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CIO Praveen Jonala and his IT team asked the question, “Who are we?” This led to a new vision of the IT organization that is grounded in empathy and humility.

Praveen Jonnala was appointed global vice president for digital transformation and business solutions at CommScope in 2008. CommScope was a $2 billion producer of network infrastructure solutions. Today after 14 years of acquisitions, the company has more than quadrupled its size. Jonnala, who was named CIO in 2021, said that “what worked for us 10 years ago will not work for us the next three.” “Customer demand and products are changing, so CommScope must change as well.”

The company’s transformation strategy, CommScope NEXT, is named and has three pillars. It aims to grow organically and depart from the mergers-and-acquisitions growth strategy, optimize product portfolio by aligning closer to customer needs and markets, and give customers a competitive edge by simplifying operations and focusing on operational efficiency.

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IT’s role is to support business transformation.

It is impossible to overstate the IT organization’s potential to be a leader in CommScope NEXT. The company’s future depends on its ability to drive efficiency, transform factories, assist R&D with product development and create a seamless customer experience.

Jonnala says that the real key to IT’s success at CommScope NEXT is not AI, IoT, or automation. It is changing the culture in IT. He says, “I took the three CommScope NEXT pillars to the IT team and did some soul-searching.” “We realized that we would not be part of the transformation if we were not one with the business and felt their pain and their needs.

Jonnala was starting his CIO job. A key business leader informed Jonnala that he received an email telling him to replace 200 contractor laptops with CommScope laptops or IT would “shut down” them. While the business leader understood IT’s intentions around security, he wished they had communicated differently. Jonnala says, “We failed because of our inability to use empathy.” “So I asked my team: ‘Is that who we want?’

Jonnala and her team decided empathy and humility should be the core of IT culture. Jonnala says that IT is prone to saying ‘no’ and criticizing business partners for not understanding technology. However, IT exists to help drive the business forward. Therefore, IT must empathize with their problems and offer solutions.

Empathy: Restructuring IT

The leadership team decided to restructure their organization to foster empathy and better business partnerships. Before designing anything, they spent three months talking to their business partners. Jonnala states, “We got a lot of input from our CEO & leadership team, and then we went back to the drawing board.”

They created two groups in the organization. One group is a series of centers of excellence that span horizontally within the enterprise. It includes technology domains such as infrastructure, security, and ERP. The other is “service verticals,” including corporate, sales, customer service, and business units. Jonnala reports to each vertical service leader. They also have a direct line to the leader for that vertical. Each leader leads a team consisting of business analysts who are experts in the vertical subject matter. Jonnala says that the vertical leader’s role is to support that vertical daily and ensure that IT is included in all day-to-day discussions.

Many of the service leaders are not IT professionals. He says, “I recruited our R&D leader from engineering because it can prove difficult for IT and R&D to work together.” “So I hired one of their own, and he is driving a lot more transformation because the R&D group trusts him.

Since the new structure was implemented nine months ago, positive feedback has been received. Jonnala says that business unit leaders used to search for IT personnel; they now find that person in their staff meetings.

Newmarket opportunities are being explored.

Jonnala believes that the “seat at the table” is only one step towards creating an empathic organization. The second step is to listen to the business and offer systems support.

CommScope, for example, had a product stuck in a Suez Canal vessel. This would have a significant impact on its customers and revenue. The vertical service group for supply chain collaboration worked with the data analytics team to provide insights into the revenue impact of this problem and options for product availability in a different warehouse. “We went proactive and met with the supply chain team. Jonnala says that we didn’t wait for them to come to our place. Our work wasn’t about IT if you think about it. It was about providing key insight to help make better decisions.

Jonnala also promotes proactive idea generation with 5G. The CommScope IT department works closely with technology leaders such as Microsoft and AWS, who, like CommScope, will market using 5G. Jonnala suggested Jonnala that Jonnala’s IT team and CommScope’s product teams work together to find new opportunities for the go-to-market. He says, “We discussed how we could use factories to begin the innovation journey for 5G manufacturing solutions.” These discussions have opened up new business opportunities.

Jonnala says that the third step to empathy is to democratize IT. He says, “My goal at CommScope is for every business leader to be able to make their own technology decisions with IT advisors.” This means we must have the humility not to make every IT decision but rather assist our business partners in making theirs. IT and business will be when we create the technology environment for them and allow our business partners to run with it. That’s my definition of nirvana.

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