Dell CIO Andi Karaboutis Helps Dell Put The Customer First
Much has been written about the benefits and risks of the rise of prominence of the CMO to the CIO. Some have pontificated that it will mean the death of or at least the diminution of influence of the CIO, as CMOs have more authority over technology. Dell Global CIO Andi Karaboutis scratches her head at this notion. She describes Dell’s strategy to put the customer first, and the role that each functional and business unit head must bring in order to realize that vision. It means that IT must shape its unique perspective and apply its unique lens to opportunities and issues. It also means that emerging leaders in IT work in other regions and functions to round out their perspectives on Dell’s business to be able to contribute more value to IT, a practice she learned from a successful tenure in the automotive industry. It also requires IT to have an R&D and innovation role, constantly monitoring trends to choose the best ones to bring to life the needs of Dell and of Dell’s customers. Lastly, it means spending time with external customers, as IT must have a role in developing value for them.
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Peter High: Andi, Dell has been going through quite a transformation in recent months, not the least of which was the organization going private after having been a public company for some time. I wonder, in your time as global CIO how these changes have manifested themselves in the IT department, if at all.
Andi Karaboutis: One of the things that Michael Dell says – and we’ve all held very strongly to his strategy at Dell – is that our focus is on continuing to be a world-class end-to-end solutions company. Similarly, the strategy and goals of IT and our focus continue to be the same, which is: the customer is at the center of everything that we do and developing our roadmaps, plans, strategies, and instrumentation of disruptive technology around that, continues to be core.
I think the big difference is the intensified focus and speed with which we’re actually pursuing those goals and objectives. Obviously as a public company you have different and added burdens around Wall Street, quarterly earnings, focus on sales in shorter time periods, whereas as a private company our focus is on short, medium, and longer term methods and objectives of how we want to execute things. So it just lets us be that much more intense around our strategy.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- Dell has determined to become more of a solutions-based business. I was wondering if that also has any bearing on how you manage IT or how you support this change within the rest of this organization.
- You are an IT executive in a sea of IT experts. You are leveraging a lot of important business and IT trends that are on the minds of so many IT executives. A difference, relative to a lot of your peers and, in fact, even relative to your past experiences in organizations that were not really quite as tech-centric, in the case of Dell, the business is technology. How does your role and your team’s role fit into that of the many engineers of the organization, as you were thinking of leveraging trends and translating them back into the needs that they’re articulating?
- What’s also apparent is the degree to which yours is a function that is externally facing, in addition to being internally facing. Historically the Chief Information Officer has been primarily an internal role. It seems very apparent that one of the advantages of the Dell-on-Dell strategy is that you can be an advocate to your peers and talk about the way in which you have used what you would hope that they would think about using as well, as they are purchasing Dell’s services and solutions. As you’ve thought about the implications of that with the rest of your team, have you had to ensure that your reports and the broader team have a clear cognizance of the needs of end customers than perhaps historically the Chief Information or IT role would have?
- You mentioned Karen Quintos, Dell’s Chief Marketing Officer. I know that’s a particularly special relationship for you personally and for the organization, more generally speaking. As I am sure you have seen, there’s so much written on the need for greater collaboration between the CIO and the CMO and their respective organizations. There’s this famous Gartner pontification that by 2017 the CMO and the marketing department will control more of the IT’s spend than will the CIO. I wonder if you have any of your own thoughts on the evolution of that relationship as it applies to Dell in the specifics of yours and Karen’s relationship, but more generally speaking as well.
- You mentioned your emphasis on social media. You have a fairly sophisticated means of managing social media. Please talk a bit about that.
- I also wanted to ask you, and as you mentioned earlier in the interview, you came from the automotive industry earlier in your career. I’ve always been amazed by the number of successful IT executives who have emerged from companies like GM, Ford, and others as you have. What is it about that experience that has lent itself well to such a profound development of leaders who have now spread like seeds across a variety of industries, just as you have?
- So is that something that you brought with you to the culture at Dell IT in trying to get people to work a variety of experiences, so that they are expanding their personal toolbox, so to speak?
- We’ve talked about a few different IT trends and business trends that are fueled by technology and fueled by better use of information. I wanted to circle back and see if there are any others that particularly excite you as you look a few years out, as you think about your own plans for the year or for the foreseeable future. What are some of the trends that particularly excite you?