Deliver benefits to the business by keeping IT systems simple

Feature

Deliver benefits to the business by keeping IT systems simple

Brian Jones kicks off a series of commentaries by chief information officers about the lessons to be drawn from initiatives they got right and where they had problems. He explains how he handles contracts and projects, and how he promotes information technology as a critical business enabler

 

BEST DECISION

 

When I joined Allied Domecq in 2002, I inherited one particular operational outsourcing contract between Allied and EDS that was far too imprecise and was failing both sides.

 

That single contract pointed to a wider problem that was soon inescapable: few of the various IT functions being carried out within the group – either internally or involving outside suppliers – were properly thought out or integrated.

 

With this gap in mind, I decided to create a new role within the group: IT commercial director. I wanted an individual and a department whose remit was to renegotiate all major IT contracts, to create partnerships with major suppliers and to begin to tap into other sources of global expertise.

 

The tricky part about arriving at an IT contract that suits all sides is to bridge the communication gap that often exists between the legal team that is involved and the IT team.

 

When I recruited, I made sure the commercial director was selected for her experience in achieving the kind of value I was seeking – namely, agreeing deals on the best, most productive terms for the company.

 

More quickly than I had dared hope, that appointment and the commercial department that followed proved a huge success. An early triumph was the EDS contract itself, which was renegotiated for the benefit of all.

 

Another hugely significant advance was the partnership the department forged with AT&T for the networks group to become Allied’s global network provider. Along the way, 43 contracts with AT&T in Europe alone were replaced with just one worldwide deal.

 

Within months, the good work of the IT commercial department was being recognised across the organisation as offering an example of best practice.

 

On the strength of this, I was invited by Philip Bowman, Allied’s chief executive, to lead a company-wide transformation programme taking in our supply chain and manufacturing group to apply the principles we had established in IT to help create a global indirect procurement category.

 

Under the stewardship of my original IT commercial director, this also proved a success – all of which helped to make Allied an attractive but costly takeover target for Pernod Ricard when it made its approach last year.

 

The other equally important aspect of the success of the IT commercial department I established lay in self-promotion. It helped that in Bowman Allied had a chief executive who understood that IT was a critical enabler of the business, but to really bring home the message that IT is making a difference I have found that you need to keep your story simple and shout it from the rooftops.

 

To get things moving, I made sure than the department’s quick wins at the outset were well publicised. I think this really helped to get people engaged and enthusiastic – and it gave the programme the necessary momentum and boardroom backing it needed to keep going through any sticky patches.

 

WORST DECISION

 

I have learned the hard way over the years to make sure you pick the right battle. Put simply, before you embark on trying to achieve something, make sure it really is worth doing.

 

When I was working for IBM, I had responsibility for a contract with a broadcasting company to supply a digital technology solution. By the time I came to it the contract had gone bad. It was over budget and badly managed.

 

My response to the situation was to try to solve the commercial problem I was facing. I really wanted to avoid litigation and started off by dutifully scrutinising every aspect of the project management.

 

In fact, teams on both sides got involved over several months in this process of trying to get the commercials right.

 

But I am afraid to say I had overlooked something far more fundamental – namely, the solution itself could not work as defined in the contract. It seems amazing to say it, but the technology simply did not exist. Altogether it took nine months of hard work before I realised this fundamental point. And there is no escaping it: that really is an awful lot of wasted effort by a great many people.

 

I have never made a mistake on that scale since, but it was a costly lesson to learn. From where I sit now, I believe that if projects or programmes are overly complex there is a good chance they are simply wrong. Before you embark on something, it is crucial to ask yourself, “Am I chasing the wrong dream here? Is this simply the wrong solution? And is spending this money that has been allocated for IT really the best way to achieve the desired outcome – or might we be better off, say, just hiring someone to carry out this function?”

 

It is worth remembering that the role of CIO is a strategic one, but that strategic thinking will not always be something you share with those who work alongside you. Technologists are in the business of implementing things and, in my experience, that is something they generally do very industriously and creatively. So it is a crime of management to waste those people’s efforts by giving them tasks or projects that are ill conceived or doomed to failure.

 

To make sure a project is likely to succeed, these days I like to keep things as simple as possible. If you break down projects into neat milestones and deliverables, it is much easier to keep track of what is working and what is not – and to keep your staff motivated, interested and engaged.

 

One other general point is worth making, which is that CIOs are inevitably the change agents in corporations. Being a CIO is all about managing change. By comparison, the service delivery part of the IT department is routine. This means that the CIO has to be at the heart of the business strategy, otherwise the IT function is reduced to keeping the lights on and tinkering around the edges of the business.

 

To ensure that does not happen, IT needs a leader whose voice is heard in every part of the business, with credibility across the organisation and in the boardroom.

 

CV: BRIAN JONES

 

Brian Jones was formerly global chief information officer of drinks manufacturer Allied Domecq, where he was responsible for all aspects of IT and financial shared services prior to the sale of the business to Pernod Ricard last summer.

 

During his time at Allied Domecq, Jones executed a highly successful IT transformation and was then invited by the chief executive to lead a global cross-functional initiative to improve the operational performance of the business as a whole.

 

Jones has more than 17 years of IT and business management experience, primarily in the retail and consumer packaged goods industries.  He joined Allied Domecq from IBM, where he was responsible for developing the European distribution sector services business, sat on the company’s European client executive certification board, and was featured in numerous corporate marketing campaigns.

 

He is currently leading a large-scale business transformation in a global retailer as well as providing consulting advice to other organisations.  His own company, Atlantic Cedar, specialises in IT, procurement and business transformation.


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This was first published in May 2006

 

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