UPS’ Sutliff: Communication Key to Alignment

Stu Sutliff is vice president of Information Services at UPS Inc. In this role, Sutliff, a 30-year veteran of UPS, coordinates planning activities within IT and provides linkages to the company’s core business operations. He is also the IT representative to UPS’ corporate compliance committee, its information access and security governance committee, the information and technology strategy committee, and the information technology government committee.

CIO Insight Editor-in-Chief Ellen Pearlman asked Sutliff some questions about alignment upon presenting UPS with CIO Insight’s Partners in Alignment Award at the magazine’s September conference on alignment in Chicago. Here is an edited transcript of that interview.

What are the misperceptions that people have about the quest for alignment?

I think some of it has to do with IT people not understanding the business strategy and communicating it to their people. I think that’s very important. Back in 1997, when Oz Nelson was chairman, his idea of communicating the business strategy to the management ranks and even to nonmanagement started a communication process and became part of our culture.

We all have pocket cards that we carry with us that spells our mission, our scope and our strategy. And we refer back to it, and that’s really kind of how we manage a business, it’s how we help pick projects. And understanding that business strategy led Oz Nelson to establish what we call our “point of arrival metrics” in the mid-’90s that ties to IT performance to business goals.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned about what not to do in the quest for alignment?

First, there’s no such thing as an IT project. You can’t have a project that’s going to involve business and call it just an IT project. You have to be integrated with the business so business managers understand, for example, why they’re not going to get new enhancements to a system as you go through a migration.

At UPS, our last two CIOs were not technologists. They were from the finance and accounting departments. As a matter of fact, of the six of us who comprise IT leadership at UPS, five are from the finance and accounting organization. This says that there’s a strong business sense at UPS when it comes to IT.

IT can be expensive, and I think you have to make the right strategy investments and bring a certain business savvy to them, and we certainly see that. But at the same time, a few years ago when I was just coming into the IT environment, I noticed a transition. We were taking people who were purely IT who we hired off the street because we grew from 100 IT people to 4,700 IT people over the last 16 years. But the senior people in IT—the project leaders, project managers, the systems managers—started talking more and more about business issues than about technology.

So I think there’s a transformation at your senior levels of IT management to start thinking more about business strategy and goals. When IT people start thinking about our business problems, they start appreciating and understanding them better.

For example, in our billing operation, we have probably 700 IT professionals who are working on the various aspects of our billing system. At the same time, I have the functional responsibilities for the billing system, so I have 100 business people working with those 700 IT people every single day, whether it’s on a problem log or an enhancement. So you get that cross-pollination. I like to refer to it as collaborative management. You’ve got to bring the knowledge units together and share what they know.

Relating to this same point, if I, say, have problems in a payroll system, my boss on the business side, myself and my application manager will talk about it together because we consider that we fail and succeed together. We’ve just grown up in that atmosphere at UPS, and that we’re together on this. It’s not you or me, but more like we’re all in this together.

Unlike some other IT organizations, IT people at UPS are kept separate from the rest of the business people. They are in their own facility, in a different location because the culture for the IT organization is different from the culture of the rest of the company. Is this still the case at UPS and if so, why is this so?

Predominantly, our facilities in IT are what I would say predominantly 100 percent IT. But we have 700 IT professionals working in various aspects of billing, for example, and I have 100 business-side representatives sitting in that same building. So even though we’re isolated per se from that perspective, we’re not isolated from the business because we have the functional representatives in there. And they are in different geographical locations.

Now years ago, prior to our corporate move to Atlanta, our corporate office was in Greenwich, Conn., and our main application development was in the Paramus and Mahwah, N.J. areas. Well, that was only a 35-mile stretch, so we could pretty much do that commute pretty easily.
To some degree, we may have the IT people isolated so they’re not out there bringing in some new piece of technology that we won’t want to try and support.

CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight offers thought leadership and best practices in the IT security and management industry while providing expert recommendations on software solutions for IT leaders. It is the trusted resource for security professionals who need network monitoring technology and solutions to maintain regulatory compliance for their teams and organizations.

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