by Maryfran Johnson

Reinvention Time

Jan 21, 20093 mins
IT Leadership

From the airlines to Starbucks, customers drive change

About two weeks ago, we were a nation mesmerized by the unexpected happy ending for US Airways Flight 1549. The plane crash-landed in New York’s frigid Hudson River, yet everyone on board was saved by the skill of one heroic pilot.

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Information technology didn’t fail US Airways in this case—an errant flock of birds may have brought its engines to that disastrous halt—but neither could IT have saved the day. Some risks occur beyond the rescue of even the very best technologies.

As we explore in our “Project Runway” cover story, the risks of a badly damaged business model seem almost as dire to the airline industry as that flock of birds.

“We’re all one bad day from having our doors close,” notes one airline exec. Then again, he adds, challenging times are when IT can really leverage “a wonderful opportunity to make an impact.”

As the airline CIOs grapple with the whiplash of a global economic recession, there are many useful lessons for other IT leaders. Our story details the IT and business strategies of several airlines and delves into the technologies they hope will actually attract customers (rather than further repelling us). Frequent fliers everywhere wish them “Godspeed.”

Another customer-centric story in this issue takes you inside Starbucks for a visit with the coffee chain’s new Gen-X SVP and CIO Stephen Gillett. This 32-year-old MBA-schooled IT exec wants to help restore its flagging business by understanding customers “in ways we’ve never had to in the past.” Gillett’s mission centers on a tech vision that keeps external customers front-and-center in the business thinking that happens inside the IT operation. That shift outward toward serving the people who buy the company’s products—and away from IT mainly serving the internal business-unit “customer”—is a trend we saw rising sharply in our 2009 State of the CIO research.

In keeping with this rising tide of customer refocus, we have redesigned CIO magazine to more directly reflect your business roles. In our March issue, you’ll see a bold new streamlined design, with targeted sections devoted to running and growing your business, advancing your career and connecting with your peers.

I’m counting on all of you, our customers, to let us know if we got it right. Not so much a happy ending as a great beginning.