Nancy D’Amico | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND

Driving Business Through IT

By Karen Rosen

Some Chief Information Officers might feel trepidation if their bosses approached them to talk about the IT budget.

Nancy D’Amico had no need to worry. Last year, LeasePlan USA’s CEO and CFO came to her with a stunning proposal:  If they gave D’Amico an additional 5 percent to invest, could the IT department – by engaging partners or consultants -- move some future projects forward?

“That never happens,” D’Amico says. “The business never comes to IT and asks if we would want more money to do more things. They always come to IT and say, ‘Why do you have so many people and what are you doing?’”

Actually, that was the first question D’Amico was asked when she joined LeasePlan USA in 2008 as senior vice president and CIO. Of the company’s 450 employees, 65 are in IT, with a third of the IT department in Chicago.

Since then, D’Amico turned her department around so much that LeasePlan USA’s top executives not only understand what IT is doing with its resources, but wants IT to take on even more.

“I’m very proud of the progress we have made together,” says D’Amico.

And the top brass just came back with another 5 percent increase to do it again this year.  “They want us to continue to deliver more projects, because we’re having a big impact on the business,” says D’Amico, who is a finalist for the 2011 CIO of the Year Awards presented by the Georgia CIO Leadership Association (GCLA). She was also a finalist for the 2010 Women of the Year in Technology Award.

LeasePlan USA is a subsidiary of LeasePlan Corp. N.V., a global leader in vehicle leasing and fleet management solutions. The company manages more than 1.3 million vehicles worldwide and 385,000 in the United States. The business is mostly cars and trucks, but D’Amico says, “We’ve just leased an airplane.

She wears the company’s promise on her left sleeve: “It’s easier to leaseplan,” and the IT promise on her right: “We are streamlining our systems for you.”

In the last 24 months, D’Amico’s IT department has delivered 61 projects with more than $6 million worth of annual benefit. They also saved $885,000 just by managing operating costs and reducing maintenance and expenditures.

Growing up outside of Pittsburgh, D’Amico had no idea she’d be on technology’s front lines.

“From the time I was really small, my mom told me that I was going to college and that I could do anything that I wanted to do,” D’Amico said.

That left her options wide open. She enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh where D’Amico says, “I had a really good advisor.”

The advisor suggested she do an internship at a hospital in an area that was just starting to take off: information technology.

The NCR Years

After earning a bachelor’s of science degree in information and computer science, D’Amico interviewed with NCR in Cambridge, Ohio, with no intention of living there “because it was in the middle of nowhere.” But the interview went so well that D’Amico wound up at NCR for 13 years, moving to Atlanta after spending the first five years in Ohio.

She started out as a programmer, worked in quality assurance and was responsible for establishing a standard software development life cycle process, which she says was “a new concept back in the ‘80s.”

D’Amico was also involved in software supplier management, but the program that highlighted her NCR tenure was called “Opportunity, Vision and Values.” After NCR was bought out by AT&T, the new CEO wanted to instill a values program throughout the company. D’Amico was one of only 50 representatives chosen to spread the word to co-workers across the globe, including Australia and Canada, for nearly a year.

After completing her MBA at Emory University, D’Amico joined Delta Air Lines for a 12-year run. In her first job after coming aboard, she was responsible for bridging the technology group and the sales team.

But the joint venture with AT&T called Transquest, which was established to sell technology services to other airlines, was short-lived. D’Amico next went into the development area to work on a safety project as a business consultant.

She then was chosen to lead the data area, centralizing it under one department, which designed, built and supported the databases.

As part of an initiative called Airport Renewal, D’Amico led the effort to modernize all of the airports using a new process called “the DT way”.

Delta replaced all of the old airport systems at the gates with a modern -- at the time -- Windows-based system.

For her next venture, D’Amico welcomed the opportunity to lead a team within the operations area, which was responsible for the data center. “This was a great opportunity to get visibility and exposure to the hardware side of running the business,” she says.

Delta and 9/11

D’Amico was part of the operations team during 9/11, when Delta officials went into crisis management. “We had planes that we had to get to the closest airport,” she says. “We had planes landing all over the place – Canada when they weren’t supposed to. I was right in the middle of it because of the systems that I was responsible for.”

Delta’s executives met in what was akin to a war room. “At one point,” D’Amico says, “I said, ‘Is anybody else thinking about the fact that we are yards away from one of the busiest airports in the world?’ “Because our data center was right next to that runway. It was scary.”

When it appeared Delta would outsource its entire IT operation, D’Amico put out feelers for a new job. Although the company eventually changed directions, the merger talks with Northwest prompted an executive recruiter to call. That job wasn’t right for D’Amico, but she shared it with a colleague, for whom it was a perfect fit.

In a prime example of why it helps to foster relationships, the colleague returned the favor with a tip about the CIO position at LeasePlan.

“The biggest challenges they were having was lack of delivery,” D’Amico says. “IT was not finishing the projects.”

Failure to Communicate

“There were a lot of opportunities to improve communications and break down the walls within the company,” D’Amico says. “There were walls between IT and the business, so there was no partnership; there were walls within IT.”

D’Amico established an architecture group and reorganized the department. “The reason why they weren’t delivering is there wasn’t clear accountability,” she says.

D’Amico worked with the new architecture group to establish an IT strategy with six components: infrastructure, application road map, application modernization, single source, reporting and ePlan.

Last year, one of LeasePlan’s major initiatives, called Renaissance, was launched to integrate the Alpharetta and Chicago systems and retire redundant applications. “It was estimated to take over two years and I challenged the team to do it in 12 months,” D’Amico says.

The effort is on track to complete in 18 months. “We made significant impact to the business by getting this initiative done,” says D’Amico The return on investment is estimated to be 204 percent.

Last year, LeasePlan also put in place a standard reporting architecture and delivered dashboard reporting for clients through ePlan to help with strategic planning, and developed a life cycle cost analysis tool that allows clients to compare the cost of operating different model vehicles.

D’Amico is in the process of finalizing a five-year application modernization plan, which involves 14 major initiatives.

Chairman of the Board

Along with the organizational changes, D’Amico established job families and job levels so employees could “figure out how they could progress in their career,” and established a Resource Governance Board. That’s a team of representatives at the VP level who come together to prioritize the IT efforts with a view of risk and return on investment.

“It’s been very effective,” says D’Amico, who is the chair. “I am so proud of this team. A lot of times what happens in businesses is people come to the table, or come to IT, asking for their project and only their project. I have seen many times this board say, ‘My project can wait. That project’s more important to the business.’”

D’Amico has also increased the visibility of the IT department by addressing the company at quarterly town hall meetings and implementing an internal IT communication campaign called the Buzz Builders. D’Amico says she is working to change the perception from “all you hear is bad news when things aren’t working, to ‘IT is part of the business.’”

D’Amico says LeasePlan’s external client satisfaction score is 97 percent and client retention is 98.7 percent.  The company has also been named the #1 mid-size workplace in Atlanta and a top 20 “Best Place to Work” in Chicago.

In an internal IT survey last year that D’Amico plans to repeat annually, 98 percent of the organization said the department was good, very good or excellent.

“I am very collaborative and I’ve actually had to learn – and I can do it now –when to make the call and make the tough decisions,” D’Amico says. “I trust everyone until you give me a reason not to, and I like a team that is diverse and has different views and is not afraid to challenge me or the rest of the team. Sometimes that’s a little bit more difficult to manage or to lead, but I think it gets us better results.”

Secrets to Success:

  1. Being the best at what you do and always trying to get better. Never underestimating the power and importance of your personal and professional relationships; seeking   out mentors, advocates and sponsors.
  2. Taking the time to talk with people, both inside and outside your organization, and really listening to what they’re saying.
  3. Taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, particularly those that are visible and risky that other people don’t want. That helps people move along in their career, taking those tough assignments.
  4. Setting specific, realistic goals that create indispensable business value and then monitoring progress and focusing on results.

Sera Turgut

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