Measures Businesses Should Undertake Amidst the Changing it Landscape
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Measures Businesses Should Undertake Amidst the Changing it Landscape

Ken Ponder, CIO , Viskase Companies INC
Ken Ponder, CIO , Viskase Companies INC

Ken Ponder, CIO , Viskase Companies INC

Ken Ponder is a veteran IT executive and organizational leader with over 35 years of experience driving technology initiatives with long-term impact programs. During his college years, he worked part-time in a warehouse for Texas Instruments around Speak and Spell—a series of electronic hand-held child computers. This drove his interest in technology, and he started learning programming languages such as RPG and COBOL. In the initial years of his career, he worked in the financial industry as a programmer and senior network engineer. Later, he worked in Enterprise Architecture, global infrastructures, and ERP applications across various industries. Specialized in implementing and managing IT process improvements, developing standards for design, and acquiring and managing geographically dispersed resources, Ponder eventually geared up his career to become a CIO.

How has the industry evolved over time, and as a leader, how have you adapted to respond to these trends?

The IT industry has gone through many changes over the decades, from mainframes to networking to web hosting to cloud. Organizations are moving away from traditional PBXs to voiceover IP and Microsoft Teams calling. All the Desk equipment that contribute to CapEx will depreciate in the next five years. The business world is moving from the traditional CapEx and accumulation of assets to the OPEX model

The challenge for CIOs is not about staying current with trends but educating the non-technology executives about these driving factors of a change. We need to make them understand the necessity to move infrastructure and workload to the cloud. While convincing any executives— be it CFO or CEO—of any technological change, we need to show them the type of ROI it will provide. It can be anything from streamlined business processes, improved margin to reduced work pressure on the workforce, which ultimately helps a company grow. We make people’s jobs easier by making them more efficient at what they do. As a result, organizations can save significant money over the long term.

Take the manufacturing industry, for example—especially in protein casing, where we produce plastic for incasing meat. In this sector, individuals work the whole day in extremely hot conditions. Through automation, companies can produce more in less time if they streamline their ability to manufacture those plastics on the extrusion lines more efficiently. This enables them to spend more time in the less stressful environment of cooling areas. They don’t have to manually write down readings or remember the settings for the next run and focus on more important tasks.Consequently, it saves wear-and-tear on employees that happen due to overwork and stress. This, in turn, saves companies on insurance as their workforce is healthier.

 It is crucial to involve people in the decision-making process by listening to their ideas and suggestions rather than making statements of facts. 

In essence, technology improves a business in many ways. As CIOs, we have to explain its benefits to executives and management to provide a better understanding of the purpose of the technology or the issue it resolves.

Could you shed light on some projects or initiatives that you have worked on recently?

I have been working on security projects recently. In today’s world, building a strong security posture that could hold up against the current onslaught of ransomware and malware is crucial than ever. The biggest challenge for us is to protect a company without strangling its employees. We leverage the latest technologies to ensure that we secure a company internally and externally, including all the cloud applications. Especially when the workforce started working from home amidst COVID—security is first and foremost in my mind. We need to adopt advanced solutions to strengthen our security more than ever as we make firewalls and company networks accessible to the remote workforce.

What is the strategy that you follow while coordinating and collaborating with your team?

From my experience across the various roles over the year, I learned that listening to team members or employees is crucial. Employees should feel valued for contributing to their fullest potential as they become discontent the moment they don’t—ultimately, leading to poor performance. That’s why I look at employees’ strengths, existing roles, and skillsets. Then, considering all these aspects, I help them be in a position that plays to their strengths and be successful. If we surround ourselves with happy and successful people, we automatically achieve success. With this approach, I lead my team, and they know that I have got their back.

Where do you see the industry in the coming few years?

Security will continue to take front and center, at least for the next year, as the onslaught of ransomware is mind-boggling. Also, technologies such as AI started to take stronghold across various industries. However, companies are recovering from one of the worst pandemics in over a century and spending an enormous amount of money on technology to recover quickly. We need to upgrade all the equipment, applications, and surrounding control systems to leverage AI solutions. Then only we can think about automating processes and obtaining effective KPIs to understand how a business is truly doing at a manufacturing level. This could take at least 24 months. In essence, the focus should be on making sure that we don’t lose any intellectual property.

What would be a piece of advice that you would like to give to your peers?

Companies often want a CIO who has confidence in his/her ability and knowledge. However, it is important to understand that the difference between confidence in your ability and thinking you know everything. If we go thinking we know everything, then we will fail before getting started as nobody knows everything. Being humble and confident at the same time is the key. Also, involving everyone in the decision-making process by listening to their ideas and suggestions is another crucial aspect. We need to try to explain our thought process versus dictating to somebody how they should do something.

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