Think Globally, Innovate Locally

Opinion: Forrester's Executive Strategy Forum sheds light on tech's changing roles and its larger stage.

Right now, it plays a unique role and has a unique insight into the business." Those arent my words. They come from Stephen David, former CIO (now retired) of Procter & Gamble, during a panel discussion at Forresters Executive Strategy Forum held last week in Boston.

The focus of the forum was innovation (a topic where you would be hard-pressed to find disagreement) and globalization (a topic where you can find a lot of disagreement).

I was looking for some guidance in how the roles of IT, the IT professional and the IT department are changing to accommodate an increasingly global business—changing in a positive way and not in the "Well, why dont we just outsource the whole thing?" way.

What did I find? While sometimes those working for SMBs (small and midsize businesses) may feel there isnt much they can learn from a company the size of a Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Samsung or DuPont—Forrester had speakers from all of them—I do think large companies have a lesson to teach smaller ones.

The advantage the smaller companies have is they can react faster than the big corporate giants.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read Eric Lundquists column about how IT departments are planning for disaster recovery.

Those big companies have been working at bringing standardization to the back-end infrastructure in terms of integrating databases, business intelligence platforms and business processes.

As that standardization continues, more of the effort is being placed on rapidly building new supply chain and customer services from those platforms.

For Peter Weedfald, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Samsungs consumer electronics operation in North America, that can mean planning product life cycles measured in weeks instead of months or years.

For Ralph Szygenda, CIO for General Motors, it can mean that an executive carrying the title "chief process officer" becomes a fulcrum around which new efficiencies can be developed through innovative combinations of existing processes.

This is a big change for IT and one that bears examination for SMBs and tech executives. Once, the value of IT was based on a technical knowledge that was guarded both physically, in the data processing glass house, and verbally, in an acronym-filled vocabulary.

The next stage of IT is taking place as technologists leave the glass room and acronyms behind.

IT, as both David and Szygenda said, is unique in that it works with all the departments of a company.

While there has been a great deal of discussion about breaking down silos of information within companies, most of those discussions have focused on the technical aspect of breaking down those silos.

The job of integrating information becomes much easier for IT when common data types and databases are used, but the owners of those silos (finance, manufacturing, sales) too often view their information as theirs only and not to be widely shared.

Blaming IT for dragging its heels on integration efforts when the real culprits are the department-level managers is often a case of placing the blame in the wrong spot.

If you listen to David, Weedfald or Szygenda, you realize that their projects could never be successful without a global technology infrastructure able to accommodate processes common across the entire corporate infrastructure.

/zimages/3/28571.gifInnovation comes full circle. Click here to read more.

The only people who have intimate knowledge of those processes are the technology executives who have created and maintain those tech underpinnings. The next stage for IT is to lead the way in developing those innovative, global processes that are now required to compete.

Dont wait for individual department managers to propose merging their processes with the process down the hall. They may not be as enthusiastic about offering up their processes as they claim in corporate meetings.

The most valuable contribution you may have for your company is what you learned outside the glass room, rather than from the technology that keeps those systems in the glass room running.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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