How do you get your IT footprint from a confusing 262 systems down to a few overarching applications—while increasing security, gaining functionality, and pressing forward with innovation?
As with many things, less really can get you more, sometimes. Paul Wright, chief information officer (CIO) of vehicle components-maker Accuride Corp., recently took the time to explain how he rationalized the company’s IT ecosystem, why some smaller but vital business needs don’t always require a whole new system, and how to get buy-in from the business on digital transformation initiatives.
The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us about your role and your vision as CIO at Accuride?
I’ve been leading IT at Accuride since February 2016. When we started with our digital transformation journey, it was about becoming more agile in terms of what we were doing and getting to a point where we could have one source of the truth as much of the time as possible. We knew from experience that if we wanted to have a cost-effective option but remain world-class in our ability to make decisions, what we were doing wasn’t going to work.
And, I think you get to a point of 262-plus applications outside the system when you’re not servicing the needs of people as they’re coming to you. You get to that number of applications when people go around you, or everyone works with their favorite IT person on developing something, and that’s how you get shadow IT. And, the IT team, if you’re not careful, also breeds their own sense of job security with that because they’re the only ones who can maintain this, that, or the other application. So, you have this cyclical effect, this echo chamber, and that inhibits innovation.
So, how do you address this challenge?
It’s much easier to innovate around one platform and one set of data than it is trying to harness all those different sets of data from all those different applications. We knew we wanted to do something radically different. That was really about: “OK. If we don’t like what our world looks like right now, let’s construct a strategy for what we want it to look like in the future.”
That isn’t just an IT project. That’s a business project. We brought in change agents from the various business functions who talked about what they were doing, the challenges that they had, and where they wanted to go. And, we partnered them with IT. That’s how we started doing a lot of process mapping around the three core areas for our manufacturing operations, which were our procure-to-pay process, our plan-to-produce process, and our order-to-cash process.
This being my first IT leadership position was both helpful and detrimental because sometimes I had no idea what people were talking about. But, I did know from running operations how difficult it was when you asked a question and people ran off to their offices and worked on Excel spreadsheets for about a week. And, then when they would come back a week later with answers, you forgot why you asked the question in the first place.
How did you integrate with other platforms at Accuride?
We found a platform called Plex for our manufacturing plants that we felt was going to augment what we were trying to do. We felt it would very nicely meet our needs from “shop floor to top floor,” as we put it. But, there were also a lot of processes that didn’t necessarily fit with what Plex was doing, but we still hadn’t gone away from the philosophy that we wanted a few primary systems versus having a lot of individual applications.
Finance and HR were priority areas where we needed to improve what we were doing, and we needed to figure out a complementary solution. And, obviously, for us, that became Workday. It became pretty clear to me that Plex and Workday had a really good synergy for us on a go-forward basis.
We’re down to fewer than 10 applications that we manage in North America, which is pretty good. And, our IT resource load is down 50%. If we look at our customer satisfaction metrics, I think internally, our peer groups like working with us. We’ve developed our skills in terms of understanding the business requirements better. As a result of that, we’ve tried to meet people where they are. We’re not trying to bombard people with a technical solution; we’re trying to provide people with a business solution that we’re enabling through technology.
How does Workday Extend fit into that digital transformation journey?
We’ve tried to harmonize around certain platforms and give people a single place to get the information they need, but some people absolutely need to do certain work inside a transactional system. We don’t want them to have to log in to 20 different systems, and then try to grab what they need from all of those systems to do their job.
At the same time, we don’t expect either of our two major platforms to solve every nuanced problem the “Accuride” way. That’s where Workday Extend allows us to connect these two dots. Or, if I’ve got this small subprocess that’s really important to us but wouldn’t necessarily be important to a lot of Workday customers. Then how do we achieve that in a holistic way, keep the security tight, and keep the data integrated? Workday Extend becomes the answer to that problem for us in a lot of cases.
"We’re not trying to bombard people with a technical solution; we’re trying to provide a business solution that we’re enabling through technology."Paul Wright Chief Information Officer Accuride
Did taking this holistic approach drive out complexity or costs?
I’ve got a small but very talented team, and one of the things we’re always trying to do is punch above our weight. A team like that gives us the flexibility to do innovative things. If we were paying licensing costs for various other products, and we were only maybe using 20% of the potential of that product, then Workday Extend becomes a way we can bring that in, do it ourselves, and reduce the overall cost for Accuride.
When we started our journey with Workday Extend on the Workday platform, the first thing that immediately came to mind was a CRM (customer relationship management) system that we were using across the North American sales organization, specifically for the regional sales. We were only using that CRM system for a form of opportunity tracking, about 10% of its potential. That system wasn’t linked to all of the actual results around sales, and so it was disconnected anyway.
We just saw an opportunity: “We can do this here, and then we can use some of the other functionality we’re doing around Workday Prism Analytics, in terms of bringing in a lot of data around our actual results. And we can provide much better feedback to these salespeople than what they’re used to.”
That was the first project that we submitted to become a member of the Workday Extend early adopter program, and away we went.
You hit on something that we internally call “barnacle applications.” These are still high-value business applications that IT supports, yet they hang off the core applications. So, leveraging a core platform’s data and security is a big win, right?
Yes. Definitely. And, another big win is the privacy piece. Specifically, where am I housing identity on a global basis? If someone exercises their right to be forgotten and tells me, “I’d like to be purged from your system,” I can do that. If I have their identity information in as few places as possible, versus spread out over 100 systems, the security and privacy benefits are huge.
Let’s say we bring in a new employee. Workday naturally says, “OK. Based on this organizational role that you now have, here’s what you’re allowed to do inside Workday.” There are many other applications that become important for that job profile, and we’re planning to use Workday to have a centralized access management system for all of those other systems that then pushes security globally across the Accuride enterprise.
Now, for most people, that’s invisible. Does that add huge value to the organization? Not in a tangible way that they can see, but our ability to maintain security profiles and make them auditable saves a lot of time and process work while improving security and privacy.
So, building in Workday Extend means less work for your team in the long run and a better Accuride employee experience?
Yes. If you’ve got a small team of people, you don’t want to have to train them in how to make 20 different systems that code 20 different ways. The IT team can then become truly cross-functional and cross-applicational because there are not that many applications to learn or manage. Simplification of your infrastructure and harmonization of the infrastructure allows you to be more nimble and respond more quickly to what people are doing.
Using Workday Extend means we utilize all the benefits of the core Workday architectural principles—taking our user experience, data harmonization, and security to the next level and removing the reasons to operate outside of Workday.
"Just asking different questions about how you achieve results leads you down a path of innovation."Paul Wright CIO Accuride
Circling back to the opportunity tracking app you mentioned, or building that centralized access management system, once you or your team have discovered a challenge, how do you work with other parts of the organization?
Any time you can approach a stakeholder and say, “I want to give you a better experience and save you budget money. Would you like to help me with that?” That’s a good start to the conversation. And if we can illustrate the financial impact of what we’re proposing and how it will make the employee experience in their organization better, then getting partnership is much easier. There are not a lot of successful IT projects for the business if you don’t involve them in the first place, right?
When you’re talking to the business, it’s also good if you’re always clear on how you can make your own house better. What we do, when we publish a road map, is show what we’re going to do better for ourselves and what we’d like to help the business with. I like to spend a lot of time listening to the actual problems, rather than presenting people with the problems we think they have. That’s how you start to make progress.
Based on our research and on other research we’ve read, the office of the CIO took center stage in 2020. Many companies were forced to go digital if they weren’t already. How can you and other tech leaders keep your foot on the digital pedal, so to speak?
I think that our world of work has fundamentally changed. Even if we were all crop dusted with a cure, and COVID-19 was gone tomorrow, I don’t think everyone’s marching back into the office.
One of our goals for the next year is the continued enhancement of the work-from-anywhere environment, which means we figure out how to facilitate conversations effectively and let people be successful in what they’re trying to do, wherever they are in the world.
With manufacturing, certain people need to be in the factory to make things. But not everyone who was previously inside the factory needs to be there full time anymore. Does the financial controller need to be there full time now? Maybe not. Does the purchasing person need to be there? Or can purchasing become a remote function? Just asking different questions about how you achieve results leads you down a path of innovation.
I do think some organizations are just going to slip back to business as usual, but I also think that those are the organizations that are not going to win long term. I’d certainly like to think that Accuride is going to try and use this to improve. Has it changed my role at Accuride? Maybe a little bit. Do I have some validation for screaming that we needed to go to the cloud years ago? Yeah, I think I was right about that one.
One last question: Five years from now, what accomplishments are you hoping to achieve at Accuride?
One of the big things is continued agility. I’m certainly of the mindset that if I’ve got 80% of the facts, then I can make a decision. And if I’m making decisions faster than my competitors, we will win.
The question is, how do I make all of that as frictionless as possible, to make data more actionable, to make the data tell me what I should be doing differently? And if I don’t think about some level of artificial intelligence around high-quality, pristine data to enable faster, more accurate decisions, then I’m not thinking ahead enough.
We want to be as sticky as we can be with our customers and suppliers so they never want to go anywhere else. How can we make the service, the overall experience that you get with Accuride, such that you never want to go anywhere else? I’d like to do that. If we do that, then I’ll still be here in 10 years.