Generating Business Value from IT III: A Case StudyAs a way of bringing together the concepts discussed in my two previous posts on generating business value from IT, I'd suggest reading a December 2007 case study (pdf) by Jeanne Ross, director of the MIT Sloan School's Center for Information Systems Research and Cynthia Beath, a professor emerita at the McCombs School of Business of the University of Texas at Austin.
The case abstract gives this overview of the case:
Pacific Life is a diversified financial services company with a history of autonomous business units. Pacific Life had five independent divisions, including Life Insurance, Annuities and Mutual Funds, and Investments. These divisions served different customers and responded to different regulatory and market requirements. Pacific Life executives embrace decentralization as the best structure for capturing excellence in the individual businesses, so they are willing to sacrifice some potential efficiencies. But while they are usually willing to forego the benefits of a more centralized organization structure, they are not willing to assume any unnecessary risks. This case describes how the company governs shared IT services and enterprise risk management to limit its risk exposure while reaping the benefits of decentralization.Cameron Cosgrove, the vice president for IT in the Life Insurance Division, explains how Pacific Life decides which IT services will be centralized and which will be located in the business divisions:
Where the divisions have IT requirements that are unique to their core business and they need flexibility to have that independence to just GO, we've put those services into the divisions. Where the need is common and can be shared and the consensus is it's a commodity, and competitive advantage isn't really going to be derived from there, then the focus becomes running that service like a utility with low cost and reliability being the drivers that's what ITS [the group providing IT shared services] is supposed to do for the divisions.A key part of the decision-making structure is a set of nine Enterprise Architecture Groups (EAGs), whose role, as spelled out in a Pacific Life internal document, is to "create economies of scale, reduce support, maintenance and training needs, improve quality while reducing complexity, and optimize reusability throughout the company." Ross and Beath explain that "EAGs prioritized and scheduled initiatives to improve, upgrade or harmonize ITS's technology assets or services ... [and] secured funding for ITS-related initiatives."
Providing overall guidance is Pacific Life's Information Technology Council (ITC), which approves "the operating budget for ITS, prioritizing any projects that ITS proposed to improve its services, along with other enterprise-wide initiatives that required ITS to make infrastructure investments or process changes." A key responsibility for the ITC is implementation of "policy decisions flowing from Information Security, BCP [Business Continuity Planning], Compliance and Audit and their respective steering committees that had implications for ITS. These policies often drove the need for strategic ITS initiatives."
In sum, "Together the ITC and EAGs generated some of the benefits of IT centralization without centralizing all of Pacific Life's IT assets."