Jeff Ton | Indiana CIO Network: Amplify Your Community
Dennis Trinkle (00:29):
So, Jeff, it's great to be with you this afternoon. For those of you who are tuning in, I am sure you are familiar with our guest this afternoon, Jeff Ton. Jeff has been a major figure in the IT community for more than four decades, with a career that spans Indiana National Bank, Lauth Property Group, Goodwill of Central Indiana, InterVision, and the CIO Network. And this afternoon, we're excited to talk to you about the CIO Network. For those who aren't familiar with the CIO Network at a high level, how would you describe it?
Jeff Ton (01:04):
Oh, so thank you for having me on the program today. I really appreciate that. And when you say 40 years or four decades, oh my God, that, that's a long time to be doing, technology, isn't it? the CIO Network, I describe it as an informal network of CIOs and senior IT leaders that get together, couple of times a month usually for the purpose of networking, swapping war stories about what's going on in their respective shops and kind of that camaraderie that comes with shared experiences. It's, it's been going on for 12 years now
Dennis Trinkle (01:43):
Outstanding. So more than a decade with the CIO Network. Take us back in time when you had the idea of of getting folks together and creating a CIO Network. What was in the air? What was your thought at the time?
Jeff Ton (01:58):
it was kind of by accident actually. So you may recall, here in the Indianapolis area, NPower, and they used to do bite night once a year. It was, might have been the precursor to the Mira Awards, I don't know. But it was a big, it was a big conference, big dinner event that they had every year. and they brought in a bunch of CIOs, and I was CIO for Goodwill at the time. And we sat down at the table and had a great conversation together, and somebody said, well, we should, we should go to lunch and talk further. And so we did. And somebody at lunch said, well, this was fun. We should do it again next month. And I said, well, I'll schedule it. And I've been doing that for, for 12 years. But, but what was happening was there was kind of this gap, this void, if you will, in the indie area. the CIO round table for the SIM group had kind of dissolved and gone away. TechPoint, early days of TechPoint had a CIO round table, and it went away. And so we were really looking for that sense of community, of getting people together to, help each other learn from each other and support each other, frankly.
Dennis Trinkle (03:10):
Yeah. No, that's great. Well, so I'll make you feel younger. I also have been engaged in the Indianapolis tech ecosystem for, for four decades. And I know my, in my career at various points, the CIO Network was, was incredibly important as a peer group, As a source of understanding what was going on with whatever the next trend was going to be. How have you seen the CIO Network benefit its participants and members over the years?
Jeff Ton (03:33):
Oh, I mean, just, I think in a variety of ways. One is there's no way that, as CIO you can keep up on all the trends and everything that's going on, in the tech space and have this group that you, you end up with people that are interested in different aspects of tech, right? But they can come together and share those things, with each other. also, you know, sharing what, Hey, I've got these job openings. Do you know anybody that would be good in, in this particular area? So, connecting people together for the job seeker, and even even helping the CIO themselves when they're in transition, network to try to find that new position. So just a wide variety of benefits of that community.
Dennis Trinkle (04:22):
Yeah. No, that's fantastic. So I know when you set out to benefit the community and you gauge in a group like the CIO Network, you often learn and get as much out of it as you contribute to others. So I'm curious, what are, what are some of the ways that the network benefited you over the arc of your career?
Jeff Ton (04:39):
Well, I like to joke and say that they've been my content for 12 years, right? So I'm a writer and I'm a speaker. And so a lot of the topics that I end up writing about or speaking about started as conversations with the CIO Network. you know, later as the, as the network continued to grow, just that ability to bounce ideas off of them and say, Hey, we're thinking about doing this. What do you think about that? So, it's been very beneficial to me for, for doing it. plus you, it is just, it's personally rewarding, right? When you hear these members talk about, it is my one, do not miss meeting a month on my calendar. I will make sure that I am there every month, you know, that they're getting things out of it. And, honestly, some of my best friends are members of that CIO Network, and we get together outside of the network. So it's really been that part of my, my own personal ecosystem.
Dennis Trinkle (05:44):
Yeah. Thinking about your personal ecosystem, I, I have really appreciated the, the regular sharing of resumes and contact information and people looking for a job. I know as a member of the tech community here in Indy that for a long, long time the biggest challenge has been hiring first rate talent. And I think the CIO Network has played an important role in helping talented individuals connect to wonderful opportunities. how about you? Have you hired folks that you encountered to the CIO Network? Has it been a resource for you too?
Jeff Ton (06:15):
It absolutely has been. you know, earlier on, most recently, I, I, in my current job, I don't really do any hiring. It's just me. But, in previous roles with, InterVision and Bluelock, and even at Goodwill, some of the resumes that came through there, I ended up hiring. I can especially think of, a couple of, intern, people that, that I hired at Goodwill, came through direct result of a network, or sorry, of a resume being shared with the network, and I ended up talking to the person and hiring them, on at Goodwill.
Dennis Trinkle (06:53):
Yeah. Yeah. So thinking about the younger generation, I think I have seen a number of early career professionals be found by the network helped launch through the network. It, any stories stand out for you for how the network has helped propel those early aspirin who wanna, again, detect to find their moment and to find their career?
Jeff Ton (07:15):
Well, without naming names, I do remember one that was early in his career and actually moved to the Indianapolis area to take a role that unfortunately didn't work out. And, he had joined the CIO Network as a part of that previous company, and now relied on the network for introducing him throughout the community as someone who did not come from the Indianapolis area, but relocated here. He didn't have a large network. And it was really the springboard for him, to continue his career. He found a great CIO position, and is doing fantastic, at that and is now one of the leaders in the indie community because of that. And they stayed here, which was awesome.
Dennis Trinkle (08:06):
Yeah. That's fantastic. So, the flip side of talent is that talent drives innovation. And I mean, these days we talk a lot about digital transformation and having those leaders who can come into the organization and, and help lead change initiatives, lead transformation initiatives is pivotal. I know you facilitate the meetings of the CIO Network so that peers can get together and work through those innovation challenges or opportunities together. what are some ways you see the CIO Network helping to, to drive that transformation, to drive positively drive change happening here in Indiana companies through technology?
Jeff Ton (08:45):
I think it's this cross-industry sharing that happens. A couple of years ago. We start every year we start with, kind of the predictions, right? Everybody, everybody does that. But what we were doing at one of our lunch conversations was, we were talking about five years from now, let's envision what your industry, your company looks like five years from now. And we had one of the CIOs started talking about, well, because of this, this, and this, we don't have to have our offices. This is pre-pandemic. We don't have to have our offices close to the urban centers anymore. We can have them out, away from, where people live because they don't, with technology won't have to commute there. Somebody else in the group who worked in the ag field, was like, well, hey, you can't start building your office buildings in the middle of my soybean field,
Jeff Ton (09:44):
But it really started opening eyes, right? That what is, what might be advantageous to one organization may not be to the other, but let's combine our brains together, our experiences together and see how we can come up with that solution. And so, when you, when you think about digital transformation, it, it is not about the technology. It's a way of thinking. It's a mindset. It's, it's, customer-centric, and it's being able to pivot your businesses. And when you have these colleagues that you can sit and talk about you really, it, it gives you that outside perspective of your industry rather than being closed in on it. And I think that leads to transformation. this year when we did the, the, hey, what do you wanna talk about next year survey? One of the things that floated to the very top was driving change. And when you look at even the top five things that the CIOs want to talk about, it's driving change, it's creating a culture. It's digital transformation, which is driving change and creating a culture, right? So those really are the linchpins of being transformative, and this group allows you the ability to do that.
Dennis Trinkle (11:01):
That's fantastic. That's fantastic. So you mentioned two words that I keyed off of in there. That one uses the bridge to another question. I heard you say pivot and mindset, and I know we're reading a lot about layoffs and instability in the economy. and you've seen the IT sector go through a lot of those phases and this is the period where whether it's bad or not, individuals in their positions start to worry a little bit about what they ought to be doing. What advice do you have from the perspective of seeing, having gone through economic transitions before those IT professionals out there are wondering what should they be doing right now? What advice do you have for them.
Jeff Ton (11:42):
Oh, man. That is a tough question because no one can predict the future. Let me start with that. I would say that the, the best tool in your toolkit at all times is your network. And I know we're talking about the, the CIO Network, but having a robust network of peers, and, and even those that aren't necessarily in the tech space, that should something happen, you've got, you've got a network that you can fall back on. for those that are in a position to be able to affect investment, a downturn can be a perfect time to take advantage in your market. And I'd look for ways to, invest, maybe invest in technology, and see if you might be able to leapfrog the competition during what may be a downturn coming up next year.
Dennis Trinkle (12:35):
Yeah. Yeah. So you mentioned network CIO Network makes sense. You literally wrote a book on creating the network... two books recently that have come out targeted at IT professionals Amplify Your Value and Amplify Your Job Search. Could you share what each of those books is about and maybe what inspired you to write them?
Jeff Ton (12:56):
Oh, sure. So Amplify Your Value was my first book. And really, underneath the covers, it's the story of the transformation that we did at Goodwill here in Central Indiana. We did it before digital transformation was really a buzzword, but when you look at what we did, we really transformed that that organization and technology was a huge part of that. So the book is leading it with strategic vision. So it's how do you develop your technology vision to support the overall vision of your organization no matter what your organization is. and then how do you ensure that that strategy stays in lockstep with the vision of the organization? And how do you begin to execute on that? So the, the reason behind that first book was I had written a series of blog posts that touched on each one of those themes and really felt like to get the message out to that next generation of IT leader to talk about, here's how you do it.
Jeff Ton (14:05):
Here's a roadmap to follow, to put it together. Now, your story won't be exactly, identical to mine, your journey, but it gives you those, those pieces and those tools to help do that. The second book was Amplify Your Job Search strategies for finding your dream job. The inspiration for that was the pandemic. This was, early in 2020 layoffs started to happen. People were out of work and desperate to find work. What the book does is it pulls together 10, 20 years of experience in looking for a job, my own, personally, my own self, but also the, the dozens and dozens of tech professionals that I've talked to over the years that are in transition, what worked, what didn't work. And so, again, put together a framework for someone to follow. You'll be surprised that both of them at the core have networking, as well as journaling. I'm a big proponent of journaling as a leadership tool. and those themes run through the both of those books. It is been very rewarding to do that. And the job search book, although can be definitely used by technology professionals, isn't limited to just technology professionals. Any, any professional could use that, that framework and that process for identifying what, what it is that makes you tick so that you can get a job that that helps feed that part of your being as well.
Dennis Trinkle (15:44):
Yeah. Really hear your passion in the response. I think one of the things that I have observed to be true about you over your career is that you have always been completely committed to lifting up others. Before mentorship was a buzzword before inclusion and belonging became important. Recognitions culturally, I saw you out there trying to do that for coming generations, for current and coming generations. Not just IT leaders, but individuals in the community. That was one of the reasons we were excited about partnering with you as TechPoint has built a Leadership Academy, which is all about building, preparing, developing next generation leaders. TechPoint's really excited about working with you to build the Leadership Academy. I wondered if you might tell us a little bit about it.
Jeff Ton (16:28):
Oh, absolutely. I think, I think it's really an exciting thing for Indianapolis, in, central Indiana to bring this to life. In, I've dedicated this part of my career to, bringing forth that next generation of talent. Changing the face of it is, is how I like to describe it. And that includes teaching a lot of different things and bringing in experts. You know, you and I don't teach every single module, in that academy. We bring in experts to help, but in certain areas it's the, it's what we used to call soft skills. And in my opinion, there are essential skills. It's communication, collaboration, design thinking, time management, all those things that aren't those tech hard skills like coding or, you know, configuring a router or switch. But they're necessary to lead A lot of times, especially in technology related fields. we get promoted because we're good technologists, not necessarily because we're good managers or leaders. And so we need to teach ourselves, quite honestly, as well as teach others how to lead other people, how to, to, create a vision and cast a vision, and how to communicate that to, to others. So that's really forming the foundation of this leadership academy. And, I'm really excited for 2023, as we continue to have more cohorts going through that.
Dennis Trinkle (18:11):
Yeah. So new year, 2023. New years always bring reinvention, reen, re-energizing. and one of the exciting things about 23 is going to be close partnership between, between TechPoint and the CIO Network, really, TechPoint leaning in to help the CIO Network become a statewide group that brings together, senior most IT leaders across sectors across the state. I know we are really excited about working with you, on the CIO Network in '23. Could you talk about why TechPoint, is a natural partner to work with the CIO Network going forward?
Jeff Ton (18:53):
I am so very excited about this as well. I think the CIO Network, you know, started, we talked a few minutes ago. It started with, a handful of us going to lunch, 12 years ago, and has grown to a mailing list of over 250 IT professionals here in central Indiana. And to be able to marry that up with TechPoint and the event staff and the marketing staff, but more important the vision that TechPoint brings to the Indiana community for tech and tech jobs, that's really what the CIO Network has been all about for 12 years. And to be able to marry that with what TechPoint is doing, I think is going to make the indie, the Indiana CIO Network, much stronger, much richer for the participants. and quite honestly, it enables it to maybe live beyond Jeff Ton, right? So I'm really excited by it.
Dennis Trinkle (19:57):
No, that's fantastic. So maybe you can share just a little sneak peek into some of the vision for 23. What are some of the things that folks can expect to be coming out of the CIO Network as as a partnership with TechPoint in 23?
Jeff Ton (20:12):
Well, I think there's a couple of things. we're gonna be making some changes, as part of that partnership. Traditionally, the CIO Network has been, its mainstay has been the monthly lunch, which is informal dialogue around a given topic. We're still gonna keep that, although it'll be breakfast instead of lunch. We also have a series of dinners that we've been doing with tech service and tech product companies in the area sponsoring that and really sponsoring the conversation between the thought leaders in on the tech side with the IT leaders on the, on the corporate side, in really facilitating some of the, some of that conversation and learning together. The other things that we're gonna be looking at for 23 include, there's gonna be some new Mira Award categories. I don't know if I can announce that yet, but you cut that out if I can't. There's gonna be some Mira Award categories related directly to digital transformation and things that would appeal to the CIO Network. I'm really excited about that. And the other thing that you and I've talked a lot about, Dennis, is, the large companies, maybe having, maybe creating an offshoot of the CIO Network for the large company CIO and CTO that maybe have different kinds of issues than the mid-enterprise and the small to medium size businesses.
Dennis Trinkle (21:41):
Yeah. So I, I think one of the expressions you and I both use fairly often is that change is the only constant and great changes ahead for the CIO Network. Certainly digital transformation is the reality for many of our top technology leaders, but also for their organizations. And I wonder if you, in the spirit of new resolutions and projections about the future, would be willing to share your crystal ball on a few things that are coming down the pike for senior IT leaders. What's the, what's the next couple of years, next few years gonna look like for them? What kind of issues are they gonna be working on? What kind of things are they gonna be focusing on?
Jeff Ton (22:23):
You know, I wish I had that crystal ball, to be accurate. but I think what we're going see is some of the technologies that we've been hearing about AI, IoT, 5G, and those types of things coming together rather than, Hey, this is an AI solution. This is an IoT solution, this is a 5G solution. You're gonna start seeing those married together into solutions that will help drive businesses forward. And I think that trend in 2023, you know, some may call it the metaverse, I, I think there's some elements of that out there. I think that's still a little bit further down the road for, for, most businesses, but you're gonna start to see a lot of that come into corporate IT and be leveraged for the furtherment of what they are trying to do in their particular industry.
Jeff Ton (23:24):
We've got some great examples here in, in Indiana of companies that, you know, some of them you wouldn't really think as digital companies. The poster child that I always come up with is Beck's hybrid seed company. What they are doing with digital is incredible, and it's, it's ag you wouldn't necessarily think digital transformation in ag, but they are leading the way in a lot of ways in that sector. And, you know, there's, there's probably dozens more, where that came from in examples. And I think 23, we're really gonna see the attention turned to that transformation. They may not call it digital transformation, they may call it business transformation, but you're gonna start to see that, a lot more, in a lot faster over the next year to 18 months.
Dennis Trinkle (24:13):
Yeah. Yeah. So last question. I have also heard you say many times over the years that the Indiana tech ecosystem is one of the United States best hidden secrets. and unfortunately in a lot of ways, we're still a hidden secret, but for our, would be entrepreneurs listening and for our early career professionals who are listening and maybe just anybody who needs a reminder, what would you say to somebody are the top reasons why you ought to consider starting a business or a starting a tech career here in Indiana?
Jeff Ton (24:46):
Well, there's lots of reasons. I, I made my home here in central Indiana a long time ago. and one of the reasons that that attracted me is it, first of all, it's just a great place to raise a family if that's in your future. it's, it's Midwest, Midwest values, maybe a little bit slower paced than on the east and west coast maybe. but I think more than anything, it's what we've been talking about, the community, the community of it, and technology professionals here in Indiana. They're out there wanting to help. And that sounds, simplistic, but I don't know of anybody, in this community, whether they're in the CIO Network or just in the broader community. I don't know of anybody that you couldn't pick up the phone and have a conversation with and talk about what challenges in front of you. So if you're looking to start a business, there's a lot of talent in central Indiana that you can draw upon. But there's also that community of tech entrepreneurs that you can help support each other. if you're a tech professional and you're looking for a great place to come and work, Indiana is a great place to be. It's, there's lots of, lots of things to do. and there's that wonderful comradery of other tech professionals out there.
Dennis Trinkle (26:16):
Outstanding. Well, thank you for being with us this afternoon, Jeff. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to work with you. TechPoint is delighted to have you as a partner. We're excited about working on the Leadership Academy this year. Excited about working with, with you on the CIO Network. And I wanna personally thank you for the opportunity to collaborate and for the great things I know we're gonna do together in 23.
Jeff Ton (26:38):
I am very excited, and thank you for having me on the program today.
In this episode, we talk to Jeff Ton, founder and manager of the Indy CIO Network. The CIO Network is a community of over 200 Indiana based IT leaders that meet to discuss current tech trends and issues. Jeff talks about his four decade career in IT, why the Indy CIO Network was founded, and the future of the organization as a partner of TechPoint.