CIO Paul Johnson: Investing in a Down Economy

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 02-16-2009 Print


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Making it through the recession requires tough choices and a focus on what comes next.

Paul Johnson has a plan for getting through tough times. It looks a lot like the plan he had before tough times hit.

That's not to say that Johnson, the veteran CIO of financial services company BB&T, isn't tightening his belt and resetting some priorities. But the Winston-Salem, N.C., bank is healthier than many of its rivals, and Johnson sees the chance to widen the gap during the downturn and accelerate into an eventual recovery.

To do that, he's sticking with the strategic vision set in 2007, which calls for an IT transformation project to support BB&T's transition from an acquisition-driven company to one that focuses more on the organic growth of its business lines. CEO John Allison IV, who retired at the end of 2008, turned a once-sleepy small bank into a regional powerhouse with assets of some $137 billion by gobbling up 60 banks and thrifts, along with scores of insurance agencies and non-bank financial services companies.

Johnson's job is to remake his organization from a traditional cost center to a value-generation center that is closely aligned with current business priorities and customer needs. The goal, he says, is to spend a third of his time on traditional jobs ("keeping the lights on and the doors open"), a third reacting to the needs presented by the business and a third on projects that generate competitive advantage. A big part of the portfolio involves serving customers, who expect excellent online service and security.

Thus, a big multiyear investment in network infrastructure, which Johnson expects to generate about $100 million in savings in the next five years, is proceeding on pace. The IT services budget for 2009 shows a double-digit increase over 2008; aggregate IT costs, which reflect efficiencies gained over time, will not rise as sharply.


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