The Grill: Raytheon CIO Rebecca Rhoads takes on new role with global reach

Rebecca Rhoads rose up from Raytheon's engineering ranks to become CIO, and earlier this year, her duties were expanded to include leading the defense contractor's newly formed Global Business Services unit. Here, Rhoads explains why she left the world of rocket science for IT, the importance of taking a long-term view, and how Raytheon, one of Computerworld's 100 Best Places to Work in IT for 2013, is finally reaping the benefits of a multiyear business process standardization and ERP consolidation project.

Why did you move from engineering to IT? In the '90s, everyone was looking at Y2K and as a systems engineer I saw some methodical ways to mitigate the risk. I found myself as intrigued and challenged by the science of running the company as I was by being involved in rocket science. I've never looked back.

What are your goals for the coming year? This year, the company [started] Raytheon Global Business Services, which I lead in addition to my IT organization. One of its aims is to improve operations and services by optimizing resources, including software and software services. In addition, we have several other initiatives underway: Outsourcing IT frameworks, [setting] up an on-premises infrastructure as a service and exploring software as a service.

You have been working to move six business units to a single SAP financials and manufacturing software platform. How is that going? Back in the late '90s when we merged five major aerospace and defense entities together, we had six major legacy portfolios. It was a multiyear strategy, and we started with processes and then put a platform in place. We're about 85% of the way there.

We started with finance, and that was a great lesson. If you start with finance, you've got your financial community as your ally and partner from day one. It's huge, because the first few go-lives are going to be a challenge. We've now had 33 successful go-lives.

What benefits have you seen? Our working capital for the last seven years or so has improved tenfold. The metrics are there when you have everyone on the same system. The other benefit is agility: how quickly we can adjust and incorporate process improvements. Typically if you apply improvements you go from left to right, business unit by business unit, site by site, and you slowly accumulate what that business case would have promised. When you're all on the same platform, you essentially kick everyone over on the same day.

You recently launched a zero-baseline initiative to consolidate systems and streamline your application portfolio. How's that going? After reaching the tipping point with our ERP consolidation, we had retired over 3,550 legacy systems. But the real question is, for the portfolio you have left, what is going to be of strategic value five years from now? If you're going into the future with the portfolio you have left, that's probably not going to be the right answer.

So we are doing a zero-baseline activity of what we have left; as we look out five years, we pretend we're working from a clean sheet of paper. In general, no matter how much you've improved your portfolio balance, you're going to find more opportunity that way.

We put our zero-baseline initiative in place last December. Somewhere between 80% and 90% of legacy applications had been retired during our ERP consolidation, and of the balance we've taken another 20% out of that legacy environment.

You are working on a next-generation data center that relies heavily on cloud computing and virtualization. What were your priorities? The way you leverage the cloud is to implement and migrate system by system, process by process, application by application. Once you have an architecture and know the applications that are strategic, you know exactly what your priority is in terms of your cloud migration strategy. That's what we have done.

The other priority we have is enterprise-level service and desktop virtualization. Our initiative is designed to migrate the information we still have out on desktop computers and our unstructured data repository to our cloud. The value for us is as much about security and risk management as anything, given that we have a lot of intellectual property, we're a global company and we're in the aerospace and defense industry. You bring all of that together and you have a business case.

Your internal social network, RSpace, has been successful with your users. What are the elements of that, and what made it take off? Integration is the trump card. It had to be completely integrated in the work environment that we use today for communicating, for collaborating, and how we flow information down through the company.

In our portal environment, RSpace is integrated within that. We also paid attention to what the work pattern would be and how people would use the information. Within the first six months, we had one-third of our employees adopt it. The next thing we knew everyone was on it and the CEO said, "I guess you don't have to ask if you can proceed with the pilot; it's already taken off."

What's the key to your success? When you've had a strong champion, an aligned senior leadership team, and you've had buy-in to a multiyear strategy, it's amazing what you're able to do.

-- Interview by Robert L. Mitchell

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