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The 2013 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders: On the fast track

Julia King | Feb. 26, 2013
It started as a research project to explore how Steelcase's customers might benefit from products with built-in collaboration technologies. What emerged is Media:Scape, a line of high-tech multimedia office equipment that is now on the sales fast track at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based office furniture manufacturer. Steelcase's IT department was front and center in the innovation effort, developing, building and managing the first prototypes of the products, which feature high-definition videoconferencing capabilities.

"Guests became quickly enamored with the experience. They felt like they received VIP treatment," says Prusnick.

If you take a closer look, you'll see that what makes these IT leaders so successful in gaining a competitive edge is a rock-solid foundation in three critical areas: process innovations, talent management and technology investment strategies that carefully balance risks and rewards.

They also share a reverence for speed. Without it, they say, you're just another also-ran.

"Our customers are more tech-savvy, so you can't go anywhere without being fast or you won't be around very long," Grainger's Ferrarell explains. "We take the topic of speed very seriously. We're always finding ways to drive shorter cycle times for projects and better response times for systems."

For example, Ferrarell has applied the lean management methods that Grainger uses at the corporate level to internal IT operations. Additionally, IT is being restructured into three separate groups -- labeled plan, build and run -- with each focusing their efforts on an individual business process. The result: greater speed and productivity.

"In application development, there's this little evil problem called task-switching," Ferrarell explains. "When a developer is managing the relationship with the internal customer, plus building things, plus making sure they start running, they're switching back and forth and can't be very productive." The grid structure was designed to alleviate that, he says.

"One of the concerns of this structure is that if a person is only doing one thing, will the job still be interesting? But we're building in processes that give people the ability to cross-train and move through the structure," he explains.

Grainger is also among the earliest users of SAP software to adopt agile development.

"There aren't a lot of people in SAP shops using agile yet. It's really just starting," he says. But in the name of speed, Grainger has jumped in with both feet and uses agile methodologies in more than 40% of its development work.

Transportation and logistics giant UPS is investing roughly $1 billion a year in IT. The overarching goal is to gain a competitive edge with new product offerings, faster service, safer operations, and proactive problem identification and resolution throughout the entire supply chain.

An industry first for the company is the rollout of a personal supply chain service known as UPS My Choice, which lets consumers set their individual preferences for how they interact with the company.

On the Fast Track

A CIO on the Factory Floor

If IT were in charge of a manufacturing plant, how would things be different? And might they be better?

That's exactly what Steelcase's senior leadership wants to know. To find out, it expanded CIO Bob Krestakos' role to include heading operations at two of its manufacturing plants. Managers at both plants in Grand Rapids, Mich., now report to Krestakos.


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