At Motorola, giving IT a reality check

newsmaker CIO Patricia Morrison talks up an impending RFID move and about using the Q phone as an in-house tool.

10 min read
Good time management skills ensure Motorola CIO Patricia Morrison is in control of her work and personal life.

Morrison may carry a Motorola Q smart phone wherever she goes, but the busy chief information officer knows when to keep her hands off the mobile gadget.

"I'm not a slave to my e-mail," she said. "I do take time to recharge my batteries. If you don't do that, you're not a good leader, because you end up getting burnt out."

Indeed, maintaining a work-life balance seems to have had a positive impact on Morrison's career, as she has moved from top technology positions in the consumer goods business to the high-tech industry.

Before joining Motorola in 2005, Morrison served as CIO of Office Depot, where she led the transformation of the in-house IT architecture and helped the office products supplier achieve more than $100 million in efficiency improvements.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Morrison described the IT challenge that her team will face with Motorola's impending $4 billion acquisition of Symbol Technologies, and the risks of running prototype products within the IT department. She also shared how she separates marketing hype from reality.

Q: You worked at Procter & Gamble and Quaker Oats before joining Motorola. What similarities and differences do you see in the way the consumer goods companies approach IT, compared with Motorola?
Morrison: There really isn't a lot of difference when you move from industry to industry. We all face a lot of the common issues: How you create value out of IT investments, get business process transformation to occur, run IT as efficiently as possible, and create money for investment in new projects.

RFID isn't suddenly a new privacy issue. It's an extension of the privacy aspects of the information that's already available everywhere.

Each industry may have unique characteristics. The consumer products industry is very marketing-focused. In the high-tech industry, one of the unique responsibilities I have is using our own technology within Motorola to support the enterprise. It allows me to be a little more on the bleeding edge in terms of the technology architectures that we implement.

How would you determine the maturity of IT within an enterprise?
Morrison: How you gauge the maturity of IT is not different from how you would (approach) marketing and supply chain functions. It has to do with understanding what your plan is, where you're going to land three years later, and what the business really needs to meet the customers' needs.

In our case, it's reducing the amount of complexity in how we (handle) order management and the supply chain. I think a really mature IT organization is going to have a very good view of what they need to accomplish within a timeframe, and that's part of where you get the business alignment.

Also, a mature IT organization needs to have the right talent to engage the business with problem solving processes, versus "we've already solved the problem--go implement something." You need strong business leadership with a broad understanding of the technologies that you'll be leveraging to solve the business problems.

Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing is key for Dell, which continues to have one of the industry's best-performing supply chains. Do you think JIT is more of a myth or reality?
Morrison: I absolutely believe in JIT. You have to understand the characteristics of the customer channel you're servicing and the characteristics of the supply chain for a given product line. And then you have to decide what supply chain model is best.

We have long-cycle technologies. In the public safety area, for example, we may do a response to an RFP (request for proposal) for a large Ministry of Defense project. So we may be responding to building a public safety network, but we don't manufacture just in time to that kind of contract.

But things are moving so quickly in a JIT supply chain that quality might sometimes take a backseat.
Morrison: I suppose that can definitely be true if you don't pay attention to quality. There are two ways you can look at quality: You can build quality into the product, and then there's also the process.

We use a lot of industry-standard tools to help us understand how repeatable our processes are in predicting an outcome. Obviously, the Six Sigma (a management method developed by Motorola) is a huge initiative in Motorola. We do a huge amount of work in that area in terms of benchmarking processes, so that as we push our supply chains harder and harder, we aren't impacting quality.

Motorola is due to acquire Symbol Technologies. When the deal goes through, what is your topmost priority in terms of IT integration?
Morrison: I've been involved with integrating major acquisitions in the past, like when Quaker Oats was acquired by PepsiCo. The most important thing that IT should focus on first is to make the organization you're acquiring a part of Motorola. This may sound basic, but that means they've got to be in the e-mail systems, address lists, and they have to have access to the intranet.

The second area is to help the business accomplish the synergies committed in the acquisition. A lot of times, that's also where the cost synergies are, because it involves removing redundancy in the back office, or facility consolidation.

The other part is sales synergy. And I think what's exciting about the Symbol acquisition is that the sales synergy is so huge. We have so much complementary capability in the WLAN (wireless local area network) and hardware device areas. The verticals that they support complement those that we support.

Our job at IT is to make sure that the combination of the two companies will allow them to grow the business at a way they couldn't do alone. For example, we have to help the Motorola part of the business get visible to the customer channels that Symbol support, and vice versa. That's a big piece of what we'll focus on in integration.

Symbol has been strong in RFID (radio frequency identification), but privacy advocates have also come out strongly against the technology. What are your views on that?
Morrison: RFID has just been an evolution of the electronic product code and bar codes. Because it's electronic, you have the opportunity to read it at a lot more places, so it has an opportunity to impact how you look at inventory management. It allows you to do communications in different ways--not just people-to-people, but also product-to-product. You also capture more data, because you're pulling information much more than you would with a traditional bar code.

My mandate is to use Motorola's products wherever possible--not just generally but also in networks. Certainly, you're not going to find a Motorola employee carrying a competitor's phone.

RFID isn't suddenly a new privacy issue. It's an extension of the privacy aspects of the information that's already available everywhere. I personally believe privacy is an enormous responsibility. I have a privacy protection officer in my organization, and we take privacy very seriously in terms of protecting customer and employee data.

Meeting the needs of our customers and employees and their privacy requirements need to be built into the process. It isn't RFID in itself that causes privacy issues--it's how you use the technology that can cause a privacy issue.

Privacy advocates usually have issues with privacy generally, such as when you're monitoring activity and you're not telling the consumers, or selling their information without their authorization. That's when you really get into real trouble.

Many technology companies "eat their own dog food" by using their own products within their IT organizations. Is it the same case at Motorola?
Morrison: My mandate is to use Motorola's products wherever possible--not just generally but also in networks. Certainly, you're not going to find a Motorola employee carrying a competitor's phone.

We also push the edge a little bit by getting stuff into our lab and subsequently into our organization as quickly as possible, so that we learn from running it in a large-scale production environment, and understand what we need to improve.

We have over 2,000 Motorola Qs to play with right now, and within the next couple of months, we'll have 5,000 deployed. We're learning a lot about how to manage them at an enterprise level, so that we can get that information back to our sales and product development organizations.

Does that mean the organization is more susceptible to any bugs in prototype products?
Morrison: Absolutely. It does add a dimension of risk if the product is not completely ready. But I think it's an important role for IT to play, to help flush that out before we give it to customers. And I personally find it very valuable when I go to other technology providers and ask them if they use it themselves when I buy their products.

Wouldn't that add to the cost of managing your IT infrastructure?
Morrison: First and foremost, I have got to run Motorola. I won't do anything that would cost me an outlandish amount of money and add undue risk to reliability and availability. I can't do that.

I would say I spend a little bit more money--not a lot--to try to give myself some breathing room to actually use our technology very early. I won't do mass deployments until things are stable and ready.

Randy Mott, your counterpart at Hewlett-Packard, thinks businesses are spending too much on IT support and not enough on innovation. Do you agree?
Morrison: I do agree, and I think Randy's got quite an enormous challenge. Motorola did a lot of the heavy lifting that HP is now doing five years back. We did an enormous consolidation--we went from 167 data centers to three. We're at a point now where we've lowered our cost.

But Motorola has grown since then, and you can't just get there and not reinvest. So now, we are reinvesting in value creation, not consolidating data centers or reducing head counts, though it's an important step you have to go through. Now, we're going through major business process transformations, such as creating world-class supply chain and procurement capability.

As a CIO, how do you separate technology that's just marketing hype from those that really fit your needs?
Morrison: There are a couple of ways in which I differentiate whether it's hype or not. One, if it's a hardware vendor, I want to know the applications they provide. This may sound like a strong statement, but I don't care about the hardware, I only care about how it's used. If you're selling hardware for the sake of hardware, and you can't tell me what applications are going to run on it, then you're probably not going to get very far. Because the applications that solve business problems are what I'm really interested in. It will make things more real, if they can give me examples of how they're solving problems at other companies, which makes a difference to whether I think a technology is real or hype.

This may sound like a strong statement, but I don't care about the hardware, I only care about how it's used.

In particular, I look at a lot of architecture fundamentals, because we are very prominent in driving a service-oriented architecture (SOA) at Motorola. We have one of the largest SOA libraries for reuse and deployment across the organization. If an application vendor builds a product that targets specific business processes in a very proprietary manner and isn't open, then I'm probably going to be least interested in it.

We do take chances with some vendors if they've got something that's very powerful. But you can't overwhelm them. You can take a small vendor and put it out of business with Motorola's scale. You have to be careful that you don't overwhelm them, because they're too small to support the kind of scale that we need in deploying technology.

So has Motorola burnt itself by taking those risks?
Morrison: Absolutely. Most companies are burdened with software--of which they've no source code to--from vendors that are out of business. And that software is sitting in some mission-critical system somewhere. We actually go after each of these scenarios in a process called Business Life 365, where we try to harden not only the infrastructure assets but also application assets of the company.

The consolidation wave is one culprit that has put some vendors out of business. How do you feel about all these mergers and acquisitions going on lately, particularly with Oracle?
Morrison: Whether Oracle buys PeopleSoft, Retek or Siebel (Systems) is no different from me facing Oracle 12.0, or their next phase of development. As a CIO, one of the things I have to make the business understand is that when you make an investment in an ERP (enterprise resource planning) platform, it is not a one-time thing. You always have to upgrade, it's just part of the change process. I don't view it as being positive or negative.

I do see a trend with consolidation happening, and that is toward multisourcing. For many years, the big theory is to reduce the number of suppliers you have and pick a single source.

I think the pendulum is swinging back to multisourcing. It doesn't mean going from one vendor to 30 vendors, but just two. It could be having two infrastructure vendors, and two to three application development vendors augmenting what you may have.

I have Oracle application development resources sitting in an outsourcing company in India today. And I'm augmenting that with some capability in Tianjin, China, because that's where my manufacturing facility is, and I need to have the ground support there.  

Aaron Tan of ZDNet Asia reported from Singapore.