GE CTO Reinvents the House that Edison Built

SAN MATEO (04/24/2000) - Two years ago, Frank Campagnoni left a promising e-commerce job at AT&T Corp. to take the CTO position at GEIS (General Electric Information Systems).

At a time when many of his colleagues were rolling the dice on dot-com start-ups, Campagnoni went from one established American stalwart to another.

He had his reasons.

"Here was a company rooted in the past," Campagnoni says, "and I had the opportunity to lead them into the future -- they were a real diamond in the rough."

GE has cultivated a conservative image, but Campagnoni says there are changes afoot at the house that Thomas Edison built.

"Three things lured me," Campagnoni says. "I was very attracted by Harvey Seegers, the CEO [and president] of GEIS. He was smart and forward-thinking in his ideas about the future of business and e-commerce.

"The second thing was GE's enormous asset base of global clients and related experience in managing large trading communities. In b-to-b [business-to-business] e-commerce, size really does matter." (GE officials say the company's global network serves over 100,000 trading partners.)The third thing that really got Campagnoni's attention was the CTO position itself. "This was key," he says. "It was something I wanted very badly, namely to play the role of senior technical executive in a dynamic business organization."

As a CTO, one of the things that Campagnoni finds most challenging is the need to keep his infatuation with technology in check.

"You might have a pure vision of the 'right' technology," he explains, "but it always has to balance with the business. This means you can never think in a completely unconstrained way. That is probably the trickiest thing about the CTO role."

And Campagnoni says working for GE makes this even trickier. "This organization [GE] is probably more driven by the numbers than any other company I know."

But Campagnoni believes that this fixation on the bottom line makes GE a happening kind of place for e-commerce.

"Not so much the b-to-c [business-to-consumer] stuff," he says, "but the b-to-b services and applications -- that's where you get a serious ROI."

In March, GE formally split its GEIS unit into two new divisions: GE InterBusiness Operations and GE Global eXchange Services (GXS), where Campagnoni took the CTO title. When GE announced the restructuring of GEIS into two new units, Seegers made it clear that the move was intended as something more than the usual corporate reshuffling. "B-to-b e-commerce is the hottest topic on the planet today," Seegers says. "Global e-commerce will total $2.5 trillion by 2003."

But it isn't just about money. "This is the start of a sweeping social change," Seegers said at the annual GEIS conference in Orlando, Florida, in March.

GE split GEIS in two to keep up with this change. Any doubts about where the action is are quickly dispelled by the fact that both Seegers and Campagnoni went with the GXS division. They are both emphatic and outspoken about the way business is being transformed by the Internet.

At the conference, Seegers, for example, brought in John Perry Barlow to give the closing keynote address. Barlow, a Wyoming cattle rancher and former lyricist for the Grateful Dead, is hardly your button-down type. But the self-styled guru of all things Internet got the point across: It is no longer business as usual.

Although the company is quick to voice support for the InterBusiness Operations piece, it clearly pins its hopes for the future on GXS.

"The mission of GE InterBusiness Operations," Campagnoni says, "will be to build up the infrastructure we need to take us to that next level in b-to-b over the Internet, and also to migrate all our trading partners from the legacy proprietary platforms that we have used in the past to the open Internet technologies and standards we will use in the future."

In other words, InterBusiness Operations will necessarily have one foot in the past. However, GXS is where GE plans to make itself a major player in the future, b-to-b Internet economy.

GE underscored the seriousness of its intentions with a major investment in GXS. Although no one is divulging exact figures, corporate headquarters has confirmed it is in the "hundreds of millions."

GXS is also well-staffed with approximately 300 people in professional services and 230 in product engineering.

Finally, with operations in over 40 countries and with more than 1 billion transactions per year taking place on the GXS network, the new division has resources that any start-up would envy.

Many of these transactions, however, still take place over VANs (value-added networks) that do not leverage the Internet and associated technologies.

So Campagnoni designed the technology platform that GXS will use to build next-generation, business-to-business e-commerce solutions. Called the ICA, or Internet Component Architecture, he describes it as a flexible, extensible software framework based on Java, LDAP, and Unix.

"It [ICA] needs to support many-to-many and any-to-any transactions," Campagnoni says. "In order to do this we need to provide these common services: directory, security, systems management, and intercomponent communications. ICA is the architecture designed to do all this."

If GXS makes good on some of its more ambitious plans, the division could find itself competing with successful I-commerce companies such as CommerceOne, Ariba, and VerticalNet.

"We may compete with them in some markets," Campagnoni says. "But currently, Ariba and CommerceOne are more focused on the indirect purchase business.

VerticalNet concentrates more on Internet-based trading exchanges for core business transactions, so they are a more likely competitor."

Competition is always a challenge, but Campagnoni says one of his biggest jobs will be to sell the future to GE's customers.

"GEIS was very successful in building private VANs," Campagnoni says. "But these systems are based on EDI (electronic data interchange) and proprietary VANs. It is a real cultural transformation to move from these VANs to the Net."

CTO profile

Name: Frank Campagnoni

Company: GE Global eXchange Services (GXS)Job title: Vice President and CTOReports to: Harvey Seegers, President and CEO of GXSMission: Define and drive technology strategy and implementation in support of GXS business objective to be the world's largest supplier of intelligent supply-chain solutionsEducation: 1985 Ph. D. Experimental Psychology, Northeastern University, BostonCareer path: 1987, consultant, Sun Microsystems; 1990, IBM Open Systems Group; 1996, AT&T Solutions; 1998, GEIS (General Electric Information Systems) CTO.

Current role: Evolving traditional business-to-business e-services to the Internet for major global customersMentor: Cliff Reeves, IBM/Lotus DevelopmentBiggest challenge: In 1993, negotiating CORBA interoperability standardsFavorite e-business site: XML.orgFavorite escape: Gardening.

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