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'You have to be masochist to be an IT person': FedEx CIO

Neal Weinberg | Oct. 20, 2011
"You have to be a masochist to want to be an IT person,'' says Robert Carter. And he would know. Carter is the soft-spoken, hard-driving CIO who has been fighting for the past 11 years to transform IT operations at FedEx, where "the planes don't fly and trucks don't roll without IT services.''

While the technical issues were daunting, Carter said the cultural challenges were the hardest, both internally and externally. Carter had to convince FedEx business partners that these changes were for the best. Education is the key, Carter said. "We had to get them in the wheelhouse a little more.''

And internally, he had to convince IT to change. "Some people want to ride the Cobol bus'' all the way to the end of their career, and there's a place for those people, Carter said. For others, there's a great opportunity to advance their careers in new and different ways. "It's not easy. There's no silver bullet,'' Carter says. But he re-organized the IT department in a way that provides plenty of choices for people to work at different levels.

Looking ahead, Carter said he's excited about using sensor-based computing to create "smart packages." The idea is that FedEx would include a sensor inside a sensitive package. The sensor could report back on everything from temperature to radioactivity level. So, for example, if the package contained food or medicine that needed to be stored below a certain temperature, the sensor could send an alert if the package were approaching dangerous levels.

When it comes to the cloud, Carter said he considers FedEx's Web-based services to be a private cloud. "We provide a robust set of Web services today and it's fundamentally the essence of the cloud.'' He says his data center architecture is essentially the same as that of Amazon and Salesforce.com.

 

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