Introduction – Running IT Like a Business: A Step-by-Step Guide to Accenture's Internal IT


Over the course of my career (and perhaps yours as well), IT has undergone successive waves of disruptive, even radical, transformation.

If you started working in IT in the 1980s, you would have seen the earliest minicomputers beginning to appear alongside mainframes. Hard-wired enterprise IT networks were beginning to make tapes, disks and other physical media obsolete. Assembler and COBOL1 were still around, but more and more code was being written in Fortran, PL/12 and Pascal.

By the 1990s, IT working environments were upended by AS/400 units and the first PCs. Computer platforms were evolving from being one-per-company to one-per-location, and eventually to one-per-person. We started using relational databases, and the first mobile telephones appeared. Remember how cool everyone thought those brick-like satellite cell phones were, despite their weight and bulk?

At the turn of the century, PCs and laptops had taken over, the Internet was spreading faster than you could say, “dot com,” the computer languages of choice were Visual Basic, JavaScript, and the C/C+/C++ triumvirate, and cell phones were shrinking as fast as they were spreading.

As each of these waves of technical innovation roiled the IT industry, a potentially even more profound organizational transformation was slowly but surely taking place behind the technology headlines.

In the early days of IT, the corporate world was divided into two parts: “line” and “staff”. Everyone who worked in IT was thought of as being on the “staff” side of the business: part of a support function – not unlike “facilities,” in that we were part of the working infrastructure required to support the enterprise we served. And “serve” was the operative word. Line executives told us what they needed, and our job was to go out and make it happen.

As IT became more important to the fortunes and the future of organizations, things began to change. In at least some enterprises, IT professionals came to be recognized as making strategic contributions to the enterprises they served, whether these were corporations, government bodies, non-profit organizations, or other enterprises.

This improvement in the standing of IT has been real and meaningful, but uneven. In some enterprises, IT today is regarded as a full strategic partner and player. In just as many others, the IT team retains an unfortunate and undeserved second-class status.

What can IT professionals do to help ensure that every IT function and IT professional receives the respect and support they deserve? Clearly, we must always strive to be as technically proficient as possible – capable of leveraging the enormous power of technology for the benefit of the organizations we serve. We must be knowledgeable about the latest technological innovations, and responsive to the changing challenges in our enterprises. But technical proficiency, in itself, is insufficient to win IT a place at the decision-making table – which is the position we need to hold in order to maximize IT’s contribution to our organizations.

If IT is going to be recognized as a fully capable business partner by the businesses and organizations we serve, we need to think like business people, we need to act as our counterparts in “line” businesses act, and we need to understand and speak the language of business, not just the language of technology.

In short, if IT professionals want to be included in strategic discussions at the highest levels of our businesses and other organizations, we need to run IT like a business. Only in this way will our colleagues in other disciplines understand how IT functions, appreciate the value that IT delivers, and be prepared to support the investments in IT that will be required to allow our companies and enterprises to operate at high levels.

As a member of the IT leadership team at Accenture, I have had the opportunity to study firsthand, over the past 10 years, what it means to run IT like a business. Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Today, we have more than 215,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, and we are being supported by an internal IT function that we call the Accenture CIO Organization. When Accenture was established as a new enterprise at the beginning of the last decade, our heritage as both business consultants and technological innovators instinctively compelled us to approach IT operations with a business mindset. Within Accenture’s corporate culture, information technology was never an esoteric endeavor that no one else understood; our company was filled with IT experts, and each one of them was quite prepared to tell us how to do our jobs – technology being one of the major services we provide to a world-class roster of clients. So we fully anticipated that our colleagues in the business would understand everything that we in IT were doing, and would expect to see a strong business rationale for every move we made. We knew, from the beginning, that our colleagues in other parts of the business would expect to see Accenture’s return on a major investment in IT, and so, at a very early stage, we began thinking about metrics and measurements. In short, we did not have much choice other than to run IT like a business.

So, turning necessity into a virtue, we began to assemble the necessary principles and policies. In retrospect, the process outlined in the pages of this book may appear predictable, and success even inevitable. In practice, our experience was closer to that of a laboratory experiment, with a considerable amount of trial and error. In successive chapters, I attempt to set forth in logical fashion our most important discoveries. Beginning with IT strategy and governance, we explore the foundations of running IT like a business. We then examine why managed services proved to be so central to an effective approach. After looking, in Chapter 3, at the critical roles played by performance measurements and metrics in tracking and validating IT operations, we explore the many opportunities for value creation that we pursued and that are available to virtually every IT function. We then discuss topics of special relevance to IT operations, and examine how running IT like a business can contribute to high performance across the entire enterprise. In the final chapter, we document the actual long-term results Accenture was able to derive from our decade-long transformational journey.

I close each chapter with what may, at first, strike the reader as a contradictory or counter-intuitive finding. The most valuable lessons in business, as in life, are not always the logical ones. As we made our way down the transformative path of Accenture’s IT, we kept coming across unexpected lessons we had learned, and so now we pass these along to others who seek to take a similar path.

Inside Accenture, we always had an intrinsic faith that running IT like a business made good business sense. Only now, after 10 years of difficult but exciting change, do we fully appreciate the transformative power unleashed when you operate your IT function just as you would any business. What we discovered was that it is precisely when you refuse to treat IT differently, and apply to IT operations the same disciplines and rigor that successful managers bring to the management of any business, that you unchain IT’s ability to change an enterprise powerfully, rapidly and repeatedly.

When we set out on our journey, we expected to change a few things here and there. But when we had reached our destination, and looked back at the territory we had traversed and the path we had followed, we discovered that we had changed absolutely everything.

So the story of running IT like a business at Accenture is really a story about transforming IT from top to bottom. As you map your own IT journey, we trust that the lessons we share here will be of some benefit to you.

1 Common Business-Oriented Language

2 Programming Language One