GM CIO and Outsourcing Pioneer Ralph Szygenda Retiring

How big a deal was GM CIO Ralph Szygenda? I once took a meeting with a GM PR person who was on a national media tour just to promote Szygenda's IT vision, and the CIO himself wasn't even in tow.

By Bob Brown
Fri, July 24, 2009

Network World — How big a deal was GM CIO Ralph Szygenda? I once took a meeting with a GM PR person who was on a national media tour just to promote Szygenda's IT vision, and the CIO himself wasn't even in tow.

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I was reminded of that one-of-a-kind meeting this week when GM announced, as part of a broader management shakeup, that the 60-year-old Szygenda is retiring on Oct. 1. Szygenda joined GM to become its first CIO in 1996. 

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Szygenda, who joined GM at a time when EDS dominated its IT operations, was an outsourcing and business process re-engineering maverick who cut billions from the company's IT budget and who negotiated a $15 billion deal a few years back that was often described as the biggest in history. Szygenda's third-generation outsourcing plan was designed to get outsourcing providers to compete with each other while also streamlining their operations by cooperating on standards.  During his tenure, Szygenda's team also developed systems key to GM advances such as its OnStar vehicle safety system.

The GM CIO also joined with peers at other organizations, including the U.S. Department of Defense, in support of best practice standards for buying software and services.

Szygenda was often sought out by industry organizations and the press to share his views on IT strategy and industry news (we spoke to him in 2007 about a $1 billion contract GM signed with AT&T). 

In 2000, he told us, for a story about career moves, that: "I have always been a businessperson first and a technologist second. And even though I've been in technology jobs, my work had to change the bottom line of business." Simply, the technology didn't interest him unless it affected change to the business process.

Network World named him one of its "Most Powerful People in Networking" numerous times, including in 2006 and Szygenda also belongs to CIO Magazine's CIO Hall of Fame.

Szygenda joined GM in 1996 from Bell Atlantic, where he was vice president and CIO. Before that, he held a slew of IT jobs at Texas Instruments.

The group vice president is being replaced as CIO by Terry Kline, currently GM's process information officer for product development.

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