In The Trenches with Scott Zimmerman, CIO, CenterPoint Properties (Part 2)

In this week’s “In the Trenches,” Chris Saah continues his chat with Scott Zimmerman, Chief Information Officer for CenterPoint Properties. Mr. Zimmerman is responsible for directing CenterPoint’s IT Department and aligning its information technology platform with the Company’s business strategy. He is also responsible for the Company’s business processes initiatives as well as its corporate marketing activities. CenterPoint Properties is focused on the development, ownership and intensive management of industrial real estate and related rail, road and port infrastructure.

CS: As we discussed in the first part of our interview, process maturity and compliance has been a key to your efficiency and success at CenterPoint. Beyond the technology you’ve developed, using SharePoint and other tools, continuous improvement is really a part of your corporate culture isn’t it? How have you accomplished that? 
Zimmerman: Yes it is. We are auditing ourselves on a regular basis. We’re publishing the results of these audits to the entire company so everyone sees how well they are doing relative to our objectives and to the other teams in the company. We’ve tweaked our platform so that there are automatic triggers and alerts to help people keep their information current. And we give rewards when they meet our established goals.
CS: Are you rewarding the managers? 
Zimmerman: No, the entire team. One, because it is a total team effort and two, because we wanted to create a certain amount of peer pressure where people might say: “Hey, I didn’t get my incentive this quarter because you didn’t stay current.”
CS: Does IT oversee this initiative? 
Zimmerman: The process engineering part of it comes under me as the CIO and then each team has a process person that I work with closely. They are not direct reports, but they work on the process team. The audit comes from accounting so that it is truly independent and gives us an objective picture of how well we are doing. As I’ve been preaching at Realcomm for years, if as IT, you can get control of the processes or get really close to the people who are, you just make your world so much easier. I know it is a hassle in some respects, but in other ways you can really impact change on the business and have a seat at the table with the other execs, because you are not just talking about the need to build a better WAN or NAS storage. Instead you’re talking about how you do the business, how you do it faster, better, cheaper, and make more profit, and how you do it using a combination of human behavior and the influence of technology simultaneously. I find the board and my peers at the executive level are so much more receptive to that holistic approach.
CS: And is this culture something that IT has brought the business into kicking and screaming or is it something you have strong sponsorship for? 
Zimmerman: No, the business truly owns it. Our new CEO, who was the CFO when I started 15 years ago, sat down with me when I first started and said you know we really need to focus on this stuff and started a huge initiative. He got Deloitte involved and had them look at our processes and we’ve gotten to run with it since them. Every time we’ve gotten a new board or on boarded a new executive, we’ve kind of indoctrinated them and shown them why this is valuable. And you know, we have not really had a lot of friction. They see it. It’s not overly expensive. It’s not as bad as you think it is because if you keep doing it all the time, it’s not so painful and it pays great dividends in the efficiency of the operation.
CS: Well Scott, as always, thanks so much for sharing your successes and insights with us. They are really beneficial and inspiring to many of us. 
Zimmerman: Anytime Chris.