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12/3/2010
10:05 AM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Global CIO: Insights From 3 Great CIOs: P&G, FedEx, HP

Each an IW Chief of the Year, they share insight on legacy tech, slow IT, and opportunities ahead.

I recently attended a panel discussion among FedEx CIO Rob Carter, Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini, and Hewlett-Packard CIO Randy Mott, at an HP event. That's three InformationWeek Chiefs of the Year--Mott (when he was with Wal-Mart) in 1997, Carter in 2005, and Passerini this year. Kinda like Crosby, Stills & Nash--the CIO version of the rock supergroup (sans the hangovers). Here's a sampling of their insights.

IT faces its "problem of the decade." That's how Carter describes legacy IT, which plagues pretty much every company at least 20 years old. It's the applications, infrastructure, architecture, even the organization amassed from acquisitions, as well as quick fixes, customizations, and constant new technology innovation. The hardest part of transforming that legacy IT is knowing where to start. "It looked like a Gordian knot," Carter says.

Transformation isn't a recipe. Each CIO's transformation approach was different. Mott did a massive application and data center consolidations. Passerini did sweeping outsourcing, to focus employees on innovation (see "Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini: 2010 Chief Of The Year").

Carter first tried an application consolidation, but FedEx's big problem wasn't a dozen different ERP or e-mail systems. It was a maze of custom-coded, industry-specific apps. So Fed Ex is using a services-based approach. The apps will remain but will call on common data sources for 24 core transportation-related services--say, providing an address. FedEx also built two data centers based on highly virtualized, x86 environments--a private cloud. No apps get into those new data centers until they run on this modern services architecture.

IT's too slow. Mott believes in doing fewer projects at a time, finishing each in a shorter time frame, and doing more total projects. He does so by staffing projects up--teams of 10 to 30 people instead of two to 10 people. With that approach, HP cut the typical project time frame from three years down to six months. Mott's not done--he's aiming for three months.

He gives two reasons for doing things that way. One, a company can absorb only so much change at a time. Two, people can't always predict what they'll need. Giving employees capability A spurs the need for capability B. "There's an innovation feedback loop that, with these long development cycles, IT constrains," Mott says.

Passerini's using IT to speed up P&G business functions. That means getting employees to use a new IT service as soon as possible, in prototype, then iterating revisions with them. "We believe the experience with a service makes all the difference," he says.

Don't hide the tech. Carter's a bit of a contrarian here. More than most CIOs, he insists on pushing business executives to understand technology--as he says, why it's "too slow and costs too much" to do things like new cross-business integrations and interfaces. Yes, put tech in a business context. But Carter thinks business unit execs must understand even deep concepts such as a services architecture. "The more we kept this stuff behind the scenes, the less real it was to the business," he says.

Avoid hand-wringing about IT's future. Never in his 30 years in IT, Carter says, has there been a chance to build IT infrastructure as "clean and cost effective" as the private cloud FedEx is building. Passerini makes the case that no one is better positioned than an IT pro to have an impact on the business. And Mott? His latest audacious goal is "improving the productivity of every person in HP every 30 days."

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