Profile-management tool gives Equifax's execs a view into the value and risk of dozens of technology initiatives.
Technology drives just about every product and service that credit-reporting company Equifax Inc. offers its customers. To compile its credit reports, the company collects detailed financial information on millions of people, resulting in mountains of data it must analyze, organize, and store. It's no wonder Equifax spends about a quarter of its $1.3 billion in annual revenue on IT.
So, when Robert Webb joined the company last October as chief technology officer, he needed to move fast to learn about Equifax's 60 to 70 IT projects--and whether the IT investments were aligned with the company's business priorities, fit into the overarching architecture, and could be leveraged across the business.
CTO Webb wanted a quick way to assess IT projects
With so much at stake, Webb's key focus has been to optimize the $50 million earmarked for IT projects. To do that, Equifax is relying on technology itself to help prioritize, track, and optimize the investments.
Before Webb's arrival, former CTO Owen Flynn, who's now the company's group executive of marketing services, had begun testing in one Equifax division a program- and project-tracking tool that's part of the Mercury IT Governance Center software suite from Mercury Interactive Corp. But soon after Webb arrived, he decided to "kick up to high gear" a companywide, global implementation of what Equifax has now dubbed Investment Navigator. Within 60 days, the system was rolled out across the company. "I needed to understand quickly if we were working on the right things and leveraging our investments," and the software helps do that, Webb says.
Information pertaining to all projects is entered into Investment Navigator. Project managers update the system daily using a Web-based dashboard. "With a single touch of a button, I can understand all 60 projects," as well as their progress and problems, Webb says.
The software helps managers prioritize projects based on their business value and risk, Webb says. They're rated on common criteria, like payback and whether they fit into Equifax's IT architecture and can be leveraged across the company. The cost-benefit analysis uses metrics such as return on investment, net present value, and internal rate of return. Webb uses the system weekly to review the IT project portfolio. This assists in increasing project life-cycle efficiency, improving the success rate, and reducing execution time, he says.
All IT projects also must be linked to at least one of four corporate priorities: information security and strengthening the company's infrastructure; simplification; accelerating strategic systems; and growth and product innovation.
Webb isn't the only one who uses the tool to keep tabs on IT investments and projects. Other technology and business leaders in the company rely on it to coordinate decision-making. Webb holds quarterly IT priority meetings with the CFO, CEO, and key business execs across the company to review projects and proposals. The system "helps us take ideas and translate them into quantifiable projects," he says.
Projects that are expected to have high impact on business growth are given high priority and put on an accelerated schedule. One such project is developing identity-theft services, including alerting consumers when Equifax systems detect changes in their credit habits, such as suddenly racking up a lot of bills or late payments. In Equifax's marketing-services business, the company moved up on its priority list a supercomputer, grid-computing project that helps credit-card companies, which are Equifax clients, solicit the best-qualified consumers for new services. Data crunching that had taken two days in the past now takes only hours, Webb says.
The company also is using Investment Navigator to kill projects that don't fit Equifax's priorities. For instance, it found that the company was using too many business-intelligence tools. "Having six different BI tools isn't very intelligent," Webb says. Projects that don't fit a company priority are redirected or shelved, he says. So far, Investment Navigator has helped Equifax repurpose $2 million in technology spending.
For 2006, Webb says he's looking to expand Investment Navigator's use beyond tech projects to also include all business projects.
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