How to Lead in IT Management

The CIO of Texas' Lower Colorado River Authority says don't try to control all the technology in the organization from within a central entity.
by | June 21, 2011
 

As Chief Information Officer for the Lower Colorado River Authority, central Texas' public utility, Vijay George is responsible for the IT, telecommunications, governance risk compliance and project planning groups. Overseeing these four areas is a big undertaking, but George has emerged as a leader for driving technology innovation while meeting the utility's goals of providing reliable, low-cost services, as well as ensuring the protection and constructive use of the area's natural resources.

In his four years as CIO, George has built up the IT department's capacity and organizational maturity by implementing programs such as Agile programming and the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a set of IT management best practices first carried out by the U.K. government and since adopted by major companies like Disney.

George has reduced costs and increased services by implementing virtualization and cloud services, and leading efforts to share and collaborate among public entities. He has also adopted and promoted workforce enabling solutions like video and Web conferencing, increased efforts toward mobility and collaborative team sites.

The Center for Digital Government (a research organization owned by e.Republic, Inc., which also owns Governing) recognized George's various efforts by presenting him with the Demonstrated Leadership in Management of Information Technology award at last week's Best of Texas event. George talks about the technology enhancements the authority has implemented, challenges he's dealt with as CIO and his approach to managing information technology in this abridged, edited transcript.

In what ways does technology enhance the authority's ability to provide utilities and public services in central Texas?

In general, technology is very integral to almost every business function, service and unit that we have now, whether it's the traditional back-office things to the things associated with making sure the utility is running effectively. A lot rides on our core infrastructure, whether it's our internal data centers or our network, whether that's at the transport layer or the traditional network layer. All of those are interconnected and run through our infrastructure systems.

Have there been any technology advancements that have significantly changed the way the authority does business?

It used to be that you could think of technology as being on the side, especially in a utility -- which traditionally has been a lagger [in technology adoption]. But more and more, it's very critical. Today, I would say the big changes are Internet-based technology. We've gone toward a cloud-type approach on the non-mission-critical types of things. We're increasingly looking at how we leverage this for bringing value faster, quicker and more effectively.

What are some of the challenges you've dealt with at the authority?

Our budgets are increasingly constrained and we have increasing demand on our services. We can't do things the way we've done them. We have to put the things we've traditionally done -- [things] that we may have to rethink -- on the table. I'm also asking a lot of my peers -- are there partnership opportunities [not just with vendors] where we don't have to do the same things... We try to leverage each other collectively.

Do you have an example of a change you made because of the challenges you're dealing with?

I would say our approach to cloud services, especially with Software as a Service (SaaS). We would have been very reluctant to put things like that out there, outside of our control. I think we're more willing to try some of those things, and granted it's on non-mission-critical type things, non-business types of things. We're open to that much more than we would have been in a different economy.

What is your approach to management of information technology that you think makes you successful as a leader?

I don't know that my approach is revolutionary. You've got to recognize that technology is there to support the mission of the organization. We shouldn't get enamored with the technology for technology's sake. It's making sure you're aligning with the business and looking for how to bring technology toward that mission. That sometimes means we do it internally, but it could also mean that we leverage outside entities to do it and in different ways. It's not who does it that's important; it's that it gets done.

The other thing for us, especially as a utility, is that we must have a lot more discipline than we had traditionally. I think ITIL is going to help us create discipline with the way we carry out IT. That will gain us credibility with our business partners, especially in our plants and in the areas where it's important to have predictability. I've really pushed for that in my organization because it's the right thing to do [and] it also gains us credibility as an engineering type of company.

What advice do you have for CIOs as far as leadership in IT?

I would go back to making sure you're aligned with the mission for the organization. The other piece of that would be: Don't try to control all technology in the organization from within a central entity. Create a governance framework that allows for clear decision-making and transparency of what kinds of technology are being implemented. From a technology perspective: to try to centralize everything today -- it's just not possible, because every business function [has] a variant need for technology and it's integral to the way they do it [operate]. Create a governance framework that works in your organization, but don't try to go for everything being centralized.

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