10 Lessons In IT Strategy From Ex-HP CIO Randy Mott
Here are some key insights from our past interviews.
7. Lean On Staff, Not Outsourcers
At Wal-Mart, Dell, and HP, Mott tended to rely on staff, not outsourcers or contractors, even as he squeezed IT budgets for cost savings. At HP, he slashed the IT payroll but moved most of those who remained into staff positions. In 2005, HP had about 19,000 IT pros on the payroll, but about half were contractors. In 2008, it was less than 10,000, of which 90% were staff. That effort tied to the goal of having the IT team spend most of its time on new development, while automating as much support as possible. As a company does more new development, it's more important for it to have staffers who understand the company’s complexity and culture. I've never heard Mott make any blanket statement on outsourcing. Companies need to choose what works for them; they might need more outsourcing if they face particularly variable IT demand, for instance. But in his actions, Mott has relied mostly on staffers.
8. Always Fight "Shadow IT"
No project got IT support without that cost-benefit analysis, which meant a conversation and agreement between line of business and IT. Isn’t that kind of red tape bound to slow IT decisions and deployments? I pushed Mott on that point in an interview last November, and he insisted that the time such planning takes scales with project size--small project, short amount of time for the cost-benefit analysis.
Mott insisted that the risk of not doing that kind of vetting across all of IT is too great. Most companies manage only the top 10 or 20 tech projects closely, Mott said in 2008, and those projects probably represent only half of discretionary spending.
9. Push For A "Game-Changing" Approach
Mott never argued that people should copy HP's IT transformation. He arranged an HP event in November with Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini and FedEx CIO Rob Carter, where each discussed the very different approaches they took to change: Passerini through a massive outsourcing to focus the remaining staff on innovation; Carter by working to support its array of specialized, custom transportation apps with more flexible, general-purpose infrastructure.
What Mott said IT leaders should copy is the ambition, that almost every company had an opportunity for a step-change improvement in IT performance, but that, based on the industry's history of failed big projects, IT leaders had become too risk averse. "The fact that all these tools and all these capabilities have been put in place, those are exactly the reasons you want to do it in a game-changing way," he said in November.
10. Try It. Do Something.
"Especially in the IT profession, because things are changing so fast, you can really get yourself lulled into saying 'I'm going to wait and see,' Mott said last November. "As an industry, we're doing the 'wait and see,' where we're almost making ourselves ineffective." Yes, technology changes fast, but that’s no excuse for IT leaders to fall behind. Mott said it's incumbent on it leaders to develop and assemble systems, staff, and infrastructure that's flexible enough to take advantage of technology improvements as they come, not wait and hope the technology reaches a more steady state.
It's a message Mott espoused long before he worked for a company that sells technology. Back in 1996, when Mott was at Wal-Mart, he was preaching speed to results and the need to get technology in front of people sooner. At that time, Wal-Mart execs expected technology projects to cover development and deployment costs within four months of implementation. As Mott told InformationWeek’s Bruce Caldwell back then: "We prepare a report for the business units on expected and actual payback to date, and if we don't get the expected payback, that becomes a point of discussion." Maybe business processes were not changed to take advantage of the technology, Caldwell wrote, or the new system missed a key function that would deliver the payback. That’s when Mott conjured up one of founder Sam Walton’s many sayings: "Do it, try it, fix it."