Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Insurance Leader AIG Drives Business Transformation and Service Performance Through Center of Excellence Model

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast with AIG and HP on the challenges and solutions involved in managing a global center of excellence for IT performance.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the next edition of the HP Discover Performance Podcast Series. I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your moderator for this ongoing discussion of IT innovation and how it’s making an impact on people’s lives.

Dana Gardner
Once again, we're focusing on how IT leaders are improving performance of their services to deliver better experiences and payoffs for businesses and end-users alike.

We're now joined by our co-host and moderator, Chief Software Evangelist at HP, Paul Muller. Welcome, Paul, how are you?

Paul Muller: I'm great Dana. How are you doing?

Gardner: I'm excellent. Where are you coming from today?

Muller: I'm coming from sunny San Francisco. It’s unseasonably warm, and I'm really looking forward to today’s discussions. It should be fun. [Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Gardner: We have a fascinating show. We're going to be learning about global insurance leader American International Group, or AIG, and how their Global Performance Architecture Group has leveraged a performance center of excellence (COE) to help drive business transformation.

So let me introduce our guest from AIG. We're here with Abe Naguib, Senior Director of AIG’s Global Performance Architecture Group. Welcome back, Abe.

Naguib: Hi, Dana. Hi, Paul. How are you?

Gardner: We're excellent. We've talked before, Abe, and I'm really delighted to have you back. I want to start at a high level. Many organizations are now focusing more on the user experience and the business benefits and less on pure technology, and for many, it's a challenge. From a very high level, how do you perceive the best way to go about a cultural shift, or an organizational shift, from a technology focus more towards this end-user experience focus?
The CIO has to keep his eye forward to periodically change tracks, ensuring that the customers are getting the best value for their money.

Naguib: Well, Paul and Dana, there are several paradigms involved from the COO and CFO’s push on innovation and efficiency. A lot of the tooling that we use, a lot of the products we use help to fully diversify and resolve some of the challenges we have. That’s to keep change running.

Abe Naguib
The CIO has to keep his eye forward to periodically change tracks, ensuring that the customers are getting the best value for their money. That’s a tall order and, he has to predict benefit, gauge value, maintain integrity, socialize, and evolve the strategy of business ideas on how technology should run.

We have to manage quite a few challenges from the demand of operating a global franchise. Our COE looks at various levels of optimization and one key target is customer service, and factors that drive the value chain.

That’s aligning DevOps to business, reducing data-center sprawl, validating and making sense of vendors, products, and services, increasing the return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) of emerging technologies, economy of scale, improving services and hybrid cloud systems, as we isolate and identify the cascading impacts on systems. These efforts help to derive value across the chain and eventually help improve customer value.

Gardner: Paul Muller, does this jibe with what you're seeing in the field? Do you see an emphasis that’s more on this sort of process level, when it comes to IT with of course more input from folks like the COO and the chief financial officer?

Level of initiatives

Muller: As I was listening to Abe's description I was thinking that you really can tell the culture of an organization by the level of initiatives and thinking that it has. In fact, you can't change one without changing the other. What I've just described is a very high level of cultural maturity.

Paul Muller
We do see it, but we see it in maybe 10 to 15 percent of organization that have gone through the early stages of understanding the performance and quality of applications, optimizing it for cost and performance, but then moving through to the next stage, reevaluating the entire chain, and looking to take a broader perspective with lots of user experience. So it's not unique, but it's certainly used among the more mature in terms of observational thinking.

Gardner: For the benefit of our audience, Abe, tell us a little bit about AIG, its breadth, and particularly the business requirements that your Global Performance Architecture Group is tasked with meeting?

Naguib: Sure, Dana. AIG is a leading international insurance organization, across 130 countries. AIG’s companies serving commercial, institutional, individual customers, through one of the world’s most extensive property/casualty networks, are leading providers of life insurance and retirement services in the US.

Among the brand pillars that we focused on are integrity, innovation, and market agility across the variety of products that we offer, as well as customer service.
Bringing together our business-critical and strategic drivers across IT’s various segments fosters alignment, agility, and eventually unity.

Gardner: And how about the Global Performance Architecture Group? How do you fit into that?

Naguib: With AIG’s mantra of "better, faster, cheaper," my organization’s people, strategy, and comprehensive tools help us to bridge these gaps that a global firm faces today. There are many technology objectives across different organizations that we align, and we utilize various HP solutions to drive our objectives, which is getting the various IT delivery pistons firing in the same direction and at the right time.

These include performance, application lifecycle management (ALM), and business service management (BSM), as well as project and portfolio management (PPM). Over time our Global Performance organization has evolved, and our senior manager realized our strategic benefit and capability to reduce cost, risk, and mitigate production and risk.

Our role eventually moved out of quality assurance's QA’s functional testing area to focus on emphasizing application performance, architecture design patterns, emerging technologies, infrastructure and consolidation strategies, and risk mitigation, as well increasing ROI and economy of scale. With the right people, process, and tools, our organization enabled IT transparency and application tuning, reduced infrastructure consumption, and accelerated resolution of any system performances in dev and production.

The key is bringing together our business-critical and strategic drivers across IT’s various segments fosters alignment, agility, and eventually unity. Now, our leaders seek our guidance to help tune IT at some degree of financial performance to unlock optimal business value.

Culture of IT

Gardner: What's interesting to me, Paul, about what Abe just said is the evolution of this from test and dev in QA to a broader set of first IT, then operations, and then ultimately even through that culture of IT generally. Is that a pattern you're seeing that the people in QA are in the sense breaking out of just an application performance level and moving more into what we could call IT performance level?

Muller: As I was listening to Abe talk through that, there were a couple of keywords that jumped out that are indicators of maturity. One of them is the recognition that, rather than being a group-sized task, things like application, quality performance, and user experience actually are a discipline that can be leveraged consistently across multiple organizational units and, whether you centralize it or make it uniform across the organization is an important part of what you just described.

Maturity of operational and strategic alignment is something that requires a significant investment on business’s and IT’s behalf to prove early returns by doing a good job on some of the smaller projects. This shows a proven return on investment before the organization is typically going to be willing to invest in creating a centralized and an uniform architecture group.

Gardner: Abe, do you have some response to that?

Naguib: Yes, more-and-more, in the last six or seven years, there's less focus on just basic performance optimization. The focus is now on business strategy impact on infrastructure CAPEX, and OPEX. Correlating business use cases to impact on infrastructure is the golden grail.
I always say that software drives the hardware.

Once you start communicating to CIOs the impact of a system and the cost of hosting, licensing, headcount, service sprawl, branding, and services that depend on each other, we're more aligning DevOps with business.

Muller: You can compare the discussion that I just had with a conversation I had not three weeks ago with a financial institution in another part of the world. I asked who is responsible for your end-to-end business process -- in this case I think it was mortgage origination -- and the entire room looked at each other, laughed, and said "We don't know."

So you've really got this massive gap in terms of not just IT process maturity, but you also have business-process maturity, and it's very challenging, in my experience, to have one without having the other.

Gardner: I think we have to recognize too that most businesses now realize that software is such an integral part of their business success. Being adept at software, whether it's writing it, customizing it, implementation and integration, or just overall lifecycle has become kind of the lifeblood of business, not just an element of IT. Do you sense that, Abe, that software is given more clout in your organization?

Naguib: Absolutely Dana. I truly believe that. I've been kind of an internal evangelist on this, but I always say that software drives the hardware. Whether I communicate with the enterprise architects, the dev teams, the infrastructure teams, software frankly does drive the hardware.

That's really the key point here. If you start managing your root cost and performance from a software perspective and then work your way out, you’ve got the key to unlocking everything from efficiencies to optimizing your ROI and to addressing TCO over time. It's all business driven. Know your use cases. Know how it impacts your software, which impacts your infrastructure.

Converged infrastructure

Gardner: Of course, these days we’re hearing more about software-defined networking, software-defined data centers, and converged infrastructure. It really does start to come together, so that you can control, manage, and have a data-driven approach to IT, and that fits into ITIL and some of the other methodologies. It really does seem to be kind of a golden age for how IT can improve as performance, as productivity, and of course as a key element to the overall business. Is that what you’re finding too, Abe?

Naguib: Absolutely. It's targeting software performance, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that depend on each other.

More and more, it's a domino effect. If you don't identify the root cause, isolate it, and resolve it, the impact does have a cascading effect, on optimization, delivery, and even cost, as we’ve seen repeatedly in the last couple of years. That’s how we communicate to our C-level community.

Gardner: Of course we have to recognize it. Just being performant, optimized, and productive for its own sake isn’t good enough in this economy. We have to show real benefits, and you have to measure those benefits. Maybe you have some way to translate how this actually does benefit your customers. Any metrics of success you can share with us, Abe?

Naguib: Yes, during our initial requirements-gathering phase with our business leaders, we start defining appropriate test-modeling strategy, including volumetrics, and managing and understanding the deployment pattern with subscriber demographics and user roles. We start aligning DevOps organizations with business targets which improves delivery expectations, ROI, TCO, and capacity models.
The big transformation taking place right now is that our organization is connecting different silos of IT delivery, in particular development, quality, and operations.

Then, before production, our Application Performance Engineering (APE) team identifies weak spots to provide the production team with a reusable script setting thresholds on exact hotspots in a system, so that eventually in production, they can take appropriate productive measures. Now, this is value add.

Gardner: Paul, do you have any thoughts in terms of how that relates to the larger software field, the larger enterprise performance field?

Muller: As we’re seeing across the planet at the moment, there's a recognition that to bring great software and information is really a function of getting Layers 1 through 7 in the technology stack working, but it's also about getting Layer 8 working. Layer 8, in this case, is the people. Unfortunately, being technologists, we often forget about the people in this process.

What Abe just described is a great representation of the importance of getting not just a functional part of IT, in this case quality and performance working well, but it's about recognizing the software will one day be delivered to operational staff to internally monitor and manage it in a production setting.

The big transformation taking place right now is that our organization is connecting different silos of IT delivery, in particular development, quality, and operations, to help them accelerate the release of quality applications, and to automate things like threshold setting, and optimize monitoring of metrics ahead of time. Rather than discovering that an application might fail to perform in a production setting, where you've got users screaming at you, you get all of that work done ahead of time.

Sharing and trust

You create a culture of sharing and trust between development, quality, and operations that frankly doesn’t exist in a lot of process where the relationship between development and operations is pretty strained.

Gardner: Abe, how do you measure this? We recognized the importance of the metrics, but is there a new coin of the realm in terms of measurement? How do you put this into a standardized format that you’re going to take to your CFO and your COO and say here’s what's really happening?

Naguib: That's a good question. Tying into what Paul was saying, nobody cared about whether we improved performance by three seconds or two seconds. You care at the front end, when you hear users grumbling. The bottom line is how the application behaves, translating that into business impact as well as IT impact.

Business impact is what are the dollar values to make key use cases and transactions that don't scale. Again, software drives the hardware. If an application consumes more hardware, the hardware is cheap now-a-days, but licenses aren’t. You have database and you have middleware products running in that environment, whether it's on-premise or in the cloud.

The point is that impact should be measured, and that's how we started communicating results through our organization. That's when we started seeing C-level officers tuning in and realizing the impact of performance of both to the bottom line, even to the top line.
We were able to leverage consistent dashboards across different IT solutions internally, then target weak spots and help drive optimization.

Gardner: It strikes me, Abe, that this is going to set you up to be in a better position to move to cloud models, consume more SaaS services, as you mentioned earlier, and to become more of a hybrid services delivery shop or have that capability. Does that make sense? Do you feel more prepared for what this next level of compute architecture you seem to be heading toward as a result of the investments you've made?

Naguib: Absolutely Dana. Our role is to provide more insight earlier and quicker to the right people at the right time.

Leveraging HP’s partnership and solutions helped us to address technologies, whether Web 2.0, client-server, legacy systems, Web, cloud-based, or hybrid models. We were able to leverage consistent dashboards across different IT solutions internally, then target weak spots and help drive optimization, whether on premise or cloud.

Gardner: Paul Muller, thoughts about how this is working more generally in the market, how people who get a grasp on global performance architecture issues like AIG are then in a better position to leverage and exploit the newer and far more productive types of computing models?

Muller: In the enterprise today, it's all about getting your ideas out of your head and making them a reality. As Abe just described, most of the best ideas today that are on their way into business processes you can ultimately turn into software. So success is really all about having the best applications and information possible.

Understand maturity

The challenge is understanding how the technology, the business process and the benefits come together and then orchestrating that the delivery of that benefit to your organization. It's not something that can be done without a deliberate focus on process. Again, the challenge is always understanding your organization's maturity, not just from an IT standpoint, but importantly from a broader standpoint.

Naguib: What's the common driver for all? Money talks. Translating things into a dollar value started to bring groups together to understand what we can do better to improve our process.

Gardner: Abe, it strikes me that you guys are really fulfilling this value epicenter role there and expanding the value of that role outside the four walls of IT into the larger organization. Tell me how HP is joining you in a partnership to do that? What is it that you're bringing to the table to improve that value for the epicenter of value benefit?

Naguib: Dana, what we're seeing more is that it's not just internal dev and ops that we're aligning with, or even our business service level expectations. It's also partnerships with key vendors that have opened up the roadmap to align our technologies, requirements, and our challenges into those solutions.

The gains we make are simple. They can be boiled down into three key benefits: savings, performance, and business agility. Leveraging HP's ALM solutions helps us drive IT and business transformation and unlock resources and efficiencies. That helps streamline delivery and an increased reliability of our mission critical systems.
After we've dealt with tuning, we can help activate post-production monitoring using the same script, understanding where the weak spots are.

My favorite has always been HP's LoadRunner Performance Center. It’s basically our Swiss Army Knife to support diverse platform technologies and align business use cases to the impact on IT and infrastructure via SiteScope, HP SiteScope.

We're able to deep dive into the diagnostics, if needed. And the best part is, after we've dealt with tuning, we can help activate post-production monitoring using the same script, understanding where the weak spots are.

So the tools are there. The best part is integrated, and actually work together very well.

Gardner: It really sounds like you've grabbed onto this system-of-record concept for IT, almost enterprise resource planning (ERP) for IT. Is that fair?

Naguib: That's a good way to put it.

Muller: One of the questions I get a lot from organizations is how we measure and reflect the benefit. What hard data have you managed to get?

Three-month study

Naguib: IDC came in and did an extensive three-month study, and it was interesting what they have found. We've realized a saving of more than $11 million annually for the past five years by increasing our economy of scale. Scale on a system allows more applications on the same host.

It's an efficiency from both hardware and software. They also found that our using solutions from HP increased staff productivity by over $300,000 a year. Instead of fighting fires, we're actually now focusing on innovation, and improving business reliability by over $600,000 a year.

So all that together shows a recoup, a five-year ROI, about 577 percent. I was very excited about that study. They also showed that we resolved mean time resolution over 70 percent through production debugging, root cause, and resolution efforts.

So what we found, and technologists would agree with me, is that today, with hardware being cheaper than software, there is a hidden cost associated with hosting an application. The bottom line, if we don’t test and tune our applications holistically, either the architecture, code, infrastructure, and shared services, these performance issues can quickly degrade quality of service, uptime, and eventually IT value.
I have a saying, which is that quality costs money but bad quality costs more.

Muller: I have a saying, which is that quality costs money but bad quality costs more. There you go.

Gardner: Abe, any recommendations that you might have for other organizations that are thinking of moving in this direction and that want to get more mature, as Paul would say. What are some good things to keep in mind as you start down this path?

Naguib: Besides software drives the hardware -- and I can't stress that enough -- are all the ways to understand business impact and translate whatever you're testing into the business model.

What happens to the scenarios such as outages? What happens when things are delayed? What is the impact on business operability, productivity, liability, customer branding. There are so many details that stem from performance. We used to be dealing with the "Google factor" of two-second response time, but now, we're getting more like millisecond response, because there are so many interdependencies between our systems and services.

Another fact is that a lot of products come into our doors on a daily basis. Modern technologies come in with a lot of promises and a lot of commitments.

Identify what works

So it's being able to weed through the chaff, identify what works, how the interdependencies work, and then, being able to partner with vendors of those solutions and services. Having tools that add transparency into their products and align with our environment helps bring things together more. Treating IT like a business by translating the impact into dollar value, helps to get lined up and responsive.

Gardner: Very good. Last word to you, Paul. Any thoughts about getting started? Are there principles that you are seeing in common, threads or themes for organizations, as they begin to get the maturity model in place and extend quality and process performance assurance improvements even more generally into their business?

Muller: It might be a little controversial here, but the first step is look in the mirror and understand your organization and its level of maturity. You really need to assess that very self-critically before you start. Otherwise, you're going to burn a lot of capital, a lot of time, and a lot of credibility trying to make a change to an organization from state A to state B. If you don’t understand the level of maturity of your present state before you start working on the desired state, you can waste a lot of time and money. It's best to look in the mirror.

The second step is to make sure that, before you even begin that process, you create that alignment and that desired state in the construct of the business. Make sure that your maturity aligns to the business's maturity and their goal. I just described the ability to measure the business impact in terms of revenue of IT services. Many companies can’t even do something as fundamental as that. It can be really hard to drive alignment, unless you’ve got business-IT alignment ahead of time.

I have said this so many times. The technology is a manageable problem, Layers 1 through 7, including management software to a certain degree, have solved problems the most time. Solving the problem of Layer 8 is tough. You can reboot the server, but you can’t reboot a person.
Solving the problem of Layer 8 is tough. You can reboot the server, but you can’t reboot a person.

I always recommend bringing along some sort of management of organizational change function. In our case, we actually have a number of trained organizational psychologists working for us who understand what it takes to get several hundred, sometimes several thousand, people to change the way they behave, and that’s really important. You’ve got to bring the people along with it.

Gardner: Well we have to take a hint from you, Paul. Maybe our next topic will be The Psychology of IT, but we won’t be able to get to that today. I am afraid we'll have to leave it there and I have to thank our co-host Paul Muller, the Chief Software Evangelist at HP. Thanks so much for joining us.

Muller: Always a pleasure.

Gardner: And like to thank our supporter for this series, HP Software, and remind our audience to carry on the dialogue with Paul and other experts there at HP through the Discover Performance Group on LinkedIn.

You can gain more insights and information on the best of IT performance management at www.hp.com/go/discoverperformance. And you can always access this in other episodes of our HP Discover Performance podcast series at hp.com and on iTunes under BriefingsDirect.

Of course, we also extend a big thank you to our guest. Abe Naguib, Senior Director of AIG’s Global Performance Architecture Group. Thanks so much, Abe.

Naguib: Thank you, Dana, thank you, Paul. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Gardner: Again, a last thank you to our audience for joining us for this special HP Discover Performance podcast discussion. I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your co-host for this ongoing series of HP-sponsored business success story. Thanks again for joining and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast with AIG and HP on the challenges and solutions involved in managing a global center of excellence for IT performance. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2012. All rights reserved.

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