Ask Louie Ehrlich, CIO and president of Chevron Information Technology, about the most important things he's learned leading a giant, global IT team through massive change and you get a surprisingly non-technology-focused answer: You've gotta scratch the itch, act like a two-year-old, mind the gap and live like you're dying. Those things sound simple, but they're hard-won lessons for Ehrlich, the top tech executive for the nearly $250 billion energy company, whose three-year transformation effort has yielded the better part of $1 billion in payback for Chevron.
In this latest installment of the CIO Interview Series, Ehrlich talked with IDG Enterprise Chief Content Officer John Gallant about the roots and fruits of the transformation, and how it changed the role and credibility of Chevron IT in profound ways. Ehrlich, who played a key role in shaping the CIO Executive Council's Future-State CIO model, also discussed why CIOs will fail or succeed in our rapidly shifting technology environment, and explained why anyone involved with IT today should be "walking around with a smile on their face." (For more information, visit the CIO Executive Council, IDG Enterprise's peer-based global community of leading CIOs.)
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Gallant: Let's start by talking about the opportunities and challenges facing Chevron right now. How is the company evolving and what does that mean for your IT organization?
Ehrlich: It's exciting times at Chevron and in the whole energy sector, driven by the fact that energy needs have never been more important. We've got a good part of the world where demand is growing and the need is expanding and at Chevron, in particular, we have a great portfolio of projects geared towards addressing that ever-growing demand. It's also more challenging from a hydrocarbon perspective. Access to energy has become more challenging: deeper water, challenging geographies. We're after new value chains, like liquid natural gas [LNG]; we've got gas and oil from shale. In terms of information technology, that means it's even that much more exciting because it requires modeling and analytics and enablement of these new value chains, such as LNG sales, LNG operations, etc., all of which can't happen without information technology. In natural gas and LNG, in particular, we have large investments all around the world -- in Australia, Angola. We're talking tens of billions of dollars in investment. These are massive, massive projects on a scale that most people have never seen in their life. The other thing that's going on is around gas and oil from shale, and a good bit of that's in the United States, also in Europe. These are multiyear investments with long-term value. Of course there are many other things going on at Chevron. We've got a huge business to run, we have responsibilities all around the globe.