Quick, what's wrong with this picture: why is the IT leader of a package-delivery company based in Atlanta leading a day-long seminar in Manhattan about business innovation and environmental issues, with emphasis on the fresh-vegetable and plumbing-supply industries?
We tend to look at things through the lens of preconceived notions because that approach is always convenient, usually easy, and sometimes even accurate. In this case, our preset filters—our stereotypes—are telling us that IT guy should be back in Atlanta running IT, that guys in brown trucks delivering brown boxes is not exactly innovation, and that none of that has anything to do with tree-huggers or celery or shower fixtures.
And our stereotypes, as is so often the case, would be completely and profoundly incorrect.
UPS CIO Dave Barnes is at the hub of this entire contradictory scenario, and we'll get to him in detail in just a moment. But first, here's what was really going on:
**UPS is, of course, much more than a package-delivery company. It's certainly that but it also develops and markets enterprise-level software; offers consulting services for global logistics, supply chain, and more; is the world's 9th-largest and most fuel-efficient airline; and has recently become a leading voice in environmental-sustainability efforts that have massive business impact by lowering costs, increasing efficiencies, sparking innovation, and being extendable out to customers.
**Fresh vegetables and plumbing supplies: Two of UPS's customers from those businesses participated in the event to share their experiences with how UPS technologies and services had provided significant business value to their companies in operational performance and sustainability improvements.
**Business innovation has to be inextricably linked these days to everything IT does—otherwise, what's the point? Why not just slap that big red bumper-sticker on your forehead proclaiming your status to the world: COST CENTER!
All those threads run through Dave Barnes, senior VP and CIO at UPS and leader of its 5,000-member IT team and top decision-maker behind the $1 billion the company spends annually on technology. He's helped lead the technology-based efforts that have been behind wide-ranging initiatives to improve business performance while simultaneously consuming less fossil fuel, lowering emissions, and weaving those concepts into the company's core strategy and operating principles.
From that point, the logical next step is to work with customers to show the benefits UPS has gained and share with them ideas for how their businesses can benefit from adopting similar policies and processes. Along the way, customers realize with great clarity that while UPS certainly does deliver packages—more than any company in the world—it is also able to deliver ideas, innovation, and other types of business value as well.
For Barnes, that dynamic of leveraging internal innovations out to customers is as much or even more a part of his job than executing the company's technology strategy. It's become an indispensable component of the overall UPS culture and operating philosophy as well: a relentless effort to measure, analyze, and optimize processes in order to find new ways to delight and excite customers.
Because of that approach, and in spite of the fact that he's been at UPS for 33 years, Barnes represents the archetype for the "new" breed of CIO who transcends technology expertise and instead becomes an unwavering advocate for customer-centric innovation. That outlook—along with the management practices and processes woven around it—allow Barnes to be 100% accurate when he says that the UPS technology strategy is the same as the business strategy: