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Virtual Think IT Event: With the new year comes new challenges. What are yours and how will you tackle them?

On Friday, we hosted a Virtual Think IT Event to discuss With the new year comes new challenges. What are yours and how will you tackle them: with our panelists Tammylynne Jonas, Global CIO at Donaldson, Melissa Flicek, CTO, SVP Consumer Technology and Experiences at Optum, Sarah Engstrom, CISO & VP IT Security, Productivity & Privacy at CHS Inc., Kim Skanson, SVP Global Business Services at Cencora, and Robin Brown, SVP of IT at Cirrus Aircraft. Thank you to everyone who joined the event and participated in the discussion!

Below you will find a summary of a few topics that were discussed.

Introduction to our Panel

Tammylynne Jonas, currently the Global CIO at Donaldson, began her career with Accenture and eventually moved over to Kohl’s, where she remained for 15 years. She made the move from the Milwaukee area to the Twin Cities and began working as the CIO for Holiday Station stores. She moved on from Holiday to begin working for Self-Esteemed Brands as their Global CIO, but during COVID, she made a change over to Donaldson, where she became the Global CIO. Donaldson is an industrial filtration company that is locally based in Bloomington and annually does about $3.5 billion in sales.

Melissa Flicek, currently the CTO, SVP of Consumer Technology, and Experiences at Optum, has spent most of her career doing digital transformations at Target, Medtronic, and finally, Optum. She has recently transitioned into her role as a CTO that focuses on enterprise marketing technology transformation and Optum RX line of business capabilities.

Sarah Engstrom, currently the CISO and VP of IT Security, Productivity, and Privacy at CHS Inc, started her career at Target, spent about 13 years there, and eventually moved on to CHS Inc. For those who don’t know CHS, they are the nation's largest farmer-owned cooperative. Sarah is their first CISO and has taken on some other roles around employee productivity and data privacy.

Kim Skanson, currently the SVP of Global Business Services at Cencora, began her career as a mainframe programmer and got her experience in various industries across financial services, retail, and manufacturing. Those companies include St. Paul Companies, Target, and Cargill, and she recently took a new job with Cencora, a Fortune 10, large pharmaceutical distributor company. She currently leads their shared services organization.

Robin Brown, currently the SVP of IT at Cirrus Aircraft, started her career at Arcadia Financial, where she spent time building up some of the first intranets and portals that were very new at the time. She eventually moved to Best Buy and stayed there for almost 8 years building up their website and internet operations. Robin eventually moved to Accenture, United Health Group, and Mortenson Construction where she became the CIO for 3 years. She then moved to Cargill where she was the CIO for Protein – North America, spent about 5 years there, and just recently made the move over to Cirrus Aircraft. Cirrus Aircraft builds single-engine personal aircrafts.

How do you foresee the evolving technology landscape impacting your respective roles and your industry going into the new year?

According to Robin, technologies are going to keep evolving and change is only going to become more consistent for all of us. It is best to understand where the business is going and what objectives they are trying to accomplish in the next year. It is very important to start with the business objectives and then see where the technology can fit in and assist. One factor that many people are considering is where Gen AI fits into their business. At Cirrus Aircraft, many different teams are starting to incorporate Gen AI into their day-to-day. Their biggest concern is ensuring that the AI is being used properly and safely.

Kim has been around technology for a long time and can recognize that there will always be the next thing. The technology hype cycle is always changing and evolving, and it is important to not get lost in that and to make sure that what you are implementing ties back to your business needs. She found herself facing the question of how Gen AI would help them in completing her initiative of moving to a shared services model. She answered that they want to do it in the right way, and success is not always getting things out fast. She wanted to be able to understand the business needs first and prioritize them before moving too quickly.

Many companies are going through cost pressures and yet also looking to advance Gen AI, ML, ChatGpt, etc. How are you managing this and balancing the right talent while also keeping costs in line?

Tammy is currently facing the same issue as the audience member who asked this question. All her resources and money are deployed this fiscal year to projects that are thoroughly vetted and gone through the prioritization process, now they must weigh what they want to do with Gen AI. That has proven to be difficult because the capabilities of Gen AI are so unknown, that it is hard to figure out how to reprioritize anything that already has an ROI against this new technology. Donaldson has deployed a task force and is actively working on a solution for this. They are taking the approach that they cannot drop everything that they are working on to explore this new thing, but they must take their time.

How are the contributions and roles changing in your organization to build innovative digital products and how are they staying the same?

According to Melissa, these roles are becoming more disciplined than they were years ago when this technology was new. They are becoming much more integrated with product roles and technical roles. Product teams are being viewed more from an end-to-end perspective than ever before. Every person on her team must focus on the user experience and customer insights more than ever. Integrating customer feedback into these digital products is one of the most important factors to remember.

As technology leaders, how technical do you have to be and how do you stay on top of it?

As Sarah took on her CISO role, she had been used to working with technical CISOs but knew that was not the approach she would be taking. She is a good storyteller and loves learning, which are characteristics that have been important in her current role. It is also imperative that you use your technologist teams to your advantage and ask them to teach you and help you understand how things work together. But also, to remember to allow those technologists to do what they love and do best. In her role as a CISO, she has had to understand both the business needs and technology needs and be able to bridge that gap.