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Global CIO: 5 Ways Ford's CIO Is Driving Growth

Nick Smither and his team have some ideas worth copying.

Nick Smither is one of 10 IT leaders we’re recognizing as leading Global CIOs, for their outstanding efforts to use technology to drive growth at their companies. (See all 10 profiles here.)

Having spoken with the Ford CIO twice in recent months, as well as with several of his team members, here are five areas where IT can have a real impact on the automaker’s revenue growth and profitability. This is my list, not Smither’s, and it’s based in part on areas other CIOs tell us they’re trying to improve--and where Smither’s team has ideas worth copying.

1. Increase Use of Analytics

Ford has IT teams embedded in every global functional team, such as product development and finance, and “most of the functional teams have got an IT initiative around analytics,” Smither says.

Ford’s like a lot of companies: The data’s there, and it’s trying to wring more value from it. One example is applying business intelligence across product creation teams, to give them a single view of the amount that various vehicles are sharing common parts and commodities. Whether it’s metal or steering wheels or seat springs, Ford would like to standardize as much as possible, and it’s using analytics to assess that.

2. Reorganize IT Globally

Ford spent the last two or three years restructuring the IT organization to do two things, Smither says. One is to map IT goals to the company’s One Ford initiatives, focused on making Ford more profitable as a single global organization; the second is to make sure IT provides a platform to support growth.

IT had been fragmented, with each regional business unit having duplicate operations. Now, it’s “one IT,” Smither says, with shared services for infrastructure, application development, and application support. That restructuring cut IT operating costs 30% over the past four years, he says. But Smither also tries to keep IT close to functional units. “We have people embedded in each of the skill teams, so we have IT people working with the development team around things like Sync, and the same is true across each of the other functions,” he says.

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3. Help create new products

At too many companies, IT teams are at arm’s length from the actual products. That misses an opportunity for IT to shape the product itself, as well as improve the product development process. Both are happening at Ford.

Personal tech will be a growing part of why people pick a particular car. At Ford, IT teams work alongside product development teams in advancing the Microsoft-based Sync system, which links smartphones, music players, and Internet services for safe use in Ford vehicles.

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