CIO Opportunities

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 10-26-2009 Print Email

So in this Internet-like structure, where do you see the CIO's opportunity?

Part of it is educating their own people. Senior people in the organization need to be interacting with more junior people that are much more Web-savvy and tech-savvy than they are. You need that pairing up. It's not a question of having your assistant print up your e-mails. That's absurd. You have to be out there, you have to have access, and you have to be on top of everything. Good executives are overstretched--IT has to help make them more effective. And they'll get excited about it when they see that IT really works.

Lesson No. 6 is, "You're in the Spotlight: Follow Your True North." The word today is "transparency." Everything is open. That's why I say I'm not big on a heavy layer of IT security. That should be hidden from me--I don't want to have to fool around with that or change my password every 30 days. The IT police come to me and say, "Change your password," but I can't keep up with all the passwords.

If Medtronic has a product problem in Argentina, everyone in the world knows about it in two hours. You can't hide. Things that are said internally go external, and everything said externally is known internally. There's no sense fighting it--you can't shut that down, so don't try.

After 9/11, Rudy Giuliani was there that day. Sometimes you can't physically be there, so how do you communicate? If you have a fire in a plant in Belgium, how do you communicate? Can you use IT tools? Can you Skype? IT needs to set you up so you can get in touch with the plant manager and say, "I'm there."

Top CIOs, too, say you can't hide in a crisis.

In the old days, we said, "Lead, follow or get the heck out of the way." Well, I'd like to see the IT executive leading me, since I'm not an IT specialist.

What's the biggest waste of time in business? Air travel, particularly overseas. If I had a meeting with the minister of health in China, I'm going to be there. But I can't just fly over to China all the time for a two-hour meeting--it takes a week out of my life to go over there. So why can't we videoconference? Why can't I use IT to help me with that?

When I led Medtronic, the head of Europe was on our executive committee. I didn't want him to come to Minneapolis for a meeting every two weeks. I wanted him to be with his customers. So he just would attend the meeting over videoconference. It's a six-hour time difference for him, but you do it. You feel that touch better with tools like videoconferencing than with picking up a phone. These tools are there, but a lot of people aren't using them. I don't know why.

You mentioned your board membership. What sort of attention do CIOs and/or IT get from boards?

You don't see CIOs as often, but you see their work every day. Goldman Sachs couldn't survive without these tools. But seeing the impact of that in a global world--knowing exactly what's going on at all times, having their executives know what's going on so they don't have to go to the trading floor--you have to have those tools in your pocket. The companies that are on the leading edge, like Goldman Sachs, see the trends. That's why they were able to avoid the subprime mortgage crisis: They saw it in early 2007. But if they didn't have good IT tools, they would have missed it. Other companies were still investing in subprime mortgages 18 months later, and Goldman was out. That's a big advantage. Timing is everything.

In your teaching pursuits, do you see any interest in students wanting to be a CIO?

The more common thing is that they want to move back and forth. I had that back at Honeywell. I had all the computer systems, telecommunications and everything. It was a way of really getting to know the company in addition to the other responsibilities I had. It's good for people who want to go into general management to get that experience--and bring that very business-oriented perspective.

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