Spotlight On: John Cross, head of IT at BP Group, The British Petroleum Co.
Line of Business Oil and gas exploration and production; petrochemicals Bio IT head since 1993; prior to that, was the general manager of IT at BP Exploration Day to Day Deliver services and applications to take advantage of standards and enables BP to reduce computing cost structure Challenges Helping to align the IT and organizational infrastructures of BP and Amoco Corp. as they merge CIO: BP has a reputation for adapting to changing business environments. How does IT contribute to that forte? A large company tends to be monolithic, which can lead to a lot of fixed costs.
In such an organization, the traditional hierarchical structure of IT is the antithesis of flexibility. But an IT architecture can enable a company to become adaptable and flexible. At BP, we've de-layered and de-constructed the hierarchical computing models by moving away from a reliance on the mainframe to a networkcentric model of computing that's plug-and-playable. We have a network structure with more than 100 business units responsible for their own profit-and-loss functions. With a plug-and-play network, we essentially carry a very light backpack and change our IT cost structure and adapt as we need to.
BP is also known for its efforts in knowledge management. Isn't KM a fad? Knowledge management is a fad if you don't go beyond codifying knowledge-simply putting what people know in a database. While the context for knowledge management is computing power and storage, knowledge itself is something that exists between people's ears. It's not physical. And knowledge-at least in terms of the corporation-is based on the history of experiences, and collective experiences can't be codified either. Since sharing knowledge is important only at the point and time when people need to solve a problem, the key to knowledge management is connecting people in a dialogue.
Where does IT fit into connecting people? Plato said that one of the greatest threats to mankind was the written word because it would eliminate discourse. For humans, visual information and the spoken word are the primary modes of communication. For IT, it's necessary to move knowledge management into the sphere of multimedia. For example, at BP we use streaming video over the Internet and 3-D spatial technology to improve knowledge sharing. Both 3-D and multimedia technology allow people to interpret and analyze information much more powerfully than is possible with written, flat communication. IT can do its part to connect humans by putting quality audio and video technology on the desktop.
What new technologies will help companies be more adaptive? I'm fascinated by the convergence of multimedia, telecommunications and computing technologies. However, BP currently is stultified by telecommunications in some areas of the world where PTTs continue in their monopolistic ways. Right now, I can't afford to run digital streaming across the Internet everywhere. When telecom cost structures come down all over the world, Moore's law ought to come to the global telecom industry. When and if that happens, prices will trend to zero, and desktop multimedia technologies that enhance communications will be within reach everywhere. But right now, I see strong political processes [at the PTTs] that will negate technology's progress.
What would you like your legacy to be at BP? I would like the IT group to be sufficiently restless in terms of its spirit to never be satisfied with the current state of technology. I would also want IT to be integral to the business and for the members of the IT group to be influence shapers and reframers.
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