Visionary CIO on Innovation, Culture and the Keys to IT Success

By Mariyah Saifuddin

This blog highlights the first of a two-part podcast series, Move to the Cloud. You can read the blog about the second podcast here.

As enterprises grow, so does the need for updating their software stacks. But how does a business leader ensure an IT implementation – from an innovative project to migration to the cloud –  is successful? 

According to retired CIO and IT innovator Don Whittington, it all starts with a company’s culture, and ensuring that IT is truly integral to core decisions.

In a recent podcast interview with Whittington and consultant James Kendrick, Mustansir Saifuddin dives into the keys to successful project implementations.  

Whittington retired in 2018 from Florida Crystals Corp., and previously was director at Virtustream. While CIO at Florida Crystals, Whittington oversaw  the world’s first wholesale move to the cloud for a company. That was in 2010, when others were just talking about the cloud. It was a bold and visionary move.

Since then, Virtustream, an SAP certified partner that collaborated with Florida Crystals, has completed more than 1,000 migrations of on-premises SAP implementations to SAP cloud services. 

Whittington had help. Florida Crystals’ owners valued IT and understood the impact it would have on their operations. They also embraced technology as a critical resource for the business. They understood there was a measurable competitive business advantage with this novel approach.

But there are some key takeaways from his experiences that resonate today, including the concept of true collaboration versus “alignment.”

“If your CIO is working with the other C-level executives to develop the business plan –  develop it, not align with it – then IT Is part of the business,” Whittington says.

From a CIO Perspective

Here are the elements to a successful project, especially important for innovative and revolutionary ones (and we want all of our projects to be those things, right?):

Strategy: Innovators are very early adopters, and that can worry both IT teams and the business. But you must focus on the benefits to the business and the why behind the project.

Culture: Create a culture where IT is part of the business rather than simply aligned with the business. What’s the difference? It is where IT sits down with the other lines of business operations (finance, supply chain, HR) and everyone works collaboratively. 

Metrics: It is important that executive leadership understand the criteria for defining success of the project. There is a risk and reward associated with being innovative. It helps if the CIO can use the business plan and objectives as the basis for planning an IT project.

Enterprise Architect: The CIO should work as an architect to explain the project with other people on the management team and discuss the positive impact on the corporation.

Change Management: Get alignment of other business line executives to embrace the change that will come with the new project.

Interested in more Tech-Driven Business podcasts? You can listen here
Listen to Part 2 of the Move to the Cloud podcast series: Aligning IT, execs on strategy and budget

Don Whittington

About Don Whittington

Don Whittington is retired vice president and CIO of Florida Crystals Corp., a vertically integrated sugar company with headquarters in West Palm Beach, Fla. He has a longtime partnership with SAP, Virtustream and PwC, and in 2010 led Florida Crystals’ transition to the cloud at a time when such transitions were just being discussed. It was the first wholesale migration worldwide for a company.


 Whittington also is chairperson for the SAP Global Agribusiness Advisory Council, SAP HANA Councils, and the Virtustream Client Advisory Board.   He has served as a director of America’s SAP User Group (ASUG) and as ASUG representative for SAP’s Global Executive Network (SUGEN).  

Don Whittington on LinkedIn

About James Kendrick

James KendrickJames Kendrick has a history of driving strategic clarity, solution delivery, and business performance with retail and industrial products leaders like Estée Lauder Cos., Florida Crystals, Corning and Dow/DuPont. Kendrick’s focus is helping companies take advantage of cloud platforms, data and analytics, digital tools, and agile methods to modernize the core and add competitive advantage at the edge. 

He has held executive positions at Accenture, A. T. Kearney, Florida Crystals and multiple successful startups. 

Kendrick is global program manager at technology company AMI.

James Kendrick on LinkedIn

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