Southwire Co. is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of wire and cable, tools, components, and assembled solutions. Daniel Stuart, a 40-year IT veteran who currently serves as Southwire’s senior vice president and CIO, spoke with Foundry about his role and how the IT buying process is evolving.
Q. What are your primary responsibilities in your CIO role?
My responsibilities are mainly around strategic leadership within our department and across the organization – making sure our IT strategy is aligned with the business strategy and our digital strategy. Just like everybody else, I do a lot of meetings, with my team, internally with the business, and also with our vendors and business partners.
We’re also doing a lot more collaboration with our external customers. Building those relationships in this digital world is really key right now for us.
Like other CIOs, I’m also looking at what innovations are out there that we should be exploring. Which ones are more hype, which ones do we feel could benefit the organization? For example, everybody’s looking at generative AI. There’s a lot of opportunity at Southwire for AI and ML [machine learning], given what we do in the manufacturing world.
And then on top of all that, [my role also involves] cyber risk, data governance, and digital and AI governance.
Q. How would you describe a “typical” day?
A typical day for me generally is a lot of meetings. Maybe more than I’d like, but I like to meet with people face to face, whether it’s our employees or our external customers. Networking is really important to me. When you’re in IT, you spend a lot of time listening to both internal and external customers, and having conversations on where the organization is going.
Q. What role do you and your team play in technology purchases?
For a while, a lot of companies were moving so fast and just buying what they needed without putting out a true RFP. Now, we’ve settled back into saying we need an RFP for purchases over a certain amount. We need to talk to three or four vendors and compare notes and make sure we’re getting the right solution for the problem we’re trying to solve.
My involvement generally comes near the end of the deal. I allow my leadership team to do their thing without stepping into their power alleys. I focus on the business aspect of it.
I understand what problem we’re trying to solve. I know the vendors my team is looking at, but I let them do a lot of the due diligence, which gives them the opportunity to learn how to deal with vendors and create those relationships. They’ll present the findings of the RFP and the different bids that came in. We [discuss] which one fits our culture the best, which one solves the problem. Where we can, we do a proof of concept.
Q. Besides your IT team, what other business stakeholders might you bring in for technology purchases?
If we’re working on a business problem, we bring in the business leaders to help with the selection of our tools. The IT and business groups work closely together to solve problems.
If we’re looking at software or hardware or some type of as a service solution, we bring in not only our IT group, but also the business users and key subject matter experts who are going to be using the technology. They’re the ones I get most concerned with about adoption and change management.
Q. You mentioned the security piece earlier as part of your overall responsibilities. Is that a different type of buying process?
We have a CISO who’s pretty diligent with everything. Security is a different beast, so we bring in the broader IT team in part for the educational piece. Whether it’s the network team or the cloud team or the application team, I want them to understand the risk factors around security and what we need to do, because security has to be part of every program. Any type of software or hardware we’re thinking of buying goes through an architectural review board, which addresses security.
We look at security not just from the IT side, but the operations technology [OT] side of the house, too. As a manufacturing company, OT is becoming just as important as IT. Everything’s now IoT and network connected. We have sensors everywhere. That heightens the security aspect of our IT and OT buying decisions.
Q. How has the tech buying process evolved over the four-plus years you’ve been at Southwire?
For a company that was growing as quickly as Southwire was over the past four or five years, our buying cycles were pretty short because we were involved in a lot of acquisitions and we have accelerated our digital program. Now we’re starting to get back into better planning cycles.
In today’s world, it’s much more collaborative, which is why one of my key roles is creating partnerships with my business peers. They’re more actively involved in looking at technology with us, identifying what problem it will solve, which is much better than them doing shadow IT. Our Business Transformation team is a nice model for us to have because of the complexity in our business.
Q. What guidance would you give to technology vendors on what they can do better, or do less of, to get your attention?
I feel bad sometimes for these technology vendors, because they’re trying to drive their business and trying to get conversations with me, which is hard to do in my role.
Being in the right place at the right time is always a good thing. I try to give vendors as much time as I can to walk through their value proposition.
In the best-case scenarios, we have time to evaluate different vendors and different technologies. But sometimes there are projects that need to start within four to six weeks. You’re going to remember those vendors that have contacted you in the past.
When we do meet with vendors, they need to understand they have very limited time with us. I don’t need a 30-page PowerPoint – I need three to five slides that show they understand our business and the problem we’re trying to solve.