IW 500 Conference CIOs Take Different Paths

There is no 'one size fits all' strategy when it comes to enterprise IT. Listen and learn as a powerhouse lineup of CIOs at the InformationWeek 500 conference describe the tactics they used to help their companies stay ahead.
You weren't hoping for a cookie-cutter strategy to fix your IT problems, were you? Good, because you won't get one from the powerhouse lineup at this year's InformationWeek 500 conference. For example, General Motors CIO Randy Mott will take the stage to discuss why he's cutting nearly all of the company's IT outsourcing, and then Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini will explain his company's sweeping data analytics strategy--which relies on outsourcing many run-the-business IT functions.

Being a CIO means having to make hard calls, engage in contentious debates, and take on substantial risks, and we'll bring all of that live at this year's conference, Sept. 9 to 11. Here's some of what to expect.

GM CIO Randy Mott: Post-bailout and -bankruptcy protection, GM must get better at a lot of what it does. CEO Dan Akerson has the heat on Mott to deliver a faster, more responsive IT organization, with a big push for more data-driven decision making.

Mott's playbook includes a huge shift away from outsourcing--from 90% outsourced to 90% in-house. It calls for centralizing data warehouses, so that information's easier to share. It entails consolidating data centers and applications.

And this isn't a history lesson--Mott will have been on the job just six months in September. He has a plan, but the process of executing will bring up the hard questions. Is GM a place that can attract thousands of top-flight IT pros as it insources? Can GM reinvent its culture to drive more IT innovation? Can IT deliver the data GM needs to make smart decisions? Will Mott's rigorous IT metrics mesh with GM's need for speed?

It's a lot of change, but that's part of what drew Mott to the job. "There are a lot of good companies and management teams, but not a lot with an appetite for change," he says. "It was obvious that this was an operating team that was willing to change. They wanted to figure out how to make it better."

Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini: Giving about 60,000 P&G employees a "cockpit" with data needed to do their jobs might sound like mission accomplished. But what if people still don't take action on that data?

Passerini considers it IT's job to make sure P&G teams never have to revert to "let's get back to it in two weeks," he says. "You need to be able to answer that question immediately." So he's working on better messaging and video, so employees can pull in anyone needed to make a decision. Meantime, he has quadrupled the number of P&G people with analytics skills.

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Data-driven decision making works only if P&G has good data, and Passerini's approach--build it, and the data will come--will make some CIOs squirm. It's gutsy because it exposes IT's weakness if it can't provide some numbers. But if execs and managers have real-time analytical tools to ask questions but lack essential data, it motivates everyone to get that data. The alternative is for IT to perfectly spec the needs, build the ideal data warehouse, and only then expose it. "That doesn't work," Passerini says. "Standardizing data, aggregating data, centralizing data, is only possible, only worth it, if you have a business need now."

Union Pacific CIO Lynden Tennison: Buy or build? Conventional wisdom says IT organizations should lean toward buying off-the-shelf software—a cloud app, if possible—because custom development is a money pit. Tennison routinely flouts that idea at the country's largest railroad. He often wants software that's better-tuned to railroad needs, and he hates paying full price for software when he's using only 10% of the capability.

UP's custom-developed training software is one example. It looks like a video game but uses images of real UP trains and train yards--built from Google Earth, UP surveys, and engineering specs--to teach employees how to inspect trains, move them around a yard, and do other work.

Tennison initially worked with several gaming companies to develop its training software, but they "didn't get the real physics of it," he says. UP finally found a gaming startup that could do it, and Tennison saw so much promise that UP bought the company and is now trying to sell training software to mining and construction companies.

Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT: His book Race Against The Machine isn't feel-good summer reading: "It may seem paradoxical that faster [technological] progress can hurt wages and jobs for millions of people, but we argue that's what's been happening," he says. He'll talk about this shift and how IT must adapt.

The great debates: We'll wrap our conference with a series of executive debates. Outsourcing vs. Insourcing? BYOD vs. Security? Apps vs. HTML 5? We're finalizing the list, so let us know your thoughts. And don't forget to register for the conference.