CIO Spotlight: Elizabeth Hackenson, Schneider Electric
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CIO Spotlight: Elizabeth Hackenson, Schneider Electric

Name: Elizabeth Hackenson

Company: Schneider Electric

Job title: Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: December 2017

Location: Boston, MA

Elizabeth Hackenson has over 30 years of experience leading technology operations and initiatives across large-scale complex organisations. Prior to joining Schneider Electric in 2017, Hacksenson had held three major CIO roles. From 2008-2017, she was CIO at AES where she was responsible for multiple transformational teams. Prior to that, she was CIO and Senior Vice President, Alcatel-Lucent (2006-2008) and CIO and Executive Vice President for MCI (2004-2006).


What was your first job? Working as a data entry clerk / programmer for a firm building sophisticated navigation systems for the US Navy.

Did you always want to work in IT? For the most part, yes. For the first 15 years, I was in IT roles working for multiple systems integrators. The next five years, I moved to product development roles allowing me to better understand how requirements are formulated and shared with IT. Following those product roles, I returned to IT.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a degree in data processing from SUNY (State University of New York). In addition, I completed executive programmes at Stanford University and INSEAD, and participated in MIT Digital Transformation Leadership programme.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. For the first 15 years, I had the privilege of gaining experience in all phases of the systems development lifecycle, from analysis and design to managing large production environments. During this time, I worked for systems integrators as a consultant. At the 15-year mark, I decided to leave IT and gain experience in product management. I remained in product management for five years and then returned to IT. During this time, I was also advancing in more leadership roles and by 2004, I became a CIO. Since then, I have held four CIO roles in telecommunications and energy industries, namely at MCI, Alcatel Lucent, The AES Corporation and now Schneider Electric.

Regarding detours, I remained rather steady transitioning from one company to another; however, I did take some time off during by my third and fourth CIO role for five months.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Schneider Electric's business initiatives are to focus on digital transformation in everything we do - from how we engage our customers, how we sell, and how we operate. To that end, we are advancing our API-first cloud strategy and implementing technologies such as machine learning, AI and robotic process automation to uncover new efficiencies and better experiences for both customers and employees. For example, we're digitising our supply chain, enhancing the digital employee experience through applications such as chatbots, and driving a cybersecurity culture by aligning IT with lines of business as their consultative business peers.

To free up resources and capabilities for emerging technologies, we are reducing technical debt and modernising IT by replacing legacy applications with digital technologies and platforms.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? One of my core responsibilities is ensuring that every person in the IT organisation understands Schneider's digital strategy and how it aligns to business goals so that the organisation is able to enable and empower the front line to communicate with the businesses in a digital enterprise-centric way, whether it's facilitating the adoption of new tools or contributing our expertise to strategy discussions to help businesses think differently about best ways to address problems.

Information competence is critical to support Schneider's mission. To that end, we're developing teams of "digital champions" whose job it is to look at how our employees are working and drive change management and lead Schneider Electric into the future of digital. Digital transformation for Schneider and our customers is happening rapidly. We have adopted agile methodologies and an agile culture to prioritise outcomes by region and in turn, to innovate faster.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? CIOs today continue to play strategic roles in shaping and driving a company's digital transformation. Depending upon the digital journey timeline, companies may add or combine the CIO responsibilities with a Chief Digital Officer. It depends upon the opportunities and challenges specific to a company.

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? In our mission to advance the global transition to a decentralissed, decarbonised and digitised energy future, Schneider Electric is leading the digital transformation of energy management and process automation, and in turn, helping to curb climate change. We serve the sectors of Homes, Buildings, Data Centres, Infrastructure and Industries (representing 70% of world's consumption combined), enabling our customers to better manage their energy use and industrial processes in ways that are connected, safe, reliable, efficient, and sustainable.

When done right, going digital (the user experience) and digitising (connecting assets and automating processes) have an impact on the customer experience, revenue, and efficiency in tandem, without needing to prioritise one outcome over the other. For example, connecting a manufacturing plant's assets to an IoT ecosystem allows electricity to move through the facility more efficiently, while also preventing costly downtime. And now that everything is connected, customers have better contextual analytics, allowing for benefits such as predictive maintenance, which also can open up new revenue streams such as selling "uptime as a service." Worker experience improves, too - think about how virtual reality can make operator training safer in a simulated environment, or how digital twin technology reduces time spent troubleshooting equipment upgrades in a dangerous environment.

We push forward digital innovation for ourselves and our customers with EcoStruxure, our IoT-enabled, open and interoperable architecture.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Enterprise IT needs to have the same vision and technologies we are selling to customers. EcoStruxure enables us to develop scalable and converged IT/OT solutions for both our own operations and end-user customers that:

  • Maximise energy efficiency and sustainability through smarter systems and real-time, data-driven decisions
  • Optimise asset availability and performance through predictive analytics and proactive maintenance
  • Enable smart, productive and profitable operations through reduction of waste and downtime
  • Provide mobile insight and proactive risk-mitigation through simulation, situational awareness and digitisation
  • Foster open innovation and interoperability through development and partnerships with leading standards organisations and best-in-class technology leaders

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? As an organisation, Schneider Electric constantly challenges itself to rethink the future, re-write the rules of the game, and to re-access the possibilities. Our culture is all about bold ideas. To support our mission, we need to empower employees to carry the digital torch. With this approach, something amazing starts to happen: you drive people to think differently by respectfully challenging the "why?" in a relevant way that motivates them to change the game, rather than be an order taker.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Given the constant evolution of technology, continuous learning and training are critical. Upskilling keeps IT professionals ahead of the curve, while sparking their curiosity to soak in the excitement around new technology. Everyone in the IT group should serve as a "Digital Expert" for the company, and with that comes the need for certain soft skills including curiosity, communication, and initiative - so these will be important to look for when hiring talent. Through constant training and a culture of empowerment, we can overcome the challenges of fulfilling the roles needed to advance digital transformation. Specific skills in digital technologies such as Cloud, RPA, ML, AI, Cyber, Agile, etc. are in demand and will continue to be so.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Always support your peers even when competing for higher positions. Work hard, be curious and be kind.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I do. The challenge is ensuring the candidates are getting exposure to learn as well as exposure to other senior leaders - collaboration and constant communication is key.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? IT leaders, especially CIOs, are often juggling many responsibilities and priorities at a time. It's easy to find yourself spread too thin, so it's important to learn when to let go and trust the teams you manage. Every time you move up the ladder, you're letting go of the work and responsibilities that got you there, and with that comes watching people on your team take on the new tasks and make mistakes. My advice is to focus on helping them learn on their own versus hand-holding them through the process. All mistakes are growth opportunities. Instead of micromanaging, try asking questions that lead team members to come up with the right answers themselves. Across Schneider Electric, our people strategy includes enabling and empowering our employees to dare to disrupt and to act like owners. This approach fuels the company's innovative spirit and culture so necessary for successful digital transformation.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I'm most proud of becoming a CIO.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have obtained an advanced degree.

What are you reading now? Books on digital transformation.

Most people don't know that I… like time alone.

In my spare time, I like to…learn across a wide spectrum.

Ask me to do anything but… go camping.

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