In 2008, Praveen Jonnala became global vice president of digital transformation and business solutions for CommScope, then a $2 billion maker of network infrastructure solutions. Today, after 14 years of acquisitions, the company has more than quadrupled in size. “What worked for us 10 years ago won’t work for the next three,” says Jonnala, who became CIO in 2021. “Customer demand, products and markets are all changing, so CommScope must also transform.”
The company’s transformation strategy is called CommScope NEXT and is based on three fundamental pillars: growing the company organically, breaking away from the M&A growth strategy of the past; optimize the product portfolio by aligning more closely with customer needs and markets, and make the customer experience a competitive advantage by simplifying and focusing on operational efficiency.
The role of IT in business transformation
The opportunity for the IT organization to lead CommScope NEXT cannot be overstated. Driving efficiency across the business, transforming factories, helping R&D with new product development, and creating a contactless customer experience are all critical to the future of the business.
But the real key to IT’s success in realizing CommScope NEXT, says Jonnala, isn’t AI, IoT, or automation; it changes the culture of computing. “I took the three pillars of CommScope NEXT back to the IT team, and we did some soul-searching,” he says. “We realized that unless we are one with the business and feel their pain and their needs, we will not be part of the transformation.”
When Jonnala had just taken on the role of CIO, a key business leader told him that he had received an email from the IT department telling him to replace 200 contractor laptops with CommScope laptops, otherwise the IT department would “shut them down”. While this business leader knew IT had the right intention when it came to security, he wished they had communicated in a different way. “We failed because we didn’t show empathy,” says Jonnala. “So I asked my team, ‘Is this what we want to be? “”
Jonnala and the team decided that empathy and humility should be central to IT culture. “It’s easy for IT to say ‘no’ to our business partners and blame them for not understanding the technology,” says Jonnala, “but we exist to drive the business forward, so we need to have the empathy to address their unique challenges and opportunities.
Reengineering IT for Empathy
To foster a culture of empathy, the management team decided to restructure the organization for a better business partnership. They took three months to talk to their business partners before designing anything. “We got a ton of feedback from our CEO and our leadership team and then went back to the drawing board,” says Jonnala.
The organization they decided to create consists of two groups: the first is a series of centers of excellence that cross the company horizontally with technological areas such as infrastructure, security and ERP; the other is called “vertical services” and includes corporate, sales, customer experience, and business units. Each service vertical leader reports directly to Jonnala with a dotted line to the leader of that vertical, and they lead a team of business analysts with vertical subject matter expertise. “The vertical leader’s mission is to be there for that vertical every day and make sure IT is part of the daily discussions,” says Jonnala.
Some of the service vertical leaders do not have an IT background. “I recruited our vertical R&D manager in engineering because it can be difficult for IT and R&D to work together,” he says. “So I recruited one of their own, and he drives a lot of transformation because the R&D team trusts him.”
The new structure has been in place for nine months now and the feedback has been positive. “Business unit managers tell me they used to run around looking for someone from IT; now that person attends their own team meetings,” says Jonnala.
Advance new market opportunities
But Jonnala sees the “seat at the table” as only the first step in creating an empathetic organization. The second stage, which is ongoing, is not just about listening and providing system support, but about contributing new ideas to address unmet and unarticulated business needs.
For example, CommScope had a product stuck on a ship in the Suez Canal, and the delay would have a major impact on customers and revenue. The supply chain vertical services group worked with the data analysis team and provided insight into the revenue impact of the issue and product availability options in a different warehouse. “We proactively reached out to the supply chain team. We didn’t wait for them to come to us,” says Jonnala. “When you think about it, our work really wasn’t related to computing. It was about providing key information to make better decisions.
5G is another example of the type of proactive idea generation that Jonnala promotes. CommScope’s IT team works closely with technology leaders, including Microsoft and AWS, which, like CommScope, will bring 5G to market. Jonnala suggested that his IT team and the CommScope product teams work with their technology partners to create new go-to-market opportunities. “We discussed how we could use our factories to start the innovation journey on 5G manufacturing solutions,” he says. “These discussions open up new business opportunities for us.”
The third step to empathy, says Jonnala, is to democratize computing. “My goal is for every business leader at CommScope to make their own technology decisions with IT as an advisor,” he says. “That means we need the humility to not take on all the IT decisions, but to help our business partners make their own decisions. IT and business will truly become one when we set up the technology environment and let our business partners use it. For me, it’s nirvana.