Conducting IT

As an opera enthusiast, I think of IT as the orchestra within an operatic production. The orchestra is always there through every rehearsal and quickly makes necessary adjustments -- scrapping versions, learning new endings or making accommodations for the latest venue. (So we're moving this production to an outdoor amphitheater with one electrical outlet 50 yards from the stage? No problem!)

For IT leaders, it's easy to identify with the conductor. He is integral to creating the sea upon which the opera's story floats. When acknowledged, the conductor gives a quick wave of one hand, baton in the other, to conduct the finale. ("Glad you liked that new application we developed, but let me get back to the product launch.")

Just as a conductor runs a show within a show while managing the wide and varied elements of his "service organization," we IT leaders are running a business within a business.

Our job is to offer our company digestible "passages" of IT that our "audience" -- the employees of our organization -- can understand and use to maximize the performance of the company. We synthesize and interpret the complexities of a "score" -- the technology needs of our company -- to develop a clear vision. We work with other governing bodies to make the best decisions (just as conductors work with producers, directors and composers), and ultimately we strive for the best performance possible.

Here are three key tenets of "conducting" IT as a business that we use at Accenture:

1. Transition to managed services. In IT services, as in music, different folks like different notes. So rather than requiring your company to use a single song sheet (the traditional one-size-fits-all IT model), try providing a defined set of products and services to the business, with service-level guarantees and prices that are benchmarked to the marketplace. This approach has enabled my company to realize substantial cost savings while maintaining and often enhancing service levels.

For example, we have five e-mail offerings that differ primarily by size. We attach a price to each and let the business units decide. They may choose, say, bigger mailboxes for senior executives and smaller ones for junior staffers. By applying this approach, we found that the average mailbox size decreased from 275MB to 140MB across all business units. The resulting cost savings were substantial. Since we put managed services in place, our annual e-mail costs per user have decreased 76 percent, from US$466 to US$112.

2. Develop a scorecard. A conductor's musical score is much more than the notes each instrument plays. It provides guidance to support decisions about the architecture, tempo, texture and timbre of the sound. Likewise, I think of an IT scorecard as enabling us to focus more on the "I" in IT. Basic IT metrics such as costs, progress on key initiatives and service uptime are important, but an IT scorecard that measures progress against business goals enables IT leaders to provide better context and more meaningful data with which to run the IT business. I ask questions like, "How satisfied are our employees, business sponsors and end users? Are we achieving the benefits expected in our business cases? What is our cost of providing IT to different workforces? What is the training budget spent per employee?" In addition, we benchmark against competitors. This allows the IT organization to recalibrate operations as necessary to ensure continued strong results and harmony between business and IT.

Scorecarding IT performance helps the IT department, and ultimately the entire company, make better decisions and operate more efficiently. With consistent business-oriented metrics, you can perform year-to-year comparisons, track trends and more easily show where IT has added value. Curtain call, anyone?

3. Ensure governance. Theatrical productions use the expertise of the director, conductor, composer, costume designer, lyricist, set designer and lighting technicians. IT organizations can adopt the same approach when it comes to governance. While most CIOs create the IT strategy, the people who run the various parts of the company are the sponsors of IT and should have seats at the table. At Accenture, major IT decisions are confirmed by an IT steering committee made up of the chief operating officers from our businesses. This ensures that our technology initiatives are aligned with the needs of the business and have its support.

And thanks to a robust review process, our operas aren't over when the houselights come on. We closely monitor - and report to the steering committee -- how well completed projects met expectations.

Using this approach, you can drive cost efficiencies, improve IT's response to business needs, enhance decision-making and build a competitive advantage. Since 2001, our own customer satisfaction scores have risen from 3.2 to 3.9 (a score of 5 is outstanding). Our performance goal is a standing ovation.

If you incorporate a managed services approach, scorecards and robust governance models, you'll find alignment to be a simple medley, not a virtuosic struggle. You'll also more easily view what you provide to the business as a service.

It doesn't happen overnight. It will require practice and numerous adjustments. But it will bring your performance to new heights. Break a leg, maestro!

Modruson is CIO at Accenture. Contact him at frank.b.modruson@accenture.com.

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