Top-ranking IT Authority and Senior Executive
This week, Stephen
Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the internationally
regarded, top ranking IT authority, and distinguished senior
executive, Bob Ferry.
Mr. Ferry, a 20-year IT
veteran, is executive vice president and CIO of international
logistics and mail services provider Deutsche Post Global Mail, Ltd.
— the US division of Deutsche Post Global Mail, GmbH. He has
functional responsibility for the company’s information technology,
including strategy, planning, and management of all IT-related
activities. Mr. Ferry is also a member of the company’s Executive
Committee, which is responsible for the day-to-day management of the
$200 million+ company.
As President of the
technology consulting firm Insight Information, Inc., Mr. Ferry
first worked with Global Mail from 1992 until 1994 designing the
company’s integrated information architecture. He left consulting to
take on CIO roles at telecommunications providers Sector
Communications and Pathnet Telecommunications and as Chief
Technology Officer for Internet retailer GreatMeals.com. Mr. Ferry
rejoined DPGM as CIO in 2001.
Mr. Ferry received his
B.S. degree in Physics from Purdue University and continued with
graduate studies in electrical engineering and telecommunications at
George Washington University in Washington, DC. Hired out of college
as a project manager for a defense contractor, he honed his
programming skills by developing acoustic propagation models for the
Navy. He also worked on one of the first databases of government
information made available for online public access. This system,
which first went online in 1984, allowed FCC license holders to
search for and update commercial license records using a PC and a
Q: Bob, you are a
top-ranking IT authority and industry leading executive. We are
fortunate to have you with us to do this interview—thank you!
A: I appreciate the
opportunity to talk with you and your readers.
Q: What first triggered
your interest in computers?
A: My first exposure to
computers was actually in grade school. I had a teacher who was
interested in computing and was convinced that computers would
become really important in the future. This was pretty forward
thinking since, at the time, computers had not broken out of large,
air-conditioned rooms and few people had actually seen one in
person. He actually taught us some basic programming logic using
I didn’t actually start
using computers as a tool until college. Purdue was one of the first
universities to have a mainframe computer and many of my physics
instructors assigned coursework that required us to learn to
program. Looking back, I think that I enjoyed the FORTRAN and Pascal
work more than the physics.
Q: Describe your early
work with the Navy and with the first databases of government
A: During my college
breaks, I worked as an intern for a Navy contractor. I spent most of
my summers working with scientists and engineers developing better
models for how sound travels through the water. The goal was to make
submarines quieter and harder to find. Once again I found myself
doing more programming than science – and I liked it.
After graduation, I
returned to the same company and spent some time riding around in
submarines trying to figure out if our acoustic models matched
reality. Those trips were a lot of fun, allowed for very little
sleep, and convinced me that computers were in my future. A couple
months later I went to work for the IT (then MIS) department.
Years later I worked on a
pilot project for the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC had
several large databases containing license information for two-way
radio transmitters. Any company that operates two-way radios (taxi
companies, construction contractors, etc.) has to renew their
licenses on a periodic basis. The FCC tasked us with finding a way
to make that information available to the public via personal
computers. We developed a system that allowed anyone with a PC and
modem to dial into our computers and perform searches based on
things like frequency range and key dates, print out renewal forms,
and download reference information. This was one of the first
examples of the government providing the public with on-line access
to government information. You can still perform the same type of
searches on FCC’s web site, so I guess the concept was successful.
Q: Can you describe your
current work and your greatest current challenges?
A: Global Mail Deutsche
Post, Ltd. specializes in providing international mailing and
logistics services to corporate customers. We offer an alternative
solution to moving business mail from the US into any other country.
Our customers include publishers, financial firms, direct marketers
and e-commerce retailers.
As CIO, my primary
responsibilities are: 1) helping to define the business direction of
the company, 2) aligning the IT strategy to that of the business,
and 3) identifying talented people to deliver on that strategy.
In a more tactical
definition, I am responsible for making sure that we can keep track
of the hundreds of millions of mail pieces that go through our hands
every year, that we keep the network humming and that we help to
deliver new products and services to our customers.
Q: What are the major
strengths of your company?
A: First and foremost, we
have great people that really understand the business. Secondly, we
have scale. We’re one of the largest international mail services in
the US, which has its advantages. Thirdly, our high level of
automation and significant IT infrastructure allow us to provide
services that many of our competitors can’t offer.
Q: Where do you see
yourself and your company in five years?
A: That’s a really tough
question. From a personal standpoint, my goal is to grow into a COO
or CEO position. The CIO position is a training ground for
developing the business acumen needed to move into the top slots.
Q: You have an
illustrious career as a widely respected senior administrator. What
are your top ten tips for effective leadership?
A: 1) You can’t over
2) Encourage people
taking calculated risks
3) Get people what they
need to be successful
4) Honesty is the only
5) Keep your ego in check
6) Make sure that your
people keep learning
7) Make sure that you
8) Set a good example
9) Be fair
10) Have fun!
Q: Do you have any
humorous stories to share?
A: Last year; I was
flying from Munich back to the US. My first leg was to Frankfurt,
and the flight was running late. Upon landing, I almost had to run
between the domestic to the international terminals in order to make
When I arrived in the
terminal, the line for security was a block long and not moving very
fast. I set down my bags and reached for my PDA to verify the flight
time. Unfortunately, however, my PDA was not on my belt, nor in my
briefcase or coat pocket. This was a major problem as I rely on that
little gadget to run my schedule. The problem was made worse by the
fact that if I left the line to search for it, I would surely miss
the flight. It was not turning into a good morning.
When I finally cleared
security, I hurried to the gate. Upon arrival, I provided my ID and
ticket and was met with a smile and a greeting. “Ah, Mr. Ferry.
We’ve been waiting for you. Oh, and by the way, will you still be
needing this?” at which point my “lost” PDA was handed back to me.
I love this story because
it reflects two things that I believe in: great customer service and
the fact that IT can help you provide great customer service.
Someone obviously found my PDA while cleaning up the plane. It was
then probably given to a gate agent who saw my name on the back,
assumed that I might be switching planes, and found out where I was
going. Could this person have figured out that quickly which gate I
was going to without IT resources? Probably not, but without a
customer-service focus, nobody would have bothered anyway. It’s a
great example of a good company (Lufthansa), with a good
customer-focused culture using IT-provide resources to offer a great
Q: Please pick two topics
from your extensive work experiences. Can you share three “special
and very useful” tips in each topic area?
A: IT Infrastructure
1) People only notice
when the lights go out – not how long they had been burning. Keep
the lights on.
2) Security is going to
consume an ever-increasing portion of your infrastructure team’s
time. Accept this and plan for it. Spend some time understanding
what’s going on and spend some money on training your team. Apply
the principal of rule #1.
3) Develop a plan, then
work the plan.
1) Get your developers
talking to the people that will be using the new systems. Don’t
assume that they can build everything perfectly from a written
requirements document. Encourage (demand?) that the development team
spends some time doing the tasks that they’re automating. The level
of learning will increase dramatically and you will get a better
system and happier end users.
2) Custom code can still
be a strategic advantage. Having internal control can provide
flexibility and it can differentiate you and your business process
from that of your competition.
3) Not all systems are
strategic. Don’t build a new General Ledger just because you can.
Use your resources on building things that make you stand out.
Q: What are the five most
important trends to watch, and please provide some recommendations?
A: 1) Nanotechnology --
I’m not sure how this will impact the business of mail and
logistics, but I think that the possibilities for the manufacturing,
biotech, chemical and other industries will be significant.
Recommendation: For now, I’d 1) keep up with the literature and 2)
sit back and be amazed.
2) Radio Frequency
Identification -- RFID will have huge ramifications within the
logistics, postal, retail and any industry that needs to keep track
of “things”. As with any new technology, there are questions about
the use of RFID. Issues regarding privacy have already been raised.
But these problems will be solved. Recommendations: Start asking
questions about how RFID could impact your organization. How much
more efficient would you be if you didn’t have to open up every bag
of mail to determine what’s inside? How much money could you save if
you didn’t have to perform inventory cycle-counts in the warehouse?
3) Web services. The
concept of web-services is great, but I think their actual use will
begin modestly and will stay contained inside the firewalls of most
companies. As key issues regarding trust, security, availability,
etc. are worked out, web-services will start moving outwards towards
trusted partners, vendors and customers. Recommendations: If you
don’t understand the concepts, ask your developers. I’m sure that
they’re up to speed. Start some small projects such as providing
better visibility into internal legacy systems.
4) Pervasive broadband –
That’s what I call being connected everywhere, all the time, through
a wide pipe. 3G, ultra-wideband, Wi-Fi hotspots, WLAN – all these
technologies will grow, morph and overlap until people are connected
all the time, independent of data rate and physical location.
Recommendation: Start planning your security and authentication
strategies now. Run pilot projects using WLAN. Start understanding
what changes these technologies will mean to the structure of your
5) Off-shore development.
I’m not really thrilled about this trend, but it is real and can not
be ignored. In this global environment, the low-cost provider can be
anywhere. Recommendations: Consider doing a test with a project that
is very well defined but not of strategic importance.
Q: What are the five
greatest challenges facing businesses today? What are their
A: 1) Access to skilled
2) Access to affordable
4) The low-level of trust
that the public has for business as-a-whole (think Enron, WorldCom
As for solutions, if I
could solve the five greatest challenges to business here in this
interview, I would probably be answering this question from my
personal island in the South Pacific.
But I will offer up my
two cents regarding item number one. How we educate the next
generations of our society will be critical to the effectiveness of
business in the future. Unless business executives get more involved
in the educational process in this country, and start valuing an
educated supply of talent with the same level of importance that we
value other critical resources, we will soon start feeling the
pinch. This is already evident in the engineering and science fields
where the number of US-trained students is dropping in absolute
terms as well as in comparison to countries like India.
Q: Where do you see IT in
relation to business strategy and operations?
A: IT is key enabler to
both strategy and operations. In operations, automation/technology
often allows companies to lower the cost of doing business. This is
a key contributor to being competitive.
can provide ways to differentiate your company’s products or
services; the way it communicates with customers, vendors and
partners; and the way it learns. IT can also help to accelerate
processes and faster processes can mean faster cash flow, reduced
expenses, reduced risk, faster results and increased agility.
IT can also bridge the
gap between business strategy and operations. Strategy is the plan
for moving from where you are to where you want to be. From an
operational standpoint, this usually involves large quantities of
change. IT can help to facilitate this change.
Q: Any predications about
the economy and future IT spending?
A: Basically, I’m
optimistic about the economy here in the US, although I’m still
worried about how things are progressing in other countries. As for
IT spending, I think that many forward-thinking companies have been
making strategic IT investments for several years now. The rest will
be trying to play catch-up.
Q: What are your top
recommended resources for both businesses and IT professionals?
A: 1) The Society for
Information Management (SIM) has a program called the Regional
Learning Forum (RLF) that I participated in years ago. It’s a great
program for up-and-coming IT leaders.
3) Anything written by
Q: What kind of computer
setup do you have?
A: I do most of my work
on a Sony Vaio Z1 notebook. I also have a desktop system, but use it
infrequently as the Vaio is light enough to travel with and has
enough power to run software that required a workstation several
At home, I have an HP
desktop with a pretty big hard drive. I’m somewhat of an electronic
I’m also addicted to my
BlackBerry. I just upgraded to a unit that works on the GSM networks
in both the US and Europe so I can get email just about anywhere.
Q: If you were doing this
interview, what questions would you ask of someone in your position
and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: Is the role of CIO
A1: The position of CIO
is now often responsible for a multitude of areas: technology,
obviously, but also strategy, knowledge management, governance,
business process, learning, security. And the playing field on which
we’re playing is continuously changing. The roles and requirements
of the CFO, for example, have not changed that significantly over
the years. I don’t think that the same will be true for the CIO
position. For some companies – especially large ones – the
functional areas that I mentioned above will be split up and given
to different individuals because the job gets too big for one
Q2: Is IT still in a
position to bring strategic value to a company?
A2: Absolutely. The need
for a certain types of technology will come and go, but the need for
information will always be a business necessity. Better information,
faster information will always have strategic value.
Q: Bob, thank you again
for your time, and consideration in doing this interview. Your
in-depth insights are of great value to our audience.
A: It was my pleasure.