by CIO Executive Council

Global CIOs Think Business Strategy

Apr 22, 2010
IT Leadership

Shell Oil CIO Jay Crotts says market knowledge is necessary for successful global IT

What are the essential success strategies for global CIOs?

As a CIO in the global environment, my biggest challenge is to understand the dynamics of how my company operates in each country. Acquiring an understanding of how market maturity affects business strategy helps me develop an IT strategy that supports local markets while enhancing them with the global resources, processes and efficiencies at our disposal.

Your direct reports are your frontline players in attaining this understanding. They are closer to the business units than you are, and are therefore closer to the people who are actually facing the markets. Your job as CIO is to encourage them to have daily contact, and teach them how to relay that knowledge back to you in a way that will inform the IT strategy.

Beyond the obvious cultural differences, when you and your team are determining solutions for the widely varying markets across the globe, you must resist the temptation to assume that one size fits all. When faced with a country you’ve been directed to get into the global stream, the biggest mistake you can make is to hope that the solution or process you spent time and resources perfecting for a mature market will work in a less-mature one.

When extending your company’s presence around the world, there must be a balance between global synergies and necessary customization. Sometimes you have to start with point solutions, such as a spreadsheet that will serve for the time being, which may seem like taking a step backwards. But that is just a first step to bringing them fully up to speed with global business processes.

Back at headquarters, having an IT strategy that is tied into the business strategy—and that matches IT performance metrics to business KPIs—is more important than ever. Global projects introduce complexity, which heightens the chance of failure. Don’t use IT as leverage for driving new processes without commitment from the business to changing those old processes. If you find at any point that the business needs and processes are not aligned with what IT is doing, stop the program.

That seems drastic and likely to get you into trouble with other executives, because no one likes the person who says no. But I’ve found that if you present why you’re stopping, and lay out how continuing without alignment will harm the company, you gain credibility and support for fixing the problem and getting the project moving again.

Jay Crotts is CIO and VP of IT Services for Shell Oil Co., and a member of the CIO Executive Council.