McKesson Corp. CIO on melding IT and business bliss

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Reconciling seemingly paradoxical forces in a company--such as efficiency and security, or innovation and service--is one of the often frustrating tasks CIOs face. To find common ground where IT nirvana and business nirvana can peacefully co-exist, Randy Spratt, CIO of McKesson Corp., shares a few tactics and insights.

IT leaders are called on to promote innovation, and at the same time they have to offer services that are commodity-driven, says Spratt in an interview with Peter High at CIOInsight. The IT department has to remain competitive as a service provider while still innovating to promote the company's strategies.  Standardization can drive economies of scale and efficiency, but to innovate, IT has to also experiment with non-standard technologies.

"In my mind, business Nirvana is top-line growth. This suggests business-driven IT activity, and a high degree of IT agility," says Spratt, who is CTO and executive vice president as well as CIO at McKesson, a provider of pharmaceutical supplies, medicines and other healthcare products. "IT nirvana is making everything the same, efficient, secure, leveraging economies of scale. In this scenario, IT controls things to a greater extent."

In many companies, the scenario shifts back and forth about every five years as one CIO replaces another, Spratt says. The business wants innovation and the CIO delivers it, but that comes at a cost. Then company leaders want to rein in costs, so a new CIO focuses on efficiencies and fixing all the problems that were unaddressed in the pro-innovation stage.

The solution is to have IT play a different role during different stages of a technology lifecyle, Spratt advises. In the early stage of innovation, the business side needs to take a leadership role with IT offering support and guidance. As innovations prove successful, IT ramps up its role to make the solutions more scalable and robust. Once they become mature, IT needs to play a role in making them more efficient and affordable.

"So, at the beginning of the lifecycle, IT advises. Then we help build experiments. Then we make successful experiments scalable and solid. Then we take cost out and, as the systems become commodities, we operate them at maximum efficiency and minimum innovation," he says.

For more, see:
- interview with Randy Spratt at CIOInsight

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