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CIO Sessions: BT's JP Rangaswami

In my latest CIO Session I chat with JP Rangaswami, managing director of BT Design about organizational transformation and convergence at one of the world’s largest telecommunication companies. BT employs more than 150,000 people and has a presence in about 190 countries.

In my latest CIO Session I chat with JP Rangaswami, managing director of BT Design about organizational transformation and convergence at one of the world’s largest telecommunication companies. BT employs more than 150,000 people and has a presence in about 190 countries.

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Rangaswami, who was formerly global CIO at BT, has been an early adopter of the Web, blogs, wikis and social networking tools. He even eliminated the CIO title as a way to better reflect the roles individuals play at BT. I asked him if that means CIOs are dinosaurs, headed for extinction.

Perhaps not today, although believe it or not, at BT we’ve done away with the CIO title at our levels. We call ourselves MDs [Managing Directors] because we’re fundamentally managing directors of certain businesses and the head of BT design overall is actually called a CEO which reflects what the person does. Part of the reason to get rid of the CIO title was effectively to say that we represent disciplines far beyond just was in IT in the past or in IS, that we represent networks, we represent products, we represent processes. What we represent is design so it made sense for us to come together and converge on that title.

Rangaswami is also a strong advocate of Web 2.0 technologies, with significant internal use of blogs, wikis and instant messaging. He is also an advocate for using Facebook, in contrast to many of his peers who have taken a different approach to the social network upstart, banning it as non-productive use of company time and too far outside the compliance boundaries of corporate information systems.

Rangaswami views Facebook as a way to break the "assembly line mindset":

In fact if you look at what I’m doing with Facebook, what I’m really achieving, what any of us who wants to use it in an enterprise environment achieves, is to say that you’ve taken what happened at the water cooler or at the coffee shop and made it persistent, made it shareable, made it teachable, made it learnable. That’s a huge win because we’ve spent years talking about the value of the water cooler conversations, of the coffee shops, of the more amorphous softer discussions. Now we have the ability to actually understand what these relationships are, how information and decision making migrates horizontally, laterally through an organization, rather than through the published hierarchies, how people really work, and what people do as part of that work.

Regarding open source, Rangaswami said:

The way we look at open source is simple: if the problem is truly generic, then we use open source to be able to solve it because that’s where the market tends to persist at the highest quality. If the problem is contained to a limited marketplace, we use closed source because the economics of finding such solutions work best for a firm that has N customers, N being a relatively small number. And if the problem is unique to us as BT, that is the place where we put all the focus of our best resources our internal guys, those are scarce, rare resources and we’d like to apply them on to scarce rare problems.

Watch the full video interview

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