Redefining IT

David Cefai of Kinross Gold Corporation explains the new role of information technology

David Cefai, VP of IT
David Cefai, VP of IT

When David Cefai joined Kinross Gold Corporation as head of its IT operations in May of 2009, he inherited what he calls a “very immature IT organization.” Within a year, that organization had seen a 90 percent reduction in major IT incidents year-over-year.

Cefai, who today serves as CIO and vice president of information technology, says that Kinross’s IT problems stemmed from its history. Although the company was founded in 1993, for the first 15 years of its existence it was operated by investment bankers who were essentially flipping gold mines. As a result, many of the company’s nine mines came through acquisitions, all with their own IT organizations.

In looking at the company’s IT organization, Cefai assessed three dimensions: people, process, and architecture. The people were generally skilled and hardworking, but the company was understaffed and was missing key skill sets, so it was extremely dependent on external contractors. From a process perspective, the company was reactive, not proactive. And from an architecture perspective, there wasn’t a strategy in place.

5 Questions
with David Cefai

 

1. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company’s IT division forward?
The two areas that have a lot of potential for us are cloud computing, which allows us to respond more quickly to demand, and mobile computing, which allows us to empower users to perform their jobs wherever they are.

2. What defines an innovative IT organization in the 21st century?
On a basic level, an IT organization has to be responsive to the needs of the business—delivering services reliably and cost-effectively. But what really differentiates an IT organization is being able to come proactively to the business with recommendations on how to improve the bottom line of the company.

3. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
We’re a strategic partner to the business. The mistake many IT organizations make is waiting for a request, then doing the best they can to fulfill that request. But that assumes your business partners are technically savvy and understand how they can leverage IT tools—and in many cases, they don’t.

4. Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years? We should be able to come to the table consistently and say, “Oh, you’re having a problem with this process? We can help solve that problem.”

5. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade? It hasn’t. Innovation by definition is constant change.

“A multitude of different applications came with the company’s acquisitions, and while some effort was made to patch them together, no one really determined the optimal architecture, so in some cases we had four or five tools all performing the same function, and in other areas we had no tools at all,” says Cefai.

When joining Kinross, Cefai had a different vision for the IT department: he wanted it to be viewed as a strategic business partner as opposed to a basic service provider. “A former boss of mine had a saying: ‘If you’re only going to act like a service provider, you deserve to be outsourced,’” he says. “It’s not until you become a strategic business partner that you add value to the business and prove that you’re needed in-house.”

Still, Cefai knew he couldn’t achieve his vision overnight. “We had to focus on the basics first,” he says. “When I first came onboard, our base infrastructure wasn’t reliable, and network, e-mail, and application outages were common. It would have been hard for me to go to my peers and talk about strategy when e-mail wasn’t working.”

As a result, Cefai spent his first year at Kinross trying to fix what he calls the foundation and the plumbing of the IT organization. He deployed a new wide-area network. He implemented standards for server configurations, network gateways, and the company’s e-mail platform. And he implemented some basic processes, such as change management, which provides for limited outage windows, notification, and testing to accompany an IT change. “Doing all of that gave us the 90 percent reduction in major incidents, helped us regain our credibility with the business, and allowed us to redirect all the effort we spent firefighting into proactive, continuous improvement projects,” Cefai says.

After Cefai stabilized Kinross’s infrastructure, he looked at improving the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which runs the back office. “There was a high level of dissatisfaction with our ERP, and my business partners thought it needed a new vendor,” Cefai says. “I had to explain that it wasn’t the vendor; under these conditions, no ERP would have been successful. It was originally implemented as an IT project with little business engagement. The ERP was basically thrown over the wall with poor data quality, poor testing, and poor training, and to everyone’s amazement it didn’t work.”

In revamping the system, Cefai and his team started from a business perspective, not an IT perspective. “We looked at business processes and, once we defined those processes, translated them into an ERP configuration that would enable them,” he says.

The next phase of Cefai’s vision will involve a focus on business intelligence, which he believes can help his business partners make better decisions. “A lot of organizations spend 80 percent of their time collecting and cleaning data, and 20 percent of their time analyzing it, but that ratio should be reversed,” says Cefai, who also wants to focus on mining applications. “If we accomplish those goals, I’ll be comfortable saying we’ve truly become a strategic business partner.”