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Shift in Culture Delivers Better Results

McKesson redirects IT to become a services provider that delivers fuller business solutions

The next edition of the HP Discover Performance podcast series highlights how pharmaceuticals distributor and healthcare information technology services provider McKesson has transformed the very notion of IT. We will see how a shift in culture and an emphasis on being a services provider has allowed McKesson to not only deliver better results, but elevate the role of IT into the strategic fabric of the company.

To learn more about how McKesson has recast the role of IT and remade its impact in a positive way, join Andy Smith, Vice President of Applications Hosting Services at McKesson. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Let me start with this notion of IT transformation. What allowed you to convince others that this was worth doing?

Smith: What we did, and this started several years ago, was to focus on what our competition was doing, not the competition to McKesson -- but the competition to IT. In other words, who was the outsourcer or who were the other data-center providers. From that, we were able to focus on our cost, quality, and availability and come up with a set of metrics that covered it all, so that we could know the areas we needed to transform and the areas where we were okay.

Gardner: So, in a sense, you had to redefine yourself as a services provider, because that's who you saw as your competition?

Smith: Exactly, and that's who our customers are talking to -- our competition. When they came to us for a service, they had already talked to third-party providers. And so we realized very quickly that our competition was the outside world, so we had to model ourselves to be more like them and less like an internal IT department.

Gardner: That, of course, cuts across not only technology, but culture and the whole idea of being accountable, and to whom. So let's start at that higher level. How did you begin to define what the new culture for IT should be?

Balanced scorecard

Smith: We started out with a balanced scorecard. It really came down to whether the employees and the customers were satisfied. Did we do what we said – were we accountable -- and were the financials right?

So when we started setting up that balance scorecard, that on its own started to change the culture. Suddenly, customer satisfaction mattered, and suddenly, system availability mattered, because the customer cared, and we had to keep the employees trained, so that they were satisfied.

Over time, that really changed the culture, because we're looking at all four parts of the scorecard to make sure we're moving forward.

When we were just an internal IT department, we spent more time saying, "The customer gave us an order, we hit the checkbox and finished that order, we're done." We were always asking, "Did we do it, and did we do it on time?"

What we really focused in on were the real drivers. A lot of the measures are more trailing indicators. Even money tended to be a trailing indicator.

That's not really what the customer was looking for. The customer was looking for. "Did you deliver what I needed, which may be different than what I asked for. Did you deliver it at a good price? Did you deliver it at a good quality." So it did switch from being measuring the ins and the outs of an order taker, to whether we are delivering the solution at the right price.

Gardner: As we've seen in a number of companies, when they’ve gone to more measurement using metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs), and working towards service-level agreements (SLAs), sometimes that can become daunting. Sometimes, there is too much, and you lose track of your goal. Is there a way that you work towards a triage or a management approach for those metrics, those KPIs, that allowed you to stay focused on these customer issues?

Smith: What we really focused in on were the real drivers. A lot of the measures are more trailing indicators. Even money tended to be a trailing indicator.

So we went into what's really driving our quality, what's really driving our cost. We got down to four or five that we are the ones that mattered. "Is the system up and running. Are changes causing outages. Are data protection services reliable. Are our events being handled quickly and almost like a first call resolution. Are they being resolved by the first person that gets the event?"

The focus was prevent the outage and shorten up the mean time to restore, because in the end, all of that will drop the cost. It worked, but it was focusing on a handful, rather than dozens.

Pulling down cost

It truly did bring down our cost within McKesson. Each year we pull down our cost several million dollars. So every year my budget gets smaller, but every year my quality gets higher, my employee satisfaction gets higher, and my customer satisfaction gets higher.

It can really get both. You don't have to sacrifice quality to reduce cost. The trick was saying that I no longer needed a person to do this commodity factory work. I could use a machine to do that, which freed up the worker from being a reactive commodity person to being a proactive value-add person. It allowed the employee to be more valuable, because they weren't doing the busy work anymore. So it really did work.

Gardner: For those in our audience who might not be familiar with McKesson, tell us a little bit more about the company. Specifically, tell us about the scale of your IT organization to put those millions of dollars into some perspective in the total equation?

Smith: McKesson IT is roughly 1,000 employees. The company is roughly 45,000 employees. So percentage-wise, we're not that big. My personal budget to run the IT infrastructure is about a $100 million a year.

So pulling out a few million dollars a year may be only a few percent, but it's still a pretty significant endeavor. We've managed to pull that cost out, both through the typical things like maintenance contracts and improved equipment, but also by not having to grow the full-time employee (FTE) base. I haven't had to let any FTEs go, but what we've discovered was that, as we did these things, I needed fewer employees.

To get people to stop thinking about the technology and start thinking about the business solution is a slow transition, because it's a real mind-shift.

As employees resigned, I didn't have to replace them. My staff base has been shrinking, but I haven't had anybody lose a job. So that's been also very reassuring for the employees, because they kept waiting for that big shoe to drop, waiting for us to say, "We're going to outsource you," but we've never had to do it.

Gardner: When you compete against the outsourcers better, then you are going to retain those jobs and keep that skill set going. There is a cliché that you're able to take people from firefighting and put them into innovation. Is there a truth to that in what you've done?

Smith: That really is truth. It took time, and we’re not done, but to get people to stop thinking about the technology and start thinking about the business solution is a slow transition, because it's a real mind-shift. In a lot of ways, these employees see the reactive work as the bread and butter work that puts the paycheck on the table. That lets them be a firefighter and a hero, and if you take that away, the motivators are different.

It takes time to get people comfortable with the fact that your brain is worth a lot more doing value-add work than it was just doing the firefighting. We're still going through that cultural shift. In some ways, it's easier for the older employees, because if you go back a few decades, IT was that. It was programmer analyst, system analyst, and business analyst. For me, "analyst" disappeared from all my job titles.

In the last couple of decades, for some reason, we erased analyst, and now you're just a programmer or an operator. In my mind, we're bringing the analyst back, which for the older employees, is easy, because they used to do it. For the younger employees, we've got to teach them how to be consultants. We've got to teach them how to be analyst. In some cases, it's a totally different, scary place to go, because you actually have to come out of the back office and talk to somebody, and they're not used to that.

Cultural shift

Gardner: Maybe there are methodologies that work here that you could discuss, services-oriented architecture (SOA) comes to mind and also ITIL. Have you been using ITIL approaches and SOA to help make those transitions? Is there a technology track is a cultural shift?

Smith: Yes, we went down the ITIL road, because we were manual before. Everybody was doing it with tribal knowledge. The way I did it today might be different than the way I'd do it tomorrow, because it's all manual, and it's all in people's heads.

We did go into ITIL version 3 and push it very hard to give that consistency, because the consistency really mattered. Then, we could really measure the quality. We could be ensured that no matter who did it or when it was done, it was done the same way, and that reliability mattered a lot.

We also got away from custom technology, and we got to where everything is going to be a certain type of machine. It's going to look the same. All the tools are going to be fully integrated and no longer be best-of-breed point solutions. Driving that standardization made a big difference. You don’t have to remember that machine on the left you reboot it this way, and that machine on the right you reboot it a different way. You don’t have to remember anymore, because they're all the same.

We made the equipment and tools standard and more of a commodity so that the people didn’t have to be that anymore. The people could be thought leaders. All those things really did work to drive out the cost and increase the quality, but it's a lot of different pieces. You can't do it with just one golden arrow. You have to hit it from every angle.

We had to increase the transparency to say we’re doing a good job or we’re doing a bad job.

We had to change the technology, the people, and the processes. We had to increase the transparency to say we’re doing a good job or we’re doing a bad job. It was just, "Expose everything you’re doing."

That's scary at first, but in the end, we found out we really are competing with the competitors and we can continue to do it, and do it better. We understand healthcare, we understand McKesson, and we’re an internal group, so we don’t have a profit margin. All those things combined can make us a better IT solution than a third party could be.

What really matters is the business solution you’re trying to solve. We’re stepping even farther back, saying that the service is order to cash, or the service is payroll, or the service is whatever. We’re stepping back farther, so we can look at the service from the standpoint of the customer. What does the customer want? The customer doesn’t want Unix. The customer wants order to cash. The customer doesn’t want Windows. The customer wants payroll.

Thinking about cloud

Stepping back has now allowed us to start thinking about that cloud. All the equipment underneath is commoditized, and so I can now sit back and say that the customer wants this business solution and ask who is the best person to give me the components underneath?

Some of them, for security reasons, we’re going to do on our internal cloud. Some of them, because of no security issues, we’re going to have a broker with an external provider, because they may be better, cheaper, or faster, and they may have that ability to burst up and burst down, if we’re doing R&D kind of work.

So it's brought us back to thinking like a business person. What does the business need and who is the best provider? It might not be me, but we’ll make that decision and broker it out. This year we're probably going to pull off our internal cloud and our external cloud and really have a hybrid solution, which we’ve been talking about for a couple of years. I think it will really happen this year.

More Stories By Dana Gardner

At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.