by Mark Chillingworth

Maggie Miller’s tale is a source of experience

Mar 20, 2011
CareersIT StrategyMedia and Entertainment Industry

“Thirty-five years in IT, 20 years as a CIO, 19 years of experience in outsourcing as well as transformation­ programmes, offshore and onshore,” is how Maggie Miller describes a varied career that has included stints in retail, banking and the media. So with a packed CV and her spell at Warner Music­ Group over, surely she’s ready for a rest? Not Miller. She’s lean and ­exudes a vitality that is borne out by her outdoors lifestyle: she’s ready for a new summit to climb.

We meet Miller at Tower 42. Overlooking the City of London and home to an annual stairwell race to the top, it’s a fitting London base for Miller, whose latest challenge is to be one of the leaders of professional services company Elix-IRR which is helping CIOs make the most out of outsourcing.­ As the discussion progresses it’s clear that Miller is enthused by the opportunities outsourcing still has to offer the CIO community and wants to see CIOs get more from outsourcing and for suppliers to move up the value chain.

“This is a new company, it has been ­established by a small group of people that have a great deal of experience in outsourcing on both the buy and sell side,” she explains.

“There is a gap in the market. A lot of strategic people are not good on the execution. There are also good people on the RFP transactional end but they are too foc­used on the price.

“So there is no-one in between with both experience of the buy side and the sell side, as well as people who understand delivery, not just contract signing.

“I’ve never been part of an entrepreneurial business. I get to be part of creating­ what Elix-IRR is going to be and I get to be involved with companies that are going through major change,” she says. Asked if she’s going to miss the CIO role, she quips: “I’m released from the tyranny of making sure the CEO’s BlackBerry works.”

Redefining outsourcing One of Elix-IRR’s goals is to redefine and rebrand outsourcing for today’s market. “Too many folk think of outsourcing as labour arbitrage. That’s a 20-year-old view, that’s not where the value is,” she says.

“It is far more useful to use the expertise at integration and streamlining your processes so that outsourcing is much more strategic. You have to be really clear about your objectives.

Too many companies are not clear about the priorities they have for outsourcing. There are trade-offs – you can’t have low cost and no risk,” she warns.

Miller’s role is to consult CIOs on how to make the most of an outsourcing relationship once it has been secured. So how will she make sure her clients enter outsourcing with the right vision?

“I make sure CIOs rank their priorities. There are too many examples of the first objective being access to skills or transformation and then they make the supplier selection based on price or put an unconditional benchmark process on top, which ends up being about price.

“You’ve got to do the right thing at every stage. Once the contracts are signed then the difficult stuff begins. So I plan to design the right levers and then help CIOs decide when to pull them,” she says.

It is clear that Miller believes that as companies and government bodies have fewer funds available for IT and process investment, CIOs will need an outsourcing deal to really build on the organisation’s strategic vision while continuing to deliver cost benefits.

“The limited funds that organisations have will be invested very carefully. As a CIO you are really trying to balance supply­ and demand and both sides of that are going through major shifts,” she says.

“Functional leaders are now very impatient and they are more comfortable in the selection process of technology, that is for their departments themselves. This means that now they are prepared to compromise on the functionality, especially as Software as a Service (SaaS) is really growing up. SaaS now has some very credible and robust services for finance and human ­resources: they are very real options.

“So for a functional leader you can buy the business outcome, including the IT that underpins the outcome. Why go through SAP and all the pains that come with it when some business changes will buy the outcome?”

Evolution of the CIO So after an illustrious career as a CIO, is Miller hopping aboard the bandwagon that claims the CIO is no longer relevant to a modern organisation?

“CIOs that protect Fortress IT will become irrelevant. But there is still an important­ role for the CIO and CTO to be business intelligence integrators and service advisors,” she says.

“As an organisation using outsourcing and SaaS your data is going to be all over the place. For the really business-focused CIOs why not forge a role as a support ser­vices COO, running all these transactional pieces of finance and HR processes and letting the departments be free to do their strategic stuff.

“There is no one better placed to do it as cloud, SaaS and outsourcing become embedded in the organisation.”

Miller already sees this happening as CIOs become comfortable with not owning technology or business processes. The reason for this, she thinks, is that they have become focused on the business outcome, making the sale of outsourcing, SaaS and cloud very compelling. The current economic climate is aiding this mindset shift.

“CIOs are very wary of investing on big long-term bets, because the business cycle is shortening all the time. Luckily for CIOs the market for outsourcing is maturing at just the right time.”

Miller left Warner Music Group in April 2010 having been with the record company since 2005.

Throughout her time with Warner in New York the music industry was grappling with meeting consumers’ ­increasing desire for ­convenient digital music purchases while protecting its intellectual property and with it its revenue.

The industry is still struggling with this conundrum five years on.

“The content industry has some challenges. The appetite for content is thriving and growing. We just have to educate people that artists are entitled to be paid for their creative work,” she says.

Burning issue Miller went to Warner after a four-year stint at supermarket chain Sainsbury’s as CIO under the then CEO Sir Peter Davis.

Davis, who went on to become chairman when the current CEO Justin King took the helm in November 2003, had already agreed a major outsourcing deal with ­Accenture before Miller joined the group.

Parts of the relationship between Sainsbury’s and Accenture were discarded when King took over as CEO and IT operations were brought back in house.

Miller has borne the brunt of criticism for the Accenture/Sainsbury’s issues, but casts off the slight with ease.

She explains the period was one of transformation for the Sainsbury’s chain: it had to exit from some critical burning platforms and critics are mistaken if they believe that every technology and strategy of that period has been abandoned.

“I’m hugely proud of what we achieved at Sainsbury’s. Transformational change is difficult, it’s far harder to make it work than to criticise it from the sidelines,” she says. She is also fiercely loyal to the company’s leaders, especially Davis; it’s a quality that society does seem to have forgotten the value of in recent years.

Another attraction of her new role is that Miller gets to keep one foot on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I get to live and work in Manhattan, I am a complete convert,” she says. Miller­ lives on the ­Upper West Side, within walking distance of the Lincoln Center where she can watch ballet and enjoy the rich culture the Big Apple has to offer.

“I’m managing partner of the US practice, but will be spending a lot of time in the UK with a large public sector client,” she explains. Unsurprisingly, she was unable to reveal who that client might be.