Boeing CIO: IT key to drive business growth

Boeing Company's international CIO Timothy Wente urges companies not to relegate IT professionals to mere "order-takers" but be more involved in the achievement of organizational goals.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--More business leaders are recognizing the advantages of tapping IT professionals as strategic partners rather than just "order-takers" for the company, and this can only be beneficial for the growth of companies, said a senior Boeing Company executive.

Timothy Wente, the international CIO for the aircraft maker, cited his company as an example of an enterprise that benefited from viewing IT as an enabler for the achievement of company goals, rather than to provide IT resources requested by the organization's various business units (BUs).

During his presentation at the Asia CXO Leadership Summit here Tuesday, Wente said Boeing's IT heads, who oversee the company's 8,500 IT professionals, would sit alongside top executives of Boeing's two main money-making BUs--the commercial aircraft and defense aircraft units--during strategic, top-level meetings.

This was a departure from the norm, he pointed out, as the IT department used to meet with the finance and other backend operation units, instead.

"These IT heads are not there to simply take orders but to provide solutions to problems that the other two BUs might not have realized at that point of time," Wente said.

The executive added this change was "structural" and made possible only with the appointments of both Jim McNerny and John Hinshaw as the company's CEO and CIO respectively. "Both of them came from very different business backgrounds and wanted to do things differently," he explained.

That said, it was only after the IT professionals proved themselves to be valuable contributors to the business that they were accepted by the business heads, noted Wente.

The CIO also mentioned that the aircraft manufacturer has jumped on the cloud computing bandwagon by deploying an "internal", or private, cloud. This was because "security concerns" meant that going on the public cloud was not viable for Boeing.

The move to the cloud has since allowed the company to implement chargeback protocols for its BUs after they have self-provisioned for their compute resources, he revealed.

One method the company employs for chargeback distributes IT usage costs evenly among the number of users. Alternatively, the bill for use can be directly addressed to the specific BU and the other departments will not have to fork out from their own budgets, Wente explained.

Addressing Wente's concerns on the public cloud, fellow speaker Doug Farber, managing director of enterprise at Google Asia-Pacific, suggested that the public cloud is the "solution" for security risks, rather than the cause of it.

He pointed out that, for example, 60 percent of corporate data resides in office desktops and notebooks that are "unprotected" and are not backed up. If stolen or lost, users might never be able to retrieve or prevent the leak of possibly sensitive company data.

"[However,] if I were to drop my computer in the Singapore River right now, all I would need to do is log-in to another PC or Mac, go to my Google account, and I'll be instantly productive again," said Farber, proclaiming the advantages of using public cloud services such as the search giant's Google Apps enterprise suite.

It would appear that more Asia-Pacific CIOs are leaning towards Boeing's model of cloud deployment today despite Google's, and other public cloud vendors', efforts.

On Monday, Chris Morris, director of IDC Asia-Pacific's practice group, said that more CIOs in the region are turning to private clouds as concerns over security, service availability and performance linger.

He added that 2011 will be a big year for private clouds as more IT vendors push out their cloud appliances and the industry continues to be more aware of the benefits of cloud computing.

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