Balancing Innovation Against Operational Activities | Vennard Wright

Introduction

As CIO and VP of Operations for Iron Bow Technologies in Herndon, Virginia it is my responsibility to effectively lead company-wide efforts that result in unique, creative ways of doing business that separate us from our competitors and serve as the basis for winning and delivering on new opportunities and Innovation.   These efforts include identifying new ways to realize increased efficiency through automation and business 

process reengineering, automation of manual and paper based processes, elimination of systemic redundancies and moving forward with new  technologies and internal processes that will help to serve as strategic differentiators, all while ensuring that routine, foundational activities still occur as expected and enterprise level systems remain secure, available, monitored and actively supported around the clock.

This balancing act is incredibly challenging under normal circumstances but has been made even more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic which has forced the majority of technical teams and end users to work remotely which leads to additional complexity and demands for support from the IT department.

For most companies with limited resources and technology budgets this means that the same resources are relied upon heavily for innovation while executing day-to-day operational responsibilities, creating repetitive conflicts between strategic and tactical initiatives. Most technology leaders will agree that, without executive level support and intervention, operational duties normally win out and take precedence over other peripheral activities that help to move the proverbial “ball” forward.

I’ve successfully addressed this quandary both in my current and in prior roles by identifying and empowering business end users who become a virtual extension of the central IT department by formally designating them as IT partners that serve as liaisons between the lines of business and IT for the purposes of eliciting requirements, identifying opportunities for improvement and communicating the potential impact of planned maintenance activities. In addition to creating a mechanism for providing valuable input into plans for technology, it also provides visibility into how well the IT department is performing against SLAs for project and portfolio management.

The most important role of the IT partner in this model is to help the technology team envision the future state as enterprise level initiatives such as ERP upgrades, system enhancements and mobile application deployments are planned and implemented. It also provides a means to routinely prioritize project requests from various departments within the business, based on pre-defined, agreed upon criteria such as alignment with strategic direction, impact to existing operations, available funding and ability to scale for potential reuse in other scenarios.

To ensure Innovation, progress and to encourage regular feedback, IT partners are considered key stakeholders and paired with IT business analysts in monthly meetings called Technology Working Groups which are forums for introducing new project requests, providing status updates on in-flight initiatives and discussing possible solutions for known business challenges that have proven to be most vexing for end users.

The Technology Working Groups also serve as the initial entry point for the Enterprise Program Management Office (EPMO) which evaluates and monitors the status of enterprise level initiatives such as a website redesign or Microsoft Office 365 deployment that will have a significant impact on the entire business.  This also provides visibility at all levels into formulation of the technology roadmap and strategic plan to ensure there is a healthy balance of operational activities and new technology projects that will help to provide innovative ways of solving existing challenges and eliminating troublesome bottlenecks within the business.

Our goal is to create an annual technology roadmap, approved by the EPMO, that focuses no more than 70 percent of our efforts on operational and maintenance related activities and 20 percent of our efforts on enhancement of existing technology, leaving 10 percent of time, for the technology team, devoted to innovation related activities and evaluation of new technologies that help to serve as the foundation for delivery of creative ways of redefining the way we do business and execute against priorities on a daily basis.

In the past I’ve also put a goal in place of conducting five technology pilots per year, with the objective of evaluating and implementing the viability and success of those pilots against pre-established benchmarks to gauge the potential impact of moving forward into production.

Each team within the technology department (Application Development, Infrastructure & Operations, Information Security, and Governance) was responsible for identifying at least one new technology project for evaluation per fiscal year and managing that pilot through to the final phase which included IT partners who helped to determine whether the pilot was a solid candidate to be funded and proceed to the next stage. Past examples of successful technology pilots included evaluation of identity and access management tools, chat bot capabilities and robotic process automation.

We also relied heavily on introducing paid college interns into an experiential learning model over a 10-week period during the summer months to help us evaluate viability of new technologies such as augmented reality goggles, machine learning, video gaming and drones to see whether there was an effective use case for application within the business.

There are many effective models to consider for your own team, but innovation is an important part of any technology operation and should be more than an afterthought when making plans for your 2021 budget and roadmap.  To that end, I’m wishing you the best of luck on your journey toward becoming a more innovative technology organization!

Vennard Wright

Vennard Wright (PMP, ITIL v3 Practitioner) is currently the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Vice President (VP) of Operations for Iron Bow Technologies. As CIO/VP of Operations, he provides leadership and oversight for the information technology (IT), order operations and manufacturing functions. In this capacity, it is his responsibility to transform the management of business technology capabilities and client services to support Iron Bow’s operations by ensuring that service delivery is in full alignment with senior leadership’s strategic goals and objectives.

Prior to joining Iron Bow, his professional IT experience was comprised of multiple senior leadership roles which included serving as CIO for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), CIO for Prince George’s County Government (MD), Director of Technology for Hillary Clinton during her successful United States Senate re-election campaign and subsequent 2008 Presidential Campaign, as well as serving as Director of Technology of Technology during Rushern L. Baker III’s successful run for County Executive of Prince George’s County, MD in 2010. He was also Chief Technology Officer and Technical Organization Delivery Manager for Electronic Data Systems (EDS), which was subsequently acquired by Hewlett Packard (HP).

Mr. Wright has also served as a volunteer and participated in numerous fundraisers and philanthropic efforts for various worthy causes. In addition to more than two decades of IT management experience, Vennard brings an equal amount of hands-on experience in working with young people through myriad avenues. His experience includes mentoring students in multiple settings. As a USA Track & Field (USATF) Level-One certified coach and USATF certified official, he has coached many young athletes into NCAA scholarships.

Because of his work in the technology industry, he has received numerous awards, authored multiple articles and spoken publicly on many topics, ranging from the importance of experiential learning in our educational systems to the changing role that emerging technology plays in future career prospects.

Mr. Wright also serves on a number of boards that help to widen his perspective on the latest methods for effectively applying digital technologies and best practices to solve common enterprise level problems. He is applying those same principles to solve some of the most vexing IT challenges in the Washington DC Metropolitan region.

Vennard Wright resides in Clinton, MD with his wife, Janelle, and four children.

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