Interview

A CIO Conversation: Plexus' Tom Czajkowski, part 2

Sarah Lourie, Assistant Editor

CHICAGO -- As the first CIO at Plexus, and in his first role as a CIO, Tom Czajkowski has his work cut out for him, but his background in business is helping. He sat down to talk with SearchCIO.com at last week's SIMposium conference to tell us why the Neenah, Wis.-based electronic manufacturing services company's first major outsourcing project is not offshore and what the company is doing wrong with its ROI process.

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You just started an outsourcing project. Is this your first experience with that?

Czajkowski: There are traditional functions we've always outsourced, but this is the first material experience. We asked Unisys for help in managing our infrastructure -- servers, desktops, help desk management functions. They're providing that for three of our locations: our headquarters in Neenah, Wis., in Mexico and in Boise, Idaho. The goal is to expand the relationship to the global Plexus organization, but because it was fairly new, we wanted to try it [first].

We went through a three-month transition, and then went live with Unisys for servers, help desk, service desk and WAN management, essentially what you think of when you think of a help desk.

Any advice for first-time outsourcers?

Czajkowski: The biggest thing is that we're taking a pretty basic service offering in IT and asking another party to do it [so we can] focus on other things. But it's not easy; we've done this for 25 years. The processes used to deliver those services need to be documented and adhered to in the legacy world in order to map well with an outsourcer. My experience is that outsourcers often adopt a bunch of broken processes, which gets things off on a bad foot. When you introduce a new party, a lot of broken links occur, and we've experience some of that. You're not outsourcing a function, you're outsourcing a process. You need process thinkers to manage it in order to lead to a good experience for a user. IT people, in my experience, are not good process thinkers. So when you take a major chunk of what IT does and give it to a third party, if you're not thinking process, you're likely to stumble. So you have to document it carefully. That's the biggest lesson to learn.

How long did this take?

Czajkowski: We'd been in negotiations with Unisys for about a year, went live about three months ago, and have been really up and running about a month. It's too early to measure return, although I expect it. There have been some bumps, which I expected in the first 30-90 days, but it's going well.

Were any jobs displaced?

Czajkowski: The net loss of jobs was close to zero, and only about 25 people were affected in the beginning. Between the people who went to Unisys and those who were placed elsewhere in the company, the total losses were one or two people.

Is this an offshore project?

Czajkowski: People often equate outsourcing with offshore; this is not an offshoring deal. In this case, the help desk experience is such a personal thing with users on the phone, that it's important to me to keep it domestic. Our help desks are in Texas and Pennsylvania. There are certain aspects of IT work that, I'm convinced, cannot be offshored. Application development and enhancements have to be so intimate with the business process that offshoring that business is a difficult endeavor and often not a good fit.

We're a midtiered company. We're not a Google, an Oracle or a SAP. We're not a company with thousands of developers. Outsourcing is not offshoring.

What's your ROI process like?

Czajkowski: That's part of our governance model. Our guy managing our budget office has a process in place, but we've been sketchy in post-implementation. A lot of companies are bad about that; it's all about discipline. We're probably no better or worse than anyone else, but we've got a lot of room to improve. There are so many variables in the standard business case of a systems project, and with the passage of time, enough of the foundation has changed where it makes it difficult to compare what you said you were going to do with what you actually did. But there are ways to do it, and we have the tools to help us with it. We just need the discipline to stick to it. That's a cultural change outside of IT as much as it is inside of IT.

What do you think about Nicholas Carr's position on IT?

Czajkowski: It's an academic point of view, and it's perfectly legitimate. But in a world of IT systems, there's no shortage of value we can realize from investments in IT, and there's room for differentiation. I'm in the electronics business, so if there's room for differentiation there, there most likely is in other businesses. If you look at it in a macro sense, maybe some of those opportunities and disadvantages get blurred. But there is no doubt in my mind that IT does make a difference, and IT systems can help us operate more efficiently.

I believe this is true of most businesses. Maybe not as much in retail or some very automated business, but there is plenty of opportunity for us. We spend a vast amount of dollars just managing our supply chain.


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