Building a Bridge Between Strategy and Governance Aboard the IT Enterprise – An Interview with Kevin Gray, CIO of the City of Burbank
Eleventh in a series of in-depth interviews with innovators and leaders in the fields of Risk, Compliance and Information Governance across the globe.
Kevin Gray is the Chief Information Officer for the City of Burbank, leading an IT department responsible for administrative and network management, geographic information systems and technical services for more than 1400 city employees across 15 departments. Before assuming this role he served as VP of Global Media and IT for Viacom, one of the world’s premier entertainment companies, overseeing an international team located across six continents. He received his Bachelor of Science from California State University, Long Beach and is a certified Scrum Master and PMP. I spoke with him over lunch this May about aligning governance with business strategy, balancing risks and opportunities in AI and his insights on career growth.
Kevin, you began your career path at Orion Pictures administering Unix systems and then directed data center ops for DreamWorks. How did this early hands-on experience with application design and DB administration prepare you for future IT leadership positions at Viacom and ultimately the CIO role with the City of Burbank?
Well I started out on a service desk actually, really at the entry levels in IT, and I’ve been lucky to have grown up through all aspects of it. I think climbing that ladder one rung at a time definitely helped give me a clear vision to see across all the disciplines of technology. It enabled me to see the forest through the trees, the big picture, gave me the ability to design operations, develop strategy… and equipped me with a vision to incorporate it all. And now I can more thoughtfully pull together a clear plan for how to run an organization, understand how to innovate, how to drive change through both a specific business unit or an organization. Experience is what best prepared me to lead.
One of your focal points has always been the importance of properly aligning IT governance with an organization’s business strategy. What are some of the practical ways IT teams accomplish this goal and how critical is the relationship building component that accompanies that synchronicity?
I think the most practical way to accomplish this is to focus on the people. Focus on the people developing the strategy and look at how their business is trying to implement it, because the most important thing is to be in alignment with the shared goal, in alignment with the people you’re partnering with. You have to be a true partner with the business. And that has to be the focus, not the technology. The technology is the secondary piece. Technology is what you use to try to find the solution for the business problems that they’re trying to solve. And those business problems don’t always stay the same, they change. They change based on economic conditions, they change based on market conditions, they may change based on who might be occupying the seat that you’re trying to partner with.
So, you have to stay close and you have to stay connected. That allows you to stay aligned. Then you can figure out the solutions that are going to help solve that business problem. You have to be agile. You have to be able to switch directions. When the business switches direction, you have to be able to switch direction. And I think too many times, IT organizations, they don’t stay connected. They believe that they’re trying to solve this business strategy, that they’re trying to solve the business’ problems. But then the business problems change, the strategies change, and they’re suddenly not connected and eventually they’re heading down the wrong direction for another three to six months, which is a lifetime in technology.
Read the entire interview and more in my new book on leadership in the information age, Tomorrow’s Jobs Today.