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2/16/2011
01:15 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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IT Is Too Darn Slow

Is your IT shop the place where great business ideas grind to a halt? Here's how to speed things up.

Learning From Consumer Tech

To see the effect of consumer technology on corporate IT, there's no better place than Manpower's headquarters in Milwaukee on a recent January day. The lobby is full of suitcases and foreign accents as the company wraps up its global leadership meeting, where executives from around the world get the Manpower religion. Throughout the event, the IT organization sets up shop in a large conference room to show its latest ideas. From nearly every test project or prototype, this much is clear: This IT team is racing to keep up with consumer technology.

The expo is part of CIO Edwards' attempt to get more development happening faster, by tapping the company's smaller IT teams worldwide. In conjunction with the leadership meeting, IT teams from Bulgaria, France, Canada, Argentina, and elsewhere showcase new applications and prototypes they think all of Manpower could use. From these prototypes, execs will decide which to develop and test. Then those software tools will be put into Manpower's version of an app store, available to country managers to implement when there's a business need in their markets.

Inside the expo, there's a kiosk that looks like a very large ATM. It has a touch screen that a person can use to look for job openings, create a Manpower profile, or even access a LinkedIn account, and use that to apply for jobs. It's something of an interactive billboard for Manpower that could be placed in a mall or an airport, or possibly even replace some of the company's low-traffic branch offices. What it really is, though, is a giant iPhone app. Manpower had already developed an iPhone app to make it easy for people to apply for jobs. For that, the big effort was getting the company's Web application to respond to touch-screen commands. Using the smartphone app as a base, it built the ATM-sized prototype in about three months.

Next is a wall-mounted computer display showing Google Earth, integrated with Direct Talent, Manpower's back-end software that manages job candidates' applications. So while looking at a Google Earth map of Europe, a person can zoom in on each country and see data on how many new people have recently applied to Manpower in Italy. What's the point? That's what IT VP Mark Bistersky asked when IT director Ken Rheingans suggested they build it. "I said that I don't see the business value, but Ken said, 'Yeah, but it looks cool, and it won't cost any money,'" Bistersky recalls. They built it, and several salespeople loved it, saying they wanted it to bring some sizzle to sales presentations.

Manpower demos a prototype Facebook app that lets people friend a virtual recruiter. It's not a real person and doesn't pretend to be; it's an app that lets you ask questions using chat, and it responds by providing Manpower Web resources. The results it provides are really no different from the ones you get with Web search, but some people are just more comfortable using Facebook and the chat interface. "Fish where the fish are," Bistersky explains.

Denis Edwards
Manpower's Edwards is building an internal app store. "We can get things done faster and get more things done in parallel."

Manpower also shows off an "advertising wizard," essentially an analytics tool that assesses and scores the copy in job ads written by recruiters based on the effectiveness of past ads with similar wording. There's Interview Buddy, a smartphone app that a job candidate can check before heading to an interview. The app provides information about the company and offers simple tips, like asking if your shoes are shined. And there's the app we mentioned earlier, video interviewing, where a recruiter provides a series of questions, a candidate tapes responses, and those answers are shared with relevant hiring managers.

The big change here for Manpower is twofold. One is that these ideas are inspired by consumer technology. Whether it's building or using smartphone apps or Facebook searches or Google Earth links, the company is determined to keep its enterprise IT as relevant and powerful as the personal computing experiences of employees, partners, and customers. The other is that all this work is happening in parallel by distributed IT teams. Rather than wait for a central IT team to get around to each of these ideas, Manpower's letting the Canada IT team develop the video interview, for example. Once the app is tested in other markets and deemed good enough to implement worldwide and integrate with all of the company's systems, it will be offered to all country units via the app store.

IT needs speed, but it needs the right kind of speed. With Manpower's video interviewing, the demand is overwhelming--all country managers want it as soon as they see it. However, if each country unit went out and found its own video interviewing software and ran with it before it was tested and stabilized, Manpower would end up with a fragmented candidate pool, with some video in one format inaccessible to people in another.

Edwards manages to look both energized and exhausted, hugging a Diet Coke as the IT expo wraps up on Friday afternoon and delegates stream out of the lobby to head back to their home countries. He knows what he has done. He has revved up demand. And now his team needs to pick the right apps; deliver technology that's secure, works globally, and integrates with other company systems; and deliver it before the excitement withers away. If video interviewing is still in the prototype room next year, the feedback to Manpower's IT team will be, "Didn't you promise us this last year? When will we finally have it?"

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