Globalized IT operations pay off

By interlocking business services, companies gain customer knowledge, efficiency and speed. The payoffs are huge, but laying the groundwork for IT standardization is no easy task.

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Employees of the P&G Global Business Services team are embedded within the business units, where they leverage that common infrastructure to create business services in the areas of data modeling, data visualization and the use of virtual reality for everything from product testing to designing production lines.

P&G now focuses on leveraging that common platform as a "strategic enabler" for more advanced global business services, some of which cross departmental boundaries. For example, Global Business Services created an employee workplace service that automates everything required to get a new hire up and running. What used to require calls to corporate facilities and employee services groups is now managed as one seamless business process. "We provision their office and their IT and deliver that as a service," Fortner says.

Model of Consistency

Vanguard, a Valley Forge, Pa.-based investment management firm, began centralizing its global operations after realizing that its lineup of investment products, which are available in 80 countries, was similar in every global market. Executives saw that the business could gain efficiencies by centralizing and standardizing its data centers and applications. "If the mission is the same, the products are the same and you want consistency in the business, you should go toward a centralized model," says Carol Dow, CTO and principal of global investment systems at Vanguard. But IT wasn't the one pushing the drive toward centralization. "It was the business," she says.

Today, Vanguard is in the process of consolidating its data center in Australia into its U.S. operations. The project has presented challenges because of distance and time-zone issues. But bandwidth costs have declined, and technologies such as a global MPLS network, content delivery networks, WAN optimization devices and virtual desktops have evolved to the point where the technical barriers have fallen, Dow says.

Centralization has brought benefits in terms of both consistency and economies of scale. "From a negotiation standpoint, we can optimize on infrastructure, people, vendors and products," Dow says.

Accelerating Speed to Market

Equifax, an Atlanta-based financial services firm with operations in 18 countries, struck a balance between meeting local needs and standardizing the business's core, in-house applications, says CIO David Webb. "We launched a program to create a bureau in a box with one code base we deploy all over the world, but with the core here and a wrapper for each country," he says.

Prior to that, the $1.96 billion company was using 25 different programming languages and 25 different databases. Now, all of the back-office elements are centralized and consistent. "It's the user experience and mobile [interfaces] that vary," Webb says.

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