CIO interview: Adriana Karaboutis, global CIO, Dell

It is one thing being CEO of a company with best-in-class supply chain. But what happens when the business refocuses? We talk to Dell's CIO.

It is one thing being CEO of a company with best-in-class supply chain. But what happens when the business refocuses?

Adriana Karaboutis has been global CIO at Dell for the last eight months. She joined Dell two years ago having previously worked at General Motors and Ford. Computer Weekly interviewed Karaboutis at the Forrester CIO Summit in Paris, in June.

Karaboutis has been in IT for most of her 25 years in work. In her current role, she is involved in the transition of Dell from a PC supplier to a services-led organisation. She says, "In the past two-and-a-half years Dell has made over 20 acquisitions, where we have moved from a traditional computer company to an end-to-end solutions business."

In April, during its annual analyst event, CEO Michael Dell and the computer firm’s senior executive team presented Dell as a “solutions business.”

This shift has put a huge strain on the company's IT, and represents a lesson in how IT must adapt as the business evolves. In fact, from a non-IT industry perspective, the shift in focus at Dell could apply to any company moving to expand from a product-centric business to value-based services.

How Dell IT has changed

Dell once had what was considered the world's best supply chain system. Management consultancy McKinsey once pointed to Dell’s supply chain management software as a shining example of business transformation. 

Karaboutis says, "We had a wonderful set of systems that supported our ‘configure to order’ business [process]. We were able to fulfil exactly what our customer wanted, when they wanted it and to the specifications they ordered. Dell has been the top supply chain company in the world." But as Dell has now evolved to a services business, she said, "We are now challenged to build processes and systems that support solutions selling."

This has involved changes to Dell's ERP systems. When Dell only sold hardware, the products could be assigned an asset tag or SKU (stock taking unit).  So the IT systems could do a very good job of running the order processing, build and fulfilment processes for anything with an asset tag. 

"But when you turn into a company that is selling software as a service, services, subscription billing with digital entitlements and digital fulfilment, these are a whole new set of capabilities that don't have a SKU or an asset tag," Karaboutis says.

To support the changes, Dell has established a business architecture virtual team across business units to provide a blueprint of the changes that need to occur from an organisational, process and technology perspective. The company's vice chairman, Geoff Clarke, and CFO Brian Gladden sponsor the project. IT is an integral part of this team.

"It is no longer the case that the business defines and IT executes,” Karaboutis says. In fact, her thinking is very much in line with that of analyst firm Forrester,  which speaks about  “business technology”, rather than “business-IT alignment”.

According to Karaboutis, with consumerisation and the plethora of data, many companies are becoming a solutions company.

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Internships and reverse mentoring

Like many businesses Dell takes on interns each year. In IT, the interns are assigned a set of objectives they have to deliver during their internship.

However, unlike traditional intern programmes, Karaboutis says, "We set up such that the interns are actually mentoring the leadership team." This so-called reverse mentoring , as used in the car industry,  means that the interns provide insights to the IT management team that it would normally not consider.

For instance, she says, "They may provide insight on things we don't even think about, like some small nuances on usability on a device. The 'Generation Ys' have grown up with the technology. From an IT perspective our interns are a great source of knowledge."

She says the interns help her IT team understand how young people think. "The value system of young people is very interesting. They would rather have a great device and freedom to move around YouTube and Facebook, go out to social media sites and access company systems, than extra pay. They have been instrumental in helping us define our mobile strategy.” 

Examples of the ideas that the interns have brought to Dell have ranged from suggested improvements to the helpdesk to using social media to gather information during the working day: “They ask, why should I have to do 10 clicks to submit a helpdesk ticket?”

Use of social media is another area where interns are influencing the normal approach to IT at Dell. The company uses Chatter internally as its enterprise social media platform. From an IT perspective, Karaboutis says Chatter complements system monitoring tools.  “Chatter gives you pathological data, I can get system metrics [from system management tools] that show my systems are up 99.999% of the time, while on a Chatter site people are saying it is slow.”

Women in IT

It is no longer the case that the business defines and IT executes

Adriana Karaboutis, global CIO, Dell

Prior to her role in Dell, Karaboutis worked at General Motors and Ford. A self-confessed “Essex Girl”, for a brief period in her career, she was even stationed at Ford’s Dagenham plant.

Given her long career in IT, starting as an analyst/programmer to global CIO, Computer Weekly asked about the challenges of being a woman in IT.

She says, “It still is a tougher environment overall for women. Only 9% of CIOs overall are women.” The problem stems from the fact that girls and young women are not encouraged to go into technology and often they appear to be intimidated by maths and science, she says.

But she says 23% of Fortune 100 CIOs are women. “A lot of companies are trying to come to together to encourage girls and young women to enter the technology field and stay in technology. We are a company that hugely supports women in technology.”

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