If the projector in the meeting is on the fritz, don’t expect Ross Tucker to trip over himself to fix it. “You’re not a CIO if you’re wearing a beanie cap with a propeller on it twirling,” Tucker laughs. “If you’re sitting in the boardroom and you run to the projector to try and fix it, you’re not the CIO. That’s not what I do.”
Tucker’s approach to IT and digital transformation on the whole might seem to have one foot square in the old school and one in the present, but both for good reason. The current CIO at Texas United Management Corporation, the service company to the largest independent brine producer in the United States, has amassed an IT resume that ranges from oil and gas tech to mortgage banking to global logistics and back full circle to mining, where Tucker got his start as a geological engineer. His experience has birthed a serious commitment to what Tucker calls “wearing the common-sense hat,” a hat that likely bears no likeness to a propeller beanie of any kind. Tucker’s commitment to leveraging digital transformation to make better business—not just tech—decisions is helping a company best known for its salt production stay healthy.
Tucker stresses that, although buzzwords provide new opportunities and incentives for sales teams, when it comes to IT, it’s important to see big data, IoT, and AI simply as things to make business work better. “Anyone can make an argument that big data and analytics can change any business, but there’s a point of diminishing returns in spending that money or investing it more wisely,” Tucker says. “That’s why I say take a common-sense approach to digital transformation and pick what’s right for your business.” Tucker says those buzzwords represent real and legitimate transformation in the industry, but getting caught up in the “could” and not the “should” leaves too much room for decisions that don’t make sense when it comes to the bottom line.
For Tucker, digital transformation largely comes from services that are able to cut costs for the company. “We have automation now, from RFID readers to hand scanners to handheld tablets,” Tuckers says. “That’s part of this whole transformation, tying back into a single system from end to end, saving us dollars and man hours.” Tucker says that using AI and interactive voice response technology has allowed customer service to improve response time to calls while decreasing hours worked. The key for IT lies in answering the question, what kind of value can a service add to the business?
When it comes to adding value, Tucker even sees his own title in flux. “I think the CIO role is dying on the vine,” Tucker says. The role that IT plays is now so much more significant that Tucker sees it falling under the COO role. “IT is the circulatory system of the entire body. We’re the blood that goes through it all. It doesn’t matter what part of the business you’re dealing with, you’re dealing with IT.” Tucker sees the CIO role being phased out of over time and believes every CIO needs to be more actively involved in “the business of the business.”
“Take the beanie cap off,” Tucker says again. “If you’re the CIO and you can’t do anything but talk tech, you’re done.”
For Tucker, this means examining all of the parts of the company that IT touches, and that means every part of the company.
“In the IT position, you’re in a unique perspective to be able to see all of the business if you put yourself out there,” Tucker says. “If you sit in front of your office staring at a screen, you’re not going to get that.”
IT includes the whole body, and don’t let Tucker catch it wearing a stupid hat.
Photo: Chuck Koch