EDGE: You say you are not a typical CIO. What do you mean by that?
SUNDAY: First of all, because of the nature of our (corporate) culture, we tend not to have governance issues. We have a very clear decision-making process. We meet as an executive team on a frequent basis, agree
on our 12-month strategy and communicate it across the whole organization. The biggest differentiator in my role is that we implement our technology long before it ships to our customers, and that allows us to validate the performance of our products. We went live on our new version back in February and will ship later this month. This allows us to drive all the things we want to do to the product. This also allows us to develop best practices and share them with customers.
EDGE: Can you give an example of a product improvement that came from your group?
SUNDAY: One is an entirely new area called employee relationship management, where we build out a capability to centralize all news, information, training, support, setting goals and compensation planning, and having this cascade through the entire organization. Tom Siebel, chairman of our company, was showing other CEOs how he runs the company with it and everyone suggested we productize it, so our internal implementation really was the genesis. I would say there is a continuous dialogue every single day between my team and the people in the products and engineering organizations.
EDGE: How do you bring best practices to your IT operation?
SUNDAY: There’s two aspects. One is best practices with business functions and others are in how you run an IT organization. In IT, we’ve introduced what we like to call the 60-day drum beat. Every 60 days, we have a new release of everything we have at Siebel, all business processes that have been enhanced across the company. We do 120 to 150 of these process improvements. As the program manager in any given area — education, tech support quality, whatever — all those business procesess within our company, you lay out a process road map of the improvements you want to make, and through a release management function, they get associated with one of these drumbeats. One of the IT best practices, we believe, is this whole focus on these process drumbeats independent of the application, and to refine them across the organization. It’s kind of where the two meet. Everything from HR to finance to sales to marketing processes, we have a lead who is driving these process improvements, and then, for IT best practices, we roll them out through new releases through the enterprise every 60 days.
EDGE: Siebel is big on customer service, but how do you relate it to IT?
SUNDAY: One of the areas I am most proud of is customer care. When I looked across our employee base, the probability of them being near an IT guy is less than five per cent. Typically, they arrived in Hong Kong on a Sunday night and make a customer pitch at eight the next morning, and they have a problem downloading something. What we decided to do is have 24-by-7, multilingual, fully automated, fully remote ability to support you. We built in a lot of technology and processes that allow us to first of all remotely update your machine and take control of it if you have, for example, trouble connecting to the Web. We then detect what areas you may be having problems with, and then automatically fix it.
EDGE: You should be selling this as a service — maybe even outsourcing it.
SUNDAY: That’s funny. You know, 99 out of 100 Siebel employees, the way they know my organization is by customer care. That last thing I would outsource is what touches my customers. We are really committed to the people who are doing our IT customer care. We are down to $9 a customer contact, and industry average is $23 a contact. A lot of it is automated and a lot of is self-service using a portal, but if you do need to contact us, it is also available.
edge: It sounds like you have a lot of metrics in place.
SUNDAY: We’ve got metrics for everything. That’s where it begins and that’s where it ends. We measure everything from availability to service levels to performance. In fact, we have performance monitors scattered around the world and every half-hour we report back in real-time how things are performing. I don’t know any other way to manage a company. Truly, the idea of being able to instrumentize everything you do across IT will probably have the most profound impact of anything we have ever done.
EDGE: Do your consider your IT department a cost centre?
SUNDAY: We look at it a couple of different ways. People first think about the IT department as a business process improvement enabler. We do not allocate our or charge out project expense to an organization. We decide at a corporate level what the prioirites are, and we decide, release by release, where we are going to focus. Fundamental in our culture is a bias towards action. That’s our modus operandi. I’m responsible for all the costs associated with technology so it’s my job to optimize that. I am constantly renegotiating agreements and analysing how we use stuff. From that apsect, we manage the cost. It’s my job to not only work the business side but to improve our efficiency.
EDGE: Do you centralize or decentralize this function?
SUNDAY: Anything decentralized is too much. If you pricked my finger for blood or chipped my DNA, it would be centralize and standardize everything. In fact, the thing I really believe is, you can either maximize efficiency or maximize agility, but by standardizing, you do both. It is not only more efficient to manage a single image, it’s much simpler to roll it out to every standard plaftorm, and that’s how it makes you more agile. I’ve seen many decentralized organizations where the CIOs spend their entire time figuring out how to gain consensus. It’s immensely inefficient and immensely ineffective in terms of the ability to change rapidly.
Senior Vice-President of IT and CIO
Siebel Systems Inc.