Applying Global Strategy to Local Environments

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When you find yourself uttering awful words like "glocalization," you know you are into something messy. IT leadership, a heady challenge unto itself, becomes much tougher when your domain includes multiple countries, time zones, languages and currencies. Traditional approaches to communication and alignment often buckle under the complexity that multinational leadership engenders. In honor of our fearless global CIOs, I submit herewith not one, but three elements of the "global paradox."

1. Global companies tend to lead from the center, but innovation is happening at the edges.

Every year, Western Union moves billions of dollars among 445,000 locations in 200 countries and territories, many of them rural. While CIO John Dick cites challenges such as logistics and a dizzying array of regulatory issues as major consumers of his time, he also spends quite a bit of energy on something sort of new. "We are undergoing a radical shift as more of our innovation is coming from remote points," says Dick. "There is a leapfrog effect taking place where developing countries are leveraging how cheap technology has become. They don't have the legacy investment and are building capabilities greenfield."

The leadership challenge to global CIOs is to start adopting remote development efforts for global deployment. "I'm more open to solutions that have been developed in other parts of the world," he says. "For example, we are rolling out a new global point-of-sale solution that came from a company we acquired in Ireland."

2. Local business models are unique, but you need a global IT strategy.

As CIO of the Bottling Investments Group for Coca-Cola, Javier Polit supports operations all over the globe.

"Building a sales-force solution in Germany is very different than in China," Polit says. "In Germany, bottlers drive the truck right up to the retail outlet, but in China, they work through distributors. You need to deliver a technology solution that provides value to each country's unique business needs now, but you must also build toward a common footprint."

The key? "Your in-country IT leaders need a seat at the table," says Polit. "They need solid relationships with the country managers and a strong understanding of what is happening in the business. If they don't [have that], you have to help them develop those relationships or swap them out. As the global CIO, you need communication routines with your local IT leaders to make sure you are aligned on strategy."

3. Urgency is the enemy of intention. You need to focus on the long term, but you cannot let the fires burn.

For Jody Davids, CIO and SVP of Global Business Services at Best Buy, one key to global leadership is a highly strategic governance structure. "When it comes to governance, we get really good at prioritizing requests and deciding who pays for what, but we need to bring it up a layer," she says. They are looking at everything, including what percentage of their investment will be allocated to mature businesses versus growth areas and what criteria would make them feel comfortable with deviating from their technology standards.

"These are sticky questions that are tough to answer, but they will help guide the volumes of tactical questions to come."

The challenge to most global leaders is that these big strategic questions take time, but "the business doesn't have the appetite to wait," says Davids. So work both layers simultaneously. "The trick is to build out the strategic layer as you work on the tactical. Use those tactical decisions as test cases to further define your more strategic rules of engagement."

Martha Heller is president of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive search firm, and a co-founder of the CIO Executive Council. She can be reached at martha@hellersearch.com.

This story, "Applying Global Strategy to Local Environments" was originally published by CIO.

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