Shifting gears

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Last Friday I left Capgemini, where I've been the Corporate Webmaster for the past eight years and five months. Quite a long time, quite an adventure.

I joined them in June 1998 for a mission dubbed "Stop the chaos" — they had 25 external sites at the time, each of them with its own design (and almost as many logos for the same company), and the board had started to put some pressure to align everybody on the same look & feel. What I didn't know when I joined is that two people were tasked to do that before me, and failed. I didn't know it was impossible, so I did it ;-).

From 1998 to 2005, I orchestrated five redesigns of the company web sites. Some really minor (changing the company name and logo on April 2004, although the whole rebranding was quite a feat), most of them being pretty significant (sometimes more in terms of politics than web design, especially during merger/acquisition times), and one of them, the last one, being the biggest and most challenging project to date for me. The results and the amazing people I had the chance to work with (not forgetting my colleagues) far outweighed the stress, bumps in the road and back-stabbing I had to endure (all good lessons anyway, my skin's significantly thicker now).

Being more comfortable with change than with status quo, and in equal need of thinking and doing, I couldn't satisfy myself with just owning the company web guidelines and telling the whole group to follow them. This company being built on the concept of "village gaulois", it would have failed (as it did before). My trick was to build a platform of shared services (mainly hosting, content management and audience tracking tools) and offer them for free to the other units, winning on several fronts: leading by eating my own dog food, immediately decrease their running costs, decrease the complexity of managing the whole internet presence (30 sites worldwide), decrease the long-term running and future redesign costs for the whole group. I reckon that, by designing and delivering this shared platform and succeeding in getting all countries (but North America) to jump on board, I managed to save the Group 1 M€ in running costs per year! They should be pleased with the ROI on that one (too bad I didn't have any bonus on that one :-).

More recently, after years of blogging here, I planted blogs on the intranet and got our CTOs to play along on the first public corporate blog of Capgemini: the CTO blog. Launched without more publicity than that and a mention on the site home page, the blog got noticed then praised, but what really made my day was that we won a deal through it (for a ROI of more than 10 after just a few weeks, think about it if you wonder what benefits a corporate blog can bring). I didn't convince my management about an external blog farm for employees à la Sun or IBM before leaving, but I think it's just a matter of time before they pop up, one way or another. At the end of 2004, I won a contract with a leading French editor to write a book on business blogging, which basically took away all my nights and week-ends for the whole year of 2005. The book went out in January 2006 and was well received.

I must admit that this writing gig and the last redesign of both had a profound impact on my professional life and perspective, just when reaching 40. Today I have the opportunity to turn a page in favorable conditions, shift gears and fly by myself (even if I'm too old for this).

That's the goal for "me 4.1" now, web n+1 since 1993 ;-).