Archive for the ‘IT Strategy’ Category

The high price of call handling times

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

I was at a large telco last week chatting to the manager of a 1,000 seat call centre.

We were talking through the inconveniences that agents have to go through in terms of navigating through a variety of systems just to give the customer what they needed, in this case upgrading their contract.

The problems were obvious in terms of the corporate systems.  Like any other enterprise, these were divided into functional silos paying little regard to the business process.  However, additional difficulty had been added by the use of complex spreadsheets as workarounds for missing system functionality.  Am I painting a grim picture?  Not at all – I see this in every large call centre, not to mention back office.  This is the norm for operational managers – they come to expect it.

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The Banker: CIO of the year

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

I was idly leafing through my December copy of The Banker in which 2007 awards were liberally sprinkled upon the great and the good of the banking industry.  But for such an IT driven industry, I was amazed to find that only one award existed bearing any relation to technology.

José María Fuster of Grupo Santander won “CIO of the year”.  Even in the title, The Banker mistakenly named the award Chief Investment Officer of the year – oops!  I guess that getting some parts of the banking industry out of the old oak-panelled rooms and into the modern world will take another generation!

Meanwhile, no such delay for Grupo Santander whose SOA inspired “Alhambra” multi-channel core banking system (to replace the already successful “Partenon” platform) appears to be steaming ahead and if reports are to be believed, will be something of a kick up the banking industry’s behind.

Like HSBC, Santander’s reputation is to build rather than buy.  For Santander, this decision seems to be related to competitive advantage, not cost.  If one buys an external system, one benefits from all the experience that the vendor has gleaned from working with other organisations.  However, this can create a lowest common denominator.  This may be OK in non-core parts of an enterprise, if you just want to make sure that you are no worse than any of your competitors, and to do so at least cost.  This can free your corporate energy to focus on building competitive advantage at the front end, via marketing for example.

But if you are using your systems and processes as a route to competitive advantage then build is surely better.

HSBC IT takes wind out of vendors sails.

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Friend or foe?  Ask any enterprise software vendor where HSBC sits on the Buy vs Build spectrum and the answer will be as firmly towards build as any enterprise you might encounter.  In that sense, if they are never going to buy your product, I guess they are a foe.  On the other hand, if you work in the business in HSBC, I suspect you may hold a different view, at least according to a case study published in UK journal, Computer Weekly of today’s date.  The study tells how HSBC has restructured its IT division and its relationship with the business.

Richard Dunlop, chief operating officer of HSBC’s technology services group in Europe is the architect behind the changes which started in 2004 and were clearly driven by the “competitive threat posed by external service providers such as outsourcing suppliers”.  Dunlop said “we were not getting the economies of scale that we should have from employing 2,000 developers in the UK”.

But before the cynics amongst you leap to the conclusion that this was just some artifice aimed at simply reducing costs at any cost, it seems there is more to the story.  The threat of external service providers also alerted HSBC IT to the need to service their own business colleagues.  They appointed relationship managers as single points of contact so their sole focus was on managing “the account”.  That put them in a position to “work in partnership with the business by proactively providing it with information that it can use to drive costs down and improve the bottom line”.

Hang on a minute, isn’t this the sort of language and behaviour normally adopted by the very external vendors HSBC IT are competing against?  To win business, external suppliers need to offer more than an in-house IT function can offer – better price, better product, better service, better relationship and you bet they need to look after their own costs too.

So it seems that HSBC are successfully competing against external suppliers by playing them at their own game.  This appears to be good practice and judging by the number of technology driven customer service innovations launched recently, I can only assume that the business is happy too.

If you followed the hyperlinks above, the alert amongst you will have picked up that some of the announcements were actually HSBC in partnership with an external vendor which only goes to show that there is no such thing as black and white when it comes to Buy vs Build.  But if, as an internal IT department, you want to maintain control over your own destiny, acting like an external supplier is probably a good weapon.

Is SaaS a competitor to IT?

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

I thought Software as a Service was merely another medium for delivering IT to the business users.  Increasing amounts of anecdotal evidence are leading me to conclude that many IT departments think of SaaS as a threat.

I was at a UK telco this week and chatting to the heads of the B2B operation, we chanced upon the topic of Salesforce.com.  I said I was considering switching Blue Prism’s lead generation, sales management and customer support to Salesforce.  I was surprised to hear that this telco had been using Salesforce for a number of months (and were pretty happy with the results).

My first surprise was that Salesforce.com is pervading the largest organisations these days – it’s not just a tool for SMBs.  The second surprise was the reason why this is happening.  I asked what the IT department thought of SaaS.  I was told that IT had proposed a different “traditional” CRM system, hosted internally, but that is was “simply not competitive” so the business adopted Salesforce.com despite the IT recommendation.

If IT is to be seen as just one of many competitors in the external market place, then on average they will lose.  Internal IT functions, it seems, are not set up to sell, to listen, to understand the business, to act quickly, or to focus minds on costs.

But most sadly of all, it seems internal IT departments are losing sight of what they should be doing best. Being an internal, trusted adviser, that leads the operational people to the best IT solutions for the business, whether the solution be internal or external, packaged or built, software or service.

In praise of IT

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Despite numerous articles on this blog criticising enterprise IT for not understanding business needs, I am a staunch supporter of the IT function and I try to make my comments constructive so as to help IT and their business colleagues deliver greater things.

So, I am definitely in favour of promoting IT successes.  This is much more than perception management.  Remember that Accenture, IBM, Cap Gemini and the like will all be proudly shouting about their accomplishments.  If you are a CIO bidding against an external vendor, then you better be able to demonstrate some successes and not a procession of failures.  The vendors will have a huge web of triumphal yarns to spin.

So, why not publish internal case studies?  Why not set up an intranet site, with progress/info/updates/successes (and failures – honesty is good)?  Why not spend a bit more time telling people about the good things you have done?  I often see IT people and old style CIOs who seem afraid of selling themselves.

You get a bullet in the head when things go wrong.  Take some credit when they go right!

A word of warning though, you better make sure that what you promote is the truth and not thinly veiled propaganda, which business staff will see through straight away.  That is where you are at a disadvantage to the external suppliers…

Computer Weekly Blogs

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

I have just discovered a range of blogs under the Computer Weekly banner, and expecting to see the usual journalist names (not that I have anything against the journos, they do a pretty good job), I was surprised to see a blog from a real CIO.

Adam Burstow offers insights from the CIO perspective and his blog is a call to action, at least by name, which is “Making IT Happen”.  If you are interested in CIO matters, it’s worth a read.

Obstructive IT

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Computer Weekly is reporting Gartner’s views that CIOs must “reassess the role of the IT function”.  The general thrust is that CIOs need to realise that there is some anarchy going on and with web downloads, collaboration tools and SaaS, business users are implementing their own solutions, whether the IT function likes it or not (and in fact the IT function often doesn’t even know).

You may remember our Rogue IT Survey which gives a lot of insight into why the user community is “doing its own thing”.

For Blue Prism’s part we are considering ways of making it easier to buy the product as an incremental purchase rather than a major investment decision and this does no more than put us in line with nearly every other enterprise software vendor.  So there is a trend and the CIO does need to think about this before anarchy runs rife in the organisation.

As a vendor, we are not trying to usurp the power of the IT department.  Indeed, I personally support a strong IT governance model.  However, many IT departments put so much governance, methodology and process in the way of good ideas that they become un-implementable and this is a shame.  The world of enterprise software is not changing – it has already changed.  Outdated processes and thoughts still remain from the Cobol/mainframe days and I do think that many IT departments simply follow rules for rules sake.

Time for some common sense and to see the bigger picture.  There is definitely room for some governance and process but when this is simply obstructive, you can’t blame the business users for looking for their own ways to solve problems.

Can IT learn from Change Managers?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Anyone who has ever been a project manager, or had any PM training, will be under no illusion that the single most important feature of a successful project is to have senior management support.

I have done a bit of project management in my time, and like most PMs, have fallen into the trap of how to measure the success of a project.  Tradition says that a project comprises cost, quality and time.  So if you deliver your project within budget, to specification, and within the planned timeframe you have succeeded, right?  Well, only in a small minded way, in my opinion.

What if you’ve delivered a cart, when the organisation really needed a horse?

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Are CIOs just byte counters?

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I follow a fair amount of financial press as many of our customers are in that sector.  I was interested to see that the “IT vs the Business” argument rages in this sector like many others, and the future of the role of CIO is being questioned, likewise.

The arguments are summarised neatly by Chris Skinner in his finextra post Bankers are from Mercury, techies are from Uranus.  Chris sits firmly on the business side as you might expect from the title.  The arguments, though, are interesting.  The most alarming is that we have now been discussing the chasm between IT and the business for 25 years or more and where is the progress?

Despite taking the business angle, Chris does acknowledge that the business needs to take IT seriously and up their understanding of what IT can do.  But this doesn’t mean that business people need to understand SOA, how to code, what a network protocol is, or where the nearest server farm is.  It does mean that they should understand the power of social networking, wiki style collaboration, the power (and dangers) of software as a service, the use of the internet as a channel, the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing/offshoring vs technology solutions etc.

In this brave new world, according to Chris, the CIO role gets devalued and becomes the keeper of the nuts and bolts.  I think this would be a shame.  I hope the rumoured demise of the CIO role is premature.  All senior managers can read a P & L account and a Balance Sheet but that doesn’t remove the need for a CFO.  There is room on the board for expertise in all important disciplines and surely technology is one of the most important in most organisations?

Perhaps the onus is on the CIO to understand the business better?  Using my analogy above, CFOs need to understand the business.  The types of accountants known as bean counters do not make it to the board.  The IT equivalent is maybe someone obsessed with technology for its sake and not for what it can do for the business (a byte counter?).  Just as the responsibility is on the rest of the board to understand technology, so the CIO must understand the business.  I believe this will secure a valuable board level role for IT for as far ahead as I can see.

The CIO change request dilemma

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

As you might imagine, my job brings me into contact with many CIOs and IT Directors and nearly every one has different views and different problems to solve.

I guess one part of my job is to try to read their minds and get a feel for the aggregate of opinion in this field.  I have believed for some time that senior IT guys have a focus (rightly) on the longer term.  In today’s business environment the long term is usually seen as between 1 and 3 years.  As a result, IT resources are deployed onto major projects leaving scarce little left to do the everyday changes the business keep requesting.

I have been putting the argument that CIOs need some ideas aimed at getting the business to solve those problems for themselves.  So it was nice to speak to a CIO from a worldwide distributor last week and hear him echo those views.  “I like giving the business tools that they can use” he told me.  Nearly all his own staff are on major projects.  Meanwhile he has a list of 150 business change requests that he cannot attend to (this is a low number compared to most large organisations).  His team sits down with the business every couple of months and assesses a “hit list” of top priority changes and he struggles to deliver even those.  This is a very common scenario and is a management dilemma.

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