Inteva's CIO, Dennis Hodges, shares how he has defined and structured a global IT organization for a company in eighteen countries on four continents.

Take a $1 billion company that is primarily North America-based, and add a second, company of about the same size, but with sites across the globe, and "Presto – instant success!" Well, maybe, with a few hiccups along the way...

I have been fortunate enough to work with “global” organizations for most of my career. I’ve seen a number of these mergers and I was never completely comfortable with the models for global IT that I saw implemented.

Defining Our Global IT Org

As CIO at Inteva, I've had the chance to define and create the IT organization for a company in eighteen countries on four continents. With the original company, we had basically grown IT from scratch to about thirty-five team members. With the acquisition, we inherited about 115 employees and contractors in a number of sites and with varying backgrounds.

The first thing we did was layout the strategic requirements of the new company. We had an ERP system to which we would migrate the acquired sites. This would be a total change in network and system support philosphy for the acquired company (we were cloud-based while they were accustomed to on-premise with dedicated support).

Build a Technology Skills Matrix

The next thing we had to do was take an inventory of skills, aptitude, and interests of the IT staff. We did this by creating a skills matrix. Each individual was “interviewed” to see what activities they were performing and what they wanted to do longer term. This was critical in areas like ERP support, where everyone knew that there would be only one system going forward. We made it clear that experience dealing with the business operations was more important than any particular system expertise.

Company leaders "tend to build the management structure from the group of managers that they know and, very often, who work in the same building...It certainly doesn’t send the message that you are a global support organization."

Finally, we created a management structure that reflected the blended family we had built. This is where many company leaders take a very xenophobic approach. They tend to build the management structure from the group of managers that they know and, very often, who work in the same building. While this may be easier for the executive to manage, it certainly doesn’t send the message that you are a global support organization.

Hybrid Global IT Organizational Model

The quandary for any IT organization is how to make the staff feel empowered to do their jobs, but in a globally consistent mode. There are two worlds that tend to emerge: 1) a corporate IT function where the remote staff feel like they are nothing but hands and eyes and 2) the more chaotic world where each site runs autonomously. The first can cause a higher attrition rate than one would want (Who wants to just babysit systems and then call “HQ” when there are problems?). The second can cause serious security issues if someone with inadequate training is managing networks and systems.

We’ve introduced a hybrid model that is working for us. We focus on global support with virtual teams composed of staff at headquarters and remote sites. For example, our network manager sits at headquarters. His team is composed of staff from India, Europe, and the US. The Indian and US staff are corporate resources, but the European team is borrowed from their other duties at manufacturing locations.

In another case, our Security team is based at a remote site where the local support team has very little local requirements (other than that someone is on site to manage the sequencing system).

At this point, my direct reports are pretty evenly split between my local managers and directors in other regions.

This approach has a number of benefits.

  • First, we have been able to provide round the clock service to the organization without building a large organization. When I say we have 150 people in IT, over 100 of them are located at our thirty-five remote locations. This spread has given us the ability to provide 24X7 support and is being built out to provide similar functionality to other IT services.
  • Second, this has provided our team members with opportunities to learn and expand their capabilities. We’ve stuck to the skill matrix to encourage people to identify what area they would like to grow in and whether they would like to support local, regional, or global clients.

The critical dimension of the global matrix we’ve built is the regional manager. Each regional manager helps identify the primary business requirements of that area and understands the capabilities and goals of the staff in their region. In that way, they are the 'go-to' people for understanding business requirements in their region. Each Regional Manager is also tasked with a global responsibility (such as rotational leadership of our Change Advisory Board) to ensure that they understand the larger issues of the company and are prepared for new roles as they come up.

While there are as many possible organizational options as there are companies out there, this model has continued to work for us as it has matured over the past three years. I believe we have seen lower than normal attrition, even in some of the regions where ther is greater opportunity for movement, such as India and China.  And I will stack up this team’s productivity against anyone’s. I am very proud of what our team achieves daily.

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