Tech Officer Vantage Point: The Boeing Company’s Susan Doniz

Leading tech officers give the inside track on how to unlock advantage through tech.

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Three takeaways from our conversation with Susan Doniz, Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President of Information Technology and Data Analytics at The Boeing Company.

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One of the most important parts of the tech officer role is a partnership mindset. A solitary tech officer will never be able to move the needle on their own. It really does take a village.

Susan Doniz
Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President of Information Technology and Data Analytics, The Boeing Company



Why change management is the most important part of tech transformation…

In my experience, when it comes to tech transformation it’s not usually the technology that’s the hard part. It’s the psychology of change. Tech transformations often fail, or take longer than planned, because organizations underestimate how difficult it can be to change fundamental ways of working.

How do you get around this? One way is to remember that human beings are at the center of everything you are doing. That means it’s often better to design a solution that works for as many people as possible, rather than something that is intellectually perfect. It can also be helpful to break down transformations into smaller chunks. Instead of trying to make massive changes all in one go, which can be overwhelming, take it one step at a time and constantly iterate.


Why tech transformations take a village…

One of the most important parts of the tech officer role is a partnership mindset. A solitary tech officer will never be able to move the needle on their own. It really does take a village.

So, my role is to bring everyone together and make sure they are all singing from the same song sheet. In many ways, we are the conductors. You have someone playing the flute, someone who plays the violin, someone who plays the cello. How can you make sure they all play together beautifully—end-to-end?

And that requires the involvement of the CEO and the CFO. Having these people alongside me—and supporting the journey—has been transformational. But to get their engagement, you have to take them on a journey with their heads and their hearts. Think about taking them to other companies that have transformed through technology to see the results in action. Think about how you get frontline employees to explain it to those leaders. Because when you hear frontline employees explain how technology has changed their work, a CEO will never forget it.


What tech officers need from CEOs to be effective…

At the very least, tech officers must have a seat at the table. You need to be sitting there with the rest of your peers, reporting to the CEO. Otherwise, it will be very hard to make a difference, because you’re not in the milieu of what’s going on.

We also need permission from the CEO to embark on an iterative journey, understanding that things might not go perfectly the first time and there might be bumps in the road. It’s about allowing for a culture of continuous improvement. CEOs must ask the important questions, be engaged, be ready to learn and become more digitally savvy, so they can meet tech officers in the middle.

It’s also important that CEOs live and breathe tech-enabled change. For example, at a previous company, we were implementing new digital dashboards and the CEO asked me, “What do you need from me? What do you need me to do?” The traditional answer is, “I need you to stand up in front of everybody and say, ‘These dashboards are great, you should use them.’” But actually, we need CEOs to go a step further. So, I said, “I need you to use these dashboards. When you go to your next business review, I want you to show up and use the dashboard. Not PowerPoint, not Excel, but the dashboard.” And when the CEO started using it, it changed everything. Walking the talk is incredibly powerful for the ripple effect to happen.



The drawbacks when tech officers don’t report to the CEO…

We now we have these huge mammoth companies and the only way for them to work is if they break things down into silos. And often, the tech officer is the only person in the organization who can drive the integration of technology right across the business—they see the process from beginning to end, and they really understand outcomes across marketing, supply chains, finance, etc.

So, when tech officers don’t report to the CEO, the CEO is missing that very important data point around how everything fits together and the complexities that creates for employees. It’s only when CEOs have that visibility that these huge companies can begin to act like small startups.


Why it’s so important to empower digital natives…

To move the needle on transformation, we need both top-down and bottom-up action. That’s the magic combination. Today’s workforces have never been more engaged, intelligent, or understanding. We need to find ways to empower these people when it comes to digital transformation and allow open collaboration.

The world we’re living in is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, which means we can’t be stagnant and we can’t have long roadmaps. The great thing about digital natives is that they are willing to try new things, make mistakes (and learn quickly from them), and move forward. They do something and say, “Oh, that didn’t work, let’s lift ourselves up and let’s do it again.”

Digital natives are also committed to continuous improvement. They are willing to keep trying and they constantly want a challenge. You don’t hear them say, “OK, now I’m done.” I love that. The way I see it, digital natives should be an integral part of any tech transformation effort.


How tech officers are becoming more P&L savvy…

In the past, I would say that we were not as P&L savvy as we needed to be. Now, CEOs understand more about tech and the tech officer understands much more about the P&L, which allows us to better articulate the outcomes of tech-enabled change. Rather than just saying, “Hey, we’re going to the Cloud,” it’s now about being clear on how that will bring us better business stability. In our case, it helps with high computing power. Every time an aircraft flies, it creates petabytes of data. So, you need hyper-cloud to give you the power to compute that information in real time. It helps us, for example, better plan for the current weather conditions, or the current aircraft conditions, so we can reduce turbulence, etc. Being able to articulate those benefits means we’re in a position to now help the CEO make better decisions for our customers.


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