Michael Ali, VP & CIO, Harman InternationalI am so looking forward to hearing from our keynoters next week at the Forrester's IT Forum 2011. Poised to be one of the most informative – and entertaining – will be Michael Ali, VP & CIO, Harman International. Michael will discuss how integration, not alignment, is the ultimate goal for CIOs who are determined to get the most out of IT investments for the benefit of their businesses. Rumor has it that he’ll also toss out some zinger lessons learned that will help us all avoid common pitfalls as we move beyond alignment. I asked Michael a few questions to get some insight on his IT organization and his experience with IT transformation. His answers point to both the fundamental shifts that will characterize the empowered BT era and some perennial truths of IT. We hope you can make it to Las Vegas to hear more . . .


Sharyn: To move beyond business-IT alignment, Forrester believes organizations must drive innovation. How is the IT organization at Harman doing that?

Michael: First we have recognized that we need to show that we can deliver on our commitments (i.e., projects). That will give us the credibility to move into a partnership with the business where we can begin to drive innovation. In parallel, we are looking for processes and tools to help our IT people think innovatively about IT solutions for business problems. Finally, we are constantly scanning the field for new technologies that we can map against known business problems. One recent example: work we’ve started in the business intelligence space that will leverage new capabilities from our ERP vendor to meet business needs.


Sharyn: Forrester contends that three factors – the availability of self-service technologies, a workforce that self-provisions, and globalization – will have a profound impact on IT, forcing the IT department to move from controlling to teaching and guiding the business. How are these three factors currently impacting your IT department? How have you gone about setting guardrails for the business?

Michael: We are definitely dealing with these factors at Harman. We want an IT-savvy workforce. At the same time, that workforce often gets ahead of the IT department in selecting and deploying technology that may or may not be compatible with our security, data retention, and other standards. Some simple examples are the use of chat/IM, social networking, and cloud-based media storage services. Our goal is to not just say “no” to these things but instead to offer reasonable alternatives or provide guidelines for proper use of these services. We also constantly reassess our standards in light of changing business needs. Case in point: social networking, which at one point was banned, has now been recognized as a necessary business tool. 


Sharyn: You spent 10 years at Ford, including some time as CIO of one of its divisions. What’s the biggest transformation you’ve witnessed over the past decade?

Michael: I’d say it’s the movement of IT from something that was held separately in each function (ex: engineering had its IT group, accounting had its IT group, etc.) to a centralized and recognized function in its own right. As an example, in the 90s the highest ranking IT person at Ford was a Director. It's risen in stature from Director to Vice President to Group Vice President, with commensurate increases in visibility and accountability.


Sharyn: In your presentation, you will talk about leveraging suppliers and partners to drive business results. Is this of greater importance in today’s business climate? Why?  

Michael: I don’t think it’s possible for any one organization to keep track of all the new technologies and potential uses, let alone be the master of those technologies. We need our partners and suppliers to provide that knowledge and expertise.