IT is to bring Speed and Flexibility

IT has been struggling for recognition from the business ánd a seat in Corporate Boards. In that perspective it is interesting to hear the view of a multinational’s CEO on the importance of IT to his company and the strategy he’s approved. Marc Grynberg has led IT twice, first as CFO early 2000s and now again, as CEO of Umicore.

CIOforum: Is IT any different today than in your CFO-days?

Marc-GrynbergMarc Grynberg: The old-age tradition in IT, and this also accounted for Umicore, is to maintain software and hardware in operations as long as possible, maximizing the return on license expenditure and minimizing costs and new capex. Unfortunately, this impedes innovation and potentially hides underlying costs. How many companies still had to upgrade from Windows XP a little more than a year ago? At Umicore, we chose to alter our strategy, phase out old and introduce new technologies in order to be more efficient and thus productive.

CIOforum: Why this sudden change of strategy?

Marc Grynberg: Umicore had grown exponentially via a series of mergers and acquisitions. The need rose to streamline ICT. We saw standardization as an enabler. Looking back, it was the right choice but I’d strongly advise not to push standardization to the extreme. We for instance standardized our entire PC park based upon the needs of 20 to 30% of our IT users. Some need less, some more capacity. Same goes for applications: you don’t need all the applications at the same time.
You cannot ask your customer to wait a minute because your computer doesn’t pop-up your stocks immediately. If you standardize too much, you lose the flexibility to move forward and prepare for new M&A. You need technology that enables flexibility and speed to meet business objectives.

CIOforum: What about cost and IT budgets that need to go down every single year?

Marc Grynberg: Should you invest in more iron? Should you invest new-IT skills? The trade-off to make or buy the service is so much easier than a few years ago. Cloud computing and outsourcing have matured tremendously and intelligent strategies will allow you to reduce cost. So: don’t invest in capacity or machinery, buy the service. You want to develop your business, not keep up with IT expertise. Buy the service. As a CEO, I never ask for cheap IT. I want speed, flexibility and lower costs – not necessarily within IT. Automation may just as well allow to reduce cost elsewhere. You can talk about agility and sustainable performance. In the end it’s about innovation and helping the business.

“Don’t invest in capacity or machinery, buy the service. You want to develop your business, not keep up with IT expertise. Buy the service.”

CIOforum: How close do you monitor IT investments and budget?

Marc Grynberg: General management should never make technology choices. It needs to weigh IT against the objectives: will it provide more flexibility and will it allow us to accelerate? 90% of our turnover comes from business lines we started in the last 15 years. We are a 100+ year-company, remember. Some business lines advance at stellar speed, they need flexibility and speed to move on. That’s why we needed to adjust ICT and made a U-turn.

CIOforum: Do you still consider IT as a support function?

Marc Grynberg: Yes, because in our company IT should enable and not drive the business. But! I don’t agree with the traditional view on IT where support is then often considered as a pure cost. That’s just what I don’t want. Today we have four times more staff in research and development than 5 years ago, with a lot of joint development with customers. We still need a solid infrastructure to allow fast processing. IT went through a transition, but you need to do it in a smart way. We won’t do just more of the same anymore, we always invest for speed and flex.

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