CIO Spotlight: Rick Lindberg, ASTM International

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? “The biggest challenge for us is finding people with domain experience…”

ASTM International

Name: Rick Lindberg

Company: ASTM International

Job title: CIO & VP

Date started current role: October 2018

Location: Pennsylvania

Richard Lindberg is CIO and VP, ASTM International. In this role, he is responsible for defining and achieving IT strategy & vision for the organisation. Lindberg has more than 25 years of experience in the IT space. Prior to ASTM, he held Senior IT positions at Guardian Life and Mercer.

What was your first job? Design Engineer for Hayter Engineering located in Paris, Texas.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. When I was going to school there really wasn’t such a thing as IT. I have a degree in engineering and got my professional engineering license (PE). Early in my career I had the opportunity to open up an IT business with a few friends of mine. We were focused on software development and then expanded that into systems integration. From there we began PC manufacturing where we would buy the parts and put them together - essentially the Dell model.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they?  I have a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. I’m a Licensed Professional Engineer, Six Sigma Black Belt, SAFe Product Owner and Product Manager (POPM), and a SAFe Agilist.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. As an engineer, I always saw myself opening up my own engineering business someday. However, when I had the opportunity to work with some friends in software development, I took it. That was definitely a risk, but it paid off. Back when floppy disks were relevant, we wrote a system that automate title process for insurance companies. We then decided to start working on entire systems integration. So, we started buying PCs and reselling them back when there was margin. As systems integrators, we would automate small business processes which allowed us to branch out beyond title insurance companies into new markets. At this point, we began installing Novell servers and quickly found that certain parts of our systems weren't compatible. So, I had to figure out which components worked with Novell and which ones didn’t and I would purchase those parts and assemble our own servers and PCs - which is where the Dell model concept began.

From there, I stayed in IT and went to work for one of our biggest customers, Mercer, Inc., where I stayed for 20 years working in a range of different roles. I began first in a local office role, then a unit geographic role and then global roles. I ran our internet and intellectual capital business, and then was the CIO for our Global Compensation Division.

After 20 years with Mercer, I switched over to the insurance industry and began my new role as CIO at Guardian Life Insurance for the Group insurance businesses. After 6 years in the role I was ready for a new challenge and that’s what landed me at ASTM. I had always been familiar with ASTM since I had been using a lot of their standards in my design work back in my days of engineering, so it really brought everything full circle.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? The largest investment for 2020 and 2021 was the rebuild of all of our customer and member facing software services. At the same time we transformed our internal IT organisation, structure, and working model to meet the demands of this major digital transformation. In the coming year we will continue to be invest in two critical elements – the culture and the people. The first is about being more agile with the ability to work faster with greater quality, and the second is about creating a dynamic ‘right-sourced’ resource infrastructure - connecting the right capability matrix internally with the right partner matrix that can augment our business needs. We work with several strategic partners, from the likes of PwC and Icreon, who help establish the right external capability matrix and execute against our vision to bring ASTM 2.0 to life.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? For 2021 it’s getting all of ASTM 2.0, which is our major digital transformation program, up and out, migrated and launched. That is the top priority for the entire organisation.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? It would depend on what defines conventional. The CIO role is changing faster now than it ever has. I do not see CIO’s running sales or finance functions but in my role I also have responsibility for Product Management, Content curation and Mulit-media and design services.

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. It is focused on customer and member experience and revenue diversification. Operational efficiencies are a by-product but that is not the main focus.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT?  In the last year, we have become significantly more mature as we underwent the ASTM 2.0 initiative. We have production support that is more mature and capable than it has ever been. We’ve established an architecture group and a program management office which didn’t exist prior, and also honed in on vendor management which was another key piece that was missing. KPIs are set up on an annual basis. There are the micro KPIs such as completing project milestones on time and within budget, and then macro KPIs tied to completing the major digital transformation project successfully, and the ability to implement change in a much faster and effective way than before.

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? A good culture fit is someone who really cares about the mission and cares about the organisation and sees the organisation as a big extended family.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The biggest challenge for us is finding people with domain experience - you can’t really hire someone off the street that has ASTM experience. In terms of Technical ability, we’ve been able to hire really great people and I also inherited an excellent team, so really the domain knowledge is the biggest challenge.

What's the best career advice you ever received? The famous Stephen Covey quote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff.  I do not have a formal succession plan, but I have hired some people with the idea that they would ultimately take over the CIO role several years down the road. The biggest challenge will be moving the person away from the technology and more conversant with politics, administration, people leadership, and all the additional requirements at the executive level.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Roll up your sleeves and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Communicate and be transparent.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I don’t think I’ve achieved it yet. My greatest achievement will always be the next one, but right now it’s ASTM 2.0.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? There are always going to be mistakes and hurdles along the way. There will be assumptions you make about particular areas of your business that turn out to be wrong, but you must push forward. If I had to go back of course there would be some things I would change, but in all, things have gone very well.

What are you reading now? I’m rereading The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield.

Most people don't know that I… was in the number 1 spot in my high school golf team.

In my spare time, I like to…golf.

Ask me to do anything but… go shopping.