Thinking Out Loud: Jim Gwinn and Bob Laird
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CIO Insight: After the telecom crash, the scandal and the bankruptcy, MCI reduced its staff by 30,000. It also cut the IT budget by 40 percent. How did you continue to function?
Jim Gwinn: There were several contributing factors. One is the ability of the workforce and IT staff to go above and beyond. The dedication of the workforce here has been beyond reproach. Two is that I believe that the merging of a lot of similar functions across the IT organization has driven savings.
Bob Laird: Look at database administrators. Each group had four or five of their own. There was tremendous cost there. In 2003, we were able to move some of those people into development roles to work on new products. [We also managed to break] our Operation Support System [down into its component parts, which will] drive more value in the future. Laird:
How did you get support from the rest of your IT team?
Laird:One of the things bankruptcy did, in a positive sense, was it really removed a lot of the political barriers. We had to do this. We had to be more efficient. We had no choice. People got on board.
Did bankruptcy buy you time to complete your IT transformation?
Gwinn: I wouldn't say it's allowing us time as much as giving us focus. It is allowing the entire organization and group of organizationsprior to the transformation we were several IT shops under the umbrella of MCIto focus. I don't see more time being something we have, because we've also been focused on things like re-statements, controls and those things you read about in the paper.
What were the problems in rolling out products in the past, and how are they being addressed now?
Laird: The biggest problem before was how long it took to get the OSS systems set up, so that you could support the product. In some cases, the product would be ready from a marketing-and-sales and market-intelligence point of view well before the OSS system was ready.
Gwinn: When you think about it, when you have multiple IT organizations you have various entry points into IT. If you think about it in terms of the provisioning of the network, you need to be able to talk to the switches via a common waynot eleven different ways as we did.
Laird: The after is: Instead of having to deal with five different provisioning systems down to our network elements, let's deal with one. In the early phases of that, that means you've got an overall system that's hiding the complexity of dealing with five systems. But eventually what you do is you truly have one system dealing with any provisioning of network elements. Once you've done that, introducing new products becomes easier.
Going forward, why should a smart CIO do business with MCI?
Gwinn: We have the largest IP network in the world. We have a pretty thorough history in the telecom business. We are certainly the most scrutinized company in recent history, and that tends to make us focus very hard on the little things. Our focus is now on the customer.
Laird: I came to this company when there was still only one place you could go. That was AT&T. There was real joy in taking a monopoly situation into a true capitalist, competitive situation. We had people who worked 20 hours a day, every day. We still have that here.
Could IT have prevented the situation that led to bankruptcy?
Gwinn: I don't see it as something that has a direct relation to the bankruptcy at all. I would say the bankruptcy came about as a result of a lot of unfortunate events that many of us were very surprised about.
Laird: Hindsight is always 20-20, but Sarbanes-Oxley has certainly put some specific requirements in place, and we're making sure they are implemented from an IT point of view.
Given the magnitude of the fraud, you must have been disillusioned. How did you stay motivated?
Gwinn:For me personally, it was a challenge to not walk away from it. I felt that if I walked away, I would have had regrets of what could have been. The only way to know is to stick it out.