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IT director re-engineers a legacy shop

Some guys have all the fun. Learn how one IT director challenged employees to share his vision of a modern, more efficient shop and how he got the job done.

Hi, I'm Kristen Caretta, associate editor for Paul Duchouquette, director of IT at Continental DataGraphics, will be speaking about coming into an IT shop as a new CIO and doing turnaround work.

When you come into a new shop at a new job, what are the first things you focus on?
Paul Duchouquette: So in my time, I've turned over a few IT shops and typically you gotta come in and assess the people, the processes and the actual technology. I would definitely put it in that order. Oftentimes, IT tends to focus too much on the technical and not nearly enough on the people. And the reason IT shops tend to get into bad situations or get to a point where they're not servicing the business in a way that they should is because they're neglecting, usually, the people on the process side of the equation. So a big part of it is trying to assess what that is, get your arms around it, understand the existing culture, set your vision and begin to move that culture towards the direction that matches your vision going forward.

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Paul Duchouquette on IT re-engineering

Re-engineering a legacy IT shop: Focus on people

You said people is the first thing that you focus on. What challenges do you face when trying to align people with a new vision?
Duchouquette: So primarily, it's getting that trust and that rapport built with the people. So within the IT organization you get to know each one of those individuals, what really is important to them, what are their hot buttons, what impassionates them, why are they there, what do they want to do with their lives, what are their careers. You actually get down on a personal level with them, try to build that trust, try to build that respect between each other and a lot of that is communicating well, saying what you mean, meaning what you say and expecting the same in return.

The rest is kind of going out to the organization as a whole, and talking with the various departments, the various stakeholders throughout the company and just be very frank and very open. Coming in as a new guy, you actually have the opportunity to, I think, get more honest feedback. And that's the opportunity to get it, when you first come in. So let them just give you a full sense and ask a lot of questions on how IT's been doing, how they can improve, what's their pain points. What do they see in their future? What are they trying to achieve as a business unit?

On top of that, a lot of times I'll actually spend time shadowing or even doing the job of people in different departments, in different areas. When I was with Virgin Entertainment, I used to go to the Virgin stores and I'd sell CDs and DVDs and work behind the cash register, receive shipping in the back. I need a true sense of what that experience was for my user; I need a true sense of what that experience was with their customers as well, because I'm there as an extension to help them.

So that whole process of learning a business and allowing the people in that business to learn who you are and what your vision is -- how do you decide how long to take for that process?
Duchouquette: It's difficult. There isn't a formula for it, per se. In some organizations you may spend more time or less time, depending on how difficult it is or how much further you need to move them from your vision -- what the gap, if you will, is.

But you can't really skip, you can't afford to skip, any of those steps. Without them, your vision isn't likely to gel, you're not likely to get the support of the organization behind you, you're not likely to build that trust, that rapport, that relationship with your team in order to be able to move that forward. So, yes, it is time-consuming and it's an extroverted task, and it's challenging for a lot of people that are not brought up in a business culture, that are just brought up in an IT culture. But it's essential. Without people, technology really doesn't even matter.

Obviously when you're coming in to do, what is essentially a turnaround job at an IT shop, you're gonna come across legacy programs or older, outdated technology. How do you go about starting to work on those projects and move forward with your vision?
Duchouquette: Sure. I have a process that I use that does kind of a gap analysis. And so what I try to do, as part of that process of talking to everyone, is also investigate those three components.

So in the areas of people, where are the opportunities, where are their issues, what are the recommendations. Same thing with processes, same thing with technologies. So as you get into that and you start to find, you know, layers of the onion start to unfold and you begin to see a bigger picture and the forest through the trees, as far as everything works and everything goes together.

Not to knock old technologies, some are very valid and some are worth keeping probably for the lifetime of the company, who knows? It's not that they're not done well or that they need to be replaced, but you need to get intimate with them to understand it, to know their value to the business, to know how you're going to be able to support that going forward into the future. So some of the applications, for example, may have been written at a time where there was no code control, there was no library, there was no source code for that. Identifying those pain points and realizing that these are things you may need to reverse engineer eventually. Or somehow make obsolete in the future with some other platform. Or how are you going to support it as it is for a long period of time, so getting all of that grouped together and then figuring out what you need to achieve, what your recommendation is and what the gap is between them.

In this process, I go through and I prioritize each of those and I kind of list it out as A's being my low-lying fruit, things I can do right away, have big bang for the buck; B's more midterm; C's kind of those things we maybe should do but may have a dependency on a B or an A or will take a long time to achieve. And with that, within the A's I'll do the one, two, three within the A's, the same with the B's, the same with the C's.

That usually turns into a Gantt chart. And from that Gantt chart, really outlines a very clear sense of the objectives of the IT staff going forward and what we're trying to achieve. And I'll put that together in an executive summary-type folder and give a PowerPoint presentation, usually, and to the executives as well. It's very key to get that buy-in at a high level of how the organization is, what you see as the vision, what the gaps are and what your plans are to try and achieve that to get that buy-in at that time.

Once you get that, now you've get a set course to go forward with. And then I turn that 18-month Gantt chart into a rolling chart so there's always things being added to it even though we're knocking stuff off. IT's a never-ending story, technology keeps on changing and you're always making improvements and there's always opportunity for better ways of doing things so, there's never an end in site. You keep evolving and keep progressing.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor

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