If you’re the chief IT executive of a Fortune 500 company right now, all eyes are on you. You need to be the hero, the light in the gloom, the one to deliver your company from the brink of economic disaster in a year like no other.

If you’re Rob Carter, Executive VP of Information Services at FedEx, you’ve been working toward this moment for years. Carter was the keynote speaker at the Enterprise IT Virtual Event on July 23, hosted by Data Center Knowledge. The theme of the event was “Doing More IT with Less: Economizing and Innovating in Today’s Enterprise IT Organization.

In a live interview to kick off the event, Carter shared several timely insights relevant to enterprise IT organizations in many sectors, as follows:

Covid-19: Don’t overspend or underspend, but refocus

FedEx had been expanding its e-commerce business and service hours well before the pandemic, Carter said, so the real change was in how the company undertook daily operations. Sending a workforce of 100,000 home in a matter of days couldn’t have been easy but Carter says the company’s investments in agile IT and agile business processes was a great benefit to making the shift.

In regards to budget, FedEx IT didn’t ramp up spending as a knee-jerk response but refocused existing budget on critical needs--one of them being an Okta implementation which became urgent due to WFH security needs. In response to the moderator’s question about managing IT budgets when your organization is not the size of FedEx, Carter gave this advice: There’s an adverse impact of CEOs cramping down on IT budgets. Don’t allow yourself to be seen as the cost center. “The companies with big market caps are ones that spend most on tech, not the least.”

There’s an adverse impact of CEOs cramping down on IT budgets. Don’t allow yourself to be seen as the cost center.

Using technology to adapt quickly to new marketplace realities

Carter discussed how Covid-19 created a massive shift in deliveries, from business to consumer. That meant many more smaller shipments to more locations and drivers who no longer had predictable routes.  FedEx uses its dynamic route optimization software to “dynamically route drivers to get the most density into routes” and also leveraged the software on drivers’ handheld devices to help them adjust to new workflows. “Technology really helped our business withstand a massive shift in traffic patterns,”  Carter said.

The acceleration of cloud & managed services 

All signs point to growing adoption of easy-to-consume IT. Says Carter: “When I began in tech 35 years ago everything was custom crafted and in your own data center. We had very few packaged apps, no ERP. But now it's a tap-into world of tech that supports doing more with less.” FedEx IT still builds its own software for specialized needs but it’s done in a “cloud-native style of delivery and execution using componentized capabilities to create horizontal business processes that create new value,” Carter explained. The company is in the process of shuttering its enterprise data centers and is running a hybrid IT environment consisting of colocation/private clouds and public cloud infrastructure. 

Evolution of data centers at FedEx

As cloud adoption matures across enterprises, a trend that has accelerated in 2020, Carter says he continues to lead his organization away from on-premise IT: “We aren't interested in a future of spending our capital on keeping our infrastructure up to date.”  FedEx began its journey to cloud using a 40-40-20 rule, meaning moving from an environment of 100% on-site data centers to 40% owned, 40% co-location data centers and 20% of assets in the public cloud. Now, FedEx is moving toward a 0-50-50 model. Workload requirements drive these decisions and cost is a prevailing consideration. Public cloud investments are more economical with elastic workloads, he says, a fact which has helped guide the company’s strategy. “We have around 20 billion transactions a day and most of it is baseload compute. We deploy on colo’s and our own infrastructure because it’s cheaper. We use public clouds for [those workloads] which scale up and down.”

For an IT executive with more than 20 years of experience at a major brand, some things never change when it comes to leading the troops through both good and bad times.  “The most important thing that I’ve learned over the years is that if the business teams and the technology teams are aligned, then my job gets easy.  I just have to get out of the way.”

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