Johnson Controls, 136, has a plan to go digital at his heart


Most large companies have an information manager. Many others have CTOs, who may be the product and engineering managers for a tech-centric company, or, for some non-tech companies, may be infrastructure managers or leaders. tech-savvy reporting to less technical CIOs. . A growing number of companies also have digital directors, often signaling the need for an executive to exclusively oversee digital transformation efforts. There are examples where the tech and digital leader has one or a combination of these titles. It goes without saying that the combination of the three roles for three separate executives is less common, but even less frequent are the examples of companies whose executives carry these three titles and each of which reports to the CEO. One of those companies is Johnson Controls.

Johnson Controls is a 136-year-old Milwaukee-based company that develops products and services that improve building intelligence with annual revenues of nearly $ 30 billion. Mike Ellis is the company’s chief customer and digital officer, adding customer responsibilities as CDO. He joined Johnson Controls in October 2019. Diane Schwarz is the CIO of the company, who joined the company in August 2020. Finally, Vijay Sankaran is the CTO of the company, and he joined the company in May 2021.

Ellis describes his role as chief clientele and digital manager as deciphering the impact of the company’s efforts on customers, inspiring them to understand what is most important to them. The objective is to innovate in collaboration with them, by identifying ideas that will make the difference in their operations. Additionally, Ellis is responsible for digital product innovation and corporate marketing, as the CMO reports to him.

Schwarz has served as CIO several times at companies such as Hunt Consolidated and Textron. She has what she calls the traditional CIO competence in infrastructure, applications, and websites. Beyond that, she owns the customer experience, including “how our employee works with all of our apps, how they do day-to-day work,” she noted. Schwarz added, “Mike has the customer experience with our products, but when you have the overlap of the Venn diagram, where customers interact with portals, billing and how to schedule a ticket for on-site service; this is where he comes back to the responsibilities of the CIO. It’s not black and white to say that everything the customer interacts with Johnson Controls is under Mike’s umbrella. We have to navigate between what is really the product experience versus the app experience.

Sankaran was also formerly CIO at TD Ameritrade, where he also led an innovation program for the company. He oversees products for Johnson Controls. “When we think about the product, that’s really the game-changing part of what’s going on in our industry right now – the software part of that product,” he said. “[We work on building] the right thing and build the right thing. My goal is to create the right thing and build a world class digital software engineering organization at Johnson Controls. His team is focused on the Internet of Things (IoT) at the edge through a software and data platform called Open Blue. It’s a platform that enables Johnson Controls customers to drive energy efficiency and sustainability by managing their spaces, smart buildings, and then applying artificial intelligence. [AI] and machine learning [ML] to be able to generate this information. This creates a closed loop for us to come fully to intelligent stand-alone buildings.

“We are building the software and all the connectors, data structures and AI models in my new organization to support this and are working closely with Mike around customer needs and experiences, and working closely with Diane’s organization around the larger ecosystem of services and support, infrastructure and cybersecurity to ensure that the overlapping elements in this Venn diagram fit together seamlessly, ”noted Sankaran .

Part of the group that now reports to Sankaran to bring this project to life was Ellis, who recognized the value of unifying advanced software engineering capabilities with the integrated Open Blue platform. This has proven to be a strategic differentiator for the company. Sankaran accelerated Ellis’ vision by implementing the group-wide agile framework to accelerate time to market.

Schwarz noted that a key to determining where responsibilities begin and where subsequent ones end comes down to strong communications both informal and formal. “We absolutely understand that we have to work productively to determine transfers and provide clarity to our teams,” said Schwarz. “[We are] a company going through a huge transformation change to go digital at heart. The types of problems we solve are new to the organization.

When asked about the formal structures in place to facilitate the creation of strong links within the company, Schwarz gave the example of cybersecurity. There is an enterprise cybersecurity group, which reports to her, and there is a product cybersecurity team that reports to Sankaran. Although there is some overlap between their activities, they are separate disciplines. Schwarz and his company chief information security officer (CISO) attend Sankaran’s product cybersecurity briefings, and similarly, Sankaran and his CISO attend cybersecurity briefings from the company of Schwarz. This indicates a broader desire to keep each other informed, especially in areas where roles overlap.

Ellis notes that the approach taken by Johnson Controls to define these roles and responsibilities has enabled the 136-year-old company to move from industrial speed to the speed of a software company. It says a lot about the company’s commitment to a digital future that it has three such important executives reporting to the CEO of the company. Having this degree of digital sophistication represented at the executive level bodes well for the business to achieve its goal of going digital at heart.

Peter High is chairman of Métis Strategy, a business and IT consulting firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Agile, was recently published. It also moderates the technology podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on twitter @PeterAHigh.


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