Ford-HP partnership boosts IT staff, e-business

In an effort to prepare for its business units' e-commerce initiatives amid an IT staff shortage, Ford Motor Co. last week announced a five-year deal with Hewlett-Packard to help administer and manage up to 1,000 servers worldwide.

Under the agreement, HP plans to meet mainframe-like service levels in the areas of availability, reliability and security for Ford's print, file, application and Web servers. Industry sources have pegged the deal at $US100 million to $200 million.

"We wanted to make sure that technology was waiting for business and not the other way around," said George Sordu, director of technical services at Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford. "[But] there weren't enough people to handle our growing server environment. HP is augmenting our resources, which will allow us to support e-commerce efforts."

Skills shortage end run

Ford has found that given the shortage of skilled information technology staff, it's more efficient to team with business partners, and the HP deal is the latest evidence of that. The automaker has shifted much of its vehicle design work to its top suppliers and recently partnered with IBM for application development and with Compuware for application maintenance.

Although some of those moves are expected to cut costs, Ford stressed that the HP deal is more about providing a robust and highly reliable server infrastructure for use by its business units. Because the deal augments Ford's current information technology operations, none of its 5,100 staff worldwide - half of whom are contractors - has been reassigned or let go.

Sordu wouldn't divulge the e-commerce initiatives Ford's business units are working on, but one industry expert said it's likely that those efforts will focus on marketing products and related services to consumers.

"I would expect them to develop a portal to all their offerings that would enable consumers to shop for, order, finance and insure a car - as well as handling trade-ins - all in one process," said Daron Gifford, global director of the automotive consulting practice at Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group in Detroit. "Integrating all these aspects of the vehicle [buying] experience would be very powerful."

Ford is dealing with a problem most automakers face: spending the time and money to find IT staff with specialised skills and re-educating existing staff, when possible, on more focused technology areas, Gifford said. "The partnering approach is faster, which is why I expect to see much more of it soon in the auto industry," he said.

As part of the Ford-HP deal, HP will build a dedicated operations services center on Ford property in Dearborn.

HP has already assigned about 70 specialists to the automaker's US server effort, with an unspecified number to go to Ford data centres in the UK and Germany, according to an HP spokeswoman.

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