Interview: Scott Griffin (CIO, Boeing)

Scott Griffin is well-respected in the industry for the way he has turned the tables at Boeing. For the past few decades, the battle between Boeing and Airbus has been more than just 787s and A380s; it is war that will continue for as many years. And in such a scenario, the IT infrastructure can give a strategic advantage like none other. At least for now, Boeing seems to have it processes under control more efficiently than the European giant (which was beset by quite many technological issues in the past). Griffin is ensuring that Boeing does not give away the lead. My interaction with him was published in the Dataquest Magazine, the link being:(

‘My biggest challenge is to speed up IT absorption to meet changing business requirements’

In 2006, Boeing overtook Airbus to become the world’s largest civil aircraft company in terms of orders. In many ways, IT has been the driving force behind the company with over $60 bn in revenues.

Founded in 1916, Boeing was the first airline company to employ digital technology to designing an airliner, and under the aegis of the current CIO, Scott Griffin, it is committed to technology. Griffin has been with the company for over two decades, working his way up through various departments. Currently, he is entrusted with the responsibility of not only ensuring that the 155,000 employees spread across the world are connected and productive but also that the company stays a step ahead in the face of onslaught from across the Atlantic, ie the Airbus A-380. Scott Griffin, CIO, Boeing, shares his experience and vision with Shashwat Chaturvedi of CyberMedia News. Excerpts.

Boeing as a company has been evolving over the last many years, especially so in the last few years-from an aircraft manufacturing company to being an aerospace and defense technology firm. How is IT being used in this transition?
Information Technology is the lifeblood of a technology company. It is used to create digital (3D) design of parts, plan tools and processes. It enables “design anywhere, build anywhere”, design reuse, design partner collaboration, globalization of the supply chain, and provides tools for increasing productivity and growth.

777 was the first commercial airliner to be designed using CAD. How have technology systems evolved at the company and how has IT been strategic to it?
777 was the first commercial, digital airplane. For the first time, we did not test the fit of the roughly 4 mn parts by building a mockup. We designed the parts and assembled them in the computer, using the Dassault Systemes CATIA CAD/CAM software. Then we checked their ‘fit’, using computer simulation.

Today, Boeing and our design partners do concurrent, 3D solid design of parts, plans, tools and processes. This has enabled us to take significant cycle time out of the design/build process, and will allow us to create derivative models with minimal effort.

With over 155,000 employees based across the globe, how do you ensure connectivity within the organization and what kind of IT infrastructure is in place?
Our infrastructure is global and standard. Boeing has customers, suppliers and partners in over 100 countries. The only way to provide a reliable IT infrastructure is to provide a standard IT infrastructure.

How has your role of a CIO undergone a change at Boeing?
Boeing IT has become a proactive partner in helping the Boeing business units achieve their growth and productivity objectives. Boeing IT employees support the Boeing enterprise, but we also provide revenue-generating IT through our existing programs.

Which component or technology (enterprise) will be take the major share of your company’s budget pie in the future?
Collaboration systems and infrastructure will continue to be a key investment for us in the next few years. Boeing has also been closely working with various Indian IT firms. How has been the engagement so far and can you also touch on all the work that has been done through Indian soil?In 1997, I became the CIO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and within my first year, I had built partnerships with 5 Indian IT firms. We are still working with all of them today, and have added several more. My Leadership Team and I visit those IT partners in person at least once a year.

We intend to differentiate ourselves from our competitors in the way we use IT products, not in building the best IT products ourselves. That being said, Boeing has a healthy IT business selling IT products to our customers, and we will continue to build IT solutions where we see external customer need.

What is the IT roadmap for the future and can you touch upon some of the innovations that have been brought out by your teams at Boeing?
My systems strategy in support of Boeing is to ‘buy and integrate.’ Our intention is to buy commercial, off-the-shelf applications and integrate them into our architecture rather than write the applications ourselves. We intend to differentiate ourselves from our competitors in the way we use IT products, not in building the best IT products ourselves. That being said, Boeing has a healthy IT business, selling IT products to our customers, and we will continue to build IT solutions where we see external customer need.

Your views on the subject of cross-cultural teams?
Diverse and cross-functional teams provide the most innovative and timely IT solutions. Boeing is a global company, and our employees, suppliers and partners are diverse in terms of culture, nationality, and geography.

You have been associated with Boeing for over 2 decades, how has the journey been, and what would you term as your high-points and the biggest challenges faced?
I have had fun in dealing directly with airline and government customers. We are a customer-centric company, and it is challenging and rewarding to work directly with our customers. My biggest challenge is shared by my CIO peers, it is speeding the absorption of enabling information technologies in order to meet changing business requirements.

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