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Even in the world’s most sophisticated companies it is often the little things that make the difference.
So it was with Intel, which three years ago rethought its internal PC support system – called “desk side services” – that was not working as efficiently as the chip giant wanted. Instead of sending support personnel to the employee, the company piloted a service centre scheme to which users brought their faulty machines.
John Johnson, co-chief information officer, was initially sceptical about whether “busy engineers and marketing people are going to take time to walk over to a service centre?” but was surprised and delighted with the result.
“We learned an interesting thing: it was less expensive, you get better service and the customers liked it better,” he says.
This story illustrates the fact that being a CIO of an innovative, technological powerhouse is in many ways little different to filling the same role elsewhere, even if Mr Johnson admits that it can be a challenging position in an organisation where tens of thousands of colleagues have an informed opinion about every move you make.
“Our challenges are standard fare from an IT perspective,” he says. “There’s a limited budget and you end up with very difficult prioritisation decisions and at the end of the day you go through these activities and try to figure out what’s the best utilisation of the resources available to get things done.”
But as a technology leader and “early adopter”, Mr Johnson acknowledges that other organisations often look to Intel for leadership – in response it publishes reports on its technology uses.
At present Mr Johnson identifies three particular areas where the company is looking to develop its use of technology: servers, mobility and personal productivity.
“We have 66,000-plus servers in our company and that’s a pretty good-sized enterprise.
”Now, 50,000 of those support design activities and the challenge is to find ways to more effectively give the compute cycles we need to support design. We’ve had an early kind of grid computing capability there but now we’re looking at a much more sophisticated environment. “What we’re interested in there is to be able to build an environment where you fully provision a server to use it and then if you need it for something else it’s repositioned from the ground up each time to run a particular batch activity. What we want is to get greater utilisation out of the servers we put in place, to drive 60 to 70 per cent utilisation up to near 80 per cent over a three- or four-year period.”
Intel is also looking to get similar productivity improvements from its human resources, as it grapples with another problem that is increasingly familiar to all CIOs.
“There are studies that show that people spend 20 to 25 per cent of their time searching for information. There’s a big chunk of time we can give back to people in terms of their productivity,” he says.
A partnership with Microsoft to improve information search and management is one aspect of Intel’s “High Performance Workforce” project whose aim is to “to deliver one day of productivity [per week] back to employees” over the next three or so years.
“We think this is exciting. As an increase in productivity, that’s pretty dramatic,” he says.
Another aspect of the project is enabling mobility in the workforce, the third big area of focus for Mr Johnson, who identifies Wimax as a leading technology of the future, particularly in some of the further-flung areas of the Intel empire.
“People work in their offices less and less. They’re in conference rooms, with customers, with suppliers, in hotels, cafeterias.
“There’s tremendous opportunity in this and, to give an example, in the Philippines we have a test plant. A number of the employees don’t have phones, all they have are cellphones.
“Wimax all of a sudden changes the rules in terms of being able to give them connectivity back to the corporate environments.
“They don’t have to come into the office or come into the plant in order to get connected to a meeting or to do some work.
”Wimax is really going to have an impact in our work environment and everybody’s. It extends where you can be connected.”