Walt Oswald, CIO at Motorola Mobility Inc., met with Senior News Writer Linda Tucci at the recent Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., to discuss IT innovation and the CIO's role in it, as part of the SearchCIO.com CIO Innovators profile series.
Obviously the advent of mobility in the enterprise, which strikes fear into a lot of CIOs' hearts, does not intimidate you. What is the scope of your responsibilities at Motorola Mobility as CIO of the company?
Walt Oswald: As CIO for Motorola Mobility, I have responsibility for all IT activities. Now, when you take a company like Motorola, a high-tech company, and as we create products that are built for the enterprise, it sort of creates more in my job description than just running IT within the company.
It's important for me to create a showcase of our products, not because we want to create a showcase, but because they work and they enable the enterprise to do things you've never been able to do before with the mobility that we've created through these products. So, it makes my role -- kind of expands it a little bit. I really have this responsibility to work closely with other CIOs in other companies to help them understand what our products do, and together all figure out how to take this mobility in the enterprise area to the next level. And how, as Motorola, how can we do that and what can we do to continually improve upon our products.
What would you say is the percentage of your time that you spend running IT internally versus the percentage of your time that you spend in outreach, talking to other CIOs, and getting them to understand Motorola's products?
Oswald: About 80% of my time is still spent running IT for the organization. That's most important to ensure that we have in place the right infrastructure, we have in place the right service levels. We're managing and running the company to ensure that we have all the capability and features and functionality that an IT organization is responsible to deliver to the company.
And then I'd say there's about 20%, regardless of the fact that Motorola's in the business, just to have that relationship with other CIOs to share ideas, to share projects and work with each other to help drive the industry where we want it to go. And now I have the distinct advantage to do that with mobile products that we're all excited about, and also to be with a company that is selling these products. And so, we certainly have a lot more input from an IT organization, not only within the company but with other folks as well.
You're in a technology company, but how would you describe, or how do you feel about, the role of the CIO in innovation
Oswald: I think it's front and center. Every CIO has to be a key player in innovation in a company, in a high tech company probably more so than others. But innovation's important for everything we do, not just new products and rolling out those new products, but just everyday tasks that we normally use in IT. You have to always relook at those, and look for better ways to do things. And that's innovation. Innovation can be as simple as eliminating a process you no longer need, and at the high end, as developing a product or an application that will take you to the next level and beat your competition. So, I think there's no end to where you can go with innovation.
And I talk about it all the time with my organization, and how important it is and how important it is for everybody to play a role as an innovator in the company. So, I expect all of my IT employees to be a key innovator, not only for the internal part of the organization, but to help us as a company create the right products that others want.
So, innovation can make all the difference in the world at a company, but it can also be an incredible time-waster. How do you calculate the risks and benefits, and dare I say, the ROI of innovation?
Oswald: That's hard to do, and I guess I would disagree a little bit. I don't think it's a time-waster because it's hard to measure innovation. And some of the silliest ideas turn out to be some of the best ideas. And I think if you stifle individuals and try to put too much structure around innovation, you won't have innovation. Innovation comes out of crazy ideas -- a lot of thought in a room together with several people, taking something small and trying to make it big.
So, I think you really have to engage, and you have to believe in it, and you have to continually drive people to come up with new, exciting thoughts and ideas, then try to take those to the next level and execute on those ideas. Any good idea is only a good idea unless you execute on it and move it to the next level.
Innovation comes out of crazy ideas, a lot of thought in a room together with several people, taking something small and trying to make it big.
Walt Oswald, CIO, Motorola Mobility Inc.
Do you allow your IT staff to fail at innovation?
Oswald: Oh, absolutely. Me being first. So, I think you have to fail along the way to learn. There's no question about it. I, again, try to encourage folks to come up with lots of different ideas. And if we use one out of 10 or two out of 100, that's okay because those two may be the big ideas that really make a difference for us as a company, or for us and how we are able to operate the organization more efficiently, more productively.
As an example, we put together a cost-structure transformation team. I didn't call it cost reduction because I think that has some negative connotations. But we put together a cost-structure transformation program and we brought a lot of the employees into that program to work, and we were able to take $320 million out of our budget over two and a half years, so we went from close to $600 million down to about a $250 million budget this year. And that only was possible because we stimulated people, we allowed them to come up every possible idea they could think of. We've documented them, we worked them, we drove them to completion where we could. And it was -- it just picked up momentum and steam as we went.
This is maybe an odd question for a technology company: You're up to your ears in new technology, but what technologies or new technologies are causing you to change the way you operate IT?
Oswald: Oh, I think two very distinct ones: mobility in the enterprise and cloud services: two big game-changers for this industry and for IT organizations. Cloud services -- and actually it ties in nicely with mobility -- because as you start to run your environment more in a mobile manner, cloud services now take a more important role as you start to store more in the cloud. You start to take things off of the desktop and you put them in the cloud. It's much easier to access from different devices from anywhere, regardless. So, they tie together real nicely. They both help to drive cost down. They both improve productivity. And the capabilities with them are just limitless.
When your lawyers or your privacy people come to you and ask you where the data is, what do you tell them?
Oswald: So, they did come to us and ask that. And the first issue was, well, there was no precedent. And wherein in the old world there was a lot of precedent for discovery. But once we sat down with the legal folks and with Google, in this case, and went through it, we found that the discovery tool that we're using -- Postini, through Google -- is more than sufficient. In fact, in many cases it offers you more capability, because with Google now you have this capability to do a search throughout the whole base and from high-end administrative terminals. So, in some regards, because of the search capabilities they offered, we even have more capability from a discovery perspective -- which the legal folks like.
Things are happening so fast now. What have you learned about innovation this year that you didn't know last year or when you were a young person just starting out?
Oswald: Yeah. Well, I think it's -- you can't stop it, that's for sure. It seems to be coming at a higher rate than before, a faster rate than in the past. I don't know if that's just because of the different technologies we're a part of, and we're excited about it and it moves quick. But I think that innovation in this space where IT plays, we're seeing more and more of it, and I think it's going to continue to accelerate just because I think the companies are now -- the startups are in place to start challenging the status quo.
I think the traditional CIO and the traditional IT organization as we know it is changing dramatically. And those that don't change and start to really embrace the cloud -- and embrace mobility and some of the other technologies that have changed dramatically over the last couple of years -- will be left behind because your company won't be competitive. You won't be able to operate within a budget that's competitive with others in the industry.
So, I think innovation, you just have to keep up with it as much as you can, and you have to try to drive it, even more importantly, and be a game-changer. Be the one that's disrupted technologies. Be the one to come up with the ideas that make a difference for your organization, for others. So, no stopping it. Let's embrace it, and I think it's only going to help us all be better companies in the future.
Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.