Jim MacLennan, Chief Information Officer at IDEX Corporation, sits down with Argyle to discuss everything from "design thinking" to milennials to fostering an engaged, innovative culture.
As a leader, how are you fostering and driving innovation within the IT space?
Actually, IDEX is working continuously to drive new ideas across the whole company (IDEX is an acronym for Innovation, Diversity, and Excellence). We’re particularly focused in the product development space – and Corporate IT has been working to introduce Smart, Connected Products (aka “the Internet of Things”) to our Business Units. Our operating model is designed to empower the BUs, so we are not trying to impose any design or technology standards. The opportunity, however, is to leverage the breadth and depth of our global business to help specific product lines tackle and solve new challenges in areas like sensors, communications, data management, and machine learning, to help create value for our customers.
How do you move conversations away from cost savings and towards the bigger picture of information becoming part of the product?
First, we look across the value chain, and identify where we are creating value – for the engineers and product managers in the BUs, for our dealer / distributors, and (ultimately) for our customers. We also like to focus on the top line – where is the potential revenue, and how big could it be? Too often, folks like to talk about the incremental cost of the sensors, or the cost of building software and databases. But if the recurring top-line potential is 10x the cost? That will get their attention.
To be fair, if the top-line potential is perceived to be small – we won’t force the issue. But that’s a great conversation to be having – because we’re focusing on the outcomes and creating value, and not allowing a focus on cost to derail a good idea too early.
"'Digital' is a trending topic that will soon become the norm – a new way of thinking that can and will pervade an organization in many ways."
How would you go about approaching new tech trends such as 3D printing?
Using the same general approach; taking a high-level look at where the value is, and which directions this new technology might take us. Does your company want to use 3DP to optimize manufacturing – or to outsource manufacturing altogether? Questions like that will be wildly different for different organizations, and you must take the longer view.
After that, keep following the proof-of-concept approach – small-scale experiments to move beyond the hype and get into the practical problems of design, scale, materials, and cost. The right experiments, at the proper scale, will inform product designers and engineers and set up some great Voice of the Customer conversations.
Can you elaborate on where you see “Digital” falling? Is it within the realm of the CIO, the CMO or someone else?
This is a question of leadership, not skills; for most companies, “going digital” can be a transformative event that creates a lot of value, with significant implications both external (markets, customers, suppliers, and regulatory) and internal (skills, processes, and economics). A digital leader should be reasonably fluent in a range of areas – hands-on technology for scale and sustainability helps, but so does design thinking and solid communication skills.
“Digital” is a trending topic that will soon become the norm – a new way of thinking that can and will pervade an organization in many ways. Whatever the title, it’s something that should be owned and driven by someone on the CEO’s staff. And for some companies, the Board may need an infusion of digital savvy and awareness – it can be a significant strategic driver.
"New tech, new people, new process, new expectations – wait five years, and we’ll be talking about a completely different set of specifics. The trick, however, is to build an engaged team that can sense and react in constructive ways."
Can you touch upon how the dynamics within the office have shifted due to an influx of millennial hires, open tech, and varying compensation and digital skill level?
The pervasiveness of mobile and consumer tech, and the increasing power of the customer to demand less friction in the process (order, receive, implement, and use your products and services) has changed expectations and ushered in a demand for new and different skills. These changes are not the product of any one generation, but the collective maturation of your products and market spaces. Sounds like fancy talk, I know – but it’s been a constant dynamic ever since I joined the work force.
New tech, new people, new process, new expectations – wait five years, and we’ll be talking about a completely different set of specifics. The trick, however, is to build an engaged team that can sense and react in constructive ways.
Do you have any last thoughts that you would like to share?
I’ve mentioned the growing impact of and need for “design thinking”, the impact on communication, products, customer and team relationships, and the effective application of digital. I’m not sure it gets enough mind share with all teams – something to be aware of.
James P. MacLennan (Jim) is the Chief Information Officer at IDEX Corporation, an applied solutions business that sells highly engineered products to customers in a variety of markets worldwide. Jim has responsibility all aspects of the Corporate Information Technology service offerings for the portfolio business units.
Prior to IDEX, Jim had a dual role as CIO for Pactiv LLC, a packaging manufacturer and distribution company serving the foodservice and food processing industry, and Vice President of IT for Reynolds Services Inc., providing ERP, Supply Chain, and Data Warehousing services for Reynolds Consumer Products. Prior to Pactiv, Jim moved through increasing responsibilities at Culligan International, Searle Pharmaceuticals (Monsanto), and other diverse organizations.
Jim’ has over 25 years experience in a progression of roles, translating the strategic drivers of a variety of business models and markets into tactical plans and tangible results. His career spans multiple industries, including real estate / property management, building construction and maintenance services, pharmaceuticals, consumer durables, industrial manufacturing, and consumer package goods. Jim started his career at a software development and consulting firm, which gives him a unique insight to vendor relationships and the role of IT in driving business value.
Jim has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame, and a MBA in Marketing from DePaul University. He also maintains a web site and blog (www.cazh1.com), where he writes on his experience and insights on the intersection of business and technology.