S+B: How do the business executives view the investment process?
McCARTHY: I think they see it as an important part of the overall strategic planning process, partly because IT is always learning from the business, and the business is always learning from the IT leaders. One thing we do throughout the year is reach out to the IT companies we work with on an ongoing basis so that we can understand where they’re headed from a strategic perspective. If they’re able, they will share with us their strategic plans, particularly from a technology standpoint, so that as we’re interacting with our business partners, we’re able to bring back to the business an understanding of where the technology is going. As we work with the technology blueprint, we can articulate those things that we know are going to be coming online from some of our vendor partners. I believe that the business sees that as a very valuable input to what they want to accomplish.
S+B: I gather that IT plays a very strong role in the investment road map process. How do you get the business executives to participate on a day-to-day basis?
McCARTHY: They participate in that they own these projects. In our world, the executive team views the ownership of the projects that get done as a business responsibility. We’re responsible in IT for delivering the resources to build new code and to implement the systems, but at the end of the day, if the CEO is looking for the status on a particular project, he won’t just call the CIO. He will also call the business leader who has responsibility for that particular area. That sets the tone for mutual accountability as it relates to anything we do here. And that’s very important.
S+B: Would Ron mention a specific road map in your discussions with him?
McCARTHY: Oh, absolutely. Not only would he reference a blueprint and a road map, he would sit down with Michael Mathias, our former chief technology officer and now our CIO, and me to look at the technology blueprints and road maps for the company, or a particular blueprint or road map that he might have an interest in, and he would ask great questions about them.
S+B: My understanding is that Aetna has been using this process since about 2002. What advice would you give to a company just starting such an effort?
McCARTHY: I think that unless there is wholehearted support from the business leaders starting at the top, you will not be successful in this endeavor. If there isn’t support, it will always be viewed as something that IT does on its own. I think having that mutual accountability, having that partnership with the business, is so critical to doing this the right way.
S+B: Is there anything that you would look back on and say you wish you had done differently?
McCARTHY: Oh, a lot of things. One of the things that we really pride ourselves on is being a culture of continuous improvement. Every year we look at the strategic planning process and how we could do it differently. We look at the IT support that is provided to the strategic planning process and how we could do that differently. We look at our governance process to see what things we can improve on each year. We make mistakes every day here, but hopefully they’re fewer and farther between than they used to be.
- Michael Connolly is a senior partner with Booz & Company based in Chicago. He serves clients in the healthcare and financial-services industries, and is also the leader of the firm’s global technology practice.
- Edward H. Baker, former editor of CIO Insight magazine, is a contributing editor to strategy+business.