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CIO looks to Millennial generation for new IT-business alignment

IT innovator Kevin Soohoo courts the Millennial generation for new ideas and instills in them his philosophy of IT-business alignment.

Kevin Soohoo, director of IT at Air Systems Inc., is committed to IT-business alignment. He also likes to think outside the box. So, when the San Jose, Calif.-based company recently made a strategic decision to add an energy solutions division to its construction services, he was determined to look beyond the server room for efficiencies -- and maybe even set an example for prospective energy customers. His quest led him to the employee cubicle, where a handful of ingenious changes saved the company energy, led to a new role for him in the business, and made him a SearchCIO-Midmarket.com 2012 IT Leadership Awards finalist in the categories of Green IT and IT Leader of the Year.

Kevin SoohooKevin Soohoo

In this SearchCIO-Midmarket.com podcast, Soohoo describes one of his cubicle adaptations that contributed to IT-business alignment. He also talks about the Millennial generation, which is the cohort at Air Systems that he taps -- and challenges -- for IT innovation.

SearchCIO-Midmarket.com: Air Systems recently added an energy solutions division to its lineup. Tell us a little about the about the work you've done to make sure Air Systems is practicing what it's selling to customers.

Soohoo: Right. It became more of an internal initiative when we decided, hey, energy solutions are going to be a big part of what we bring to the market and -- kind of the cliché of "practice what you preach" -- it caused us to look internally at how we use energy, how we are more green. This included everything from chemicals the janitors use all the way down to IT.

And when it came down it -- IT and energy use -- we really wanted to think outside the box. Things like servers or virtualization, obviously many people are doing it and are getting great results in terms of energy savings and footprints. What we really wanted to do was take it another step further, which was going down to the end-user level and saying, "End users, in their cubicles, they're using energy. They're using energy on the computer. They're using energy on their printers. They're using energy on other things in their cube, like their radios and heaters." We really wanted to try to see if we could impact that and manage that, at the same time trying to balance the users' comfort and not inconvenience them.

Tell us about one of the products or the changes that you made.

Yeah, one that was really easy and really not an arm-twister was the keyboard. A lot of people now have wireless keyboards and they're all battery-based. And we kind of said, "Look, batteries, they fill landfills, they cost us money obviously." And what we found, for keyboards at least, was solar-powered ones made by Logitech -- fairly inexpensive but they seem to do the trick. The surprising thing for us was, it really didn't take much light to really make these operate. It's not like you have to sit at a window with sunlight coming through. They work very well with just overhead lighting, standard overhead lighting. These things were packaged with recyclable materials; they're very sleek, they're like one-third of an inch thick. They look very sexy, so for people who want to use this and feel good at the same time, it was really a no-brainer to us -- an easy win for us to deploy. In the case of the keyboards, it was not really a project, per se. It was more, "OK, let's think innovatively."

So, speaking of innovation, who or what is driving IT innovation at your company? Is it your CEO who wants more IT innovation, or the sales force? And what's your part in all this?

Yeah, it's a couple of different dynamics that are happening. At least with Air Systems, from Day 1 when I came aboard, the need and the idea was to make IT a value-add, to make IT strategic. So, innovation is really at all levels of the company, all the way from the executive level, which is our CEO -- starting from him saying, "Hey, we need somebody to lead IT in a strategic sense," -- and all the way down to our newer employees in our engineering group.

And those are the guys -- the younger guys, right out of college -- that we are challenging to say, "Hey, how can we help you to do your job more effectively and more easily? How can we get you more data to make decision making for you more accurate or more effective?" And so, to say, where is the largest part of innovation in an organization right now? It actually is the new generation that's coming in right now. It's the kids who are coming out of school, who are growing up on Facebook and social media, and growing up on smartphones and being mobile, and being instant everything and being more collaborative. That's really driving innovation for us.

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