There was a time not long ago when a company’s IT department didn’t feel like an arm of the business, but rather as some amorphous organ that did its job hidden away from the public eye. John Melott jokingly calls the departments of that era “black ops,” saying that most of the time a company’s executives didn’t “know or understand what it does or how they do it.”
With a culture that’s become more reliant on digital infrastructure that is certainly no longer the case, and Melott is proof. As the director of IT architecture and implementation at a global manufacturer with an annual revenue approaching $7 billion, he’s working to bridge the business side of the conglomerate with the work he’s doing in IT.
In fact, the opportunity to have such a hand in the business side is what brought him there, he says. “In my thirty-seven years of working in IT, I had never seen an opportunity to be on the ground floor with a company that had so much potential,” he says of his company, noting they had never had a CIO before. “There were so many avenues open for me to make things better for the business.”
He also notes that the company’s broad focus was also a boon to his own developing skill set. “This was one of those rare opportunities that allowed you to really expand your expertise across so many different lines of business within the manufacturing industry,” he says. “This is a huge, multinational conglomerate with all these different types of manufacturing—energy, engineered systems, fluids, and food retail equipment. When I understood what it was all about, I saw it as a unique opportunity to get things right from the start.”
Melott is quick to clarify that not all IT professionals are versed in business matters and that there’s many of whom have no desire to be. He, however, has spent his career toeing the line between business and IT in various industries, which include some of the world’s largest banks, consulting firms, and mortgage companies. For Melott, demonstrating both his breadth of experience and his interest in the business side of a company is integral to his approach in making IT a valued business partner within a company.
“I need to show senior management that I understand what they do,” he says. “I take the time to understand what they’re doing, what the business is doing, who their competition is, and what are the key problems that the business needs to address.”
Considering one of the major concerns of any business is increasing market share and reducing expenses, Melott is often able to find ways to help in the IT area of the business. “We’re not always the magic bullet, but we can certainly help by reducing the amount of work that slows the processes down,” he says.
At times, that means introducing new technology to the business. “In the manufacturing industry, infrastructure equipment is used until depreciable life cycle is well past,” he says. “We hold them together to keep them going as long as possible, but in some cases, you have to urge leadership to look at the innovations that have come out since they made the last infrastructure purchase.”
Other times, however, it’s about simplifying a company’s existing technology. He speaks of one such instance, where the company was relying on two different sets of digital infrastructure to leverage its key applications. Although it seemed on the surface that this method was increasing efficiency, Melott clarified that the extra layer of infrastructure was both unnecessary and burdensome. It was also costing the company roughly $300,000 a year. By removing that extra layer of infrastructure, Melott was able to increase the efficiency of the apps while also allowing the company to reduce expenses.
Now, that money can perhaps be funneled to some of the other major thrusts of Melott’s job: preparation and prevention. For years, Melott has operated on the philosophy that “two is one, and one is none.” Melott translates it thusly: “It’s not if you will have an interruption to business but when.”
Business also expects a level of resiliency that will empower the business to grow, he continues. “I mentor my solution architects to not just consider the road map we’re on but also to think about the possibilities of what could happen,” he explains. “Then, we plan the strategy and build the infrastructure using sound architectural principles.”
It’s easy, he says, for business leaders to pursue the most cost-effective option, but doing so could result in bigger losses in the future. What happens when you can’t execute the business? And what does that cost you? These are just a couple of the questions Melott asks hypothetically. He recalls system setups with only one single power supply or storage array or a few servers. The cost of purchasing backups, he says, is worth it when you consider the financial damage done by an outage at the worst time for the business.
To avoid such disaster, you must anticipate failure. “You have to think through as many points of failure as possible,” he says. “Those can be failures of business, technology, or process.”
As Melott continues to integrate business-operating companies and IT sectors, he’s also paving the way for himself to one day take on a larger portion of the business where he can drive growth. It’s easy to imagine a future where more and more business leaders possess a background in IT, especially when you consider how much technology is already integrated into daily life. With more advancements, more change will come.
Photo: Peggy Melott
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