by Charles Beard

SAIC Weaves Tech Into the Business Fabric

Jun 04, 20133 mins
Cloud Computing

Former CIO Charles Beard describes how his IT team modernized the $11 billion company's infrastructure and made the business more agile

When I first started at SAIC, IT was not viewed as a partner to the business–instead it was seen as little more than a cost center that provided utility services at a predefined rate.

Our systems, applications and governance model guaranteed IT could not provide the agility needed to globalize the business and move into new markets. The business side, on the other hand, was very dynamic, and we had a real opportunity in front of us at the enterprise level. To take advantage of it, the business needed to be able to identify important global segments and key vertical markets, and many of the company’s external clients were in a similar situation.

The more we heard about the business strategy, the more we realized we needed strategic agility. No one ever came to us and said, “We need an agile compute platform.” We read between the lines, came up with a model and said, “This would make sense for the enterprise.” And isn’t that the job of IT? We have to stop putting out fires and start translating the business’s needs into tools that help the company stick to its road map and create value for the entire enterprise.

If we want clients to see IT as an enabler of growth and efficiency, what do we need to reconsider about the way IT functions as part of the enterprise? If SAIC was going to consolidate data centers and modernize the IT infrastructure to support its strategic imperatives, why not do it in a way that’s an exemplar of what we want to communicate to our external clients?

We moved the entire enterprise to a hybrid cloud model, which produced a number of benefits, including the ability to tell clients the top 10 lessons we learned and to answer their questions not just about cloud but also about BYOD, mobile and data management–we’re doing it all. We broke the barriers between the lines of business and IT and have transformed IT from a utility provider into part of the fabric of our company.

Quite frankly, the conversation about the hybrid cloud would not have taken place under the previous governance model because I wouldn’t have been in the room. Early on, I shifted to report to the CEO and COO jointly. That partnership was the only way to enable the kind of change we were talking about because only the CEO had the authority to make a unilateral decision and make it quickly. And while he got everyone to support our vision, we could begin building the infrastructure to make it happen.

If you’re going to operate in the digital economy, you need to ask: Where’s the CIO in that process? If she’s tucked four layers down in the organization, she couldn’t even transform her own department without approval. The governance model needs to fit the role you want the CIO to play and the impact you want her to have on the company.

We took an $11 billion company with a first-generation IT infrastructure and moved it to a fourth-generation infrastructure that enables strategic agility. Shortly after this move, the company announced its plan to split into two companies to unlock the value of the enterprise. That would have been almost impossible just a short time ago.

Charles Beard, former CIO at SAIC, is a principal in the forensics and litigation practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers.