IT execs see need for "blended culture"

Von Patrick Thibodeau

Success in globalizing IT means building a workforce that understands and adapts to the needs and expectations of co-workers and business partners -- no matter where they are based, according to IT leaders from several large companies with operations around the world.

What such enterprises need, according to John Parkinson, a vice president and chief technologist at Capgemini, is a "blended culture" that "allows everybody to work with everybody else."

Parkinson was among those who took part in a panel discussion here in Scottsdale, Arizona, Tuesday at Computerworld"s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference that focused on the written and unwritten rules of globalization.

At Franklin Templeton Investments, developing global working relationships means giving employees the chance to travel and meet with far-flung co-workers, said Sandeep Bhatia, director of global customer technology at the company. Travel and interaction helps employees understand business processes and develop an understanding of their fellow workers.

"Unless people go and live there and understand each other, it just doesn"t happen," he said.

Sometimes simple things can make a big difference, such as being cognizant of local times when scheduling conference calls, said Sherry Aaholm, senior vice president of express and freight solutions at FedEx Services. "Stepping up and recognizing those differences," she said, sends a message that "you are trying to behave like a global organization."

Becoming a global firm also means understanding the risks and workforce when setting up operations in any given country, said Kim Perdikou, CIO of Juniper Networks Inc. "Our goal is to tap into key talent around the world," she said.

Dealing with regulatory issues is another facet of globalization that can be helped when human resources and legal staffs work together to deal with local issues -- such as a Quebec requirement that software be bilingual in some circumstances, said Aaholm.

While regulatory issues can add to business costs, local customs and practices can create outright confusion, according to panel members. In the U.S., "we say what we mean," said Bhatia. But in the Asia-Pacific region, the word "no" can have different meanings, he said.

"The world is filled of little minefields," said Parkinson. For instance, in some cultures, it"s impolite to talk to someone before being introduced, he said. "You have to learn all those nuances before you can get business down," Parkinson added.

Understanding works both ways. Foreign business partners are becoming more aware of U.S. regulatory requirements, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act"s financial and accounting disclosure rules, and are helping U.S. companies comply, said Saum Mathur, vice president, Americas IT, at Hewlett-Packard Co. Companies such as SAP AG are also providing systems that are adapted to country-specific rules, he added.

In a separate and similarly themed talk, Bette Walker, a vice president and CIO at Delphi Corp., an automotive parts maker with 172 manufacturing sites worldwide, discussed her company"s push toward a shared-services model of delivering IT services. It was a move Delphi felt was necessary for strategic alignment of IT to the business, she said.

The company, which had 11 CIOs at one time, has created one management focal point built around central planning, common standards and models. "Expertise is truly leveraged," said Walker.