Xerox looks to CIO to help forge its new business identity

How IT leader Stephen Little is supporting the venerable document technology company’s transition to broader business services by waging a war on application sprawl and complexity.

How IT leader Stephen Little is supporting the venerable document technology company’s transition to broader business services by waging a war on application sprawl and complexity.

Tough business transitions demand strong leadership. And as the document technology company Xerox seeks to reinvent itself as a provider of business outsourcing services, CIO Stephen Little is imposing a new regime for IT procurement and applications at the $20 billion corporation.

A straight-talker with a bone-dry sense of humor, Little was appointed CIO in January 2014 after impressing Xerox’s dynamic CEO Ursula Burns with his firm handling of a troubled enterprise resource planning (ERP) rollout at Xerox in Europe as vice president of program assurance.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t understand what a CIO does,” he says. “My job is to convince people to do something that’s good for them, that they either don’t want to do or can’t understand.”

Little’s mission is to impose a high degree of IT standardization across Xerox, the 109-year old US multinational with a history of devolving decision-making (including that for IT) to its regional and business unit management. More precisely, Little needs to drive a horizontal view of IT across an organization where a vertical line-of-business view has always taken precedence.

“The biggest obstacles we face are history and people’s perspective in terms of how things ‘should’ look to them,” he says. But it’s that kind of thinking, he continues, that has led to the IT complexity and siloed environments that he’s dealing with today.
Rationalizing the IT landscape

In a recent audit of IT systems, Little and his team discovered that the company’s global workforce is using more than 1,300 discrete business applications in its day-to-day work. A large number of these are duplicates, supporting similar or even identical tasks and processes. And, in his view, many will need to be rationalized.

A case in point is ERP. Xerox is using Oracle ERP throughout much of its global operations, but in Europe and Russia the standard is still SAP. Many of its regional sales teams use Salesforce.com for customer relationship management, but each has configured the service differently.

According to Little, a more pared-down architecture — however unpopular — is what’s needed, not only to help Xerox transform itself at a faster pace, but also to sustain its long-standing market position in printers and copiers.

“I’ve been relentless in telling people that for us to survive in the printer/copier market we have to drive efficiencies in our business. And not only do I need to take cost out from an IT standpoint, but also, because cost equals complexity, I need to simplify it,” he says. “And the only way to do that is to put in place a common platform, which means that some people are going to have to change the way they do things.”

But Little knows that he can only push through his change agenda with the direct sponsorship of line-of-business heads. Senior managers, he says, need to be as committed as he is to making business process changes: “It’s absolutely critical — if they’re not, it’s not going to work.”
Unified people management

One example is the work he’s undertaking with Xerox chief human resources officer Tom Maddison on the rollout of a common human capital management system from Oracle to support all 140,000 Xerox employees. This aims to replace about 150 separate HR and payroll systems the company is using in different areas around the world. As well as eliminating complexity and cost, it will also deliver business benefits in two important areas: improved levels of staff turnover and more consistent employee compensation.

Staff turnover has been a perennial issue in certain areas of Xerox. This is largely as a result of its 2010 acquisition of US business process outsourcing company ACS, through which it inherited thousands of staff working in centers in India, the Philippines and Jamaica on transaction processing tasks and in call centers. (The company divested the IT outsourcing wing of that operation in December 2014.) High turnover in these kinds of jobs is not uncommon, “but if we can better understand the reasons for that, capture them and put programs in place [to tackle them], then this could be a huge opportunity for savings,” says Little.

Better insight into employee compensation matters even more with Xerox spending about $7 billion each year on wages and benefits — in sometimes uneven ways. “What if I could take out just 1% of that by having more consistent compensation programs around the world? What about 10%? Do the math — it’s a lot of money,” he says.

“I think marketing staff realize that they probably went too far by doing their own IT. There are things that we can do better together.”

Little has also been working closely with the company’s chief marketing officer, John Kennedy. Yes, he admits, they’ve discussed the market analyst predictions that, by 2017, CMOs will have more IT spending power than CIOs. But he believes this will result in more collaboration rather than less.

“What I’ve seen at Xerox is that [for many IT requirements] marketing staff have gone off on their own. I think they realize that they probably went too far. There are things that we can do better together.” (See article CIOs, CDOs and CMOs: New IT roles and responsibilities.)

In fact, that ‘better together’ mantra is being applied right across the company. To foster the collaboration needed, Little has been instrumental in establishing a transformation office at the company: “We’ve got a leader from the business and a leader from IT. It’s a vehicle for us to really look at where we need to drive common processes, how we prioritize them and where the value in doing so lies.

“I’ve been in the IT business for 40 years and I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. One thing I do know is that you’ve got to partner with the business. I’ve gone beyond the concept of aligning: IT needs to be integrated deep within the business.”

For the most part, though, he’d argue that technology decisions are still best left to technology people. Having made some progress in getting his leadership philosophy accepted by business colleagues in his first year, he’s not inclined to let the reins slip from his fingers.

“People in the business say, ‘I want to participate in technology decisions.’ I say, ‘Fine. You can participate. But I’ll still have the final say.’” And, ultimately, responsibility for a positive outcome.

Source: i-cio.com: Xerox looks to CIO to help forge its new business identity

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