Q&A: Aidan Gregan, Accenture

12 Apr 2011

Aidan Gregan is head of technology consulting with Accenture in Ireland.

What themes are you seeing coming up in discussions with CIOs?

One of the key things is to ensure they’re remaining aligned with the businesses that IT serves so they are able to engage in a strategic set of discussions with the business … to help the business deliver on its objectives over the coming years. And for the CIO really to understand the business drivers, how IT is relevant to the business, how it helps to support that. The CIO then pushes those messages right down through the IT organisation so that everybody is on the same page.

The second thing I would see – backed up by some research that we’ve done recently – is that the language we see being used a lot is the CIO really wanting to innovate for the business in terms of the services, or the way in which it delivers those services and the way in which it can adopt and make use of some of the new technologies out there.

IT and the CIO also want to be seen to be able to execute in an industrialised fashion: to deliver projects on time with the right quality and also to be able to consistently deliver the right levels of service at the right price on an ongoing basis within their organisation. Agility is the other thing on the mind of the CIO, in order to be able to respond to changing business circumstances out there.

In a lot of organisations, the balance is more towards maintenance type of IT rather than innovative IT. How much of a transition has to happen to get to the innovation part?

Organisations should strive for simplification of IT on the inside, enabling the business then to differentiate it on the outside with respect to its customers and the services it provides. This is something we would have seen with a lot of top-performing IT organisations over the last couple of years: driving towards the simplification and industrialisation of IT services, such as infrastructure services, application maintenance and operations.

The use of standardisation, automation and tooling to try and standardise and simplify the delivery of services thereby helps to reduce the overall percentage of cost that goes to keeping the lights on, as it were. Then, (it’s about) trying to free up additional capacity and budget to help organisations focus more of their time in terms of developing different services for the business and potentially developing new channels for customers by leveraging new technologies that are out there, such as mobile devices.

How are people doing that? Is it about becoming more process-based in delivering IT internally, or are organisations choosing to outsource?

It’s actually a combination of the two. Some organisations, if (they’re) keeping IT in-house, focus on trying to understand how it’s performing today and what are the levers at their disposal to improve the overall service delivery to the internal user base. They’re using the likes of ITIL and capability assessment to understand how they’re performing in terms of deploying, developing, designing, testing and integrating applications. They’re getting a clear score for themselves against each of those headings and that gives them the information to be able to tune the delivery of IT internally to get it working as well as possible internally.

That then gives them the information to make a decision down the road if they want to look at alternative sourcing strategies for those particular IT services. And if they do that, they’re in a much clearer position in terms of why they want to do alternate sourcing and what gains they expect to make from that. Whereas if they just decided to make an outsourcing decision upfront without deciding to get a clear view of it, then it might not be clear in terms of the savings they would make from it.

Coming back to the point about the cloud, in the rush to encourage everyone to go to the cloud, are organisations fully aware of what’s involved in making the move?

It’s not an overnight flick of a switch and it’s about looking at the types of services that IT is delivering today and looking at which elements of those could be delivered in a more flexible and cost-effective manner. Analytics is one of the hot topics, and some of the restrictions around analytics could be some of the more compute-intensive applications, but looking at that challenge and ways in which cloud can overcome that challenge, may lead an organisation to identify areas in which they cloud roll out enhanced use of analytics through the cloud.

The second might be in terms of particular systems integration type projects to look at areas in which you could have more flexible use of a test and development environment by sourcing those from the cloud as opposed to a large upfront capital investment. Also, organisations looking at more commodity type services, such as email, for example.

You take almost a service blueprint of how IT services are provided today and by looking at that in an industrialised, cost-effective, agile way of delivering them (and) coming up with ways in which the cloud makes sense now, or makes sense further down the line, and it’s similar to the way that different sourcing decisions might make more sense for some of those services than others.

Rather than taking a one size fits all approach, CIOs need to get into a deep understanding of the services IT is providing, what the quality and delivery of those is today and how can they be delivered in the future, and how can they be measured in a way the business understands and benefits from.

When people hear analytics, is there not a fear that here comes another multi-year major project?

It’s very much a distributed approach to analytics. It’s about having an overall blueprint or intent, but taking a component approach to it so you identify a particular business problem that can be helped by analytics and business insight. By taking that approach it helps to reduce the overall investment within the organisation and it really focuses the mind on the business rationale for doing a specific piece of investment around analytics. It really needs to be tied to an outcome for the business. It’s a distributed approach rather than monolithic type implementations.

Is that a trend you’re seeing across the board: smaller, faster projects and a component approach?

Yes, it would be. It’s about having the right IT governance structures in place so that any decisions from an IT and business perspective are taken in partnership and there’s a clear business case for that work and investment. And there’s measurement of that project and investment as it goes through its life cycle, and also continuing that business and IT involvement right through the delivery of that to ensure it continues to deliver on its investment after the go-live date. That’s where we would see a number of high-performing IT organisations focusing their time.

How mature are Irish organisations in adopting industrialised approaches to IT?

Organisations have been very keen and have done a lot of work in understanding their IT delivery processes, through the likes of ITIL-based service delivery, and adopting in a lot of cases CMMI or COBIT for example. Industrialisation has been very much on the agenda of organisations locally and I would expect to see that continue.

Is there one methodology that’s more popular or best suited to Irish organisations?

It’s not so much a recommendation of one over others, but an organisation needs to look at its size, the type of services it’s delivering and for them to take a view on ‘what does good look like’, what is the business’ view of what good looks like and then to take a step back and say what are the steps needed to get to that end state.

That could be the adoption of a small subset of some of the ITIL processes, for example, around service delivery. It might involve a subset around application development and testing, or it might drive key decisions that it doesn’t need to be high performing in all measurements across all of those areas. They need a clear view on what the priority areas of focus are in order to meet those delivery expectations of the business. That might be around incident and problem management, or it could be around things like defining the service strategy.

If CIOs were to do only one thing well this year, what would it be?

I would say, make sure that IT is seen to be relevant to the business. It means the CIO working in partnership with the business, understanding the business strategy and objectives, understanding the business environment and seeing the opportunities and challenges out there. CIOs then have to be able to translate those things and put together a plan and an agenda that enables them to innovate, execute and be agile for the business, and give a view to the organisation about how some of the latest trends, like analytics or cloud, can be relevant or not.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic