IT Is Too Darn Slow

Is your IT shop the place where great business ideas grind to a halt? Here’s how to speed things up.

By Chris Murphy , InformationWeek
February 26, 2011 12:00 AM

Really listen to CIOs these days, and you’ll hear something in their voices: impatience.

It’s not always overt. And it’s more than the anxious ambition of most successful executives, who got where they are in part by pushing and pushing to get things done. This impatience runs deeper. They look at the speed with which IT delivers business value, and they have a nagging sense that it’s not close to good enough.
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While at CES, TechWeb’s Gina Smith happened upon Nimble — a social network provider whose solution simultaneously provides behind-the-firewall social networking for businesses at the same time that it integrates with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc

This isn’t about the speeds and feeds of technical performance, of gigahertz this and gigabit that. That’s IT’s comfort zone, and in that arena, CIOs, their organizations, and their vendors have exceeded every rational expectation. In fact, that exceptional technical performance has raised expectations that IT organizations themselves can and must execute faster.

This need for speed is about shortening the distance between great idea and end result. It’s the time and effort and cost between ‘Hey, what if we …” and employees using a new productivity tool or customers crowing about the latest tech-based innovation.

This need for speed comes to a head when the sales and marketing and product development and HR groups say they can be ready to go in two months–and IT says six. Too often, CIOs are reaching this painful conclusion: IT is just too darn slow.

Listen to Rob Carter at FedEx. A CIO couldn’t work for a more enlightened company when it comes to understanding IT’s central role in business success. Carter earned his “seat at the table” long ago. When huge strategic decisions get made at FedEx, Carter and his IT organization are there from the start.

Still, the reason Carter’s driving a sweeping change to how FedEx runs its data centers and manages applications is in large part because, when the discussion turns to when a business initiative can be completed, all eyes turn to IT. It’s nice to be seen as strategic, Carter says, but “it’s also difficult to be the long pole in the tent every time we want to go do something.”

Listen to Randy Mott, CIO of Hewlett-Packard. Mott has cut the time it takes to complete the typical HP IT project down to six months, but now he thinks he needs to slash it again, to three months. Instead of big-bang IT, he wants IT’s impact to be constant. “We ought to be changing the productivity of everybody in our organization every 30 days–in HP, not IT,” Mott says. “If we’re going to keep up with the growth in front of us, we better figure out how to do that.”
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Listen to Denis Edwards, CIO of global staffing company Manpower. Edwards sees Amazon Web Services spinning up a server in minutes for a developer and sees Apple and its legions putting out new iPhone apps every single day, and he knows that’s the standard by which IT will be judged. So he’s making Manpower’s enterprise software development and distribution model more like an app store, where country managers can have local IT teams grab software tools, such as a new video interviewing app that’s in development, and implement them without it becoming a long-term project.

Listen to Michael Heim, CIO of Eli Lilly. The drugmaker is using Amazon cloud infrastructure to let scientists do early-stage, compute-intensive research. Nothing is more important to this business than discovering new drugs, yet in the past it could take six to eight weeks just to get IT services set up for those researchers. Now it takes days. “It’s hard to underestimate the value of letting scientists work at their own pace,” Heim says.

Listen to Chris Perretta, executive VP and CIO of financial services company State Street, which is building a private cloud environment in order to, yes, cut maintenance costs, but more important, to accelerate application development, the core of State Street’s IT-led competitive advantage. “Our goal is to optimize the time from idea to solution,” Perretta says. “The idea is when the stopwatch starts. Really, it’s about the customer–when does their stopwatch start, not mine.”

Listen to FBI CIO Chad Fulgham, who took control of the intelligence agency’s biggest, most important IT project–a twice-delayed case management system called Sentinel–from contractor Lockheed Martin in order to pull it across the finish line. Fulgham, who learned about speed working on Wall Street, has FBI IT staffers employing agile development to break the $451 million project into smaller pieces and make adjustments on the fly. “The smaller team takes out a lot of the, for lack of a better word, bureaucracy,” he says. “It is a fundamental change in how the federal government does IT. I want to be on the leading edge.”


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