IT Managers Grasp for Global Reach

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- For many companies, going global with IT isn't a serene experience of hands-across-the-water teaming. Take Bausch & Lomb Inc., for example.

Steven Silverman, vice president of IT at Bausch & Lomb Inc.
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Steven Silverman, vice president of IT at Bausch & Lomb Inc.

Image Credit: Asa Mathat

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Historically, Bausch & Lomb's worldwide operations have been "very diverse," according to Steven Silverman, vice president of IT. The Rochester, N.Y.-based company currently has 24 different order entry systems around the globe.

But at the Premier 100 conference, Silverman said that Bausch & Lomb's CEO now wants the maker of vision-care products, surgical supplies and pharmaceuticals to develop common processes across all of its business units. That includes a plan to coalesce on a unified order entry system.

Silverman found that each of the company's local operations thought they required special software features. The company attacked the problem by asking teams from each division to bring a list of their requested modifications to the CEO and executive council. The initial total of 300 modifications dropped to about 150 just before the meeting, "and we walked out of the room with 100," Silverman said. "It's a good way to knock them out."

Other attendees at the conference, where Silverman took part in a panel discussion on making global IT work, recounted similar experiences.

Tom Halbouty, CIO at Pioneer Natural Resources Co. in Irving, Texas, said the energy consulting firm is trying to standardize applications in its operations around the world. But, he said, "you have to use products that are well supported in different countries." Sometimes that means one of Pioneer's first-choice applications turns out to be a bad fit.

In such cases, the company continues running the local applications and massages them to work with its mainstream software. "We leave alone what we can leave alone," Halbouty said.

Cultural issues also can pose big challenges to IT managers. Frederick Danback, vice president of global technology architecture at XL Global Services Inc., said acquisitions made by parent company XL Capital Ltd. over the past few years left the insurance and financial services firm with 17 IT organizations in 30 countries.

XL Capital is based in Hamilton, Bermuda. But Danback, who works in Stamford, Conn., said his operation was largely a U.S. team before the buying spree. Then, he added, "there was a decree by corporate management that we will become one company, without cultural borders."

Making that happen has been a daunting process, said Danback, who took part in the panel discussion with Silverman. Danback noted that U.S. workers tend to move more quickly on projects than staffers elsewhere. After XL bought a company in Switzerland, "we found that in the Swiss culture, it's all about putting it all on paper first," he said.

In the end, though, the intermingling proved to be beneficial, according to Danback. "By bringing in all these other cultures," he said, "they gave us some discipline, and we gave them some agility."

Oliver Waite, director of global business systems at beverage maker Bacardi-Martini Inc. in Miami, said his U.S.-based IT team typically schedules project work in three-month chunks. But IT teams in Europe sometimes take much longer to analyze and plan projects.

"Certain countries do things better than others," Waite noted. "In the ideal world, you learn from each other."

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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