Chris Sullivan joined Serco Inc. — the North American subsidiary of Serco Group — in January 2013 as chief information officer to oversee strategic direction, operation and overall business management of information technology systems.
The 27-year IT and GovCon veteran previously held the CIO role at Computer Sciences Corp.’s North American public sector for four years.
ExecutiveBiz recently spoke to Sullivan for this in-depth conversation on his work to align Serco Inc.’s IT and business growth strategies, how he views IT as an enabler for expansion and how employees can help a company formulate its technology strategy.
ExecutiveBiz: What’s the biggest market change you have seen during your career?
Chris Sullivan: The biggest change that I’ve noticed has occurred over the past few years. With federal government contract spending not increasing, the level of competition has greatly intensified between contractors.
Additionally, we are seeing the government issuing more and more low-price, technically-acceptable type contracts that make it challenging for companies that take a best value approach to put together and submit a successful proposal. I believe that the government is now beginning to realize that a LPTA approach can end up awarding programs to less qualified companies with the inability to successfully execute on them.
Innovation, expertise and past performance are important factors that should be part of the evaluations in contract awards. In today’s environment, it also has become a necessity to have differentiators that set yourself apart from your competitors. You have to show your potential customers something extra in terms of delivering a service or product.
Another big change I have seen during my career is security. The appropriate levels of security are table stakes especially when every other day one reads about security breaches where personally-identifiable information has been compromised. You learn quickly that security no longer can be an afterthought.
You have to build it into the DNA of the offerings you are planning to sell to your customers. Security is not cheap and it costs money to do it the right way.
ExecutiveBiz: What have you focused on primarily since you joined the company?
Chris Sullivan: My focus for the first six months was on our back office systems, which included making sure we were providing quality tools for our employees to make them successful in conducting business on a day-to-day basis.
Since that time I have focused on our various market segments to create differentiating services, leveraging things like disruptive technologies and cloud services to drive down costs and provide innovative services that set us apart from our competitors. My focus for the last two years has been working with my team on coming up with those differentiating services and enabling technologies that will help our business be successful.
ExecutiveBiz: How is your time divided between internal items and with customers?
Chris Sullivan: Recently, I have been spending more of my time interacting with our customers’ CIOs or technology leads. I meet with a CIO to discuss how we would handle certain situations or provide details around enabling technologies that can be applied to their particular situation to help them become more efficient in their processing.
In other cases, the customer’s CIO and I compare notes and share best-in-class technologies that we have use here at Serco or with other customers.
A lot of my time is focused on enhancing our ability to delivery services to our customers. This includes working with my team and our business units to develop differentiating services and solutions that we can offer to prospective customers.
The rest of my time is focused on our internal infrastructure. I’m fortunate in that I have a very good management team in place who run our internal infrastructure. When we need to make changes to align our internal operations with our strategic direction, the team puts together appropriate business cases and we execute from there.
ExecutiveBiz: What parts of IT strategy need the most collaboration between CIOs and other members of the executive team?
Chris Sullivan: My IT strategy is driven by our corporate business strategy. All aspects of the IT strategy require collaboration with other executives in the company to understand their goals and objectives. Serco Inc. is a business services company. We don’t compete that much in the IT pure play space. We specialize and offer business solutions and services to our customers where IT is an enabler for delivering those services.
It is not realistic or practical to go and invest resources in the latest technology if it does nothing to support our business strategy. Instead, I participate in our business strategy planning and then create an IT strategy that aligns and supports that business plan.
If we have a business strategy to make a heavy push into the business process management space then I’ll be sure to have an aligned IT plan that revolves around establishing a technology platform that would support the business process management tools.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you see the roles of employees in terms of IT strategy? Where do you believe CIOs can collaborate with employees?
Chris Sullivan: While the primary driver of our IT strategy is making sure it enables the business strategy, it coincides with the IT team making sure that we are providing our employees with the right tools that allow them to work effectively and efficiently. One of the things that we do is collect feedback from our employees that tells us what will help them to be more efficient and effective in what they do on a day-to-day basis.
This feedback allows us to create ongoing action plans to improve how our back office tools work. It also helps us to determine the appropriate balance of investment and focus on the back office tools used by our employees as well as our external service offerings.