Gary Beach, publisher of CIO magazine, posed questions to Jim Leto, President & CEO, Robbins-Gioia; Satish Maripuri, COO, Lionbridge; and Alex Kormushoff, executive vice president and general manager, Worldwide Field Operations. Here is some of the exchange.
Gary: Warren McFarlan earlier said, “We are now entering the most exciting period ever in information technology.” Is this just Warren McFarlan hyperbole or are we on this cusp—as recent tech poll suggests—of a new economy?
Jim: The interesting aspect of this for me is that I was in midst of this debate in Congress ten years ago, when I was at PRC. The question then was, Is the Internet a flash in pan or something that’s going to last? I was on the part saying it would last. Thankfully! I think my grandchildren will grow up in a world where libraries are not needed, where they’ll find a job online and telecommute, learn things far before we ever did. I think of the Internat as salt—ubiquitous and all but free. With a very high elasticity of demand. It’s available to virtually everybody, it’s just a matter of time.
Satish: Tom Friedman’s book [The World is Flat] talks about the third phase of globalization. With the Internet you can leverage geography to bring economics to where you want it to be.
Alex: The interesting thing I see is a parallel between first generation of Internet and what we went through when we went from MRP to MRP2 to ERP. I see the Internet as being at the MRP1 phase. Many of our customers are looking to the next generation of e-business. I see us at a phase moving to the second generation. It’s manifesting itself as business and tech leaders having—again—to sit down and work out a strategic plan.
Gary: Some say the infrastructures of most corporations are not ready for the burst of new applications that is coming. Is it all going to have to be rebuilt to take advantage of the kinds of processes and tools that are going to be on offered for a new robust e-business economy?
Jim: I worry about the traditional infrastructure, the data centers and processing business. But I also worry about new needs, such as those driven by events like terrorism. Look at Customs… technology is being thrust at 20,000 Customs agents: We took away their clipboards and gave them computers. Hiring the whole TSA was a radical transformation. Then they had to develop TSA Command and Control in six months.
Satish: The infrastructure is there but it’s the rate of change that you need to put into the equation. What’s the fastest rate of change you can muster?
Alex: I think it’s not in place because today’s e-business is still very much a push dynamic. More and more customers are looking for people-oriented process or customized information. Today’s approaches are still very much based on client-server and earlier era.
Gary: Who’s driving e-business initiatives at firms?
Satish: To a large extent it’s the people in this room. You see nowadays all agreements wired with SLAs.
Alex: It’s all over the place, no one group or function. In most successful companies it’s driven by business and support by it. Or else the IT executive has strong biz background.
Jim: Consumers drive the evolution of e-business on the Internet.
Gary: Is the biggest obstacle to e-business adoption the unwillingness of companies to rebuild their systems to adopt? What processes will businesses have to repurpose?
Jim: Consumers drive the evolution of e-business on the Internet. Period. End of sentence. Listen to them to determine your strategic plan. A ten-year plan is too long. Technology is only an enabler. The role of the CIO is to match technology to strategy, which is at the behest of customer.
–Sandy Kendall, CIO.com Web Editor