James Fairweather, Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, Pitney Bowes.
Does your team face barriers to innovation that prevent you from serving clients better? You’re not alone. From leading a global team, I know that overcoming this requires embedding innovation into the company’s culture and optimizing the effort that teams expend on more foundational and “table stakes” activity.
The road map I follow to approach this can help drive more value from teams while ensuring strong accountability for supporting and driving business results.
Step One: Create A Pyramid Of Value
The road map begins with taking stock of your team’s investments to create a “pyramid of value,” similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. On this pyramid, layer the various responsibilities and activities that your team is responsible for. For example, my team placed them on the pyramid based on the following criteria:
• At the base of the pyramid, we placed activities that absolutely have to occur but where any incremental effort we applied would be to create efficiency and streamline the work to free future capacity. This includes security and audit compliance as well as budget, service level agreement and schedule achievement.
• As we went through the process, there was a set of activities that clustered around the middle of the pyramid like competitive understanding, engagement and pride, client orientation, technology awareness, and data stewardship. We believed these activities were fundamental to our organization’s cultural orientation and where cost optimization was not the primary measure of improvement.
• If the activity could create large potential future returns based on invested dollars such as innovation, creation and synthesis, we placed it at the top of the pyramid.
Step Two: Streamline Security Processes
In each of the areas at the base of the pyramid, we assessed our current performance and the opportunity to improve our efficiency.
At the bottom of the pyramid is security, a table-stakes activity in business today that requires comprehensive processes to ensure that the technology services and solutions your business offers are well-defended from cyber threats. This can include vulnerability scanning assessments (static and dynamic code analysis, open-source scanning, infrastructure scanning, cloud environment configuration scans, etc.), disaster recovery testing, data protection, red team testing and other assessments. Within this, there are opportunities to streamline and automate.
For example, my teams took very specific actions. We automated vulnerability reporting across all scanning tools. We integrated security tools into our build and release processes to eliminate manual execution and ensure any released code is clean of issues. We also automated our scorecard process, which maps a Center for Internet Security (CIS) controls assessment to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) cybersecurity framework and allows the business to visibly see the difference between our inherent risk position for a product area against the residual risk we have with the controls we have established.
Our teams have significantly improved our risk position over the last 18 months while reducing the time required to manage and report out their security postures.
Step Three: Become Continuously Auditable
Innovation teams are built on the foundation of not only strong security but also strong audits. Unfortunately, audit performance often comes with a price, requiring a significant investment of resources and time to produce control evidence, manage evidence with auditors and ensure clear communications. Automation and tooling can be a means to reduce the time spent by teams while equaling or improving performance.
For example, we used AuditBoard software to help us with compliance management and began the process of automating evidence collection and storage for key controls across our products and services. Our goal was to be continuously auditable with control evidence stored by control and able to be shared at any time with our audit partners. As a result of these efforts, we saw the level of human resources applied to audits reduce by a factor of three on some programs.
Step Four: Maintain Budget Achievement
Audits and cybersecurity—among other important processes—can be costly and must be managed on top of or as part of your team’s budget.
One of the key responsibilities of a fully proficient technology management leader is the ability to estimate work efforts and then execute projects and programs within budget. Leaders must not only understand the business domains and model they operate in but also how their team’s research and development efforts contribute to business performance, both in the value they create and the cost incurred.
For my teams, we were managing expenses well and coming below our target spend levels. However, when we assessed “how” we were achieving these results, it was clear that streamlining processes and systems could help us. We again turned to tools to help us, replacing our prior project time and expense tracking system with a new project time tracking module that Workday provided, which streamlined the integration to the system of record for our employee roster.
We also expanded the use of tools like Cloudability and ensured every team had clear targets for their cloud spend improvements by developing metrics across our organization for “infrastructure spend per critical business transaction” for our platforms. Teams have targets to reduce the infrastructure spend associated with delivering the business function.
Additionally, we worked with our development leaders to get into a regular cadence of expense and labor forecasting for their projects and improved the interlock with our finance organization. As a result of these efforts, we are in our third consecutive year of beating our annual expense budget, and our cloud spend is rated in the 98th percentile of efficiency, per the benchmark data we have seen.
Efficiency achieved through this approach leads to both greater value derived from innovation and engineering teams as well as greater performance, accountability, cost savings and even stronger employee engagement. By focusing on these bottom-of-the-pyramid gains, your team can focus on what matters most at the top of the pyramid, including innovation, creation and synthesis—in turn driving stronger business results and client service.
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