by Martha Heller

How Lear makes self-service IT delivery work

Jan 15, 20207 mins
IT LeadershipRobotic Process Automation

Bonnie Smith, CIO of Lear Corporation, describes how embracing citizen developers led to a new self-service operating model for RPA tools and more.

bonnie smith cio lear
Credit: Lear

What do you get when your business community takes development into their own hands?  For Bonnie Smith, CIO at Lear Corporation, the answer is not “shadow IT.” With technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) getting easier to deploy and maintain, Smith and her team are building a new self-service model that lets a business community of 160,000 people design their own productivity tools. Smith, who has been CIO of the $21 billion global automotive parts manufacturer since 2016, describes her thinking around the new model and how she seeks to strike the right balance between innovation and compliance.

Martha Heller: How are you changing the IT delivery model at Lear?

Bonnie Smith: With the advent of technologies that are relatively easy to deploy, we are empowering the business community to build their own digitally transformed processes. With RPA, for example, it is very easy for business people to program software robots for productivity improvement in their areas. Rather than ask IT to keep up with the demand, we are launching a major initiative to unleash the creativity of 160,000 employees to apply RPA where it will have the greatest impact. With this new model, IT becomes a facilitator and collaborative partner, not a roadblock.

How did you come up with the “citizen developer” model?

Last year, we had a business unit that was innocently creating shadow IT by investing in the development of some RPA tools. So, we built a couple of proofs of concept around their work. Those early initiatives were successful and gave us the confidence that we could build a more scalable self-service model. We grouped together a half a dozen technologies that we felt could work in a self-service model and formed a group within IT called Smart Office Solutions, or SOS. In other words, “Business person: You need help? Start with SOS.” SOS’s initial work was around RPA, but we are now designing the same self-service model for workflow tools, data management and data visualization.

In this citizen developer model, how do you maintain an enterprise view of the project queue?

Lear has more than 260 plant locations around the world, so we expect to see some overlap in productivity improvement ideas. That’s where governance comes in.  We help our business partners with training, getting their licenses, and installing RPA tools on their machines. Now, they are free to develop. But they have to check in at certain points, including before they build anything and when they believe that they are “ready for production.” Each business function must also create a Digitization Council because the functional leaders know where the waste is and where to best apply newer technologies once they understand what they can do.  My team and I keep an inventory of what each plant and function is doing, so that we “connect the dots” and help the disparate business units collaborate. 

How will you measure the results of the model?

Because business developers have to check their work in at the beginning and end of the development process, we are able to catalog their ideas. For each idea, we make sure our business partners define hard benefits, which we’ve expanded beyond cost savings, to include freed-up productivity.  

We also look at what we call our “Best Practice connection points.” How many new ideas have we referred to other plants and business units? How many are we able to deploy globally?

Not every RPA use case will be applicable to every plant or function, so early in the process, the SOS team helps our business developers think through the broadest applicability of their idea. We also help to connect the dots. We can connect a business person in Europe who has an RPA need for bank reconciliation, for example, with a group in South America who is already working on that. We see connect points as a critical metric, because they are helping us to eliminate rework.

What foundational elements did you put in place for SOS to be effective?

We changed our prioritization criteria for the tool selection to increase the weight of user friendliness.   If the tools aren’t easy to use, people will have to come back to IT. We upgraded our intake mechanism so that the method by which people submit new ideas is standardized and they can therefore see others’ suggestions.  

But the third piece, which was a major effort, was lining up our implementation partners. If a business person has a solid idea, with no similar tools already in production, they can ask a systems integrator to help them with the first project or two. Over time, the business person will most likely get comfortable with their own development work and do it on their own, but if they prefer, they can keep paying the integration partners.  We manage the integration partners very closely.

Our challenge was to find a systems integrator who was willing to forego a multi-year statement of work with a fixed minimum and agree to take calls from more than 260 locations around the world. It took a while to find partners who could wrap their minds around how to make the economics work for them.

What we did not have to change was culture. Lear, by nature of the business we are in, is very diligent about compliance. Because of that, we knew that if we let business people run with development, we could trust them to respect the guardrails. If you have a culture that prioritizes freedom but not compliance, then this model won’t work.

How did you drive adoption of the SOS model?

I was very cautious about waiting until we had lined up the system integrators and had the right guardrails in place. When we reached that point, I worked with our communications group to launch an announcement to all of the executives in the company. We currently have a dozen active groups. We will start promoting their successes and how much money they’ve saved by doing their own development with the SOS toolkit. We have to plan it so that we don’t let business interest get too far ahead of our ability to manage the intake properly.

How do you think a self-service delivery model will change the role of the CIO in the future?

CIOs who are deep technologists may be challenged by giving development tools to their business partners. They won’t want to lose the control. But as CIO, if you think of yourself as a business enabler, this model will allow you to focus less on the pure technology and more on helping your business adopt more technology faster.