Driving technology to business advantage, part 1

ORLANDO, Fla. -- One of the big challenges for CIOs in today's world is driving and managing the transition of technology from the back office to the world of business relevance. But just how are they doing this? Speaking during a keynote interview at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo, three leading CIOs told analysts with the Stamford, Conn.-based firm just how they've been dealing with the ever-changing nature of IT. Joe Drouin, CIO of TRW Automotive, John Sullivan, CIO of AARP, and Tony Cicco, CIO of General Accounting Office touched upon several hot issues affecting IT today, including change management, business and IT alignment, and outsourcing. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

We're all in businesses that are changing today. Give us a little insight into your companies. What are the really big things that are happening? For us, it's really reducing cycle time for producing our products. We work for Congress. We evaluate federal programs globally, and the cycle time ... is getting smaller and smaller. For us, it's understanding product lines and making sure we can deliver those product lines in the shortest...

amount of time. We're all in businesses that are changing today. Give us a little insight into your companies. What are the really big things that are happening? Probably the biggest thing that is happening with us right now is we're welcoming the boomer generation into the fold. We're all in businesses that are changing today. Give us a little insight into your companies. What are the really big things that are happening? TRW is a 100-year-old company. We've been bought, split, sold and taken public all within the last three years. There is a tremendous amount of change inside the company. And also [we're in] the context of an industry that is actually brutal today. We call it the perfect storm in automotives. It's a challenging business environment and it makes it tough to squeeze out your IT budget. We've heard a lot at this conference about the need to grow and support new products and services. I'm a little curious. How are you handling this? We look for specialized areas. Our people usually do a lot of analytics on government programs. We try to target areas of opportunity that will assist them in dealing with analytics. So that's really where the opportunity lies for us and that helps reduce the cycle time. We've heard a lot at this conference about the need to grow and support new products and services. I'm a little curious. How are you handling this? In addition to providing insurance, AARP really is a provider of information. And as we welcome the boomers into the fold, one of our challenges is finding new markets for that information and repurposing information that we already have ... and deliver it across all the different channels that our consumers have come to expect. We've heard a lot at this conference about the need to grow and support new products and services. I'm a little curious. How are you handling this? At TRW, we're all about opening new markets and really enabling the integration of our supply chain from the customer, how that customer orders cars, how that order goes through the whole process of the automotive manufacturer and into a big Tier 1 like TRW, and [then] out to a supply base that really could be in any part of the globe. It's really all about that supply chain and opening new markets. How do your business managers view IT? Do they see themselves as being able to reach their goals through IT? I think in the last four or five years we've made that transition. I think it started with the fact that we used to produce a very formal IT game plan. We made a decision about four or five years ago to terminate that plan. And really, when we want to share business value, we do it through an organizational business plan. So, all of our clients are linked directly to the performance (and goals) or our business unit. They see that linkage now. We have this perennial question about IT and business alignment. Is this giving you any problems? What is going on in this area? At TRW, we take a slightly different approach. We look at the two or three significant end-to-end processes that target the business of TRW. So, for something like customer order fulfillments ... the whole process is mapped out in terms of here is what it looks like today, here is what it looks like tomorrow, here is what we think it will look like in three to five years and here is what we dream it would look like beyond there. For each of those evolutionary stages ... we just kind of take a step-by-step approach. We look at where we are; we look forward to the next step. And as they become relevant to where we are, we start to draw out real standards, disciplines, processes, procedures, the things that we've got to go out and deliver in terms of capabilities to enable the business to make that next step and evolution to those business processes. Are business and IT people working hand-and-hand on these projects? We are working absolutely hand-and-hand together. Joe, when your company was in the process of splitting apart, did the business really understand how deep the tendrils of IT are in the business? I think not at first. And even the rest of us were surprised when we started really figuring out, in the context of compliance and Sarbanes-Oxley and the new corporate world, what we have to do and what we have to provide. As we started scratching the surface, it was really like finding the iceberg underneath the tip. As we went through the process, you don't get the luxury of saying, 'Oh my God. We've got dozens or even hundreds of new systems that we really didn't think about.' ... It was a great opportunity to make some progress and partnerships with different parts of the business. And we had to make some pretty challenging decisions in terms of ... evaluating new technologies, requirements and reshaping, and tweaking the organization so that we could support business without additional costs.

But wait ... there's more! Click here to read the second half of the interview.

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