Kay Harris is currently Vice President, Strategic Business Solutions and Business Development, at SYSCOM, Inc., an IBM Business Partner with a long history in Automation. Before joining Syscom, Kay was Senior Vice President, Workflow and Image Technologies at Wells Fargo.
David: How did you get started in Automation? Were you a Computer Science major?
KAY: I majored in English and Business Administration in college, but I had a part-time job working in the computer room and tutored FORTRAN and COBOL programming on the side. I took an aptitude test in my first interview after college and was placed in a programming job at NCNB (now BankAmerica). After NCNB and 4 years with IBM, I joined First Union Bank in 1993. First Union was one of the early national banks to work with IBM ImagePlus (one of the first enterprise document imaging systems), which was only a few years old at the time. That’s where I learned all about imaging and early Artificial Intelligence. I stayed in the role for the next 23 years, as First Union became Wachovia and then Wells Fargo, and we went from a handful of users to 55,000 (on ImagePlus and then CM8).
David: You were in the middle of the first wave of imaging in the 90s. Was it exciting? Did you know you were revolutionizing how banks manage information?
Kay: Yes it was exciting, but the thing I remember most is there were no maps for what we were doing. Everything was a new frontier. We were hungry for any information we could get - from IBM, from our Business Partners and from other users. IBM used to hold Specialist Updates conferences for ImagePlus customers and those were helpful, but as we began to meet other users, that’s where we really started to make progress. People would call me from other companies, I would call them, and we started sharing information. Eventually, we had our own small community of technical teams and business partners. We would get together when we could and discuss problems, our biggest hurdles, things we’d like to see in the product, and then we would prioritize them and communicate that back to IBM.
David: It sounds like the User Group came together organically, out of a need to share information. What kinds of information did you exchange?
Kay: It just helps to know what and how everyone else is doing things. What Business Partner are you using? What plug-ins have you adopted? What happened when you tried this update? How did you get this work for your users? Here's good example: at Wachovia, we set up a Shared Services Organization, which created the need for us to have an internal charge-back model. From that, we created a Competency Center model for our workflow, image and integration specialties. I shared that story at AIIM, IBM events, and User Group meetings. We shared it with everyone, because everyone was struggling with the same problem. Many years later, an IBM seller tried to sell me a competency center model and I laughed and said “I don’t need that. I created it!”
David: Aren’t people afraid to share information because they are worried about giving away competitive advantage?
Kay: Not on the product side. No one is sharing confidential company information. We’re talking about how to use complex technology. IBM can tell you about it, but where you really start to learn is when other people share their experience; people who’ve solved the same problem you’re looking at now. Comradery and sharing of experience is so important. It can lift you up a step above where you would be all by yourself. When you implement a technology, it’s not just a technology challenge, it becomes a people challenge. It is organizational change management at its best - there’s training and user acceptance, some are going to resist, others are going to excel and you have to manage all of that beyond the technology. And that’s where User Groups can really help. Even now, in my capacity as a Business Partner, other users will ask me how I know everybody in the business and how I learned so much about the product. I just tell them, “Join a user group.”
David: Well, now you have just been named the new President of the CM8 User Group (CM8 is the acronym for IBM Content Manager), what would you like to see happen to that User Group?
Kay: There’s strength in numbers. You can’t just sit there. You have to try to make things happen. If you know that other users of the product need the same things that you need, that gives you a certain power to go back to the vendor. You can’t put everything on the vendor to have a strong infrastructure. You have to own some of it. And you owning some of it is stronger if you talk to other people who also own some of it and share. For the CM8 User Group, we have planned two formal informational webcasts per year with IBM, which is good to understand roadmap and communicate our needs. But I’m really looking forward to discussions on the online Automation Community. I want our members to reach out to each other and ask for help when they need it. People appreciate knowing that they are part of a team. That’s why it’s important to keep the momentum up.