Houghton Mifflin CIO revamps IT to modernize the textbook publisher

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Trish Torizzo, CIO at HMH

My latest article for editorial website CIO Dive is a profile of Trish Torizzo, CIO at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. (HMH) after about a year on the job. Her goal is to modernize the back office of the book publisher amidst a business turnaround. (HMH is trying to evolve from print classroom textbook publisher to providing software-based tools for education.)

So far, Torizzo’s team has accomplished the following:

  • revamped the IT department to focus on the needs of business teams
  • developed an online self-service application so customers can determine the status & whereabouts of their orders (without a phone call)
  • introduced the company to robotic process automation (RPA), resulting in two ​”digital workers​” (RPA bots) that can log into systems and perform repetitive tasks in the finance department.

Overall, the new IT operating model sets the stage for more business/IT collaboration and innovation, as well as a greater emphasis on the customer experience.

Related: The digital transformation trends in education

Navigating the politics of IT innovation

My latest IDC report ($$$$) — about managing the digital innovation process — describes how chief information officers (CIOs) are fostering an innovation culture, feeding the pipeline of innovative ideas, and selecting which innovation ideas to pursue.

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What I like about this report is that the CIOs provide pragmatic advice about handling the real-world politics of innovation, not the glittering generalities found in many articles about innovation.

They reveal how they prioritize ideas based on strategic goals defined by business leaders; win C-suite support and funding for innovation; and spot the “red flags” suggesting a pilot project should be halted.

The report is based on interviews with Adam Stanley, global CIO and chief digital officer at real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield Inc.; Bryan Muehlberger, CIO at BeachBody LLC; Greg Tacchetti, chief information and strategy officer at State Auto Insurance Companies; and Alan Boehme, chief technology and IT innovation officer at Procter & Gamble Co.

Two of my favorite gems in this report came from P&G’s Boehme:

  • Avoid “tech tourism” — the trips to Silicon Valley to inhale the innovation atmosphere. It doesn’t produce sustainable innovation or competitive advantage.
  • Innovation begins with the hiring process — hiring people who are naturally curious. “Certain individuals are wired differently. They’re truly inquisitive and thrive on change. They will amaze you in how they looked at the situation and then how they solved the problem. They have the ability to innovate and come up with new ideas with a higher probability of success, over and over again, than others.”

Estée Lauder CIO gives IT a makeover

I’ve started writing articles for CIO Dive, an editorial website for CIOs (part of the Industry Dive group of targeted publications). So far, the editor likes my idea of profiling CIOs after they’ve been in a job for about 12 months. I figure that, after a year at a new company, CIOs may be comfortable enough to talk about early accomplishments and what’s on their agenda for the future.

First up: Michael Smith, the CIO at cosmetics company Estée Lauder Companies Inc. in New York. He’s moving the IT organization towards speedier software development; data analytics to anticipate consumer trends; and more business-focused innovation. He also moved most of the New York area IT staff to a “technology hub” in Long Island City, an up-and-coming neighborhood in Queens. The office space — full of conference rooms and innovation labs — is intended for business & IT collaboration.

mariliatbattiston / Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons

Analysts say that, so far, the company has done a good job of anticipating market shifts in the fickle, fast-moving beauty market (where an Instagram photo of a celebrity’s new lip gloss and can trigger a spike in sales). But it will need to use data analytics to continue that success.

As for CIO Dive, my goal is to boost the “CIO voices” in their content offering.

How to keep your Analytics Center of Excellence from getting derailed

Photo: Niek Verlaan / Pixabay

By my count, at least two dozen organizations have created a “center of excellence” (CoE) for data analytics, business intelligence, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. (Most are called the Analytics Center of Excellence (ACE), or something very similar.) In my latest IDC report ($$$$), Creating and Managing an Analytics Center of Excellence, ACE directors describe their methods of keeping their centers focused on high-impact business projects. (Otherwise, data scientists may stray into intellectually interesting pursuits that don’t produce business ROI.)

The report includes insights and advice from the following CoE directors: Philip Jenkins at Verizon Communications Inc.; Margery Connor at Chevron Corp.; and Constantinos Kotopoulos at Information Resources Inc. (IRI).

Debut of the ‘Digital Business’ newsletter

I’ve launched a newsletter called Digital Business on the Substack platform, which is designed for subscription-based editorial newsletters. The intended audience is “digital executives,” such as CIOs, CTOs and CDOs, although I can also imagine other job roles that would find this market intelligence very valuable.


The newsletter is currently free, but I hope to eventually make it a paid subscription product, to compensate me for the huge amount of research, writing, and fact-checking that goes into it.

The first three editions are out, with lead stories about:

In addition, each issue typically has news briefs about innovative digital initiatives at U.S. corporations; C-suite job openings; and recent appointments of digital executives (who’s in, who’s out). Sometimes there’s a “brain food” section, with thought-provoking quotes about digital business and innovation.

To compile this newsletter, I read dozens of newsletters, articles, and websites each week. Obviously, I’d love to have you subscribe and find out what I’m discovering about real-world digital business initiatives & executives.