Biting Off Big Change
At Bank of America, global technology and operations executive Catherine Bessant succeeded by setting big goals. The $94.4 billion bank does business in more than 100 countries. Bessant says her organization, which works out of the bank's Charlotte, N.C., headquarters, is about 80% of the way through a multiyear IT globalization effort. The bank consolidated 10 of its 55 data centers in 2010 and expects to retire another nine, plus 50% of its applications, by 2014.
Bessant didn't get this far by being timid. "Exceptions and incremental steps are barriers to this. If you go incremental, you don't get it done," she says. Bessant acknowledges that her team's goal of reducing applications by 50% "set people's hair on end," but she says that specifically hitting that target isn't important; it's OK if the final figure is 40% or 60% -- as long as it doesn't end up at 5%. "People need to understand the order of magnitude of change you're after," she says.
P&G's Fortner offers this advice: It's OK to have big goals, but start with a small project. Begin by forming a shared services business unit that reports directly to the CIO. Conduct an inventory of business processes that cut across the enterprise and identify the ones that offer the most value to the company by standardizing. Then begin with a defined project in an application area such as HR or financial services. "Do a smaller core set first, prove it and go from there," says Fortner.
A good place to start is with accounting systems, says Forrester's Cameron. "Politically, that's easier to get done," he says.
Going Beyond the Core
Moving standardization efforts beyond core applications is where things can get sticky. IT must strike a balance between what should be consistent across the company and what needs to be differentiated -- a process that Bessant calls "paint-by-numbers vs. Picasso."
"We try not to create a Picasso every time we undertake development, but not every project fits the paint-by-numbers approach," she says. In the end, differentiated applications are allowed only where absolutely necessary to the business. And all applications must follow standards -- for example, they all must have the ability to support multiple currencies from day one, instead of building for the U.S. dollar first and adding support for other currencies later.