CIO Spotlight: Kim Brannon, SAP NS2

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? “… I would have cultivated more confidence. I recognise that there are times when I let imposter syndrome get the best of me.”

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SAP NS2

Name: Kim Brannon

Company: SAP NS2

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: October 2019

Location: Virtual office

Kim Brannon serves as Chief Information Officer for SAP National Security Services (NS2) where she leads the enterprise-wide information technology (IT) strategy, governance, and operations. Brannon provides leadership for the digital platform that enables the NS2 community to communicate and collaborate securely. Brannon is overseeing digital innovation and transformation in support of the growth and maturity of the SAP NS2 business. Brannon brings over 25 years of experience in information systems and business services to SAP NS2.

What was your first job? My first job was as a babysitter. Babysitting is where I first learned how to negotiate. There is nothing like negotiating with a toddler!  

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I always knew that I wanted to do something related to computers. Early in my career, I realised that I enjoyed working at the intersection of business and IT. I formed a proficiency for understanding business needs and requirements, and leveraging information and technology to drive efficiency, effectiveness, productivity, and business growth.   

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, with an emphasis on computer science, from Penn State University. After working for a few years in the industry, I realised that I needed to round out my technical degree with business knowledge. So, five years into my career, I pursued a Master of Science in Industrial Administration (MBA) from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. Later, aligned with my career working in the aerospace and defense industry, I pursued master’s level courses as part of the Government CIO program with the National Defense University’s Information Resources Management College (NDU IRMC). 

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I began my career with the Information Systems Management Program at General Electric (GE). This is an entry level leadership program intended for early talent on career tracks heading towards CIO roles. In some of my early work, I recognised that I enjoyed working at the intersection of the business and IT. We were developing and implementing an enterprise financial system, and my favorite roles were driving process changes, and teaching finance professionals how their work was changing with the new system. It was at this point that I decided to pursue an MBA, to round out my technical degree with a business degree. So, my first detour was five years into my career, stepping away from paid work to pursue an MBA full-time. 

With my MBA in hand, I decided to pursue another detour, with an experience in management consulting. I took a role working in A.T. Kearney’s Strategic Management &Technology practice. In my five years in this role, I worked across a variety of industries, and gained experience with program management, IT strategy and IT sourcing. While I enjoyed the work, I looked forward to moving into an IT leadership role, where I could consistently drive transformations within an organisation. An ulterior motive was to work in a role that required less than100% travel that was expected of the management consulting work. 

In my 17 years with Raytheon, I took on a variety of IT leadership roles driving transformation, but also had some detours also. With one detour, I took a role in engineering working with our teams that were delivering mission operations and enterprise IT services to some of our government customers. This diversion provided me with the opportunity to work closer to Raytheon’s customers, and it also helped me round out my experiences. 

The breadth of my experiences, include the detours, equipped me to take on the CIO role with SAP NS2 in October 2019.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Our IT investments are focused on three key areas:
1) Customer as a priority: Focusing our investments to drive digital transformation, enabling NS2 to provide exceptional services and support for our customers.
2) Transform and modernise how we do our work: Focused on transforming our back-office services, as well as enabling us to communicate and collaborate, securely.
3) Growth: Investing in NS2’s growth strategy.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our IT investments are aligned with SAP NS2 business strategy and our CEO’s vision. We leverage what we deliver to our customers within the business of NS2. Security is in our middle name and it’s in everything we do, including embedding security and a focus on cloud, in everything IT and what IT delivers to support the business.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The roles and responsibilities of the CIO need to align and evolve with the business. The CIO role is particularly interesting for a company in the technology space, because there are grey areas between the lines of business and the responsibilities of the office of the CIO. The keys to clarifying these areas are relationships, communication, and governance.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes, we are starting with operational efficiency with a focus on driving efficiency and effectiveness in how we communicate and collaborate. We are also currently launching initiatives that will drive digital transformation in the customer experience.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? SAP NS2 is in the digital business, so we benefit from many NS2 team members applying digital in the work that we do. My role as the CIO is ensuring that we strategically focus our digital capabilities aligned with the business strategy.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? The words that come to mind when I think about culture fit at NS2 are: innovation, curiosity, collaboration, empathy, openness to change, and can-do attitude. We also like to have fun while solving complex problems for our customers. I cultivate it by encouraging and rewarding these efforts and behaviors.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Cyber security roles are difficult to fill mostly because of the demand for this skill set. The other challenge is finding strong technologist that speaks and understands business challenges and objectives.

What's the best career advice you ever received? The best advice I have ever received was within the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.  A mentor presented this book to me after I led an enterprise strategic initiative. It was the right message for me at the right time, opening my eyes to how I executed the work with the resources that I was provided, and did come forward with asks of the leadership team. I think about the lessons and messages in this book often.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. As the first CIO for SAP NS2, we are currently defining what this role means for the business of NS2. We will use that definition to frame the skills need in the succession plan.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? My advice for aspiring IT leaders is to have passion and enthusiasm in the work that you are doing. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish when your colleagues and team members align with your passion. Have fun in all that you do.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Driving transformations. From the first transformation that I lead early in my career, to every role since, each transformation has been increasingly complex. I am most proud when I see team members working efficiently and effectively, and leveraging the people-process-technology method that I designed and/or influenced.  

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Looking back, I would have cultivated more confidence. I recognise that there are times when I let imposter syndrome get the best of me.

What are you reading now? Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts

Most people don't know that I… Secretly, I want to run an ice cream shop (or at least that is what I say when I have a bad day at work)!.

In my spare time, I like to…I like to spend time with family and friends. This is something I especially treasure after this past year.

Ask me to do anything but… but don’t make me do something that feels inefficient. Nothing drives me crazier than inefficiencies.