Wall Street Journal / Biz - Money

GM’s Randy Mott: Digital Transformation Can Lead CIOs Astray

By

Kim S. Nash

General Motors Senior Vice President Global Information Technology and CIO Randy Mott tours the Milford Global Data Center in Milford, Mich., Oct. 29, 2014.Photo: John F. Martin for General Motors

Since joining General Motors Co. in 2012 as chief information officer, Randy Mott has orchestrated an overhaul of the carmaker’s global IT infrastructure. He ended a $3 billion outsourcing deal with his alma mater, Hewlett-Packard Co., where he was CIO before GM, and hired more than 8,000 software developers and other technologists to build custom systems, for both internal operations and external business.

New capabilities, such as GM’s entry into e-commerce with a website for consumers to buy and sell GM trucks online, have brought in added revenue. Others have helped streamline operations. A data analytics project, called Maxis, shows executives at the 109-year-old company, for the first time, the profitability of each car emerging from a GM factory. Maxis searches and analyzes GM’s internal data and sources outside the company that are publicly available and that reside at partner companies. (More on that below.)

Mr. Mott, whose 40-year career includes CIO roles at Dell Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., talked with CIO Journal about using technology to remake companies. Some CIOs, he says, “lose their way” in the process when they focus too much on technology, rather than the business and financial reasons for change. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation.

What does it mean to be a digital company?

Years ago, only 10% of a company would use technology. Today it’s 100%. We’ve gone from backroom processes with a mainframe doing accounts payable and payroll to literally every employee in the company using technology — even everyone on the manufacturing line has a touch point with technology in their job.

How does an analytics and data integration project like Maxis change the business?

Maxis is about exposing data in the company regardless of what technology it comes from. The cost of a vehicle coming off the line is an example of drawing from technologies in manufacturing, supply chain and finance to bring about an answer. There are multiple technologies in play there all the way back to the mainframe. Bringing it all together is powerful. The mainframe is doing just fine. If it serves a purpose, then there’s no business need to change it.

How does the CIO role compare in complexity to others in the C-suite?

The CIO is always in transformation because of the velocity of change in IT but also because we touch all business areas. If any transformation is going on anywhere in a company, the good news is we get to be a part of it. It’s bad news if you don’t like work.

You’ve been working on General Motors’ transformation since 2012. Is it done?

[Laughs] Absolutely not. There’s not any area of our business that we don’t have the opportunity to improve with technology. Tech is constantly changing, presenting new opportunities. “Done” is not really a word in my vocabulary. It should never end. If companies call it done, they fall behind.

You don’t move from one technology to another. Companies have some of everything. I’ve lived through decades of this. What does transform is integrating things so they are well managed and serve a good purpose. Today, applications are very mobile. We make sure mobile apps work on whatever device, and the same thing on desktop and web services. Technology isn’t the end goal. The goal is integration of that technology to serve customers. Some people lose their way and get into transformations of technology as opposed to transformations of business. That objective is wrong.

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