Co-author: Amit Wadhwa, Principal Architect, both from EMC’s Solution Desk, IT Office of Architecture & Innovation
It goes without saying that EMC has a strong history in developing technology for information management. If I were to characterize EMC with a few brief terms, I would choose “innovation”, “diversity” and “solutions provider.” A continuum of innovation has made us champions of the physical IT infrastructure. The diversity of thought and approach inspired by our acquisitions has contributed greatly to furthering our progress and technology leadership in the virtual infrastructure arena. And by maintaining our focus as a solutions provider, we have led the way in cloud technology by transforming complex virtual concepts into practical, consumable realities.
These three characteristics have permeated our culture and can be found in all groups, including our Solution Desk within EMC IT. The Solution Desk is a team whose charter is to provide speed, objectivity, consistency, and multiple IT technology options to the business case delivery process. And we do this well because we are innovative, diverse with a solutions provider mindset.
The business case defines the cost-benefits analysis of an IT project for the purpose of making an investment decision. Comprised of the following elements, it is easy to see that a well-prepared business case represents the keys to the car for driving forward with a new technology solution:
• a clear problem statement spoken from the voice of the customer
• a vision of the business as it would be functioning with the new processes and systems in place
• a review of all options being considered, and
• a solid recommendation with the backing of financial analyses, resource plans, risks, and assumptions
At EMC IT, business case recommendations are made on a firm foundation of guiding principles, including: Efficiency, Total Customer Experience, Architecting for the Future, Enhancing Workforce Productivity, and EMC IT Proven (being EMC’s first & best customer, a.k.a. eating our own dog-food program). These principles guide IT investment recommendations, shape IT technology roadmaps, and most importantly they can bring diverse teams having similar objectives and interests together for discussion.
For example, where previously IT investment recommendations may have been made independently within siloed organizations, we now have a means through the Solution Desk of identifying and assessing similar projects brought forward by entirely different groups at different times. This has resulted in greater process efficiencies from standardizing the approach to handling similar initiatives, or from the consideration of similar solution options.
The Solution Desk also provides an additional array of benefits to the business case process. We secure resources up front by assigning a dedicated “virtual team” to each project. We have a repository of tools and templates that are constantly being honed and improved. And, we share our experiences with the many business units whose projects come through the Solution Desk so that we can identify and take advantage of any synergies.
Part 2 – An Efficient Pipeline for IT Project Proposals: EMC’s Solution Desk Brings It All Together
EMC’s unique Solution Desk process entails, at a very high level, pulling together all the different facets of an IT proposal, from finance and staffing needs to process logistics and time requirements, before a project is launched into Design Phase. This comprehensive review and approval process results in a more efficient project pipeline where IT investments and efforts more closely align with the needs of the business.
Here is how the “Concept to Approval” phase works:
The Initial Assignment
The process begins with a preliminary evaluation of each business unit proposal by a broad group of IT and business representatives assembled for the Initiative Pipeline Review (IPR). The IPR panel decides whether the proposed project should be referred to the Solution Desk or not, with the most common decision criteria being whether there are options that need to be evaluated or not. If so, the clock starts ticking for a Solution Desk virtual team to be assigned and begin their analysis.
The Solution Desk Virtual Team and Its Responsibilities
Each proposal that comes to the Solution Desk is assigned a virtual, global team that will be chartered with identifying comprehensive solution options. Team representatives include:
• Solution Desk Business Analyst
• Business Technology Group (BTG) representatives for the business
• Solution Architect
• Project Management (SDG)
• IT Finance
• Resource Management
• Purchasing (CIP)
• Risk and Security
The Solution Desk (SD) process involves a Solution Desk Business Analyst (SDBA) managing and working with the virtual team. The team will prepare and present two key deliverables: an “Input presentation” which reflects the business requirements in a standardized, comprehensive format, and an “Output presentation” which delivers the Solution Desk recommendation and all options considered. The BTG may then use the output material to prepare their final business case deliverable back to the business. All of this is done within a specified timeframe to ensure that the project will move smoothly through the pipeline.
1. The Kickoff
Once the IPR sends a proposal to the Solution Desk, the team has three days to kickoff its analysis process. During the kickoff meeting the team meets to discuss the problem, determine meeting logistics, identify next steps, and agree on a date four or 8 weeks out on which the solution recommendation will be delivered to BTG. The time period of four or 8 weeks is determined by the level of complexity of the project (“Standard” or “Extended”), and whether it involves vendor interactions or not.
2. The Input
After the initial kick-off meeting, the virtual team begins a period of discovery activities leading up to the “Input presentation.” During discovery, the virtual team works with BTG to understand requirements in detail, and prepares an Input presentation which summarizes requirements in a standardized format. BTG delivers this presentation, which is analogous to “high level requirements freezing,” to an audience comprised of Solution Desk Business Analysts and Solution Architects.
3. The Output Working Sessions
Once the Input presentation is done, the clock starts ticking for the virtual team to deliver a solution recommendation. They analyze requirements and have ongoing team meetings to brainstorm possible solutions that would meet the requirements of the business problem while aligning to EMC’s IT strategy. This analysis is based on research, including meetings with research firms, vendors (if applicable) and other IT groups to determine if any existing solutions exist that can be leveraged. Once the analysis is done, a detailed financial analysis of all options is carried out by the team to determine build and run cost for a five-year period. The options are then put up for comparison against each other and factors such as time-to-market, skill sets available, and trade-offs between features and costs are considered. A recommendation is made at this stage and the output / business case starts taking shape.
When required, the vendor analysis involves additional steps. This requires RFI’s to be initiated, vendors are invited for demos, marketing research firms are consulted, and a preliminary (but duly diligent) analysis is done before a recommendation is made.
4. The Output
The work described above culminates with the “Output presentation” by the Solution Desk virtual team to an audience comprised of Solution Desk Business Analysts, Solution Architects and BTG. The Output presentation provides a recommendation along with the background work done, pros and cons of each solution option offered, and justification for the recommended solution.
The Output presentation allows the business to make a more informed decision and weigh in all the analysis against their strategic priorities. A good point to note is that the output represents a recommendation, not a final decision. The BTG business representative still has an opportunity to request revisions or to send the recommendation back to be revisited or reconsidered. Once satisfied, the BTG may then take the output material and use it to complete their business case documentation.
A Final Note
Once the business case is approved, the project officially begins; it is set up in EMC’s project management system with a project plan, budget and assigned resources. Meanwhile, the virtual team created for the Solution Desk is disbursed and the individuals move on to another project in the pipeline. The time and effort invested at this early stage is well utilized–both in terms of cost as well as enterprise IT strategy alignment. The virtual team ensures a cross-IT perspective to align architectural roadmaps to a common direction.
The Solution Desk has definitely made the IT project proposal process more efficient. In the past, a business unit seeking an IT solution didn’t know how long it might take to get action on their proposal or how to make sure all the necessary parties were brought together. IT wasn’t sure which stakeholder in the project it might be omitting or what non-IT detail it may be overlooking.
Now business units can be confident that their requests will be processed in a timely manner and EMC IT can be confident that it is acting on business requests in the most efficient manner to meet the needs of its customers.