If you watch the nonstop bustle on an automobile assembly line long enough, it’s easy to get a skewed idea of the process. Close up, each step appears discrete and disconnected–engines being lowered into frames, door assemblies being bolted onto bodies. Step back to where you can see all the bright, shiny new cars rolling off the end of the line, however, and the whole thing starts to make sense.
In much the same way, if you want to understand the rapidly changing IT strategy at automotive giant Ford Motor Co., it helps to step back.
Since taking over as CIO and executive director at Ford two years ago, Bernard Mathaisel has engineered four major, high-profile outsourcing deals that have transferred significant chunks of Ford’s IT operations to IBM Global Services, Compuware Corp., Dell Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. These deals, however, are anything but discrete, disconnected events. Together, they constitute Mathaisel’s plan to transform Ford’s 5,100-person IT organization from a group focused exclusively on operational excellence to one that can also help the company improve customer service through rapid delivery of Web-based systems and processes.
Ford’s IT group historically has been tasked by top management to keep the IT assembly line in order. That meant running first-class, efficient data centers and networks and delivering rock-bottom total- cost-of-ownership numbers. That emphasis, however, began to change a couple of years ago. The shift…