The British Are Coming, The British Are Coming – Lessons From BT

by drjim on July 14, 2010

BT Exact Had To Transform Its IT Department In Order To Survive

BT Exact Had To Transform Its IT Department In Order To Survive

Anyone can be a successful CIO – you just have to master the basics: understand what business you are in and find ways to use technology to allow the business to move faster and do more. A great example of this is BT Exact: the IT branch of British Telecom (BT) – the UK’s largest phone company. Back in 2004 they knew that they had an IT problem, but they didn’t know how to solve it…

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Every CIO has to deal with a fundamental problem: how to structure the IT department. Back in 2004 BT was ducking this problem: they didn’t have a centralized IT function. Instead, each of their business lines had their own CIO and IT staff. You can just imagine how many different IT projects were going on with little or no communication between them.

Realizing that they had a problem, BT Exact reached out and hired Al-Noor Ramji who was at the time the CIO for the U.S. based Qwest telephone company. Just imagine the mess that Al-Noor walked into on his first day on the job…!

Right Sizing

When Al-Noor arrived at BT there were approximately 4,300 IT projects going on. Since they were all operating in their own silos none of them had coordinated delivery dates and in fact many of them had no related business case to back them up.

Clearly it was time to put an end to the madness. BT undertook a massive effort to evaluate just what it was working on in its IT department. After it had halted unnecessary projects and combined similar efforts, they were left with only 29 projects.

Legacy IT systems that had been created by past projects were another problem. BT was paying to keep 3,000 such systems up and running. Al-Noor had them take a look at what each system was being used to do and in the end they were able to decommission 700 of these systems.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

All of these changes were just a lead in to what Al-Noor was planning on doing. As we all know, often IT projects can take a long time to implement. When these projects run on and on for a long time, it’s very easy to lose sight of what we were trying to do in the first place. At BT they’ve come up with a solution to this problem.

They’ve implemented a 90-day project management review cycle for all IT projects. This means that a set of agreed on metrics are established for each project at the start of every 90-day cycle: customer satisfaction, ROI, etc.

At the end of a 90-day cycle, each project team reviews how well they met the goals that had been established at the start of the cycle. If the goals are met and the project meets its objective for that cycle, everyone on the project gets a bonus for their work.

This sound all fine and dandy, but in the early days there weren’t any bonuses being handed out. However, things have changed since then. Now BT has seen the cost of projects go down by 19% and they’ve seen their IT productivity more than double.

What All Of This Means For You

When you become CIO you may find yourself walking into a mess as complicated as the one that Al-Noor found himself in. With a little luck, you’ll be able to use what he did to fix things quickly.

Getting rid of IT silos and eliminating projects that aren’t going to have any business value to the company is a great way to start. Implementing an effective project management system that will allow everyone to keep their eyes on the prize is also needed.

Once again, becoming a successful CIO is not impossible. Taking the time to make sure that you know where the company wants to go and then shaping the IT department to get you there is exactly what a successful CIO does.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills

Question For You: Do you think a 90-day cycle is too long or too short?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you go hunting for your next IT job (and it may be sooner than later), will your resume be up to the job? Come to think of it, when was the last time you dusted off and updated your resume?

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