We spoke with Sumal Paravath, Enterprise Innovation & Digital Architect at Land O’ Lakes about challenges that IT leaders face and tips that he can share with the future generation.

Sumal is an active member of the Think IT Association, a peer professional development network of more than 3,500 members founded by York Solutions. Think IT connects IT leaders with diverse talents and experiences to develop their expertise, discuss work challenges, and build strong professional relationships.

For Sumal, company culture has the power to make or break a business, and culture is one of the most important pillars of digital transformation. For him, establishing IT as a Thought Partner to the business is key to get business partners to think differently about IT.

Read more about Sumal’s passion for IT and what excites him about the digital transformation journey.

Where did you start your career and what experiences led you to the industry?

I started at Global Integrated Software Solutions Inc. as a software engineer and graduated in industrial production & automation. I knew from the beginning that IT would be the biggest disruption in the manufacturing industry, and I’ve always wanted to be a part of it.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing IT Leaders/CIOs as a profession right now?

The role of the CIOs and IT leaders are changing as business and technology go through a fundamental shift. There are many disrupters, and they evolve over time and move fast.

The most successful CIOs and IT Leaders are those that recognize and adapt to these disruptions.

To stay ahead of disruptions and have an organization that can quickly act, they need to identify the core strengths and capabilities to serve their growing customer ecosystem, which takes investing in the right people, process and technology.

Once the transformation journey is nailed down, the biggest challenge is to strike a balance between choosing the dependability of mature technologies vs. the advantages that the newer technologies provide, and how to merge legacy technologies with modern technologies. This must be executed with a rigorous focus on business outcomes, agility, and improving customer experience. It needs to be the centerpiece in delivering innovation and added value to any organization.

Another big challenge facing CIOs and IT leaders is the need to bridge the IT skills gap while operating at full speed and staying current with the ever-changing tech trends.

How can IT Leaders get business partners to think differently about the importance of IT?

IT leaders should establish IT as a Thought Partner to the business. These leaders should also foster a shared understanding that technology is a business necessity as well as a business strategy.

I believe that IT leaders should invest in knowing their marketplace (business, customers, and competitors) to provide the right technology for the organization, which is not always the latest technology. Business and technology partnerships become fundamental in ensuring perfect alignment and allowing the organization to lead in its market. Business Partners can be pivotal in aligning IT resources to business needs so that they do effectively merge. I often see businesses make mistakes by matching a need with a system or process with an alignment.

In my view, the greatest barriers to alignment is that IT and business units tend to talk different languages. When IT understands the business strategy, the value it adds contributes towards the priorities, vision, and mission of the organization.

What is important to you about a healthy company culture?

Corporate culture is the unique identifier of an organization and defines internal and external identity. As the modern workplace continues to evolve, corporate culture is becoming even more relevant and important as it dictates your ability to change. Company culture has the power to make or break a business, and culture is one of the most important pillars of digital transformation.

A healthy company culture should:

  • Clearly define how an organization does business, how an organization interacts with one another and how the team interacts with the outside world (customers, employees, partners, suppliers, media, stakeholders).
  • Add up to an experience that should represent who we are as an organization and how we believe a company should be run.
  • Encourage personal growth, offer flexibility, foster trust, promote risk-taking and offer praise and acknowledgment.

What tips can you share to develop the next generation of IT leaders?

Next-generation leadership is about the shift of focus from position to people, rules to relationships, and what to why. In general, it’s more about your ability to lead than to manage. I’m also a big believer in learning and, more specifically, learning agility which is comprised of your know-how, competencies, and experiences that you carry with you to other roles. People with learning agility ramp up faster, make better contributions, and deliver greater value to their organizations a lot quicker.

I also like to suggest acting fast. If you have 60 percent of the information to make a calculated decision, you make it and course correct along the way if you must. Making decisions with the right amount of information is one of the true characteristics of a leader in today’s fast-paced work environment.

Regardless of gender or field, if you are a leader or future leader, I feel these tips may be useful to you:

  • Protect your integrity, professional, and personal reputation.
  • Get the right mentor and/or coach.
  • Manage up, build relationships, and understand business strategy.
  • See things objectively, quickly get to the heart of the matter, and move directly to results.
  • Think strategically and execute tactically while never taking your eye off the bottom line.
  • Take personal responsibility for making success happen.
  • Own your ideas and have the confidence to act on them.
  • Recognize the skills and traits you don’t possess and surround yourself with people who have them.
  • Take care of your people first. It is very important to achieve a successful, high-performing, customer-focused organization.

Tell us a little bit about your specialties and passions within IT. What’s been your favorite project you’ve worked on over the years? What about your position in the industry gets you excited?

Democratization of Access, Production, Information & Intelligence in the last few decades enabled a new way of value proposition and is changing the way we think and operate. The shift from being online and available to always connect, enabled innovators and early adopters to disrupt the industry. The opportunities that come along this shift excite me the most.

I have been a consultant for the last couple of decades of my career and had the privilege to partner with many great organizations through their transformation journey. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work across different industries, technologies, and people. I also spend a fair amount of time coaching and developing people as I want them to succeed in their professional career paths.

My favorite initiative, the one I will remember for a long time and learned from the most is, enabling a customer to transform from an industrial company to a platform-based software industrial company. The experiences and lessons made me a better leader, and I am more prepared and determined than ever.

Tell us about your personal brand.

I am an excellent partner with high integrity. My specialty is helping organizations and businesses achieve their transformation goals and objectives. I pay attention to both internal and external factors, providing the best value to customers, and keeping internal stakeholders motivated.

I do this by fostering a rewarding culture to promote creative work and challenge the team. I invest significant time and effort to deliver value, manage expectations, and inspire the people around me.

What is unique about me is my ability to understand the business priorities & strategies, map it to the right capabilities, and bring in technology and partners to make it happen. If you tell me that something can’t be done, my competitive spirit will kick in because I am dedicated to finding a way to win for customers, employees, and shareholders.

I am a Listener, Leader, Entrepreneur, Business Partner, Innovator, Transformer, Technologist, Enterprise & Business Architect, and I am not afraid to fail.

What in the world of technology are you most excited about?

I am excited about the abundance of technological innovation impacting Generation Z and great-grandparents alike.

What excites me most is the opportunities we have and the fact that we are only limited by our imagination. I am completely amazed at how far we have come with advancements in AI and the things scientists around the world are developing that weren’t even ideas just a few years ago. Things are being developed that could potentially change humanity in general, things that can save so many lives. It’s amazing how data and information can predict yield for farmers and how insights engines can proactively manage a farm through its lifecycle. I am also excited by health and medicine, as they are the most profound areas of technological innovation.

I am excited about the opportunities we have today and how it’s shaping how things are done in the future.

How did you become involved with Think IT?

I was one of the participants of the Link to Leadership program – it’s been a great learning experience. I am glad I am involved with Think IT and highly recommend it.

What has been your most valuable experience as a Think IT member thus far?

Leaders are made, not born. York Solutions and Think IT are creating more leaders that are shaped by great leaders across the industry. The safe environment they create helps push you out of your comfort zone, grow your skills, and challenge your abilities.

The most valuable experiences are the opportunities to network, build relationships with leaders across the industry, learn from their experiences, and find the right mentor.

What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

At the end of every day, I look forward to going back to my family. Home is where I always feel complete and see purpose. Home is where I practice my business communication and negotiation skills with the Chief Everything Officer (CEO), my wife. Home is where I am who I am.

“Never get so busy in making a living that you forget to make a life.”

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