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Peter Stockhausen didnt hesitate when asked what hed like to be doing if he wasnt in information technology. Business consultant or strategic consultant was his quick answer.
It shows in his approach as CIO at Manpower North America. Peter gets the technology and its potential for business efficiency and advantage; he just talks more about the business than the technology.
As part of that business-like approach, before Peter and his IT shop begin talking IT solutions, they want to understand why solving a particular business problem is important to Manpower. Does it create strategic differentiation? Is it intended to save money through efficiency? By understanding these business issues, Peter and his staff can identify which IT answers are best suited to the situation.
For example, if a particular function like human resources wants to implement a suite of best practices with technology support, Peter might start the discussion by asking which of the best practices are fairly common to human resources shops and which ones would really make human resources at his company stand out. That knowledge would lead to stronger investment in the technology which supports those stand-out best practices.
In general, for the commodity-like practices, Peter leans towards buying IT solutions rather than building them, given the cost differential both for development and for on-going support. For the really strategic practices, Manpower North America does custom development, mainly using the Web Solutions Group. Theyre focused on using web services and reusing technology resources whenever possible to keep development time and cost down.
This approach allowed for a quick response when somebody asked why smaller customers couldnt place staffing orders online like the larger ones. As part of an upgrade to the public Web site, they added a link to a simple form that collected the basic order information, which was then passed off to the appropriate local office. Without advertising this capability, they did over $2 million of new business with new customers who discovered the link on their home page.
With Peters natural inclination towards a business-like approach, one might expect a lot of talk about the internal customers of IT, but in fact Peter shies away from that particular bit of business vocabulary. Rather than talking about internal customers, he prefers to think of his relationships within the company as partnerships. It turns out this is a natural extension of his desire to understand why solving a particular problem is important to the business.
In the traditional vendor/customer relationship, the customer is always right, even if what they want doesnt have an apparent link to wider business or technology strategies. The partner relationship supports an on-going dialog about the value of particular approaches and also builds a sense of common purpose.
A lot of shops have to run below the radar when it comes to technology-driven change. Partnership helps with that challenge, Peter said.
This shows up not just in his technology implementations, but in the fact that his project management corps and his help desk often find themselves working on non-IT issues. The help desk, for example, is well prepared to field questions about basic business processes and to connect callers with the right folks in human resources, finance and other functions if necessary.
The business partnerships arent limited to just operations either. Peter is a member of the executive team and is a leader in discussions to juggle budget, business opportunity, risk management, and change management when it comes to applying technology at Manpower. In that mode, he led a global technology council of Manpower CIOs from across the world. This group suggested a global CIO to begin standardizing IT practices for all IT functions around the world.
Whether looking at new technologies or responding to changes in IT, Peters first instinct is to go looking for the value to the business.
The shift toward a more global IT function has created some challenges as functions such as the enterprise data model and architecture are shifted from his organization to the global IT shop. However, Peter sees local impacts from the wider world as part of the on-going evolution of the IT environment. He mentions, for example, the need for his Wisconsin IT organization to be aware of evolving privacy and security legislation in other states such as California where the much stricter laws on protection of personal information carry not only corporate penalties, but also personal penalties for the officers of offending corporations.
Sarbanes-Oxley is another example. Peter sees the split between bigger and smaller IT operations as an unintended consequence of that law. Sarbanes drove the medium-sized shops to tighten up their processes and broke the career path from smaller more informal IT shops through those medium sized shops to the more structured IT environment of larger organizations. Its created something of a staffing issue as there isnt really a "farm team" for developing IT experience in the more formalized approach to IT.
Acting locally or thinking globally, the business consultant inside Peter Stockhausen the CIO comes out. Whether looking at new technologies, improving business processes, or responding to changes in the IT and business environment, Peters first instinct is always going to be to go looking for the value to the business.
With that approach, Manpower wont get tangled up in the debate about whether IT is strategic or operational. Its a little bit of both and in every situation theyll know and respond accordingly.
Q&A with Peter Stockhausen
Whats the latest book youve read?
His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph Ellis
The Simple Truth, by David Baldacci
Lucrezia Borgia, by Sarah Bradford
What magazines do you read regularly?
Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, CIO
What web sites do you visit regularly?
Google (taskbar), Amazon; finance.yahoo.com
Whats your favorite quote on leadership?
People need the answers to 3 simple questions: 1. Can I trust you? 2. Are you committed? 3. Do you care about me as a person?" -- Michael Ford, VP-Corporate Accounts, Manpower Inc.
Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC of Madison Wis. Prairie Star specializes in managing the organizational impacts of technology. He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com
or via telephone at 608/345-3958.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.