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5/31/2002
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Editor's Note: The FBI Could Learn A Lot From GM's Turnaround

What can the FBI learn from GM? That's not a question we set out to answer, but it's something to consider as you read InformationWeek's stories this week on General Motors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One is about technological achievement and the success that comes with it. The other, about IT shortcomings and organizational breakdowns. You already know which is which.

If you go back just a few years, GM was a company with a few glaring problems: Its vehicles lacked pizzazz; quality was wanting; and the IT systems weren't in place to make things better. But the company has turned things around, as evidenced by popular new designs, profitability in a tough economy, and a much-improved showing in J.D. Power and Associates' ratings of new-car quality. No wonder CIO Ralph Szygenda was in an upbeat mood when he met with InformationWeek senior writer Steve Konicki and senior executive editor John Soat during a day-long visit to GM's Detroit headquarters. "Due to our IT systems, we were not in competitive mode in the 1990s," Szygenda said. "My job was to make sure IT never inhibited the speed of GM again. We are where we want to be now."

Representative of GM's IT overhaul: an effort to squeeze out the few errors that occurred during data translation between designers and suppliers on different computer-aided design systems, which it did by getting everyone on a common CAD platform. "We don't have to worry about searching for the 2% of a design that is an error anymore," Szygenda says. You know you're close to operational excellence when you're focused on the last 2% of a problem. (For the full story, see p. 36.)

The FBI, by director Robert Mueller's own admission, is years behind where it needs to be in implementing the best technology available for the task at hand. Without knowing all the details of the bureau's IT infrastructure or technology strategy, an outsider can only surmise how things such as data mining, knowledge management, and collaboration tools will be used-or might have been used-in the fight against terrorism.

It's pointless to carry the comparison between the FBI and GM too far; in most ways, they couldn't be more different. But GM does show that an organization can reinvent itself as something better through a well-executed IT plan. Maybe the FBI should schedule its own trip to Detroit.

Stephanie Stahl will return next week.

John Foley

Editor/Print

jpfoley@cmp.com


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Foley's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about John Foley, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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