"We tend not to see limits of what IT is responsible for," Barnes said in a 90-minute chat over oatmeal in Manhattan this week. "I'm on the company's strategy committee and we have to look out 10 years and try to see what the world will look like and prepare the company for that future. As we do that, we tend to focus on what can be done much more than on what can't."
It's an attitude that's reflected strongly, Barnes says, in the companywide focus on environmental sustainability that led to the new "Decision Green" program at the center of the event in Manhattan showcasing UPS's approach and some of its customers' stories. Here's how a slide from Barnes' presentation defined Decision Green: "UPS's environmental platform reflects our pursuit of sustainable business practices worldwide through operational efficiency; conservation initiatives; and industry-leading innovations. This approach extends to helping our customers do the same."
Barnes related a personal anecdote from three decades ago that reflects not only the company's overall position toward efficiency and sustainability but also his sense of personal responsibility for ensuring the IT organization is driving relentless innovation to support those initiatives:
"Environmental issues have always been a part of our culture, even before we started calling them that. I can remember when I started here 32 years ago and if people would leave a conference room without turning the lights off, someone would always say, 'Hey—didn't you forget something?'
"That's vitally important because now that environmental sustainability is so strategic for UPS, the ideas need to come from all across the entire company—and if you can get that going, you can come up with lots of ideas," Barnes said.
"But you've got to make it everyone's job—you've got to make it personal."
In a followup piece, we'll offer lots of details about sustainability efforts at UPS and among its customers. But during these challenging economic times, as many CIOs continue to struggle over how to define their role—technology enabler versus growth generator—Barnes' outlooks and approaches suggest some questions that should help resolve those questions:
1) Barnes said he and his team "tend not to see limits of what IT is responsible for." How about you: are you and your team boxed in?
2) One of my favorite lines from Barnes was about who's responsible for coming up with ideas: "But you've got to make it everyone's job—you've got to make it personal."
3) And how about the definition of IT strategy—are you still in the old "alignment" boat, paddling upstream to try to retroactively "align" with a target that's moving and changing position faster than you can hope to follow? Or do you go with the Barnes approach: "It's the business strategy—there's no difference."
4) Are you involved in extending and projecting your company's internal innovations out to your customers? If not, why not?
5) Do you view sustainability issues as tree-hugger goofiness, are in the three-part business-centric approach Barnes outlined: operational efficiency; conservation initiatives; and industry-leading innovations?
Seems like it's time to make it personal.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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