Fascination With Technology Propels Ingersoll-Rand VP

Manufacturers turn to technology to cut costs and reduce inventories

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 13, 2001

3 Min Read

InformationWeek 500 - ManufacturingIt was apparent at an early age that Robert Orshaw was headed for a career in IT. When he was 9 years old, the future VP of E-business at Ingersoll-Rand Co. would frustrate his parents by disassembling household appliances. To spare their possessions and satisfy their son's urge to tinker, they began bringing home secondhand toasters and cash registers from yard sales. By age 13, Orshaw learned to code his first PC, a TRS-80 from Tandy Corp. At 15, he was teaching the Basic programming language to classmates at Gowanda High School in Buffalo, N.Y.

Orshaw's technical inclination has served him well. At 33, he's propelled his way from network engineer at Dresser-Rand, a subsidiary of Ingersoll-Rand in Olean, N.Y., that he joined in 1991, to his current perch at the parent company. The industrial conglomerate, with operations in more than 20 countries, rates in the top one-third of manufacturers in the InformationWeek 500 list.

The highlight of Orshaw's career has been his role in creating a global IT strategy for Ingersoll-Rand, a key function as the company transformed itself from a traditional capital-goods manufacturer to a diversified conglomerate not tied to the fortunes of any one industry. Through acquisitions and internal growth, Ingersoll-Rand has expanded its focus from construction and repair equipment, under the brand names Bobcat and Ingersoll-Rand, to products such as walk-in freezers, security systems, golf carts, and, soon, microturbine engines that generate supplemental or back-up power for factories, offices, and hospitals.

Orshaw was tapped in 1998 to take part in driving the transition by creating a common IT infrastructure that would help the company scale its growing operations and assimilate new divisions gained from acquisitions. Since then, he has reduced the number of telecommunications contracts at the company from 40 to one and adopted a single integrated voice and data network. Under his direction, the company has also standardized on one messaging platform, down from 10, and is pushing, division by division, the adoption of a standard set of business applications, including packages from Oracle and Siebel Systems Inc. The goal is to eventually migrate away from the 50 legacy systems that were once in place at the company.

The best part of the job, Orshaw says, is working with the heads of 40 business units to sell them on the common strategy and platforms. It's also the greatest challenge because those units like their autonomy. "If I can make all the business units understand that this new economy is about information and that IT is the key enabler of our strategic growth, then I've done my job," he says.

As fascinated by technology as ever, Orshaw's favorite gadget at the moment is his Hewlett-Packard Jornada, a handheld PC with a 3Com Corp. wireless modem, which he's rigged to a wireless network using the Bluetooth communication standard. It lets him instantly connect to the Web and files on the network from anywhere in his home or office. He's leading the testing of these tools at Ingersoll-Rand, which is considering rolling them out to employees.

Orshaw admires people such as Steve Ward, general manager and former CIO of IBM, and Gary Reiner, CIO of General Electric Co. "They were the first ones to take the role of CIO and make it chief imagination officer," Orshaw says. "They helped create business strategies enabled by IT. That really changed the flavor of IT in the business community. The role has changed from being a techie to being a business partner."

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