IT leaders who (literally) keep the lights on

First-world tech executives can learn from the way CIOs in developing countries maintain connectivity and keep services flowing.

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At the same time, if you're a global CIO, you must work with on-site staffers. "Learn to bridge cultures, time zones and distance," says DHL's Valencia. "Team engagement is essential, because our local IT teams know what's best in their environment."

Silver Linings

All this may make life as a CIO in an emerging economy sound difficult, but the fact is that there are innumerable silver linings.

For example, Booz & Co.'s Roxo says that one of the byproducts of technology being so expensive in Brazil is that business and IT work more closely together because they can't afford mistakes or delays.

And in Africa, wireless communication is actually more prevalent than wired. Reilley says that gives his colleagues more flexibility to work wherever and whenever they need to.

And handling a greenfield project in a country like India means you have no legacy issues to deal with and are able to leapfrog technology cycles and derive a competitive advantage from the outset.

In general, starting with a blank slate lets IT leaders be more innovative. Mahindra's Krishnan was able to deploy from the start a dashboard that lets the IT team monitor every device in the factory, from the servers to the controllers. The factory itself, to increase sustainability and reduce dependence on other power sources, uses solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.

And then there's the personal payoff. Says Krishnan: "Every challenge is an opportunity. Faced with building a factory in Chakan, I believed that my staff could do it and I could lead it. And now we're up and running."

Baldwin is a Silicon Valley-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Computerworld.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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