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Business-Technologist Visions: It's A Great Time To Be In I.T.

This is far from the worst of times for a business-technology executive. In fact, GM's Ralph Syzgenda says, there has never been a better time for business leaders to use technology to differentiate their companies.

We may look back on 2003 as a watershed event for the information technologist. Never before have we seen a better opportunity to differentiate a company from its competitors through the strategic, effective use of IT. My performance objective for 2003 from General Motors' CEO Richard Wagoner is to take GM to the next level as a real-time-plus company. That means focusing not just on GM's IT systems, but working with the whole company to more quickly make decisions and take action.

The auto business in 2003 will be marked by intense competition and an uncertain economic environment. Automakers from around the globe will come out with a larger selection of cars and trucks. Customers, better informed about products and prices than they've ever been, expect better products and more functions with little or no price increase. Add in global economic dynamics, from growth in China and Eastern Europe to volatility in Latin America to uncertainty in North America. The result is as murky and challenging an outlook as the industry has had in many years.

GM is prepared for uncertainty, thanks to an intense focus over the past six years on taking time out of our business. Today we're a pretty good real-time company. But we need to get better. Successful companies in uncertain environments will be those that have the information to make on-the-spot decisions around the world and around the clock. We didn't have that understanding a few years ago, and now we do.

Through digital design and better information sharing, we've already slashed the time it takes to develop a vehicle. We've halved the time from manufacturing to delivery. Where we can do better is connecting all the pieces of the company. We'll expand efforts this year to tie digital vehicle designs to digital factory planning to optimize manufacturing while a car or truck is being developed. We need to keep reducing development time and get better at reusing vehicle parts and systems through digital design. We need customer-relationship management that cuts across all businesses.

Our goal has been to not participate in any economic slump. In late 2001, when people pretty much stopped buying cars in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, GM's leadership led the industry into 0% financing, something that led to a decent 2002 for the auto business.

We need to be just as creative and flexible this year. I want GM to be the ultimate digital manufacturing company. Building cars and trucks will always be capital-intensive, but we want to be a molecular business, where people and capital come together to solve a problem or deliver a product and then can be redeployed for another purpose. Based on sales in a particular month, we might change capacity in a given factory, and having the information to make that decision a day or two sooner can mean millions of dollars in bottom-line results.

GM is ultimately in the fashion business, and to win, the company needs the best cars and trucks, which we have, with more to come. But there's no comfort zone. To translate great designs into a successful company, IT has to help every business unit optimize processes to deliver more function at a lower cost. Companies that lose sight of that and begin to cut costs but stop adding function will lose. As we've seen, the faster pace of business means even great companies can get into trouble in just a year or two. GM is no different.

It won't be an easy time in 2003, but for IT leaders who can drive business change, there has never been a better time to be an information technologist.

Ralph Szygenda is group VP and CIO at General Motors Corp. He was InformationWeek's Chief of the Year for 2002.

Search for more articles in InformationWeek about this author:

Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Business Technology Leaders

Andrea Anania, executive VP and CIO at Cigna Corp. Dave Bent, CIO and VP at Acterna LLC
Scott Dinsdale, executive VP of Digital Strategy at the Motion Picture Association David Guzmán, senior VP and CIO of Owens & Minor
John Halamka, senior VP of I.S. at CareGroup Healthcare System Randy Mott, senior VP and CIO at Dell Computer
Ralph Syzgenda, group VP and CIO at General Motors Pedro Villalba, senior VP of I.T. and chief technology officer at HIP Health Plan of New York
Janet Wejman, senior VP and CIO of Continental Airlines


Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at informationweek.com/forum/informationweek

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