Lots of companies talk about integrating their business units as an obvious business goal, but the reality of tying together disparate divisions can prove costly and disruptive. Technology is often expected to smooth the transition, and that places a heavy burden on the cio.
Here's how Bob Bongiorno, senior vice president and CIO of employer services at ADP Inc., went about tackling the problem.
CIO Insight: What were the issues you faced when you first joined ADP?
Bongiorno: The thing that struck me was that everyone talked about "integration and interoperability," but there was no activity going on to solve that. All the activity going on was around individual products.
How did you go about breaking down the silos?
One piece was building the paths of communication to get people talking. A second was to have a collaborative process for getting agreement on the set of standards we would build to.
And the third piece was putting together an integration architecture that people actually believed would work. We had to decompose the problem into a bunch of pieces.
How did that process evolve?
Originally, we were going to try an open-source model, where each of the different groups would contribute to the software architecture. We would work together collaboratively on it.
At the end of the day we changed it, though, at the behest of senior management, and centralized the development in my group.
How did ADP's silos compare to other companies you've worked with?
I think ADP's silos were a lot deeper than anything I had at [my previous job at] United Airlines. At United, you had the sales guys fighting with the operations guys fighting with the scheduling guys, but at the end of the day they were not separate businesses under their own P&Ls.
They had different priorities, different objectives and they wanted different things from IT. But that was more of an issue around prioritizing the IT resources.
At ADP we wanted to prioritize the IT resources, so we didn't do as much duplicate development between business units. But you also had people who had to adapt to standards, because everything was completely unstandardized. This was a little bit more of a problem.
I think the thing that solves those problems is collaboration and communication. People will generally do the right thing if they are communicating. People at ADP are very focused on the success of the company. They're all in their own business units, but at the end of the day, we're all paid with the same stock.
So where do you go from here?
We have an architecture, we have a standard, we have a lot of buy-in. As people start wanting to add features and as we add products to the integration, the trick will be prioritizing the order in which we execute and deliver against those products within the architecture of the new standards. So that's the next piece.
This article was originally published on 05-05-2005