After nearly thirty years as an IT professional, many of those in executive roles, Todd Rumsey knows firsthand the challenges of convincing organizations to invest in information technology. “The age-old challenge in IT management is to break out of the traditional technical and support role and be considered as a strategic player, and to gain an equal seat at the executive table alongside finance, sales, engineering, and operations,” says Rumsey, chief information officer of Clarcor, a Franklin, Tennessee-based manufacturer of filtration systems.
While risk mitigation is important, if that is the only argument a CIO has to convince company leaders of the importance of IT, then their approach is shortsighted, according to Rumsey. “You have to learn the business and find out exactly what drives competitive advantage within your markets, then leverage the better utilization of technology to provide those services,” he says.
Rumsey has spent his entire career in the IT field, and much of his time has been with manufacturing companies. His roles, including three years at Panasonic, have included international aspects. The Clarcor job marks his second stint with a publicly traded American company. He’s also worked for German, Japanese, British, and French businesses.
“Luckily in all those environments, I’ve had international exposure,” Rumsey says. “In many of those environments I had direct reports in foreign countries, or at the very least had responsibility for supporting operations in multiple countries.”
Rumsey credits his decision to pursue IT as a career path in part to his brother-in-law, a certified public accountant who was involved in supporting computerization from a finance standpoint. A computer math class in high school piqued his interest, and he went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in system analysis with a concentration in finance from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
“I never really envisioned myself as a techie,” Rumsey says. “I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a passion. What I’ve enjoyed about my career path in IT has really been the problem-solving side of it.”
“Corporate America [must] recognize the strategic value of IT to the extent that young people understand that if they choose IT as a profession, they very much can be the future CEO.”
In less than five years as chief information officer at Clarcor, Rumsey has transformed the manufacturer’s IT operations from a decentralized structure to more of a shared-services environment. The company has more than 6,000 employees and has operated almost like a holding company for self-reliant businesses. But after a new CEO came on board, Rumsey was able to pursue his goal of moving Clarcor into more of a group-structured IT environment.
When he joined the firm, each business unit had its own e-mail service and other standalone infrastructure support services. The way Rumsey sees it, if an IT service in and of itself does not provide a strategic competitive advantage, then it needs to be viewed as a utility. And IT services that are purely a utility are candidates for consolidation, saving the company money and freeing up IT managers to focus on more strategic areas.
Rumsey also moved the company IT infrastructure to managed co-located data centers, providing the resiliency and service level that a shared service demands, Rumsey says.
“We are a manufacturing company, and we want to be very, very good at developing new product, bringing that product to market, manufacturing, and distributing that product at the absolute best value to our customers and our shareholders,” Rumsey says. “In that value statement, where does managing data center facilities stand? Having each manufacturing company managing a data center doesn’t enhance our value proposition within our markets.”
The 2013 acquisition of General Electric’s air filtration business served as a catalyst for the development of shared services. The cost of keeping the business unit running on GE’s shared services after the purchase was incredibly high.
“It became a huge incentive for us to build upon this foundation of shared-service support and infrastructure, make the investment it takes to really stand this up to support a major portion of our business, and run with it,” he says. “That’s exactly what we did. Within eight months of the date of acquisition, we had completely transitioned all of the IT services of that business off of GE’s IT services.”
That situation was a perfect example of IT as a strategic partner, Rumsey says, since it not only helped alleviate the ongoing cost quicker than planned, but it also enabled the integration of the business into Clarcor.
Rumsey also says one of the major challenges facing IT organizations is recruiting and retaining talented workers, since there’s a lack of IT graduates coming out of universities, according to Rumsey.
“It doesn’t seem to be an area of study that young people seem interested in pursuing, and I think that certainly is a challenge,” he says. “The longer-term answer has to be for corporate America to recognize the strategic value of IT to the extent that young people understand that if they choose IT as a profession, they very much can be the future CEO or chairman of the board of an organization.”