CIO 1-Year Reflections: Focus on Growth Requires Preparing for Change

By Rahul Jalali, Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer

Original | Inside Track: Rahul Jalali at the Harriman Dispatching Center

Rahul Jalali, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, right, observes technology in action inside Union Pacific's Harriman Dispatching Center. 

When I heard the vision of Union Pacific – the simple yet powerful two words “Building America” – it became a calling. Here was a 160-year-old company founded by President Lincoln, steeped in history and tradition and with a strong desire to lead the way to the future. As a technologist who grew up in an operating company, I understood this future will be people-led and technology-enabled, and I wanted to help UP achieve its vision.

What first struck me as I came on board was that UP’s biggest asset isn’t trains, locomotives and terminals; it’s people. UP’s employees are hardworking, mission-focused and driven by a sense of pride and purpose. Over the past year, I took every opportunity to meet teams in the company’s Omaha headquarters as well as visit operating locations to learn the business, which deepened my profound respect and admiration for all our employees, communities we support and serve, and organizations with whom we partner.

These past 12 months also have solidified my belief that we have the best Technology team in the industry. As we look to the future of UP, which is transitioning from a primary focus on operational efficiency to growth, our Tech team and the products they drive will serve as a major differentiator. It is extremely energizing and gratifying to lead the Tech organization during this time. To focus on growth, we must prepare for constant change, and we have used the past 12 months to start taking steps in the Tech organization for this evolution and revolution.

Establishing a Strategy – We have spent many months putting together a comprehensive 3-year Tech strategy centered on four pillars: People, Process, Technology and Security, which supports where UP is headed. We are focused on our employee experience and customer experience, shifting our mindset from project-oriented to a customer-centric and continuous-delivery product organization. We are building plug-and-play platforms that allow us to connect seamlessly with our supply chain partners and customers. We are standing up a strong data foundation (data = digital oil) to generate valuable business insights. We are modernizing and leveraging Cloud solutions where it makes sense to improve speed to market. We are doing all this while developing and deploying our solutions with a security mindset to address increased threats in the environment.

Changing the Way We Work – One takeaway from working in retail is that we must be “two-in-a-box” with the customer to maximize our success as a Tech department and organization. We began this with our senior business partners at UP, making sure our decisions are in lock step and with the interest of the whole vs. individual. As our product structure matures, it will evolve at every level where we partner.

Deploying a better Digital Experience – It came to light during the pandemic that we needed state-of-the-art collaboration tools to optimize remote working. We aggressively rolled out Microsoft O365 throughout the company earlier this year so that we could leverage the products as we moved into a hybrid work model. This has been a much-talked-about success story and will continue to evolve.

Establishing a High-Performance Culture – People are at the heart of our transformation. We are starting to create a high-trust culture where we foster an environment for high performance, accountability, learning, and engagement, where we will lead with both IQ and EQ.

Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – This has been – and will continue to be -- one of our key objectives: to increase our diversity in the department and be inclusive and equitable in everything we do. This includes increasing the representation of women in Tech and striving to source from diverse talent pools.

As a company, we are extremely proud of what we have accomplished over the past year in Technology and hold great expectations for the work that lies ahead. Tech plays a key enabling role and we take that responsibility very seriously.

Lastly, a key component to a successful year was the partnership and mentorship of my peers on the senior leadership team who, in my view, are a “High Performing Team” focused on goal achievement while remaining humble and putting the team’s needs before their own, driving a culture of accountability, engaging in extraordinary efforts to communicate, and operating with a high degree of trust and transparency. Working and learning from this group has been a rewarding aspect of my journey and significantly contributed to a collaborative way of working.

As we get closer to 2022, a key leadership principle that has emerged is to thrive in the “AND” world:

  • Obsess about our Customers and be Operationally Excellent
  • Operate with Head and Heart
  • Be a kinder, gentler human and have high expectations
  • Be a change agent and stay humble

If you would like to come and join us on this exciting journey, we are always looking for motivated, innovative, thoughtful, learning-oriented team members. I invite you to explore and pursue.

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