The Global 50

The key to successful worldwide IT operations is to adhere to global systems while accommodating local differences

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

April 8, 2005

6 Min Read

The council, in essence, is Commercial Metals' CIO, a title that doesn't exist in the company that last year gleaned 37% of its revenue from international business. "We ask for updates on projects that are being undertaken by other IT groups," says Craig Dow, council member and director of corporate information systems at the company. "We hope to identify systems that are being used at the onset of a project that might be applicable to other units or that have already been developed and can be deployed to other areas," he says. Staying abreast of what everyone is doing locally can help Commercial Metals become more efficient and better use existing resources, he says. "It's an evolving process, and we're learning as we go," Dow says.

Monsanto, too, has a global IT leadership team, led by CIO Showers and made up of senior managers across IT and business units. Its fundamental mission is to ensure sharing of best practices across the global organization, Showers says. And those best practices can come from any venue. "Never forget the importance of local input and perspective. It's easy for people at headquarters to become too insular in their approach," he says. "The value of global teams is the diversity of pulling the local perspective in with the corporate perspective to achieve a better result."

Semiconductor manufacturer Micron Technology Inc., which ranked No. 12, takes a strict approach to sharing local efforts globally. Micron has an IT organization of about 800 people worldwide, with 55 to 75 IT pros at each of its sites in Italy, Japan, and Singapore, as well as Utah and Virginia. The rest are at the Boise, Idaho, headquarters. VP of information systems Jim "Ed" Mahoney believes in globally standardized processes, to the point that even customizations created for special needs ultimately should roll back into the company's standardized systems.

The staff in Boise primarily builds those systems, while most of the overseas IT employees either support users locally or have tactical jobs like systems management. That said, Micron has benefited from being open to overseas IT pros' perspectives. For example, developers in Japan helped provide good interfaces to the global corporate payroll and human-resources systems, Mahoney says. And local IT pros in Italy have directed Micron's attention to how big a concern privacy is in that country, which will have an impact on the company's HR-software projects.

An important role for the remote IT staff at Skyworks Solutions Inc., a semiconductor maker that resulted from the merger three years ago of Alpha Industries Inc. and Conexant Systems Inc.'s wireless business, is helping the company's U.S. IT organization understand the communications and infrastructure needs of its worldwide facilities. Skyworks employs 4,000 people in 27 locations; half work in the United States and half in Mexico, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region. The bandwidth requirements at a remote Skyworks design center are much greater than they are for a sales facility, and the local teams determine those needs. "They are the first line to pick up on requirements," VP of IT Louw Kotze says, so that the U.S. IT team, where global communication standards originate, can accommodate those needs.

Yet IT leaders must guard against accommodating local needs too much. "One of the greatest challenges is the constant pull of local priorities over global priorities, along with the inherent difficulties of working in teams spread around the world," Monsanto's Showers notes.

Security-software vendor Symantec Corp. also copes with "global versus regional needs," CIO Mark Egan says. Symantec, the Global 50's 18th-ranking company, with about 600 IT employees in nearly a dozen countries, says it puts regional IT leaders on the ground who have close communications with the home office and can provide firsthand insights about the real needs of the business operations overseas and make sure global applications meet those needs, Egan says. "It's best to get current and unfiltered information from the folks on the front lines to keep things running smoothly on the global basis," he says. And, if there's a gap in an application to suit those parties' requirements, "we'll develop a tactical application," he says. "That application, in turn, will certainly be included in the next release of the global app, and the process repeats itself."

Companies stress that global IT teams become stronger when IT workers from one locale have opportunities to work in other areas of the world. "Movement of staff, when possible, between world areas is very valuable to increase sharing and understanding across teams," Monsanto's Showers says.

Micron IT staffers are offered those opportunities, usually for a one- to two-year clip, Mahoney says. At any given time, there are five to 10 people temporarily relocated on these assignments. Not only do relocations help a person's career, but they're good for the company, fostering cross-border communications and knowledge transfer among the staffs. "It's important that people understand the culture of Micron," and that knowledge transfer is bolstered through these relocations, Mahoney says.

Recently, Micron deployed globally a new online request-for-IT-hire system, which requires multiple levels of approval before a job can be posted. Mahoney is one approving party, and the system now gives him the chance to determine whether an internal person might be able to fill a slot, which could be anywhere in the world. That's a big improvement over the past, when "there was no visibility" in hiring, Mahoney says.

Successful global IT organizations have much in common, but perhaps the most important is this: Whether IT staff members are in Boston or Bali, much is expected of them. "We highly leverage IT," Yahoo's Rabbe says. "People who work for us work to death to provide good service and support to our customers."

OK, maybe not literally to death. But in a globally competitive, around-the-clock world, they're working pretty darn hard to help their companies get an increasingly bigger slice of the growing international pie.

with Bob Violino

Illustration by 9 Surf Studios

Continue to the sidebar: "Communication: Keep The Lines Open"

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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