Information Age (IA): Over the past two years you have brought together a sprawling IT structure spread across dozens of regional ‘data centres’ into a single, global organisation. What are some of the lessons learnt?
Brian Jones (BJ): One of the key things we did was to separate IT supply and IT demand. If you accept that the best way to run infrastructure is to run it globally, then it should be managed by function. So, for example, instead of
having a network person in every geography as before, we have one overall.
Our strategy was to globalise service delivery first. We did that very successfully, we gained control. For example, we have great virus protection now. We keep spam out at a level of three million messages a month. The productivity benefits are huge. Colleagues don’t see spam.
Before that we had regional and local IT management of infrastructure, so it was not clear who was going to take responsibility for that. If the local management had budget for it, they’d put something up. Probably something different from any other location, which resulted in some horror stories. We had a filtering tool in Asia/Pacific that could not understand the Korean language, so it filtered out every email they sent.
Another example how centralisation has provided massive improvements is how we dealt with the Slammer virus. When it first hit, we raised the drawbridge; it got into one of our servers and we got it out in 15 minutes. Given the amount of SQLServer we have around (which was Slammer’s target), we would have been off the air for days if it had got into our systems.
IA: How has the demand side changed?
BJ: What I did was put in business relationship managers who are internal account managers, responsible for all of IT demand, prioritisation and management of services to the business units to which they are responsible.
So in Europe we have someone who attends the European executive board meetings, he has dual reporting to the president in the Europe business and to me. And he is responsible for understanding what the requirements in that region are, communicating IT opportunities to users and fighting on their side for discretionary investment. It works incredibly well. Because what can happen is that globalisation can become nothing more than centralisation and the [regional users] feels disenfranchised.
By having those guys out there in among the business, living it, going through the pain, getting drunk together, that is not an issue. I talk to many stakeholders out there and they just love it, because they don’t have problems of managing delivery – that’s my problem. But they do have that immediate way in. And every person in our company should be able to tell you who their IT contact is, and that will be one of our BRMs.
IA: So how was that communication maintained before BRMs?
BJ: It was ad hoc. If you were a regional organisation you would have had a regional IT division, you may even have had 40 to 50 people and a regional director in IT. You had end-to-end delivery, but you also had something to manage that you did not necessarily know anything about, you had a budget to mange and you wouldn’t know if that was delivering good, bad or indifferent IT. You did not know what other regions were doing.
So you ended up getting fragmentation on top of fragmentation, and IT regions competing with IT regions to be the first to implement new technology. Wrong type of competition. We want regions to compete with each other to outsell each other, make more profit than each other but not to deliver IT projects.
IA: So how do they argue that their IT needs are a priority?
BJ: This is the real fun area – enabling business value with high-impact solutions. Where should we really be investing? Things like a blueprint for business systems development, like our global data standard and the information warehouse are a single global interconnect.
The related part to that is the business IT prioritisation mechanism. This was the real coup. This is what really excites me. Global IT was starting to work, and we now had full control of the money. And we managed to get that with the support of the regional finance directors which took a lot of work. But what we needed was a way of allocating spend that would be transparent and make everyone feel they were getting a share of the benefits.
So we set the budget and allocated it out proportionately based on what they had spent last year (in time we will go for proper re-charging). And we separated that into two parts, discretionary and non-discretionary.
Discretionary was stuff we have to do, like keeping the lights on in the data centre, support, and so on. The discretionary part was all the investment projects – new solutions.
But we allocated the whole lot, including discretionary. So everybody has paid their discretionary amount into the pot, and they bring in their demands through the business relationship guys. These have to conform to our standards of presenting a business case and we review those demands with a board that is partly made up of the main executive board and partly from IT. And say yea or nay, depending in the strategic fit.
Now the great thing about it is that we now have transparency over the function that has been historically opaque. But the other thing is that if you are sitting within a region, and you only had £1 million of discretionary spend last year, you now have a pot of 10 or 15 times that. You might get nothing, but if you make the right case.
Of course every operator out there believes they will make a more effective case than the next guy.
IA: What kinds of things are they asking for?
BJ: Sales automation, PDAs for warehouse management, but it could be anything. We have one using next generation RFID chips, or smart dust, out there in the vineyards monitoring temperatures and humidity changes. We already have solutions in the agave plantations that are the source of our tequila. Every single agave plant is an asset, because they are so valuable. But when you have got millions of the things you need to keep track of them, every one has a unique ID. By automating that at the very least you save on audit bills.
IT was viewed very badly when I arrived and it is not now. Just look at the requirement made by the board around IT: ‘that IT should not be a break on the business’. Now, the strapline is that IT should be an enabler of value for the business. That is subtle but hard to achieve. That is down to a clear perception that IT is better managed. Twelve months ago I couldn’t say what the bang or the buck was. Now I know exactly what the bang for buck is – everywhere.