by Martha Heller

Everyone in IT at Intuit is a business problem-solver

Jun 07, 2017
CareersCIOIT Governance

How Atticus Tysen, CIO of Intuit, is bringing IT into the heart of the business

Any CIO who has worked in an environment where there are two conversations—the business conversation and then the IT conversation—knows their company is missing out on realizing the true potential of IT. At Intuit, CIO Atticus Tysen uses shared metrics, alignment triangles, and consistent messaging to ensure that IT is the business at the $4.7 billion software company.

How have you turned IT from a culture of order takers to order shapers?

When I first joined IT, I wanted the organization to be order shapers, so I directed my team to have a point of view on the business and to get in there with our business owners and express that point of view. That approach did not work initially.

atticus tysen intuit Intuit

Intuit CIO Atticus Tysen

So, I realized that the goal was not to turn order takers in to order shapers but to create a team of collaborative business problem solvers—to build a team of IT leaders who would take one primary question to their partners: what is the business outcome we are driving toward?

How are you ensuring that your IT organization is focused on business objectives?

Intuit makes good use of alignment triangles. Brad Smith, our CEO, has an alignment triangle for the entire company, and each major group has its own that aligns to the company mission. The two rows at the top, “Values” and “True North Goals” are the same for everyone in the organization. The rest are unique to my team.

Specifically for IT, we have four pillars: world class IT, business outcomes first, delightful leading-edge solutions, and proactive technology stewards. Each pillar is underpinned by several very clear priorities.

For example, “business outcomes first” is supported by “flawless day one and ongoing support for the entire workforce.” When you are a new employee at Intuit, we will have you up and running within an hour. You’ll have a laptop, mobile device, and anything else you need to do your job. If you are a developer, you can start coding right way; if you are in procurement, you can start procuring. We measure our performance on that priority.

heller intuit interview ppt graphic Intuit

We look at the number of help desk tickets logged by an employee in his or her first week, and IT follows new employees around and observes any problems they encounter. Based on what we learned from those metrics and observations, we proactively made the decision to schedule an appointment at our TechKnow Bar, inspired by Apple’s Genius Bar, with every new employee. The TechKnow Bars have a list of questions employees ask the most; this way, we can begin helping new employees before they even ask us anything.

All of this is an example of business outcomes first: Our goal in IT is to “get our employees productive,” not “get them a laptop.” If you think about the business outcome first, you find creative ways to solve a problem.  

Can you discuss another priority?

I can talk about “enable flawless billing and commerce experiences.” One of the metrics we track against that priority is the percentage of customers billed correctly. Our goal is 99.990 percent. In February, we were 99.823 and then 99.932 in March.

At first, my team resisted when we decided on this metric. They did not want to be accountable for another group’s mistake. For example, if someone in marketing sets up an offering incorrectly so that the customer receives the wrong billing, then the flawless billing metric takes a hit. My team felt that we should only be tracking metrics like uptime for the billing system.

But they soon realized the value of the business outcomes metric. They came to understand that their job in technology is to come up with the right solutions to improve billing accuracy overall, not to run a batch billing job overnight. We should be building systems that do not allow marketing to set up an offering incorrectly.

The business metric also improves the dialogue across departments. The head of billing systems cannot control the way marketing inputs customer data, but because they share a business outcome, they talk to each other about how to solve inaccuracy problems. The business metrics encourage the kind of problem solving conversations we should all be having.

What advice can you share on developing a business outcomes culture?

As you focus on business metrics, you cannot throw out the traditional IT metrics. You still have to commit to metrics like three nines of system availability and RTO (recovery time objective) of less than fifteen minutes. Hitting those flawlessly is your ticket to entry to creating a business outcomes culture. Traditional IT metrics are not only table stakes, they also allow you to differentiate a business process problem from a systems problem.

In a digital era, IT people must think differently than in the industrial era. How would you define digital thinking?

Whether we are in high tech, manufacturing, or retail, we all need to understand that technology no longer enables business strategy; it is the business strategy. If you relegate IT to the back office, you will lose. The IT group understands, more than any other function, exactly how the company operates and where the bottlenecks are. They can bring that understanding into the conversation and figure out how technology can drive business outcomes.

But integrating IT with business strategy isn’t easy. As CIOs, we need to encourage our teams to demand the business conversation, to go into the CMO or CEO and say, “Here is what I think.” We need to commend our teams based on customers billed correctly, not on uptime. But we also need to recognize that we are changing human behavior, and that kind of change requires constant focus. But the stakes are high. When we bring IT into the heart of the company, we innovate more and deliver faster. When we make IT a part of our business strategy, we win.

About Atticus Tysen

Atticus Tysen, senior vice president and CIO, is responsible for the applications supporting the company’s human resources, finance, marketing and sales and support organizations. Before being promoted to his current role in 2013, Tysen was vice president of product development for Intuit’s Financial Management Solutions group. Since joining Intuit in 2002, he has also served as director of new technology and led the company’s patent program. Previously, Tysen was vice president of engineering at Aveo, Inc. Prior to Aveo, he worked as a software engineering manager at OCTel and Apple Computer.

Tysen holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Stanford University.