Big firms offer business experience to IT workers

Boeing and Intel use employee rotation programs to improve IT operations

PALM DESERT, Calif. - Intel and The Boeing Corp. are allowing IT employees to work in other business units to broaden their knowledge, and hopefully return with cost savings ideas.

Intel IT workers can work with other business units for two months to a year, while Boeing has incorporated a two-year rotation program for its workers.

The efforts are relatively new: Intel's program is now in its third year; and the IT-specific program at Boeing is about two years old.

Diane Bryant , vice president and the CIO of Intel said there is a strong need for collaboration because of the importance of IT to Intel's strategy.

"If we don't have a tight partnership, Intel fundamentally won't be successful," said Bryant.

Similarly, Federico Genoese-Zerbi , vice president of IT Infrastructure at Boeing, said there's a need to move away from the idea that IT is a merely a cost center.

"We wanted IT to understand how the company worked so we could make a much bigger difference," said Genoese-Zerbi.

Bryant and Genoese-Zerbi made their points in separate talks at Computerworld's Premier 100 conference here thi week.

At Intel and Boeing, the IT worker rotation programs are part of broader efforts to continually improve IT's ability to help the business. But the rotation programs may be illustrating how deep these companies believe those efforts must go to achieve the best results.

At Boeing, some of the IT workers moved to the factory floor, becoming part of the integrated teams for manufacturing efficiency. The IT workers soon discovered ways to help their new colleagues, said Genoese-Zerbi.

One of the groups at Boeing was working on wing spars -- huge pieces of aluminum, over 100 feet long that are a central part of an airplane's wing. If the tool that cuts the metal is installed improperly it may mean scrapping the part, "which is tremendously expensive and wasteful and it has happened," said Genoese-Zerbi.

The IT staff assigned to this project figured out a new manufacturing approach. They installed RFID chips on the cutting tools and were able to track the tool, its orientation, and feed the information into a database that was coordinated with a numerical control cutting machine, said Genoese-Zerbi.

This RFID-enabled improvement "has had a tremendous impact on our costs," said Genoese-Zerbi, something that would not have happened had it not been for the changes in mindset the collaborative effort delivered.

Both Intel, which has 6,300 IT employees, and Boeing, with about 8,000 IT employees, say their rotation programs are open to any IT employee.

Bryant said having this business knowledge may also be essential to career success, and points out that of the top 400 IT leaders at Intel, more than 50% have been in business positions at some point in their career.

"If you have that experience, you are more likely to be successful," said Bryant.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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