Cory Elliott Breaks the Traditional IT Mind-Set

Legacy Reserves CIO Cory Elliott is changing the way companies should think of technology and the people who manage it

For a lot of companies, Legacy Reserves chief information officer Cory Elliott observes, the IT department is dismissed as the “laptop and cell phone department.” When he first arrived at the independent energy company in 2013 to begin his work as director of IT, he saw fractured relationships between IT and management as a major obstacle for Legacy’s potential. Now, as Legacy’s head of IT, human resources, and real estate, one of his most important goals is to break the mind-set of IT as a utility and change the way companies think of technology and the people who manage it.

Cory Elliot Legacy Reserves
Cory Elliot, Legacy Reserves Photo: Kim Cowan

The son of working-class Texans who worked hard despite no high school education, Elliott takes inspiration from his father’s ability to build relationships with his workers, instilling values of servant leadership he follows to this day. He paid his way through technical college, graduated top of his class, and started at the bottom of the oil & gas industry with a helpdesk job at a Midland-based company. From there, he worked his way up the IT ladder at various energy companies until a connection with Legacy’s vice president of IT and tax landed him there six years ago.

When he first arrived at Legacy, Elliott immediately noticed some major misconceptions of IT’s role in the company culture. “The challenge was in relationships, not technology,” Elliott says. Management didn’t have the necessary understanding of the importance of IT in the everyday operations of a big company like Legacy.

To that end, one of Elliott’s major goals as CIO has been to build relationships with the executive team, every manager, and as many employees as he could, and help them to understand the crucial role IT plays in their operations. For his first couple of years at Legacy, he supervised several data center builds, updated old tech, and rebuilt all the IT infrastructure.

After the department gained some confidence in the “plumbing” of IT, as Elliott calls it, the information gaps between divisions became his next target. The staff holds regular “Let’s Talk about IT” meetings, which has become a catalyst for building those important connections. There, as with other conversations with employees and managers, Elliott and his team explain to operations engineers, management, and others the role IT plays in their everyday work. “We’re both in the business of fixing problems,” he frequently tells them.

All of these initiatives and more are central to Elliott’s premise that IT should be seen as more than a utility for management; they’re a vital part of the business. “I go through seasons of what I want IT to be considered,” Elliott admits, but one constant is that he wants IT to be taken seriously as a department within corporate and management structures. Elliott has made it his job to make the rest of Legacy see the value of their work by working alongside each and every department.

“The beauty of IT is that you can wait a year and it’ll reinvent itself.”

Perhaps it’s this holistic approach to departmental relations—the idea that every part of the business is connected—that aids Elliot in his recently-adopted additional duties of managing Legacy’s HR and real estate departments. “When you think about IT at its core, it’s really just dealing with people and places and things,” explains Elliott, noting that this expanded role is a “natural change” for him. Now, he gets to deal with the other side of the people equation, which he considers a thrilling expansion of his existing work in IT.

One major initiative for Elliott’s HR work has been implementing a new HR system, which is currently in its second phase. “The existing system was just a payroll system, not a true human capital management system,” he explains. All the other systems that take place around payroll—recruiting, employee status changes, performance management, compensation management—existed outside of the system. “We were living through Microsoft Excel chaos trying to manage it all.”

Legacy has already implemented their replacement payroll system, which now includes more robust features. With phase two, which will be implemented during the next nine months, Elliott plans to bring in a website presence to aid in recruiting and solidifying a workflow for new hires. Furthermore, they will be implementing performance and compensation management. “We’re taking out a lot of the manual processes, excel worksheets, and making it more systematic,” he explains. This will give management and executives a better set of tools to manage the business.

Between IT, HR, and real estate, Elliott’s job at Legacy involves putting on a lot of different hats. “If you’d ask me a year ago if I’d be in charge of HR and real estate, I’d say ‘hell no,’” he jokes. That said, the integration of these extra duties into his existing IT work strengthens his thesis that IT has a deeply unfounded reputation as a disposable utility. “The beauty of IT is that you can wait a year, and it’ll reinvent itself,” he says.

Whatever direction the field moves next, he plans to move right along with it, bringing the rest of Legacy along with him.