When Michael Dell went out to hire his current CIO, he wanted the best
in the US. He found Jerry Gregoire at Pepsi, and convinced him to come to
Austin, Texas to run Dell's huge Information Technology organization. Jerry
accepted the offer, and he has been impacting Dell's business practices ever
since. Last year, Jerry was named Information Technology
executive of the Year by Austin AITP. He was honored at a citywide event
keynoted by CIO Magazine publisher,
Recently, Jerry made an insightful speech to about one hundred IT
executives at the regular monthly Austin AITP chapter meeting. He began his presentation, "Keeping
up with Fast Company", by observing that "working for a High Tech company like
Dell is a little weird. Many of Dell's key vendors are also some of our key
customers, and these relationships can be little challenging". He also noted
that at a technology literate company like Dell that "everyone thinks that they
are a CIO". Jerry said that he has given up trying to achieve "hero status"
within the business, and he then admitted that "deep within a IT profession's
heart he or she knows that his or her customers are generally dissatisfied and
unsure of the competence of the IT department". He stated that this situation is
probably true for most IT departments in general.
Jerry also pointed out that the IT Department is under constant attack
by outside vendors. No other department in the company faces the "high powered
marketing effort which is aimed directly at information technology". End-users
and executives hear a constant drum beat of marketing messages that something
better exists other than the approach now taken by the current IT department. IT
strategy is put into a light of constant doubt by vendors and consultants all
aiming to capture a part of the lucrative IT budget. Jerry referred to these
industry "seers" as "guys with big hats and no cattle".
Jerry also observed that some of the most valuable employees in the
company are the "back room folks who are keeping the operation running". He
stated that in can be very easy to miscalculate the loss a company suffers when
one of these people leaves. Jerry remarked that "there is no balance sheet for
human capital loss".
Pulling the Plug on
When Jerry first arrived at Dell, the company was deeply into a
floundering SAP implementation. Many Dell employees realized that the huge
software package was not a good fit, but it took Jerry Gregoire's courage and
leadership to actually cancel the project. During his AITP presentation, Jerry touched on
his opinions regarding the current industry trend of huge ERP
"I feel that the large packages can lead to complacentcy", Jerry
stated, "no changes can be made to these systems in order to create a technology
advantage for the company". He then went on to point out that "no IT director
really wants to implement one - what they really want to implement is best of
breed systems. When we convert our company to a software vendor's vision, we
give up our ability to innovate."
The remark that Jerry made which
caught the attention of the press was when he said that "I pray that our
competitors are successful in their large ERP implementations - then we will
drive them crazy with customer innovations using our own technology. Our
competitors will find themselves vendor dependent for these innovations". In
today's fast-paced, web-enabled business environment Jerry makes an important
point. With sales being increasing driven by electronic commerce, he reminds us
that the technology behind these changes must remain flexible and adaptive.
Speed is the Secret
Jerry continued his presentation by outlining some of the critical
concepts CIOs should consider as they formulate their company's unique
information technology strategy. "First, the architecture strategy must be open
and flexible", he stated, "and the applications should bring empowerment instead
of presenting obstacles to the business managers". He outlined a few key
characteristics for a successful IT strategies:
- Common systems should possess a global look and feel.
- Applications should require no training, and they should be intuitive to the
- Systems should be able to be individually tailored to suit the end user's
Sound impossible? Don't bet on it. Jerry correctly pointed out that
"this is exactly the situation millions of people encounter when they utilize
today's sophisticated Internet web sites". How much training does a typical
Internet user receive before surfing through a new web site? In most cases:
none. This will quickly become the same expectation of business users toward new
As the pace of electronic commerce increases, Jerry pointed out the
increased need for speed and flexibility when delivering both in-house and
external applications. The ability to quickly deliver technology at the speed
the market demands will be the new corporate "secret weapon" to capture and
retain market leadership.
Dell's G2 Information Technology
At Dell Computer Corporation, Jerry has put into motion a strategy he
has labeled "G2". This strategy is the product of his vision of preventing "the
layering of problems around a broken core". By using best of breed applications,
custom designed technologies with competitive advantages, and intuitive
interfaces for quick implementation, Jerry sees information technology as
providing a huge "value addition" to Dell's operations. Some of the key
principals of Dell's new G2 strategy are:
- Nothing should be limited by size - everything should be scalable through
the addition of servers.
- The principle future application interface should be a web browser.
- Key programming should be done using languages like Java or Active X.
- Message broker technology should be used for application communication and
- Technology selection decisions should be made on an application by
application basis - never accept less than optimal solutions.
- Databases should be interchangeable.
- Where it makes business sense, extend the life of legacy systems by wrapping
them in a new interface.
- Utilize "off the shelf systems" where appropriate.
- In house development should rely on object based technology - new
applications should be made up of proven object puzzle pieces.