Fall Conference: The Great Debate - InformationWeek

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Fall Conference: The Great Debate

FedEx CIO Robert Carter and former J.P. Chase CIO Denis O'Leary squared off on a number of topics at the InformationWeek Fall Conference.

Get to the point!

That's what was asked of two high-profile IT leaders attending the InformationWeek 2003 Fall Conference on Tuesday, as they squared off in a debate on topics such as the impact of offshore outsourcing, the potential for Linux, and whether CIOs should view CFOs as allies or foes.

Robert Carter, executive VP & CIO of FedEx Corp., and Denis O'Leary, now a private investor who held the jobs of CIO and director of corporate finance during his 25-year career at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., had two minutes to weigh in on each topic. The debate was moderated by Scott Dinsdale, executive VP of digital strategy at the Motion Picture Association.

Here are excerpts from the debate.

InformationWeek: Is sending technology work overseas to benefit from lower-cost labor in countries like India and China a good or bad thing for the future of IT and IT jobs?

Carter: FedEx uses offshore outsourcing to supplement its IT workforce. "The quality and the cost is hard to argue with." What's more, "we can't be protectionists" when it comes to IT. Still, "we have to invest in our educational system," so that the upcoming IT workforce will be qualified for tomorrow's jobs.

O'Leary: The benefits of offshore outsourcing go beyond cost. "It's about skills and it's about process redesign." He notes that many companies who use offshore outsourcing benefit from the latter. Still, even if coding is sent offshore, there will be jobs in the United Stats for the design and marketing of technology products.

InformationWeek: What's the potential for Linux?

Carter: Linux will continue to boom because of the "three Cs:" Capable, Cost, and Cool. It works well, and the cost savings are impossible to overlook. Also, programmers and, perhaps more important, tech-smart kids, think it's cool.

O'Leary: It's true that Linux is getting in the door because of its price tag in today's era of IT budget-squeezing. But Linux's cost gets a big "depends"--implementation costs can sharply change that total cost picture. There's also another reason Linux is being considered: the steady flow of patches of security vulnerabilities that IT managers are having to apply to Microsoft software. That has IT managers frustrated and more willing to consider alternatives. "The wind is at [Linux's] back because Microsoft is 'blowing it.' "

InformationWeek: Is the CFO a friend or a foe?

Carter: You better have a good working relationship, because nothing good will come out of making the CFO a foe. And you need to speak in business language and business results. But with those in place, you also need to be able to stand up when you think you're not getting the financial support you need. "The truth is, you can't be a big wuss around the CFO."

O'Leary: Many things drive O'Leary crazy, like companies that don't put their owners' manuals on their Web site or ATMs that ask a longtime Irish customer if he'd like to do this transaction in Spanish. Another one high on the list is companies measuring IT as a percentage of the total cost in a product. That's a sign that a CFO treats IT as a cost that has to be managed. Instead, the CIO and CFO need to look at IT as a tool to replace other costs and drive down the total cost of the product, not just worry about the IT component of it.

InformationWeek: With rampant viruses and other security issues facing IT organizations, should IT take on the role of corporate cop?

O'Leary: CIOs need to be more focused on security issues. "You can't stick your head in the sand," he says, noting that "technology hygiene" is a big issue. "Job one in the enterprise is to bolt down security."

Carter: If being a corporate cop means overpolicing your employees, than that's a bad thing. Online shopping and online banking aren't bad things, even at work. "We put our [security and online usage] policy out there and say, 'This is proper behavior, this is appropriate behavior.'" The rest is up to employees to follow through.

InformationWeek: Is Web services hype, or is it for real?

Carter: There's huge potential for Web services. "Where we can make a difference is how we connect with suppliers." The Internet has vastly improved that, and "Web services is a continuation of that phenomenon."

O'Leary: In the short term, a lot of work needs to be done for Web services to be meaningful--for one, there needs to be secure standards around the technology. But the "huge potential" for Web services is farther down the road.

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