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CBA Alumni Week panel discusses new technology in the workplace

(Clockwise from left) UDM VP for University Advancement Adrian Kerrigan, Emil Simon 85, UDM Academic VP and Provost Fr. Gerard Stockhausen and Subhash (Sam) S. Valanju '75 enjoy lunch prior to the CBA Alumni Week panel discussion.

This year, 35 College of Business Administration alumni returned to the College to share their knowledge and insight with students during the Fifth Annual Alumni Week, held March 22-26. One of the highlights of Alumni Week is the panel discussion of a particular topic chosen by the Student & Alumni Advisory Boards. Associate Dean Bruce Brorby says, “We are very appreciative of our panelists, and all our speakers, who are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to share their expertise.”

This year’s panel discussed “New Technology: What the Experts are Using to Improve Performance and Enhance Communication”. Panel members highlighted their respective companies’ use of cutting-edge technologies to serve their customers, both internal and external, in faster, more effective and more efficient ways.

Subhash “Sam” Valanju ’75 is vice president and chief information officer of Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI). JCI is a market leader in automotive systems and facility management and control. The company has 275 factories in 23 countries and does business in 63 countries. Technology plays a big part in coordinating these global efforts. Says Valanju, “We must constantly exceed our customers’ expectations, and emerging technology allows us to achieve consistent high quality and efficiency.” The company completes over 2.5 million electronic transactions annually. Because most processes occur electronically, there is a reduction in variability, resulting in lower expedited freight costs, less overtime, less labor, more efficient operations, and lower inventory costs. JCI’s Automotive B2B site is a common Internet portal accessible by all suppliers. It allows the company to manage and resolve all issues that may come up in the production process. Development and production is thus much smoother. Valanju says that global applications are “critical to our success, we couldn’t do our business without them.” Other technologies used by JCI include video and audio conferencing, Sametime (IBM Lotus instant messaging and web conferencing), Quickplace (a Web-based product for creating team workspaces for collaboration), web content management, and webcasting.

Wafa Bunney ’95 is the Employee Connect IT Manager in Management Systems at Ford Motor Company. Bunney stated that Ford had $164 billion in sales in 2003 and is #4 on Fortune 500. The current IT strategies at Ford are to build organizational capacity and to simplify and defragment existing technologies. Says Bunney, “We’ve put a lot of effort into defragmentation. Five hundred different systems had been utilized over the years. We needed to narrow our standards, employ fewer architectures and fewer products and form long-term partnerships with IT providers.”

The imperative driving IT includes pervasive computing, intelligent vehicles, real-time systems, modeling and simulation and “Enterprise Collaboration.” This involves a “virtual workplace” with videoconferencing, web collaboration, and instant messaging capabilities. Bunney gave the example of an engineer at JCI working on the seating for a Ford vehicle. “He doesn’t have to go to our factory to work with us, he can join us in the virtual workplace. It allows filesharing, voice and video communication.”

Bunney recalls a quote from the company founder Henry Ford. “He said, ‘Coming together is a beginning. Staying together is progress. Working together is success.’ These collaborative tools allow us to do that. They support a range of interactive styles from Engineering to Human Resources. It’s interesting that he had this vision so many years ago.”
There are different levels of collaboration at Ford, from Base Collaboration, which is available to all workers, through Personal and Enterprise Collaboration, to Collaborative Applications, which are available to only a few.

Part of the Base Collaboration is Ford’s intranet, which consists of 1,500 major web sites, and 1,000,000 documents, and is used all over the world by 175,000 people. Each employee is given a Web Single Logon (WSL) and a password. From there, they can communicate with others all over the world. “The bottom line with our intranet is savings, both time and money, stronger relationships with suppliers and customers, and future cost avoidance,” Bunney says.

Brent Garback ’70 invented SABRE technology, the forerunner of the reservation technology now used by all the airlines. He is currently a strategic consultant, helping firms and entrepreneurs to review alternative business strategies, re-engineer their business processes, and implement IT as a solution. He has developed software that operates on travel agents’ desktops and automates the processing of travel reservations over the Internet. Garback believes that “if you want to survive and thrive in the next 20 years, adaptability is the most important thing.” Customer Relationship Management (CRM) will be the key. Providing customers—meaning both internal and external users—with the information and solutions they want and need will be absolutely paramount.

He holds that there are eight principles for success in IT consulting:

  1. The customer is “king.” “This is important because probably today’s students will have to be more entrepreneurial as the economy moves toward decentralization.”
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. Determine the value of any proposition. “Look for the hidden costs.”
  4. Design a flexible value chain.
  5. Align with company’s internal process-owners. “Everyone needs to be moving toward the same goals.”
  6. Protect privacy and data.“The U.S. does not even begin to address the issue of privacy the way the EU does.”
  7. Let the customer lead—continually. “You must be aligned with their culture and find the right hardware and software for them to achieve their goals.”
  8. Think globally and locally.

Garback also advised his listeners to remember that their ability to effect change is limited by the corporate culture. “You can’t go any further than what the culture will allow.”

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