SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - Robert Carter is no stranger to first moves: As a seven-year veteran of $14 billion shipping-industry leader FedEx Corp., he works under a legacy of pioneering efforts. FedEx, which now ships an average of 3.4 million packages per day in its Express business alone, was the first in its industry to offer a Web site with more than just corporate brochureware, the first to let customers track packages online, and the first to open its online doors to an international audience.
But Carter is also a pioneer in his own right: He was FedEx's first CTO, and the catalyst in a major companywide transformation in which FedEx emerged as a strong digital-economy contender.
As this year's winner of InfoWorld's first CTO of the Year award, Carter embodies the emerging role of business strategist and technology innovator who is increasingly vital to moving a company forward in the Internet marketplace.
With a proven track record of contributions that have been key to FedEx's continuing leadership online, Carter has demonstrated how this combination of strengths, and this evolving style of technical leadership, can have a significant impact on a company's overall success.
"[Carter's] ability to understand what the CTO role is, and identify how we can apply IT architecture and products to improve the performance of the business, makes him a role model for others," says retiring FedEx CIO Dennis Jones. "He is a terrific team player internally, he's developed strong relationships with vendors to serve our needs, and [he] exemplifies a good balance of business and technology strengths."
As CTO of a company that attributes 70 percent of its volume to electronic transactions with its customers, Carter truly carries the weight of FedEx's digital future on his shoulders. Included under his domain are FedEx.com and its interNetShip package preparation and tracking solution; all tracking system efforts, both online and via the handhelds carried by couriers; and all projects related to what Carter calls "customer automation"-- anything that involves FedEx customers interacting with the company electronically in a self-service fashion.
As weighty as the CTO position has become at FedEx, it's still a fairly new seat at the executive table. However, FedEx leaders had a fundamental understanding for what type of technical strategist was missing at a critical juncture for the company. The CTO position was created at a time when FedEx was expanding into a global operation through several key acquisitions. The executives realized they needed a corporate-level IT driver who could run a cohesive organization and take FedEx.com forward, explains Jones.
"We had multiple IT groups with multiple business units, and those CIOs reported to me, so what we tried to keep at the holding-company level was the person to be involved with external relationships and the infrastructure companywide," Jones says. "Rob was a systems development vice president and was responsible for some of the key IT initiatives, and he had a key understanding for working with the business side."
Carter credits his readiness for the CTO responsibility at this point in time to a career expanse with variety, both on the technology side and the business side. In his over 20 years of IT experience, Carter has done everything from early mainframe batch processing to having a hand in the PC explosion and early networking to a move into big-environment client/server projects and mainframe application development to telecommunications exposure.
"It was [the] kind of good fortune that I had being exposed to a wide variety of different technologies over the past couple of decades," Carter says.
"Today, I think the best-rounded technology people have a strong telecommunications understanding ... because all of that comes together in today's Internet world."
Jones agrees that Carter's strength lies in his diversity as a contributor and leader.
"His understanding of what the infrastructure needs to be overall has been very important for us," Jones says. "There's no question that he's played an important role in making [FedEx.com] the most visited Web site in the business."
Holding the CTO reins, Carter has been instrumental in several major successes that firmly plant FedEx in a position for growth in an increasingly automated online marketplace. Most significant of Carter's contributions to FedEx's e-commerce efforts were the frameworks for multiple language support that allowed FedEx to provide a truly international online shipping portal. The enhancements allowed the shipment scope to expand from 58 countries to 180. Now more than 100,000 packages are prepared each day by customers using this functionality.
"[I handled] the globalization of the FedEx.com Web site: the frameworks for doing language support and making sure that we understood that FedEx.com was a worldwide resource, and not just a domestic resource," Carter explains.
Earlier in his CTO tenure, Carter also led the development and rollout of the online signature retrieval and display solution, which gives customers a private URL to view the proof of the delivery signature. Carter also spearheaded the Enhanced SuperTracker handheld system for couriers, which gives them the ability to transact key functions on the road such as capturing delivery information and package pickup information via a wireless terminal in the FedEx van.
During the past year, Carter has been laying the groundwork for the company's next-generation tracking system, which will provide proactive notification of shipments in transit and e-mail support for transmitting shipment information -- all through a Web-based interface with customers. These enhancements translate into near real-time, self-service tracking capabilities for customers that don't require FedEx employees to lift a phone receiver or spend more time making manual inquiries.
"[Carter is] deeply involved with new and upcoming technology, and spends time to understand the business and marry the two in a way that makes projects successful," adds Don Fike, a senior technical fellow at FedEx, who has reported to Carter for over a year.
Carter agrees that what allows him to be successful and keep FedEx at the top of its game is his ability to balance both worlds.
"If there's anything that I think made a difference in our culture, it's [my] ability to do both things: be able to relate very well to the technical person that's out there on the firing line trying to get something done, as well as to the CEO and other business leaders around the company that are looking at business results and technology as a means to an end."
Robert Carter, FedEx Corp.
Title: CTO, making the transition to CIOYears at company: 7Biggest success: Laying the language frameworks for FedEx.com's international shipping capabilities; developing the next-generation tracking systemKey challenges: Transitioning to the CIO role; recruiting and retaining talent in the IT organizationPersonal note: Enjoys his family, outdoor activities, exercising, and golfing.