Dell Global CIO on how IT must adapt as business priorities change

by Srikanth RP, InformationWeek, June 3, 2013

As Dell has made the transition from a traditional PC supplier to an end-to-end solutions firm, the role of its CIO too has changed. Srikanth RP of InformationWeek had the privilege of meeting Adriana Karaboutis, Global CIO, Dell, who shares some fascinating insights into how IT must adapt as business priorities change

What is your biggest challenge as a CIO?

The biggest challenge as a Dell CIO is you don’t have the luxury of time —you have a CEO who has acquired 18 companies in the last 30 or so months, and you need to integrate all of that. You have to determine how to be agile, how to be fast, and how to integrate all of those acquisitions quickly so that we can hit the ground running.

Your view on the impact on internal IT as Dell transformed itself from a PC supplier to a services-led organization.
We have always been a top supply chain company, and have world class systems that know how to design, fulfill and sell. For example, when we sell hardware, we can assign an SKU or an asset tag to the product. But, when you sell software or solutions, it requires digital fulfillment capabilities. You require subscription billing and software as-a-service capabilities. These are new things that the IT department needs to develop and drive.

During this transformation, what were the big challenges for the IT function?
The big challenge is prioritizing the right things. As you are continuing, you cannot stop running the business; you cannot stop having operational excellence. We had a good north star vision of where we wanted to go and then carved the roadmap and the road to get to that north star. Having that plan and vision of alignment with the business kind of ensures success.

One of the biggest challenges was in our software and services business. In our software business, it was the launch, and we had to assess whether we start from scratch and build the capabilities, whether we take our hardware base and modify, or whether we actually start with the base that one of the acquisitions had, and that’s actually what we did.

You also have an extremely innovative initiative called reverse mentoring where interns advice the company. Can you tell us more about this?

Reverse mentoring is a concept I picked up when I was in the auto industry, and evolved it myself. When you are trying to innovate, a lot of ideas come from the Gen Y coming in as interns. So, we look at them to do some reverse mentoring of our systems. For us, interns often offer a fresh perspective.

Can you give us some examples where the reverse mentoring process has helped you take a relook at existing processes?

One innovation that has come out of this initiative is our mergers and acquisitions playbook, which has changed a lot with the tremendous amount of new capabilities suggested. Interns have also contributed to improvements to the helpdesk. They could take one look at our incident tickets and say what is the problem and bring in improvements to the whole process. As an organization, you have to be smart enough to look for that fresh thinking. 

You also use Salesforce Chatter internally to gauge user satisfaction. How does this help your IT team?

While your system management tools may show that the systems are up 99.999 percent, you may actually find employees complaining on the internal social collaboration platform, Chatter, saying that the system is slow. Both are equally important. The clinical data may come from the trouble tickets being raised, while the pathological data is what my customers are writing about me. So, while my trouble tickets may say that the systems are in good shape, the customers may be writing on our social networking platform that the system is slow. The pathological data is critical for being a successful CIO. We have automated this aspect, so that we clearly know the systems or apps being affected. 

About Author

Srikanth RP

Executive Editor

An award-winning journalist with more than 14 years of experience, Srikanth RP is Executive Editor with InformationWeek India. Srikanth is passionate about writing on topics which clearly show the business impact of technology.

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