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Casey Hall: Houston IT Symposium emphasizes leadership and innovation


The third annual Houston IT Symposium, hosted by the Houston chapter of SIM, was held on August 6, 2015 (see also my blog post on last year's event). I again had the honor of being on the planning committee along with colleagues from the SIM Houston board. The event grew to over 200 participants this year and the agenda was jam-packed.

I enjoy this event because of the high percentage of content that is prepared and delivered by practitioners. The morning keynote by Harry Campbell provided leadership and personal development advice based on his years at large companies such as Proctor and Gamble and Sprint. Harry also shared how his years assigned to Walmart and being around Sam Walton influenced him. He talked about the importance of understanding oneself and his website offers a free tool you can use to identify your own "Seven Words About Me" personal brand.

The afternoon keynote from Eric Silva, CIO of Oceaneering, provided lessons in pursuing excellence in IT over the last 10+ years. I worked in Eric's IT organization at Lyondell Chemical and it was my privilege to introduce him at this conference. An overall theme was to rely on the personal traits of Passion, Energy, Focus, and Discipline that all employees can exhibit whether in leadership roles or not, and whether in IT or not.

He also described how many challenges IT faces are similar to what other organizations in a business face. However, IT can be made harder because of how technology pervades all aspects of life resulting in too many experts, herd behaviors, and constant change. Some pitfalls can be of our own making and a good defense is to always step back and make sure the context of the business situation is understood before charting the course.

The last part of his talk focused on the importance of people and creating a structure for people to work in that utilizes their talents best. This talk was a great bookend to Harry Campbell's morning keynote as both emphasized the importance of passion and understanding the talents of people.

Innovation Panel

I moderated a panel discussion of fellow CIOs discussing the topic of innovation that was part of one of the breakout tracks. Each panelist provided a unique perspective based on the different sizes, industries, and business strategies of their companies.

  • Allen Wuescher, CIO for Toshiba International, spoke about how being a leader at a product and innovation driven company creates opportunities and challenges for IT. A unique aspect of his role is that he has a CTO counterpart with which he collaborates. He shared stories of some successes Toshiba has achieved including one outcome that was technically very successful and innovative but ultimately was not a fit with consumer preferences. A lesson learned is that the innovations that last solve a problem in a way that the end user buys into.
  • George Crawford, CIO for Catapult Energy Services, spoke about how his IT strategy and innovations must meet business needs as well as support the investment goals and exit strategies of the private equity investors who buy and sell the operating companies in the portfolio he supports. He shared some success stories for investments in technology that smaller companies could afford that differentiate them and provide services that their large company customers value.
  • Brad Rector, CIO for Air Liquide Americas, spoke about how he pursues innovation within the framework of a large global company. He has structured his organization in a way that significantly prioritizes the amount of time his business analysts work with business functions on improvement versus base support. The current target is 85% of their time which is producing the ability to work on a higher volume of improvements, large and small.

Wrapping Up

The commitment of the SIM chapter to this event assures the quality of it and allows both SIM members and the overall Gulf Coast IT community to learn from each other. We also raise money to help organizations with their STEM-related programs. Checks were presented to Citizen Schools, Genesys Works, and Waller ISD during the event by Clif Triplett, President of the SIM Houston Chapter. More to come in this area!

Thanks to all who planned and participated in this event. I look forward to next year's event being bigger and having a larger reach.

Posted by Casey Hall, CIO and Partner.
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