David Banks was working as a consultant on a risk-management project for Gulf when the company merged Cumberland Farms and Gulf Oil. It was at that moment he knew what the company needed most from him. "I put my hand up and said, 'You need a CIO.'"
"I had to open their eyes to the amount of consolidation and backlog work that needed to be done at Cumberland," he says. That backlog included 30-year-old core applications running on a mainframe, and aging equipment at 600 stores that was, as Banks puts it, "past its useful life." The company had been through an extended period of under-investment in IT - it was time for fresh equipment and a fresh perspective.
To take the company forward, the first thing Banks did as a new CIO was get a team together.
No one knew what the technology spend was
"When I walked in, nobody really knew what the technology spend was, and there was a lack of accountability. Legacy systems had to be replaced, there were clear inefficiencies, and I was given the incentive to tighten up the ship."
Part of that tightening meant taking a close look at staffing - who was doing what and who should be where. He got three key senior managers into critical roles - retail automation, wholesale fuel applications and shared services.
"There was a lot of reshuffling at the top. Not everybody fit into the new structure, or even wanted to," says Banks.
Getting these executives in place maintained the company's institutional memory and intellectual property by keeping the knowledge holders within the company.
Wherever he could, Banks also migrated folks who had previously worked developing legacy systems into application-manager roles, where they oversee vendors and newly implemented software. In some cases, Banks says, this was a tough transformation. These people had to quickly get up to speed on the new applications and technology, but because they knew the business well, their "base of business knowledge made it all work."
There can be returns on IT investment
With his team in place, Banks needed to retain his own seat at the table. "I had to get inserted into the board. I found a reason to be at the table every quarter."
To ensure that he got the board's trust early, Banks provided clear business-oriented objectives and then delivered. When mistakes happened, he was honest about them. But for the most part, his team accomplished its goals, and those early wins won the executives' respect. "We had to change the mentality about potential returns on IT investment, and show that IT was not just a cost centre," says Banks.
He relied on his team of senior players and his own business know-how to get board approval for changes he made. "I've always had business and operational responsibilities, so it's easy for me to present what's going on in the technical world in business terms. I drove a business case for every investment we were making. I kept inserting the CIO role as a business driver," says Banks.
"For the first year or two we spent more money, but that was the key to changing people's minds," Banks says. He did successfully change old assumptions.
Despite making so much progress, challenges remain, including sticking to governance policies. "There's always pressure to move a little quicker; we are a heavily audited group. But when the board gets good reports from internal auditing, we have an easier time asking for funding," says Banks.