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Leadership Award Winners Utilize IT Governance, Good Relationships

Leadership Spotlight: Bob Wittstein


Metrics That Matter

When Bob Wittstein became CIO of Sappi Fine Paper North America almost four years ago, he could tell immediately that the IT department needed a shakeup.

The $1.4-billion Boston-based division of Sappi Ltd. makes paper for magazines and books. The IT shop was highly technical but poorly aligned with business. "They believed in methodology and filling out forms," Wittstein says. "The metrics weren't taken seriously."

Refocusing the department would be a major priority, and one that yielded immediate results. That's what put Wittstein in the award winners' circle: the partnership he built with the business and its results.

Coming from a background as a manufacturing engineer in the aircraft industry, Wittstein wasn't an expert in IT. Rather, he saw himself as a bridge between the technology and business sides. Wittstein made sure that everyone in IT at Sappi understood the business. He established goals to support the business and used balanced scorecards to drive home the company's focus on customers and profitability. He promoted the best staff into management and steered the shop toward customer alignment. "We created a firm base of support for the business instead of [doing] what IT wanted to do. People were chomping on the bit to be more process oriented."

Wittstein has launched several technology initiatives over the past year. An ERP rollout eliminated numerous legacy systems, enabling a decrease in head count from 140 to 80. A new link between the SAP system and the process control systems in the mills now allows Sappi to integrate financial data with data from the factory floor, enabling optimization efforts. And an integration system for electronic data interchange (EDI) between Sappi and its customers and suppliers has allowed the company to improve responsiveness: The company now processes 52% of orders from inventory with EDI, compared with 5% two years ago.

One reason the retooling worked, Wittstein says, is that he partnered closely with each vice president and explained how the ERP deployment would be messy but ultimately worth it. "I was very clear on how difficult this was going to be and how customer service was going to suffer because of the ERP system's steep learning curve," he says. "People like the opportunity to deal with [bad news] up front. And as a result, they did."

This was first published in July 2006

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