Evolve the IT Organization

ExxonMobil’s Michael S. Brown shares three areas CIOs can use to transform from service provider to business partner.

When an employee walked into the office of Michael S. Brown, Vice President of ExxonMobil Information Technology, to report the company had the lowest cost per call to the help desk as compared to other companies in the industry, Mr. Brown had one question: How often are our people calling the help desk?

At first the requests were 90% hardware related, but now over 50% are questions from employees looking to do their jobs better.

As it turned out, ExxonMobil Global Services Company had the lowest cost per call rate, but they also had over twice the average call volume of other large enterprises. That prompted Mr.Brown to ask a second question of his Global IT leadership team: “Shouldn’t we view it as an organizational failure every time someone calls our help desk?”

“That moment I think there was a sense of clarity for what the next few years would be about, a complete shift in the mindset of our organization,“ said Mr. Brown during a CIO Stories session at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2016 in Orlando, Florida. “The services and solutions that you are offering…should be so seamless, so undisruptive and so easy to use that calls to your help desk should happen about as frequently as they do in your day-to-day life.”

An opportunity for CIOs

Fifty years ago an average Fortune 500 company was expected to last around 75 years. Today, they are expected to last around 15 years and that number continues to decline, according to a Forbes article by Steve Denning. IT organizations have an obligation and an opportunity to help companies survive and thrive in the current business environment. That requires a change in how IT departments are viewed and how they act.

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IT needs to push for a seat at the table to drive strategic direction of our core functions, said Mr. Brown. “We can no longer think of ourselves as a service organization or help desk. We must think of ourselves as part of the core value proposition of our industries”

For ExxonMobil, this meant a focus on three areas: credibility, capability, and connectivity.

Building credibility

In terms of building credibility, the team needed to demonstrate it could deliver secure, reliable, cost-effective foundational IT services and partner with the business to help them be more productive. For example, the team had traditionally shied away from deploying iOS or iPhone devices into the environment, in favor of the more secure Blackberry. Within three months of questioning why, they had an iPhone mail app up and running. The project built credibility within the organization, but it also built tremendous credibility within IT as they began to realize what they could do.

Innovating capability

With a foundation of credibility, the organization moved towards capability. This involved developing trust with the users, so they stopped viewing IT as just someone who could fix a broken computer, and began to see the department as people who could improve their daily work life. Mr. Brown established IT solutions centers to drive higher value for the users. Employees could physically walk to a center, and speak with an actual person. At first the requests were 90% hardware related, but now over 50% are questions from employees looking to do their jobs better.

Creating connectivity

Finally, the IT department needed to “create fluid connectivity with business counterparts”, said Mr. Brown.

“Collaboration between technology and business knowledge becomes second nature,” he said. “We need to stay current on rising trends and understand how to adopt technology in unique ways that will allow us to help grow the value of our business.”

To create this unity, Mr. Brown created a brand and a proposition to the business to create an identity to shape how the business viewed IT. To create an understanding between IT professionals and the business, ExxonMobil embeds  IT professionals in the business and brings business into the IT units.

The ExxonMobil help desk now receives 1.7 million fewer calls per year than it did when Mr. Brown was approached about the cost per call numbers. But he’s not done yet, and his final message urged CIOs to continue to innovate.

“The reality is that as good as I feel about how far we’ve come, the world is changing too quickly for us to ever be done,” said Mr. Brown. “We need to be relentless. We need to keep evolving and this is my challenge for each of us.”

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