INTERVIEW: Maureen Conway, HP's transformation manager
Policy and process come before IT
As vice president and CIO of Hewlett-Packard Co., Maureen Conway guides the computer maker's internal IT activities. Since taking the CIO job in December 2000, she has tried to redefine business processes in HP's divisions.
Previously, Conway was CIO of the company's business customer organization and vice president of strategic operations. She serves as an adviser to HP's executive council and sits on its strategy council.
Conway started out as a high school mathematics teacher and joined the technical staff of Bell Labs in 1968. From 1983 to 1988, she worked at the Computer Corp. of America of Framingham, Mass., then moved to workstation pioneer Apollo Computer Corp. She joined HP in 1989 when HP acquired Apollo.
Conway graduated from William Paterson College. She earned a master's degree in mathematics from Montclair State College and has a master's in business administration with emphasis in management and organizational behavior from Temple University.
GCN associate editor Patricia Daukantas interviewed Conway recently in Washington when the HP executive met with government CIOs. GCN: How do you see the CIO job evolving?CONWAY:
There's a move among CIOs away from the idea that technology is a be-all and end-all, to actually knowing how to apply technology to solve business problems.
As a CIO, my goal in life is to ensure that the strategy Hewlett-Packard Co. sets forth'how technology can help you solve business problems'is the strategy inside my own organization.
I've become more interested in the application of technology that's here today while keeping an eye on the future.
I don't want to imply that I don't care about technology trends, but what I have focused on in recent months is governing IT in a way that lets us make decisions that help the company succeed.
That's different from getting high on technology.GCN: How much business does HP do with government?CONWAY:
We have been inspired by the amount of interest that we have had from the federal government over the past year. I think we did record revenue in 2001 from the government and expect to do the same this year.
Our printers are probably in almost every agency. Some agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, are using our handheld computers to do inventory control. That's pretty interesting.
We've done a lot of work with the Defense Department. We are now getting more active with our consulting and solutions services because many issues require an understanding of business and organizational processes and the kind of technology that can be used for them.
I know that homeland security is an important topic in Washington and for all of us who are American citizens. We want to feel safe, so I am very interested in knowing what the team here is doing about that.
Our team has sat down and worked with the government to understand what some of the top criteria are there. And we're going back and having internal task forces find ways to help with the problems.GCN: Government agencies are trying to function more like businesses. What advice could you give to government CIOs, and conversely, what can you learn from them?CONWAY:
I started my career as an educator, so I think my natural inclination is always to learn something from an interaction. I have a chance to put some hypotheses forward to government CIOs, and I can learn from them.
Saying that you want to run the government more like a business has a lot of dimensions to it. It concerns the need to understand an issue as opposed to spending haphazardly.
The fact that government business processes have existed for many years is not unlike some issues that HP has faced. As technology got introduced, it got introduced with a narrow focus. I call it decision anarchy, where everybody has a right to decide.
And then one day an executive woke up and asked: Are we one HP or are we 500 brands of HP? If we want to be one HP, then we have to start integrating many of the things we do.
That's exactly what the government's facing right now in terms of understanding the risks and the opportunities that technology may provide in terms of cost-efficiency. And so one of the things I talk about with government CIOs is what we learned from moving to a new governance paradigm.
I would also ask government CIOs what kind of relationship they have with the real decision-makers in their agencies. That's critical.GCN: Does your work involve figuring out what the entrenched business processes are or figuring out how to make them less paper-intensive?CONWAY:
It's both of those things. One of the tenets that I like to make sure people understand is: You set policy, you build a process, then you invest in IT.
I want to tell you, it is backwards most times.
IT people are problem-solvers. They tend to try to help, and often that means they end up building more than they should. That's a lesson that we've learned.
I've moved back and forth between business and IT, and I think that it's absolutely critical to have credibility with your constituency when you're going to become a change agent. Otherwise, they're not hearing you, and therefore you're not going to get the authority you need to make some changes.
Change management is huge, but you can define a core strategy. You can organize around it so people can deliver on the strategy.
You can make sure they know what they're being measured for and then reward them for following through. Then everything will play out. It's healthy to change, so look at it as an opportunity and not as a crisis.GCN: If HP's merger with Compaq Computer Corp. goes through, will you still be CIO, and what kind of changes will you yourself face?CONWAY:
For legal reasons my role can't be discussed in any form. But from my vantage point, it's awesome.
I happen to be a person who came to HP through the acquisition of Apollo Computer, which became the HP workstation group. HP bought Apollo in the late 1980s.
I think it's important to have some major opportunities for people to see and act in different ways and to see different cultures.
The fact that [a merger] will really explode our enterprise offerings is what's exciting. That will affect the government as well because I think of the government and the enterprise getting more and more alike, as I mentioned earlier. Our professional services organization will almost double.
What's interesting is talking to customers who have both Compaq and HP equipment. They look at the merger and say it's great because they can see the expansion of the profile of the products and services.GCN: What other advice do you have for government CIOs?CONWAY:
I have a kind of lessons learned. I know that the government is trying to focus on best practices in IT and trying to learn how to implement the best practices. It's recognizing that IT is an enabler for transformation.
To do that, you need to understand the business problems. You have to be able to communicate at that level and shape the decision as opposed to reacting to the decision. That's what's going to turn the tide.GCN: How has Sept. 11 affected what you do, and how you relate to government customers? Do you think the business continuity is going to be a focus of CIOs everywhere?CONWAY:
First of all, customers want to know that you're going to be there for them.
We had some examples on Sept. 11 where we just dropped everything to help. I don't know how many hundred servers we got to Defense Department organizations. We took all the to-be-refurbished stuff that we were getting back because employees were moving to new desktop environments, and we sent them off to disaster recovery organizations, whatever they needed.
We set up a crisis management center within HP's federal sales organization that linked to the corporate crisis management center. We provided equipment to the Pentagon'laptop PCs, desktop PCs, printers'and we got equipment there quickly. A lot of it was donated.
Business continuity has always been an issue, and people just chose to ignore it. Sept. 11 put the spotlight back on it.