Self-Service Data Analytics at Qualcomm: The CIO Interview with Norm Fjeldheim
What is the most valuable project, program or innovation that your IT organization has delivered over the last year?
There are three I’d like to talk about. First, we implemented Oracle ERP and a Factory Automation System (FAS) for a million and a half square foot FAB (a semiconductor fabrication plant) in Taiwan. The FAB is a heavily automated factory with robotics to handle large sheets of glass. Qualcomm had not been in the FAB business before, so this was going to be a major investment for us. Plus, we had only two months notice from the business and we didn’t have an IT organization in Taiwan. We had to put the team together and learn how to install and integrate a factory automation system. We ended up getting whole thing up and running in about 10 months.
Any advice to other CIOs who are embarking on a similarly ambitious project?
"Don’t get intimidated by the project." There were a few nervous people on the team but we just said, “We’re going to get this done.” It was important to express confidence in our success right from the beginning.
|"I’m speaking with customers on a regular basis; that’s how I spend at least 10 percent of my time. And, my product teams and project managers now speak directly with end customers as well."
Our second success was related to Hours of Service, a system that keeps track of semi-truck drivers’ time. The Hours of Service application was crashing at least once a week, which made for very unhappy customers. The head of the division asked me to take over the system. Once we did, within a couple of months the system stabilized. We’ve been running and developing that application ever since.
The real problem the division was encountering was that all of the things needed to stabilize that application were in the backend infrastructure. They had good engineering people who were experienced with devices and writing applications on the device itself, but they really didn’t understand the back end infrastructure as well as they needed to. And, that’s what IT is good at. Under IT, the system’s been very stable and the customers and the business have been very pleased with our work.
How do you know that the customers and the business are happy with this? What is your way to measure that?
They tell us. I’m speaking with customers on a regular basis; that’s how I spend at least 10 percent of my time. And, my product teams and project managers now speak directly with end customers as well.
Our third success is that we developed a self-service approach to reporting and analytics. We taught users how to use the tools and then just turned them loose and said "have at it." Now, we’ve got people in the business communities writing reports and developing applications and dashboards. IT doesn’t have to be involved at all. Today, 10 of the top 20 reports that Qualcomm uses were developed by the end users, with no IT involvement.
Is there a downside to letting your business users loose on developing their own reports?
There is the potential that they could write a bad report or query that sucks up a lot of capacity, but we monitor for that. We’ve taken steps to mitigate that risk and it certainly paid off for us. They love not having to come to IT and getting in a queue in order to get something done.
What kind of leadership style do you use to keep your IT organization agile and adaptable?
I use an empowerment approach. If we had a command and a control culture where I had to be involved in every little decision, we’d never get anything done. We push decision making responsibility deep down into our organization, much lower down than just my direct reports. By allowing people to have the responsibility, capability and training to make decisions, we’re able to get a lot done.
I am also big on allowing people to make mistakes. I actually had an all hands meeting a couple years ago where I told my organization that we weren’t making enough mistakes. We were getting too cautious and too slow. If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not learning anything.
Tell me about a piece of career advice you were given that made an impact on you?
Probably 20 years ago, I was having an operations review with the COO. At the time, the company was a having issues with a particular product launch, which IT was trying to support. Everyone in the company was trying to make this thing happen by putting in extra hours and everybody was giving all kinds of excuses as to why it wasn’t working. Then the COO said “Hey, never confuse effort with results. I don’t want you to focus on all the things that you’re doing. I want you to focus on one thing: the results.”
If you’re not getting the right results, it doesn’t matter how much time you are putting into it. You need to change what you’re doing if you expect to get a different outcome.
Is there an interview question you use to tell if that person would be a good leader and fit in with company culture?
I have one interview question that I use all the time: “Do you have any questions for me?” You’d be surprised at the reactions I get from that question. I’ve had people give me blank stares and just say, “No.” I find it odd that someone has no questions at all about the company they want to join. The question also tells me if they’ve done their homework and if they understand Qualcomm. Are they asking very basic questions or are they insightful? Their answers also tell me what they think is important. Are they asking questions about the business? Are they asking questions about IT? Are they asking questions about the culture? Or are they just asking questions about their title and salary?
Is there a technology or business trend that you are particularly excited about?
I’m very excited about Platform-as-a-Service, which can also be called SOA, or Service Oriented Architecture. We’re building a private platform as a service that is going to speed up our ability to deliver applications both internally and externally.
Some people will go to public Platform-as-a-Service offerings like Force.com, which is fine for other companies but it’s not what we do. I want to have those kinds of capabilities myself and then leverage those investments to deliver products and capabilities for the business that we do not have today. Once we have this platform in place, I expect we’ll be able to deliver new capabilities much faster.
If you did not become a CIO, what else might you have done with your life?
During school, I actually studied architecture. I loved designing and building things and got really into 3-D graphics. So, I’d be a 3-D graphic artist and maybe develop video game designs or make movies for Pixar. I love using computers to create art.
Would your kids think you’re cooler if you did that?
Oh, yes. But, I’ll still have the geek factor.
The CIO Paradox is a set of contradictions (IT “and” the business, for example) that prevents CIOs from delivering maximum business value. How do you know when you have broken the Paradox?
One great indicator that we’ve broken the paradox occurred last year when the CEO told me that he didn’t need to review IT’s budget. I don’t expect that to happen every year, certainly. But for him to say he didn’t need to get into in depth review of our IT budget indicates a huge amount of trust.
About Norm Fjeldheim and Qualcomm, Inc.
Norm Fjeldheim serves as SVP and CIO for Qualcomm Incorporated. In this role, Fjeldheim oversees all aspects of Qualcomm’s information technology for all of the Company’s diverse business units. In addition to his IT responsibilities, Fjeldheim is also responsible for Corporate Procurement, and the Technical Publications and Configuration Management organizations.
Since joining Qualcomm in 1987, he has served as manager, director and vice president of information technology. Fjeldheim and the IT department have guided the selection and implementation of technology to link Qualcomm’s corporate sites across six continents.
Prior to joining Qualcomm, Fjeldheim served as a systems analyst at Unisys Corporation and was a programmer analyst at M/A-COM Corporation.
Fjeldheim holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business, information systems from San Diego State University. He also completed the Wharton Executive Development Program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Qualcomm Incorporated is a world leader in 3G and next-generation mobile technologies. For more than 25 years, Qualcomm ideas and inventions have driven the evolution of digital communications, linking people everywhere more closely to information, entertainment and each other.