Martha Heller

Jacobs revamps its IT operating model to accelerate business

Aug 17, 2022
Business IT AlignmentIT LeadershipIT Strategy

To support the global professional services firm’s new business strategy, CDIO Madhuri Andrews conceptualized three modes of IT: customer transformation, global talent, and integrated global IT operations.

Madhuri Andrews, chief digital and information officer, Jacobs
Credit: Jacobs

In March 2022, Steve Demetriou, chair and CEO of Jacobs, announced a new multiyear strategy that would focus on three accelerators for the $15B professional services business: climate response, consulting and advisory, and data solutions, each supported by significant acquisitions.

Madhuri Andrews, who became chief digital and information officer of Jacobs in 2019, knew the strategy would require a new IT operating model, both to enable IT to act as a truly global organization and to leverage the IT team as business leaders in the company’s acquisitions-fueled transformational journey.

“We had previously acquired a business whose water and environmental focus is critical to addressing climate change. We also divested our oil and gas business, which was a big part of our history, and we made some targeted acquisitions that enhanced our advisory and data capabilities,” says Andrews. “In shifting our portfolio to help our clients with their own transformations, we needed to shift our IT operating model to support the new portfolio.”

Three modes of IT

To achieve this, Andrews began with an overarching vision of IT working in three modes. The first mode she defined as helping Jacobs’ customers transform their own businesses. “Our clients know that they need to transform if they are going to emerge stronger than before from the digital disruption that is happening in the market,” she says. “We want to help our clients disrupt their own industries.”

For example, during the pandemic, Jacobs’ life sciences team worked with a large pharmaceutical client to speed up vaccine production from 12 months to 12 weeks. “We helped them redesign their manufacturing processes using digital twins, iterative design methodologies, and advanced analytics,” says Andrews. “We leveraged our global integrated delivery footprint, with employees around the world working together on accelerated timelines, to partner with our client and make this happen.”

Andrews’ second mode for Jacobs IT is to support the company’s global operations, which involves a high level of collaboration to leverage and develop talent fluidly across a global footprint.

To enable this, Andrews and her team have created a virtual workspace capability that can be scaled to allow more than 20,000 engineers and data scientists around the world to collaborate in real-time on complex engineering projects.

“With the virtual workspace foundation, we’ve been able to move faster on automated and generative design,” Andrews says. “We are leveraging agile, cloud, advanced analytics, and have a great platform for experimenting with emerging technologies such as blockchain and Web 3.0. It is exciting for our people to engage differently across the global organization and learn new technologies.”

The third mode is about the IT organization itself, which has had to transform to make the other modes happen. “In the past, many of our businesses, like aerospace and defense, had their own IT organizations and platforms,” says Andrews. “To help leverage Jacobs’ global workforce and capabilities at scale for our customers, we needed to operate as one global IT organization – utilizing a mix of common platforms, processes, and tools that are informed by our operational and customer needs. This has also created opportunities for our people to expand their knowledge of our lines of business and bring innovative ideas on using technology to address our operational and customer needs.”

Business success teams

As a key element of the new operating model, Andrews has introduced “business success teams,” each dedicated to a different line of business to work alongside leaders of foundational IT capabilities such as common enterprise platforms, cybersecurity, data, and advanced analytics.

“When I do organizational design, I think of a spectrum,” says Andrews. “We know that all roles require soft skills in order to collaborate and innovate effectively. However, some roles are heavily relationship-driven, whereas others are very technical. The business success teams understand enough about technology to know how to use it to solve business problems or create opportunity, but they don’t always need to have in-depth expertise on Java, Jira, or cloud computing.”

To make the business success teams work, Andrews resisted a one-size-fits-all model.
“Business success teams range from 10 people to 100-plus,” she says. “The small teams work with businesses that have stable operations where we are engaged in continuous improvement activities, and the large teams work with businesses that are specialized or driving extensive changes in how technology is transforming the work they do.”

Clarity of purpose

For Andrews, driving major operational change across a large complex global organization required clarity of purpose and focused communication. “As we were creating our new IT operating model, we worked with a diverse cross-section of our organization to develop a purpose statement that would resonate with our employees and clearly connect to our corporate strategy. In addition, we developed six themes such as creation of frictionless employee and customer experiences, driving a seamless data fabric to harness the power of data business insights and flexible partnerships to increase the velocity of our business, all of which ensure that the IT operations support our business strategy,” she says.

Andrews and her team then tied all current and future IT initiatives into at least one of those themes. “This way, our people can pull the thread through the needle and see how their work actually impacts the business,” she adds.

Andrews sees the changes she is making in the IT organization as reflective of the role of a CIO. “In some IT organizations, our people advance because they are really good at execution, but they don’t necessarily understand how to adapt or drive change,” she says. “As CDIO, my role is both as a consultative partner to the business and as a mentor to the IT organization. If I can connect people to the purpose, they will think more creatively. I can go into the weeds on any technology, but my more important role is to ensure that the work we are doing in IT is connected to our overall Jacobs strategy.”

Martha Heller

Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.

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