No Geeks Allowed

By Alison Diana  |  Posted 2008-09-29 Print this article Print

General Motors’ IT strategy is based on the precept that upper-level managers must be well-versed in both business and the technology needed to drive the company forward.

No Geeks Allowed

Since GM sources the vast majority of its IT development, maintenance and support, the company does not have legions of software developers. Instead, the company hires people with both business and technology expertise, and entrenches them in GM’s many lines of business.

“A lot of young people today love information technology, but they also love business,” Szygenda says. “They love this type of job because we’re not ever going to outsource it.

“This part of the business is a neat place to be. I have 2,000 people who are top-notch business information people, with both IT and business backgrounds. They may have been in IT and gone back to get their MBA, or they may have a business background and gotten a degree in IT.”

To ensure a steady flow of qualified candidates, GM works with a core group of universities. There’s even a custom-created course at Carnegie-Mellon’s Heinz School of Public Policy and Management. More than 100 GM employees have graduated from the program, and about 100 more are studying the curriculum.

“We don’t hire any undergraduates in this business,” Szygenda says. “The people we hire are technology MBAs.”

Opening up GM to this level of experience has enabled the company to create new products, services and revenue streams, he says, pointing to OnStar as one example. “It dominates the market and has saved peoples’ lives,” Szygenda says, “and it’s all driven by information technology.”

Non-IT ZonesM

Of course, GM faces some problems that IT cannot solve. Because of its history and former business structure, the company is combating legacy problems with health care and pensions for its many former employees. However, GM has worked with the United Auto Workers Union on a plan designed to reduce its liability by billions of dollars in 2010, Szygenda says.

In addition, finance arm GMAC is facing the kind of losses that many other financial firms are battling in today’s economy. And GM continues to inject funds into struggling parts supplier Delphi, which has been flirting with bankruptcy.

Like its competitors, GM also is investing heavily in alternative fuels: ethanol and flex-fuel, hydrogen fuel cells, hybrids and electricity.

“Operationally, GM has done many things over the past 10 years to optimize this company,” Szygenda says. “It has many issues that are legacy issues. Even if you were the most optimized company in the world, you’d still have those issues. And, finally, this is a fashion business.”

Car styles may come and go, and the popularity of various features may wax and wane, but Szygenda—a 40-year veteran of the IT business—is betting that by completely integrating IT and business, and by tackling head-on the legacy challenges inherited by current management, General Motors will successfully continue its 100-year road trip.

READ Convergence: The Wave of the Future

Alison Diana is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.

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