Tech Talk

Phuong Tram, the CIO and vice president of IT for DuPont, says "The CIO must anticipate trends, work cross-functionally, and build the next generation of leaders that can sustain forward progress.”

Phuong Tram discusses the future of enterprise technology, gaining a global perspective, and how to develop tomorrow’s business partners from today’s IT experts

What’s the first thing you consider when tackling a global IT project?

Phuong Tram: From a tech standpoint, we evaluate where the solution is in its life cycle: Is it in a mature stage that has not become a commodity? We don’t invest resources in developing something we can just purchase as a commodity. Then we consider how an IT project will integrate with our existing systems and processes. Those are purely IT considerations, though. I call my organization IT&P for information technology and process. That broadens my perspective to consider the business side. I try to evaluate our business with four readiness indicators. 

What are those indicators? How can they let you know the business is ready to handle an IT integration? 

Tram: I gauge the readiness of our leadership, organization, the solution itself, and infrastructure. I must have the support of our business leaders. I need to determine if our organization can handle implementation alone or if change management is necessary. I need to evaluate the effectiveness of the solution and its compatibility with our legacy systems. And finally, I need to ensure that our infrastructure, particularly in emerging economies, can handle the project.

IT has a reputation for being capital intensive, and you’ve talked about how cash is king in an enterprise. How do you make the case for IT investment and the importance of a project? 

Tram: At DuPont, we have a very clear strategy. We understand what it takes to win in 2014. Every project is good, but the key criterion is its ability to advance DuPont by giving us a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Of those projects that will advance our strategy, I elevate those that we are ready for—based on the readiness indicators—and those that prove a return on investment. I normally require that any productivity program in IT has to pay back itself.

What does a CEO need to know to make the best decisions about IT?

Tram: CIOs and their team will manage the tech details, but the CEO should know how IT initiatives will deliver results, such as impact on earnings, security, etc. There must be full transparency with the CEO regarding the impact on the business, value created, risk of foregoing an initiative, and security impacts.

You bring an operations and customer service background to the IT function. How does that influence your decisions? Does the modern CIO need to have an interdisciplinary background? 

Tram: My background makes my IT approach much more relevant and valued. I always think about business value, readiness, and function value. The IT that does customer-service technology is the same IT that works for the supply chain. It helps me look at things from a cross-function perspective. The role of the CIO in the digital age has become very complex because of the intersection of business processes and technology know-how to make end-to-end improvements. The CIO must also have a strong network of peers in each business and function, including legal, as no one person knows it all. In IT&P, we see everything: manufacturing, customer service, HR. This capability to look across is what we are building into the next generation of IT&P leaders. Eighty percent of this is learned on the ground, which includes unlearning some things that we no longer do to make room for new capabilities.

What trends in technology and global commerce are you seeing?

Tram: The consumerization of IT has been taking place for years and is embedded within our businesses along with digital social networking. With the explosion of collaborative technologies, the protection of trade secrets, cyber security, and intellectual property will be increasingly important moving forward. “Big Data” will soon be the requisite for providing one source of truth for the business and allowing subject matter experts to work together to win in the marketplace.

Is the cloud all it’s cracked up to be? What advantage does it provide, and is it the right solution for everyone? 

Tram: We don’t refer to it as “cloud computing” at DuPont. Instead, we “buy IT as a service.” Salesforce.com, Microsoft Office 365, virtual desktops, and the ability to collaborate internally and externally are examples of services we buy. Some CIOs are headed toward cloud computing, others are not. Each should ask, “Is the timing right?” and “What are the qualifications?” You can’t launch everything in-house, but at the same time you have to consider what it will take to integrate services and manage different vendors on different wavelengths.