In his role as Co-Head of CIO Networks at Metis Strategy, Brian Watson works with many IT leaders to help them seize new strategic opportunities and conquer some of their biggest challenges.

As co-author of the book, Confessions of a Successful CIO, and as a long-time contributor to, Watson has collaborated with some of the most talented and agile IT leaders.

During a keynote presentation to IT leaders at the Midsize Enterprise Summit West 2016, recently held in Austin, Watson interviewed Lynden Tennison, who has been SVP and CIO of Union Pacific since 2005. In his position, Tennison is responsible for organizing and managing the development, implementation and operation of Union Pacific Railroad’s information and telecommunications technologies.

“Lynden is a great model of what a CIO can and ideally should be today, displaying a strong measure of leadership, business acumen and technical acumen,” said Watson. “He has consistently demonstrated all three qualities in an old-world industry (railroad transportation) and has driven a great deal of strategic and operational improvements at Union Pacific.”

Founded more than 150 years ago, Union Pacific operates North America's premier railroad franchise, covering 23 states in the western two-thirds of the United States. The company’s vision has long been “building America”.

Under Tennison’s leadership, Union Pacific has become a world-class IT organization, according to Watson. But when he became CIO in 2005, he had to contend with a massive transportation management system that had been developed in the 1960s. Most notably, its programming had been written back then in 11 - 12 million lines of assembler code, with instructions meant to be read by a particular (and by then already outdated) machine. Simply put, the antiquated computer code at the core of Union Pacific’s transportation-management system lacked the versatility to work across different but modern programming languages and operating systems.

Tennison knew that rebuilding the transportation-management system—which effectively serves as the central nervous system for Union Pacific’s operations—could cost $200 million and might take 10 years. He chose to move in incremental steps so that the company could course-correct if any problems emerged. He simply did not want to risk any IT problems that might shut down the railroad operations or cause concern or doubt by management.

Tennison told Watson years later that he was confident his IT team could pull it off. And they did. By the end of 2012, Tennison and his team had replaced 6 million lines of assembler code with 7.2 million lines of Java code. And not once was there a service interruption due to an IT problem related to the upgrade.

Over the years, Union Pacific also had to update railroad switches and deal with potential derailments caused by failed bearings. According to an article in Information Week in 2014, Union Pacific said it reduced the number of train derailments caused by failed bearings by 75% by doing near-real-time analysis of data collected by sensors along its tracks and by pouring millions of R&D dollars into new techniques, such as accelerometers on trains that feel for bumps that suggest a bad track.

Watson also pointed out that under Tennison’s IT leadership, Union Pacific had designed a good deal of its own technology. In fact, Tennison’s IT team had become so well regarded for their advanced technology that Union Pacific sells its technology to other transportation companies through several successful subsidiaries.

Watson said Tennison’s success story at Union Pacific might not be what most people would expect from one of America’s oldest businesses, but the company’s success demonstrates how the power of technology can provide the innovation and business advancements needed to keep an institution as old as Union Pacific at the head of a booming transportation industry.

To learn more about Metis Strategy and its work with clients to help them achieve world-class IT performance, visit the company’s website at

To learn more about Union Pacific, visit the company’s website at