09 Mar CIO Leadership Series: Rick Davidson, Manpower
Milwaukee, Wis. – Rick Davidson jokes about his IT authority being “galactic,” but when the word global is in your title, and your company operates in 72 countries, perhaps you’re entitled to stretch the blanket – especially in jest.
Not that the good-humored Davidson, senior vice president of global information services for Manpower, is prone to exaggeration. The Milwaukee-based employment services firm has 400,000 customers and 1,200 IT workers that demand a straight shooter, and Davidson’s personable manner doesn’t prevent him from being brutally honest about information technology.
From taking a proactive approach to meeting Manpower’s own IT labor needs – including more reliance on non-traditional labor pools – to embracing the business value of social computing, Davidson has a game plan, and he’s been through enough IT implementations to appreciate the resources Manpower can bring to bear.
“We’re pretty blessed because we have a company that’s not afraid to spend money on technology, so we see technology as a way to create, not by itself, but to enable competitive differentiation in the marketplace,” said Davidson, whose annual IT budget is just north of $200 million.
The best lesson Davidson has learned from an IT implementation is that you have to have business and IT aligned, and you have to have the business side engaged from beginning to end. Original intent can be lost anywhere along the solution delivery cycle if IT and business aren’t working as one, he said.
Without this align-engage model, the probability is high that a company will develop something unworkable. “It really is a partnership, and most IT investments are just the tail of a larger business-process initiative,” Davidson noted. “If you always look at it that way, then that partnership will always exist because there is a change effort that’s taking place on the business side and technology is just part of that, not all of it.”
To Davidson, the essence of CIO leadership is anticipating the future of technology and envisioning how new solutions can be applied to business. That means he has to understand technology and the business of Manpower, whose $18 billion corporate profile includes five global brands.
“For a CIO, that means both myself and my senior leaders in the IT organization have to know both sides,” he stated. “We’ve got to know technology quite well, and we have to understand technology just not in its purest bits and bytes form, but we need to understand where technology can align with the business, and what technology is relevant to our business.”
At the moment, Davidson is educating himself about mashups, folksonomies, and other social computing vehicles. If Manpower is going to apply these ideas to business, “we’ve got to build IT capability or organizational capability that can be there and ready when the business has a need, and so we’ve got to know the business as well,” he said. “So the challenge for any CIO is to have a foot in both camps and be able to maneuver in both quite well.”
Since the core of its business is matching talent with demand, Manpower must understand the kinds of skills and individuals sought by clients. With the IT talent shortage in the U.S. and Western Europe, Manpower has completed the first phase of what it calls a campus project that leverages the Internet to identify, attract, and develop talent.
The Web-based product will enable prospective employees to go online, conduct job searches, and help Manpower build relationships with current associates and even “alumni.” The idea is to build an ongoing relationship and establish “touch points” throughout their careers.
Davidson cited the example of the young generation of workers, who are more aggressive in managing career and job experience. Manpower would like to help them do this, so when they seek a new job every three or four years – now the rule rather than the exception – Manpower is the employer of choice. The company plans to coach them in their career choice, help them understand the next logical career move and the skills they will need to move there, and reveal the geographic regions with the highest-paying positions.
As the service is developed, it will be a combination of technology that Manpower builds and buys, including web portal technology from IBM.
The other strategic product is related to Manpower’s front-office operations. The company has 4,400 branches around the world, and each branch engages with clients and candidates daily. Since Manpower is both high-tech and high-touch, it talks to job candidates face-to-face to get a sense of who they are, and uses that information to match them with prospective employers.
That’s where the front office comes in. In its batch operations, Manpower has two front-office tools to register, assess, and place candidates, and it’s in the process of deploying a common front-office system around the world, leveraging best practices from several geographies into all of its global branch operations.
“What that will do is give us regional and global visibility into open positions and to available talent,” Davidson said. “The reason that becomes important is because we’re starting to see, within certain regions, the movement of talent either virtually or physically.”
Eastern Europe is a good example. The nations that recently joined the European Union have ample talent, especially Poland, yet there is a shortage of talent in Western Europe. So the question becomes: how does Manpower gain visibility across geographic talent pools and match that talent with available jobs?
If Manpower can develop a single system that gives it global visibility on both the demand side (labor) and the supply side (employers), it can fill orders much faster and more creatively than competitors.
Within the next three to four years, Manpower plans to do so through an acquired solution, configured to some degree and mapped to the appropriate business processes.
Davidson, as part of Manpower’s senior leadership, believes it’s his job to set the business strategy, and within that strategy, identify specific technology initiatives to pursue. To ensure IT-business alignment, the IT group not only considers enabling technology required to support these initiatives, it has to be aware of where the business is going, tactically and strategically, and then develop technology or process capabilities that align with the business.
Sometimes, maintaining IT-business alignment means resisting temptation. Many a CIO, when immersed in an IT implementation, has been tempted to change course when a new, potentially disruptive technology is introduced.
Davidson has a simple rule of thumb. If the project is only 20 percent completed in terms of work or investment, give some thought to deploying the new technology. Otherwise, especially once you pass 50 or 60 percent, proceed with the original plan. “It’s a tough dilemma,” Davidson said. “I call it cognitive dissonance, where the thing you don’t have is always more interesting than the thing you do have.
“Sometimes, even if that new technology is out, and you’re 80 percent or 90 percent of the way done, just finish. It’s better to have something than to continue chasing the latest thing.
“It’s this idea of having the 80 percent solution that’s 100 percent implementable, versus working on the perfect technology solution that you never implement. Being an engineer, I can say that sometimes you have to shoot the engineers and build the airplane.”