Enterprise Software

Fedex CIO: Use your ugly pictures to get stuff done

See how FedEx CIO Rob Carter used his "ugly picture" to get other FedEx leaders to give up control and create a centralized IT services framework.

FedEX CIO Rob Carter looked at what was happening at FexEx several years ago and saw an inevitable crash coming. Complexity was getting out of control and the company's IT systems weren't going to be able to sustain future growth.

Unfortunately, that meant Carter was going to have to go to a bunch of business units that were used to controlling their own platforms and apps and tell them they needed to give up some of their control in order to create a more sustainable, more centralized IT services framework. To get everyone on board, Carter had to get ugly.

In this case, "ugly" didn't mean he had to yell, be a jerk, or steamroll other leaders. Instead, he went and mapped out the entire IT infrastructure, with specific counts of how many different interfaces they had, how many different applications they had, how many different data sets they had, etc. That created "an ugly picture."

"I'm a big fan of ugly pictures," he said.

Once he had his ugly picture showing the tangled complexity of all these systems, he started taking it around and showing it to the CEO and the leaders of the various business units within FedEx. They dubbed it "Hurricane Rob."

FedEx CIO Rob Carter talks about "ugly pictures" at his Gartner Symposium 2011 keynote. Photo credit: Jason Hiner

"This complexity is not sustainable" became the message and the consensus among the group. Still, Rob had to get all of these different business heads to agree to give up some control. They owned the apps and the business process and Rob and his team wanted to go in and collapse all of that. "We ran into a buzz saw," he said.

So, Rob went in and sat down for a meeting with FedEx CEO Fred Smith and said, "I'm going to fail." After a long pause, he and Smith looked at his ugly picture again and Carter explained that the complexity was a ticking time bomb and that fixing it was going to take a lot of time and money but had to be done.

Smith got on board, the business leaders fell in line, and the rest is history. FedEx went on to completely revamp its IT strategy and infrastructure and created a centralized IT services group that acts almost like a Platform as a Service (PaaS) provider to the various businesses and business units inside the company. This has enabled FexEx to continue to grow its business and maintain its leadership as a technology innovator. In the process, Rob has been named technology chief of the year by Information Week three times and Fast Company ranked him #18 on its list of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" in 2010.

This is a great example of how to get big things done in the enterprise. Thoroughly research a problem, build a story -- with an "ugly picture" -- that creates urgency, and get all of the right stakeholders united around a common solution.

More from Gartner Symposium 2011

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

9 comments
Professor8
Professor8

"different interfaces they had, how many different applications they had, how many different data sets they had" Sounds beautiful to me.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

the easier it is to paint / document. Some practically paint themselves.

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

And even better, makes the appropriate actions happen. Has hell frozen over yet?

drbayer
drbayer

2 typos jump out at me in this article: 1) the picture caption calls him "CEO Rob Carter" instead of "CIO Rob Carter" 2) the paragraph after that mentions "businesses process" instead of "business processes" These types of errors are one of my pet peeves in professional writing. I understand the need to publish quickly and that the current economics of journalism limit the manpower available for proofreading. However, this has become entirely too common in both print and online media. They disrupt the flow of the article and, in some cases like #1 above, misrepresent and/or muddle the facts. I enjoy reading TechRepublic articles, and find topics like this one to be quite interesting. Please try to improve the proofreading, as it has become a problem for a number of journalists here.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

the map of it turns into a picture of a mountain lake with herons

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

@drbayer: Several other TR members and I find this amateurism hard to swallow, 'though some of us hated learning English composition in high school. We quickly understood the need for it. Someone will mark this negative in an attempt to justify their laziness. So what. I'm saying that *some* of us care. @santee: drbayer seems well qualified in his interest. Men such as he will polish the internet like shining a turd. Hard work, possible if people like you who really do care will offer him (and the others) you support in this area.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I would go along with you. But your "quite" indelibly marks you a dilettante. Jason, he ain't. Nor usually are his [i]copyreaders[/i], your "proofreading" having passed with the days of letterpress. This ain't letterpress. It's something else. It's the Internet; it is screwed up; it ain't sorted out yet. You don't help.

santeewelding
santeewelding

That requisite space-bar lacking in your title owes, itself, to typographical amateurism. There is no job too menial on your own part when you set so resolutely out in these matters.

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