IT leaders embrace the role of business change maker – CIO

As CIO of E&J Gallo Winery, Robert Barrios has made it a priority to lead transformation projects not with directives, but by cultivating the right blend of shared experiences and immersion in the business.
Barrios rides shotgun on sales calls, spends time observing winemakers, and drops into meetings with sales and operations planning and the supply chain groups on a regular basis. His efforts are critical to learning workflows, building trust, and nurturing relationships that will help drive organizational change. “You can’t be an ivory tower architect,” he explains. “You have to truly understand how systems are used, how data is entered into systems, and how it’s manipulated in order to make decisions. If you are not actively doing that, you won’t be a change maker.”
Like most of his peers, Barrios increasingly sees change management leadership as a cornerstone of the CIO agenda. According to the 2023 State of the CIO research, 85% of IT leaders have come to view the CIO role through the lens of changemaker — a vantage point not likely to shift as the role becomes more digital and innovation focused. Most executives have fairly siloed expertise and lean towards oversight of specific areas such as supply chain or finance. In contrast, CIOs are uniquely positioned with a cross-functional view of business processes and have a keen understanding of how technology can be leveraged to transform operations — both essential ingredients for marshaling organizational change.
That distinct view, coupled with ongoing pressure to accelerate digital business brought on by pandemic-era changes and economic uncertainties, have launched CIOs into the change management hot seat. While the mandate isn’t new, CIOs rising to the challenge are immersing in the business, polishing communications and business skills, and executing organizational and change management strategies to align technology initiatives with intended business outcomes.
“At one point, CIOs were very focused on pushing through technology initiatives, hitting deadlines, and making sure everything worked,” notes Norrene Duffy, founder and CEO of Red Bridge Consulting, a project management and IT services firm specializing in organizational change management. “CIOs now understand more about what it takes for a technology initiative to be successful and that includes managing change.”
For E&J Gallo’s Barrios, leading by example and immersion in the business helps build the confidence and trust necessary for orchestrating digital business change. Consider the staged roll out of ServiceNow, a cloud-based platform for managing digital workflows. Initially launched by the wine maker and distributor to facilitate IT service and support, the platform is now being scaled as an enterprise content portal for knowledge capture and sharing, as well for automating end-to-end workflows.
Robert Barrios, CIO, E&J Gallo Winery
E&J Gallo Winery
Momentum for the enterprise-scale deployment came by way of Barrios’ commitment to understanding core business processes bolstered by a partnership savvy that strikes at the heart of effective change management. After a successful rollout in IT, Barrios and team turned attention to the HR organization, which was ripe for new workflows. Those early wins helped showcase the systems’ utility and convinced the sales organization to get on board, a milestone made easier through the trusted relationships Barrios forged by embedding in sales meetings and presentations. Now Barrios is using the same strategy to bridge the IT/OT divide and drive change at E&J Gallo’s manufacturing facility in South Carolina, where ServiceNow is being established as a mobile-accessible knowledgebase and quality management tool.
“The secret is being present and partnering,” Barrios says. “When the manufacturing plant started the program, they had a multi-day retreat, which I personally attended. The idea is to invest your time and not just tell your team to go partner with the business. You have to lead by example and show that you care.”
For Praveen Jonnala, senior vice president and CIO at Commscope, a manufacturer of network infrastructure products, effective change management comes by way of pilot projects tuned to a particular business problem and that make the benefits of well-orchestrated transformation clear. Jonnala says the decade-plus he spent in the business ranks in manufacturing plants and product R&D functions gave him the background and context to anticipate critical pain points for the business without a lot of handholding.
Praveen Jonnala, SVP and CIO, Commscope
For instance, during the period of COVID-induced supply chain disruptions, Jonnala and his team understood that the business needed better direction to make decisions to deal with changing cost structures as commodity prices soared. They proactively came up with a proof of concept for a predictive modeling and dashboard tool used to predict costs and optimize purchasing patterns well before the sales planning and procurement teams identified the need or came knocking on IT’s door for a data-driven solution.

“We went to work with business leaders and subject matter experts and said here are the problems we see and what we should do,” Jonnala explains. “In this era, unless you put a proof of concept in front of the business and galvanize them, it’s not going to work. Change is a painstaking process, but if you can show people the money, that’s a key tactic for how to approach the business.”
Isaiah Nathaniel, vice president and CIO at Delaware Valley Community Health, draws on his years of experience as an athlete to provide an edge managing digital business change. Nathaniel, who played point guard for four years at Delaware State University, an HBU (Historically Black University), said his Division 1 basketball career taught him how to be self-driven, to be a team player in the midst of a continually changing roster, and to not let temporary setbacks get in the way of achieving goals.
Isaiah Nathaniel, VP and CIO, Delaware Valley Community Health
Delaware Valley Community Health
That ethos was a guidepost during the development of a telehealth app, which was crucial during the pandemic. The initial release fit the bill, but there was pushback and limited adoption due to patient and caregiver frustration related to certain workflows in addition to feedback that the app needed a more lightweight user experience. Instead of pushing back or getting emotionally invested, Nathaniel and his team doubled down and got to work to address the concerns.
“You have to have the intestinal fortitude to say, ‘We missed the last two shots; now what can we do to fix the game?’” he explains. “Athletes have to have the ability to compromise and be intelligent enough to make in-game moment changes.”
Nathaniel and his team scored big with their in-game moment: With the second round of the telehealth app tool, Nathaniel and the Delaware Valley Community Health IT organization won an HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) 2021 Changemaker in Health award.
To facilitate organizational change, leaders need to be armed with robust communications skills and have a propensity for collaboration — attributes not always associated with traditional CIOs.
Cisco Sanchez, senior vice president and CIO at Qualcomm, says CIOs change makers need to get creative about how they communicate strategy and vision, mastering not just written and verbal skills, but leveraging novel video and social media tools to help champion IT initiatives and rally users.
Cisco Sanchez, SVP and CIO, Qualcomm
They also need to embed with business stakeholders so much so that the lines blur. “You have to be an amazing collaborator almost to the point where you’re hanging out with business partners and you can’t tell the difference between their role and yours,” he explains.
One of Sanchez’s primary missions when he joined Qualcomm was modernizing siloed systems so that the wireless technology company could gain a better view of its customers, from their profiles to their sales journeys. Right off the bat, Sanchez assembled a team representing marketing, sales, engineering, and IT while establishing a shared mission and agile framework for collaborating as a consolidated group. The effort resulted in an enterprise data platform used to track users wherever they are in the product lifecycle.
“The key to success was ensuring we took a holistic view of the mission, providing everyone with a good, clean view of what we were doing and why we were doing it,” Sanchez says. “It wasn’t a sales tool; it was a Qualcomm tool.”
Sanchez juxtaposes this experience to another in his career where a major transformation project was almost derailed by the CEO due to lack of transparency. “Now I am super transparent about timelines and where there are issues,” he says. “It makes you vulnerable, but on the flip side, it allows you to be seen as a great business partner and collaborator.”
Sanchez and his peers gave some additional change management advice:
Rethink organizational structure. Commscope’s Jonnala has designed the company’s IT organization so that team members are embedded directly in the business, ensuring they attend the same meetings, have a common understanding of pain points, and rally toward shared goals. Not only does this foster a shared commitment — it creates empathy that the group is in this together and that IT is here to help.
“If the CIO and team are not talking and acting about making IT one with the business, they will fail,” he says.
Don’t push change for change sake. Understanding the audience’s propensity for change is crucial, according to David Reis, PhD, chief information and digital officer (CIDO) at the University of Miami Health System and the Miller School of Medicine. Earlier in his career, Reis spearheaded a project to automate the approval process for loan officers at a retail banking institution. Yet after months of listening and information gathering, the team determined the stakeholders weren’t ready for full-scale automation, thus they introduced a scaled-down version of the solution, created awareness and traction, then added more functionality as support for the tool grew.
David Reis, CIO, University of Miami Health System and Miller School of Medicine
University of Miami Health System and Miller School of Medicine
In contrast, Reis says his current IT organization is running at full speed to keep up with demand for automation and business process change. “You have to bring everyone along on the ‘journey to yes,’ so you have to make sure the success criteria is understood across all stakeholders,” he explains.
Change is not a solo endeavor. While CIOs are now driving organizational change, they must do so as a partnership with the business. CIOs don’t have the authority to make critical personnel or organizational structure decisions — that’s up to business leaders to get their teams trained and ready to embrace change, says Red Bridge Consulting’s Duffy. By working with their business counterparts to set clear responsibilities and goals, CIOs can facilitate change management work, fend off rivalries, and establish trust.
“Sometimes technology people want to take responsibility for the full implementation from start to finish, but CIOs and business leaders need to be very clear about who’s responsible for what so there is not a battle for ownership,” Duffy says. “You have to reach across the table because you can’t be a change agent on your own.”
Beth Stackpole is a veteran reporter who has covered the intersection of business and technology issues for more than 20 years.


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