a small architectural firm. Because it was a small firm, everyone was expected to do everything. Soon, I was running projects and I was given complete responsibility on projects from concept to design to construction -- something that would have taken years if I was working at a larger firm. I got some of the best experience I could have hoped for at 18 years old -- experience and lessons that are still applicable today, years later, and in the completely different field of software engineering.

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/pradipsitaram/

Twitter Handle: @PradipSitaram

What's the best advice you've ever received? Trust your instincts and your abilities; don't be afraid.

In the movie of your life, who would play your character? Morgan Freeman. Why? Has there ever been a bad Morgan Freeman movie? When the man talks, people listen; they are inspired. It's more of a wish, really. I wish I could do that.

If you could have just one superpower, what would it be and why? Speed. The ability to do everything quicker and faster: learn, comprehend, execute, communicate, travel and so on. Just thinking of how much more one could study, learn and accomplish [by] being able to do things much quicker boggles the mind. We have the ability, but time stops for no one, so the only option is to do more with the time we have.

What's your favorite app on your smartphone or tablet device? Flipboard. It's great; it puts all of the information you want to see -- and stay on top of -- in one place.

Where do you fall in the iPhone versus Android debate? They are both great devices; however, I'm biased toward the iPhone, perhaps because it's the first one that I used. But, I think the usability factor is on a different level [compared to] everything else. It's as if you don't have to think to use [the iPhone]; everything appears to be intuitive. With the other devices, as good as they are, I still find myself pausing and thinking before doing what I need.

Describe the best technology decision you ever made. Adopting the cloud -- specifically, Salesforce and Dell Boomi. We've been in the midst of an ambitious, organization-wide technology transformation and modernization initiative for the last two years. And we've made amazing progress, which simply would not have been possible if we had followed the more traditional approaches.

An excerpt from the nomination

Beyond an IT leader, [Pradip Sitaram] is a visionary business partner who encourages his IT team to take an active role in all key company decisions in order to provide the best strategic IT recommendations.

Was there ever a technology that you thought was a gimmick but now couldn't live without? Interestingly, and although I am a great fan now, when the iPad was first introduced, I really thought Apple blew it. I thought it was a toy and a gimmick, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how transformational this product would become.

What's the biggest challenge you face in IT today? The challenges are data-related: First, the rapid growth of all kinds of data: structured and unstructured, documents, email and so on; second, how to leverage and transform the data. (We are data-rich and information-starved). Recent advances in technology have given us access to much better [quality] data, but the next step in the evolution is a big challenge: Transitioning from data to information, from information to knowledge, and from knowledge to wisdom.

Which role/internal partner do you rely upon the most? The chief financial officer [CFO]. IT is often the biggest investment the organization makes. It is critical that the CIO and the CFO are on the same page, which means honesty and mutual appreciation for each other's challenges, ideas, initiatives and plans. Any IT initiative will take money and resources. Although it may seem obvious that these strategies are aligned with the financial health, outlook and goals of the company, it's surprising how often this doesn't happen. When the CIO and CFO are in sync, it can be a powerful and mutually beneficial combination.

What's your prediction for the next big technology? In small- to medium-sized organizations, the number of corporate and business applications and operations support built using cloud-based technologies will exceed the number of custom-developed traditional applications.

What's your favorite non-monetary benefit or perk of your job? The flexibility and ability we allow for our IT staff to work from home; although I wish I was able to do more of that myself.

What is the biggest problem you see with corporate cultures today? A reluctance to change or even consider an alternative; a failure to understand that change can be good and that proactive change can be better (instead of doing things when forced into a corner). Always following pre-established "norms" can be safe, but will not further evolution or nurture innovation. For example, there have been tremendous advances in technology in the past few years, and the world will pass organizations by if they don't take advantage of them.

What are "rookie mistakes" you see in up-and-coming IT leaders? Wanting to stay within pre-established boundaries and not wanting to rock the boat by proposing out-of-the-box ideas (which sounds cliché). Perhaps related, wanting to try and please everyone -- or rather not displease anyone. That's hard to do. As a leader, you (will eventually) have to make the best choices for the organization and then manage that decision. Those decisions may ruffle feathers, but you must manage those situations because without change, you're standing still. Change is not easy; it's up to you to facilitate change.

Describe your leadership style. Visionary. Establish a clear, forward-looking and ambitious vision. Communicate it, garner support for it, work with the executive leaders and peers so they can see the value and reasons behind it and can believe in it well enough to communicate it themselves, as if it was their own. Work with the staff to believe in [the vision] and own it, and then inspire and empower them to execute on it.

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