Inco tries fresh approach to IT team building

TORONTO – Inco Ltd. is one of the largest mining companies in the world, supplying 20 per cent of the planet’s nickel. While it’s primarily a nickel company, it also produces copper, precious metals, cobalt and sulphuric acid.


here were its top IT people from around the world, in a room with whiteboards and colourful markers, stuffed animals and music playing in the background.

“My first reaction was, is this a daycare centre?” said Subi Bhandari, vice-president and chief information officer with Inco Ltd., when he first saw Capgemini’s Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE).

Capgemini officially opened its Toronto ASE Wednesday, one of about 20 ASEs around the world. The facility is designed for team building and collaboration exercises to help solve specific business problems.

The traditional way to deal with these problems is to have one-hour meetings, every week, indefinitely. Not everyone shows up every week and very little actually gets accomplished.

Inco is a highly distributed company, with operations spread from Sudbury, Ont., to the jungles of Indonesia. It has refineries in Japan, China and the U.K. And it had a problem: its IT personnel were located within each different business group, with no central leadership.

To become more cost-effective, Bhandari said the company needed to come together as a group. For example, if an IT manager in Sudbury came up with a solution to a problem, it was unlikely that a person in the middle of the jungle in Indonesia would know about it or be able to make use of it.

In a two-day session at the ASE facility, Bhandari brought together employees from as far away as Australia and Indonesia. While the concept behind the session sounds warm and fuzzy, he said it was less of a brainstorming session and more of a facilitated methodology. The goal was to establish a common understanding of its IT strategy and how that strategy was linked with business, focused on delivering more cost-effective IT services.

As a result, it developed an IT transformation program, which is taking place over three to five years. It’s still in the transformation process, but has been able to fast track certain projects, as well as articulate its IT strategy to business managers.

“This team (is) closer together despite geographic distances and time zones,” he said, stressing the importance of collaboration.

Every two weeks, Bhandari holds a manager’s meeting via telephone and videoconferencing to find out what each IT department is working on. So far, it’s been able to consolidate its IT resources and budget for North America.

The concept of collaboration is evolving from transactional-based collaboration to co-creation, according to Rob Evans, global ASE lead with Capgemini. The best example of co-creation, he said, is the iPod. This concept didn’t spring from Steve Job’s head, he said, but was the combined effort of several companies, including Apple, Sony and Toshiba.

It took less than nine months to develop the iPod – a fact that flies in the face of the assumption that collaboration is too time-consuming, he said. “That’s not true in business today and it’s not true when you’re trying to create something new.”

The ASE is designed to work on several levels: rational, emotional and political. “People don’t dislike change,” he said. “That’s why we buy new ties.” What they resist is the possibility of failure.

Part of the philosophy behind the ASE is to bring large groups of people together, to get the politics out on the table and create a common culture. “It’s a purpose-built environment that’s peculiarly designed for collaborative work,” he said of the ASE.

The process involves “scan, focus and act,” said Mads Jensen, Toronto ASE lead with Capgemini. Participants come up with ideas, test them, build models, rebuild those models and develop an action plan. This environment offers specific deliverables, he said, and takes traditional barriers out of the process.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.
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