Jamie Miller’s Journey From Chief Accounting Officer To CIO Of GE
Jamie Miller runs information technology for one of the most complex and admired companies in the world: General Electric. One would think that the CIO of such a company would have a deep technical background, perhaps having an advanced degree in an engineering discipline along with multiple stints as CIO previously. Miller’s resume may not have these items on it, but she has something that IT departments increasingly need: financial expertise.
IT used to be a part of Finance in many companies, as some of the earliest technologies developed at big companies was technology applied to the general ledger, accounting systems more generally, and the like. Likewise, when technology was taught at business schools, it was often a sub-set of the accounting department. It is perhaps ironic that a growing number of CIOs have grown up through the Finance function. Miller has leveraged her background to make IT more transparent and accountable, and ever more cognizant of the value that it delivers to the enterprise. CIOs with or without financial backgrounds should follow her lead.
(To listen to an extended audio version of this interview, please click on this link. This article is both a part of the “CIO’s First 100 Days” series and the “Business CIO” series. To receive additional articles in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: Well Jamie, yours is a very interesting path to CIO. In fact you, as I understand it from our past conversations, don’t have any prior formal experience in IT – it’s not as though you grew up from programmer to your current post – and I wonder actually, as a relative outsider to the function, what advantages you found to approaching IT with a different set of sensibilities and witth a different set of experiences?
Jamie Miller: I grew up in Finance. I was GE’s Controller and Chief Accounting Officer and in that and other Finance roles I really learned a lot about how companies are put together, you know the product, the market, the processes, the systems and really we a company does very well, and where we have got some issues and I think having that type of insight is really critical coming into the CIO role. As a relative outsider to IT, I am able to view technology and our solutions from a business perspective, first and foremost. I believe I have helped challenge our thinking around how we drive business outcomes or how we can be better aligned with the company’s goals. So, it sort of gives you this outside in view.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- Having worked with a great number of CIOs, the financial side of the role isn’t necessarily the forte of IT executives. Often there is tremendous expertise in terms of technical side, needless to say, but being able to convey the value of IT in financial terms is so critical, I can only imagine that that’s something that you brought into IT in terms of not only conveying the cost of what’s being proposed in the investments that make up the IT portfolio that you are pursuing, but also potentially more thought about the overall value of what’s being cobbled together. Is that accurate?
- How did you interact with IT prior to heading that function?
- Having spent time as a consumer of IT’s services at GE, how did that color your plans in your first 100 days of leading the function?
- What are some examples of the non-traditional peers whose advice you sought?
- You mentioned that as you’ve got deeper in to the role that you began to understand things you didn’t fully appreciate until you had the role. As you identified gaps in your own knowledge, how did you go about filling them? For instance were there people on your team that you leaned because of their capabilities were different from your own?
- Obviously, General Electric is a behemoth of a corporation. It has a variety of business units that are multi-billion dollar companies. How do you interact with the many CIOs who lead those business units?
- As you think about strategy, Jamie, what is the process that you have used to develop your own IT strategy?
- General Electric is a legendarily metrics driven organization. Couple that with your financial background, and I have to imagine that you have put some deep thought into how to measure IT’s performance. What metrics are on your dashboard?
- You mentioned as you were walking through the themes that emerged as part of your strategy, the first one you mentioned was innovation. What is IT’s role in innovation, and what process do you use to stimulate it?
- You clearly have a sharp focus on innovation. You also indicated that you spend time in Silicon Valley hoping to tap into the zeitgeist there. What trends have you seen over the course of your investigation that have you particularly excited?