Stuff Happens

What is your worst nightmare as a CIO? Spilling chocolate milk in your zSeries? Being assured by your team moments before a hurricane strikes that your systems are fully mirrored, only to hear one of your sysadmins comment on how much larger and more airy all those mirrors make the data center look?

Or how about this: watching your CEO explain to the world that a poorly executed ERP migration that was your baby cost $400 million in lost revenue and is partially to blame for your company's disappointing third-quarter financials. Wait, let's make it even worse: Let's say the CEO fires three executives over the revenue drop, leaving you to explain why you still have a job. Hold on, let's just go for broke: The botched ERP migration involves SAP systems, and your company markets itself as a savvy provider of SAP consulting services. Now, tell me you wouldn't wake up from that one sweating bullets.

That might well be the worst nightmare of Gilles Bouchard, CIO at Hewlett-Packard. But unfortunately, it wasn't the kind he could wake up from -- it was his reality.

You've probably read about the ERP consolidation fiasco that HP CEO Carly Fiorina cited last month when she listed the reasons behind the 5% revenue drop suffered by her enterprise servers and storage group . But what you might not have realized prior to reading our Q&A with Bouchard on page 14 is that HP has handled what had to be a horribly painful and awkward situation with about as much class and guts as a company could possibly demonstrate. And no one deserves the credit for that more than Bouchard.

Believe me, I can attest that there are plenty of other executives in the IT industry who would have hidden under the covers rather than confront the media under such difficult circumstances. And there are countless PR people working as handlers for those executives who would have done everything in their power to either block access to them or control the questions we put to them. I can't help but think back to how Computer Associates' PR machine tried (in vain, of course) to manipulate our questioning of senior CA executives around the time that recently indicted former CEO Sanjay Kumar was booted out. It was as shameful as it was shameless.

When I contrast that nonsense with the way HP has handled its recent PR nightmare, it just blows me away. Throughout the interview that senior editor Patrick Thibodeau and I conducted with him earlier this month, Bouchard never hedged for a heartbeat in responding to a single question, including those awkward ones about why his job was spared and others weren't, and about the impact of the whole mess on HP's credibility as an SAP services provider. And at no point did HP's PR machine make an attempt to prevent us from pursuing a line of questioning in order to spin the story to HP's liking.

Bouchard summed the mess up into two words: "S--- happens." He's absolutely right. It does. And when it does, good CIOs work with their teams to analyze exactly how it happened and then turn it into a positive learning experience. The best CIOs have the courage and professionalism to share that experience with their peers, no matter how painful or embarrassing it might be, so that they can learn from it as well. Of all the lessons you can learn from HP's nightmare, that one -- by far -- is the most valuable.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. You can contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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