One World IT

IT leaders who double as global CIOs understand the importance of worldwide consistency.

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For Andre Spatz, CIO of UNICEF, the challenge is always the same: deploying mission-critical systems in unpredictable and often dangerous settings, like war-torn Liberia or flood-ravaged Haiti, where communications access can be severely limited or altogether absent.

The solution is always the same, too: a standardized "fly-away" satellite kit that enables an IT team to set up voice, fax, data, e-mail and even videoconferencing capabilities in about four hours. Emergency workers for The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund -- whose territory includes 160 developing countries -- also gain access to the relief organization's back-end systems and a full suite of office applications. This is because the fly-away kits, which UNICEF developed jointly with its IP satellite services provider, are built to the same standards as UNICEF's overall global IT infrastructure.

In other words, everybody does the same things in the same way, which is the Holy Grail in the world of global IT operations, according to Spatz and other Premier 100 IT Leaders.

Consensus Across Cultures

"In UNICEF, we have a very decentralized operating model, but we also have centralized the whole of IT," which uses the same technology standards and business processes around the world, Spatz says. "That's worked to reduce costs, reduce diversity and improve operations and security."

Andre Spatz, CIO of UNICEF
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Andre Spatz, CIO of UNICEF

Image Credit: Bernd Auers
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But getting there isn't easy. Cultural barriers, language differences and business processes that can vary widely from country to country are just a few of the more predictable yet challenging hurdles that global CIOs face.

There are often also political rats' nests to contend with. IT groups accustomed to doing things one way in their home countries frequently view their counterparts from other areas of the world with distrust. Rarely do the groups take the same approach to business and technology issues, even when they work for the same global company.

For all of those reasons, building trust must come first and foremost on any global IT project agenda, CIOs say.

"It means endless hours of consensus-building," says John S. Parkinson, vice president and chief technologist at Capgemini in Rosemont, Ill. The company recently completed the deployment of global single-sign-on capabilities to 53,000 employees in 40 countries. "This has been a two-year journey that has simplified use of our distributed intranet and extranet for all our staff and reduced support costs by over 25%," Parkinson says.

Before, Capgemini had more than a dozen ways to sign onto its sprawling network of global systems, with only one or two of those sign-on techniques common across all of its operating locations. The upshot was that everyone in the company had to sign on at least twice, Parkinson recalls.

The decision came down to whether the company should rip out all of those systems and start over or find a way to unify them under a single password per user. Ultimately, "we came up with a way to transport [user] credentials around the organization, so it appears you're only signing on once. It's technically more complicated, but it was the correct and pragmatic answer because it preserved as much of our investment as possible," Parkinson says.

To ensure that all international project managers were on the same page, Capgemini sent them through its internal project management school.

"We put people together in classes in Hong Kong, Europe or the U.S. so they could get mixed up with their colleagues from different cultures," Parkinson explains. "Anyone on a global project goes through this course. It's expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as blowing a global project."

Everyone in the Same Room

Global CIOs agree that face-to-face meetings, at least at the beginning of a global project, are absolutely essential.

To nail down the exact business and technical requirements for a new, Web-based system for the company's marketing managers, Sandeep Bhatia, director of global customer technology at Dublin, Calif.-based Franklin Templeton Investments, organized joint application development (JAD) sessions. They included line-of-business managers, technical personnel and marketing managers from around the world. The meetings, which were conducted in English, took place in San Mateo, Calif., and in Europe.

"We took extra measures to make sure there was a forum for the different regional marketing heads to present their concerns and escalate them," Bhatia says. "We also had to do some level-setting on certain terminology. What we'd say is a requirement in a JAD session may not really resonate with some people from other geographies or from a process standpoint. People in smaller geographies also had no experience working on such a grand scale in a collaborative environment."

The JAD sessions spanned a six-month period. "One of the key reasons the sessions took so long were the cultural issues," Bhatia says. "There are a lot of unique needs in different geographies." For example, some regions have small marketing staffs with just a few people playing multiple roles, and each role required a different way of accessing and navigating the system.

"You have to be very aware of minor details on global projects," Bhatia says. "You have to pay attention to details. You can't do this at a 50,000-foot level. The way we pulled it off was a lot of communication. We had to make sure the system would meet all users' needs. It took a lot of perseverance and patience, but after a while, everyone started to jell together."

The result is a Web-based system that lets Franklin Templeton marketing managers around the globe generate customized fund fact sheets in near real time for their commercial clients in the financial services industry. Before, the fact sheets were produced entirely by hand, with marketing managers in one country often reinventing fact sheets that had already been created by a Franklin Templeton marketing department in another part of the world. Now, different marketing organizations are free to leverage various templates from the Web-based system.

"We have cut the time to produce the fact sheets from two to three people taking five to six days to 15 minutes by a single resource," Bhatia says. "The reduced time to market in our smaller international markets has improved our overall competitiveness and our ability to respond and to partner with customer banks. It also has saved money for our marketing budgets globally."

So far, the system has been rolled out in more than 20 languages to users in 15 countries. Eventually, it will reach users in 25 countries.

Global Standards

"One of the big issues with any global project is who you're building it for," says Andrew C. Armishaw. "You must have some commonality, agreement -- some ability to prioritize and agree on priorities."

Armishaw is group executive and CIO at Prospect Heights, Ill.-based HSBC Technology and Services, the IT arm of global financial services giant HSBC, which operates in 76 countries and has more than 10,000 offices.

In 2004, HSBC launched HSBCnet, its global, Internet-based system for delivering banking services to its base of large corporate and commercial customers. "Many of these customers are global in nature and expect the same windows into our services wherever they are in the world," Armishaw says.

The common goals -- and challenges -- of the project included building common Internet front ends, providing the highest level of information security and interfacing to multiple legacy applications that all run on a tiered IT architecture with components running in multiple data centers.

Like other global CIOs, Armishaw emphasizes the absolutely critical need for IT development process standards, especially in cases where different parts of a global IT project are completed by teams in various countries. Standardizing processes for supporting and making changes to global systems is also extremely important and should be done upfront, he says.

"A lot of people get hooked on the development processes, but you have to think of how you're going to support this," Armishaw says. "You have to think about how you're going to distribute expertise around the globe, particularly when you have multiple processes running on multiple boxes in multiple data centers. You have to create common methods. It's not the stuff that excites most developers, but if you're going to build and integrate components from around the world, you really need to set some pretty aggressive standards of how things are done."

That said, he acknowledges that rarely is there one and only one way that works for everyone, regardless of how many hours global IT teams might spend hammering out methods during predawn or late-night video- and teleconferences.

"Very little is 100% identical across the world," Armishaw says. "The real issue is getting to that 70% or 80% to generate efficiencies and common standards for service and quality."

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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