In normal times, heads of information technology have challenging jobs. During the past few years of abnormal times, these CIOs, or Chief Information Officers, have faced even greater challenges than usual.
That led the Pittsburgh Technology Council to nickname 2023’s CIO of the Year Awards “Mission Possible,” to show the backdrop against which they have operated recently and how well they have succeeded.
After Covid hit, some companies faced wrenching changes in their markets. Retailers, including VSP Vision, needed to find new ways to serve their customers — and that meant relying on IT for new techniques.
Kathleen Lovett, VSP’s CIO, proudly points out how her team created a geographic routing solution to deliver orders expeditiously. They also worked on how to serve “healthcare deserts” where customers have difficulty acquiring any type of healthcare services.
Universities act like cities
For those in higher education, where, according to Paul Allison, CIO of Pennsylvania Western University (PennWest), serving a campus is like serving a small city — the challenges can be daunting.
He and Tony Krance, chief information security officer (CISO) of Seton Hill University, describe the environment as serving both business needs and serving customers who bring other aspects of their lives into the IT environment in a broader way than if they were in private sector companies.
“We have IT stuff that just comes out of the walls,” Krance says.
Most people will recognize typical devices including smart phones and tablets, Amazon Fire Sticks and smart plugs; he also points out more unusual devices that are part of the organization-wide IT infrastructure that he needs to protect.
“There’s a lamp that students bring that connects to the Internet where they can touch it to let their parents know that they’re thinking about them,” says Krance.
At PennWest, Allison had the additional challenge of merging three universities (California University of PA, Clarion University and Edinboro University) into one entity as part of the consolidation of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Most CIOs would consider that a career defining achievement without the additional challenges of the past few years.
Separating the finalists from the field
While the finalists for CIO of the Year are all tenured — requiring at least 12 months in their positions to be nominated — and all work on technology, they are in organizations of all sizes spanning a range of industries including manufacturing, financial, services and nonprofits. And they all say they are resource constrained — even those at the largest companies.
The 2023 CIO of the Year Awards were presented on April 12 at the Westin Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh. According to Allison Kaharick, who has run the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s CIO of the Year Awards for the past four years, the finalists are judged by peers — chosen by members of CIO, CISO and IT manager groups.
That, according to Jonathan Kersting, vice president of communications and media for the Pittsburgh Technology Council, means “they understand the actual work the nominees have done and the complications of the projects they have solved.”
Both point out that this year’s finalists include more women than in past years, perhaps indicating that more women are reaching the top of the IT corporate structure.
IT challenges will continue
The most recent tech trend on which the CIOs are keeping an eye is the emergence and widespread use of artificial intelligence.
It offers a tool that CIOs can use to identify threats more easily, and can also become a threat itself, as AI is used more widely by hackers. Several CIOs describe AI as something that they need to keep one step ahead of, because malicious actors can use it for “social engineering,” a tech term for fooling somebody else into doing something they may not ordinarily do.
Dusan Stefanovic, senior manager at U.S. Steel who is in the Rising Star category for CIO of the Year, puts the level of change of technology in perspective.
“It’s not enough to be an iconic corporation in order to win,” he says, adding that you need to leverage the technology that made you successful with the latest technologies that are emerging at a rapid pace.
2023 CIO of the Year Winners and Finalists
CIO Choice Award Recipient
Ruth DeLost-Wylie, Senior Vice President & CAO, Hope Gas
Heidi Norman, CIO & Director, Dept. of Innovation & Performance, City of Pittsburgh
Paul Allison, CIO, PennWest University
Chuck Bartel, VP, IT & CIO, Duquesne University
Kyle Fulton, AVP Technology, GBU Financial Life
Dan Hoffer, CIO, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Matt Hoffman, CIO, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College
Brad Ryba, CTO, Rimsys
Binesh Dobhal, CIO, Creatotech
Mike Duddy, VP Technology, Apex Health Solutions
Karl Herleman, Sr. VP of IT, American Textile Co.
Mario Cafaro, SVP, Management Science Associates (MSA)
Adam Gunnett, Director, IT & Marketing, Busy Beaver Building Centers
Scott Phelps, VP, Technology, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Keslar, Divisional CIO & President of BNY Mellon Pennsylvania
Chris Carmody, SVP, Enterprise IT Infrastructure, UPMC Information Technology
Kathleen Lovett, VP & CIO, Supply Chain, VSP Vision
Bhaskar Ramachandran, VP & CIO, PPG
Tracci Schultz, SVP, IT, FedEx Ground and Operations Core Technologies, FedEx Services
Mike Conley, CISO, Industrial Scientific & Intelex
Brian Abercrombie, Information Security Privacy Officer, TeleTracking Technologies
Tony Krance, Executive Director, IT/ISO, Seton Hill University
Phil Woods, Sr. Director, Technology Operations & Solutions, CISO, FHLBank Pittsburgh
Erika Carrara, VP & CISO, Wabtec Corporation
Jason Rhykerd, CISO, Sheetz
Eris Symms, CISO, Arconic
Susan Koski, CISO, Head of Enterprise Information Security, PNC Financial Services
Mike Noble, CISO, Alcoa
Dusan Stefanovic, Senior IT Manager, U.S. Steel
Karen Fay, VP, Information Security Governance, Dollar Bank
Kallie Winkler, Client Systems Manager, Schneider Downs