The Cost of Capability: a better way to calculate IT chargebacks Reply

IT_Profit_Centre

THE VALUE OF SHARED SERVICES

Almost every C-Suite executive will agree that shared services, done well, are a critical factor in moving the business forward.  The problem is that implemented poorly they can potentially overload good processes and profitable service lines with villainous overhead allocations.

IT chargebacks are important because, used well,  they can assist the business with the following:

  • help IT prioritise service delivery to the most profitable business units,
  • help the business understand which IT services are value-adding to the market verticals, and
  • reduce the overall vulnerability of IT-enabled business capability.

OVERHEAD ALLOCATIONS CAN RUIN GOOD PROCESSES

However, many shared service implementations are poorly received by the business units because they add little or no value and are charged at higher than the market rate.  As Kaplan pointed out in his seminal work “Relevance Lost: the rise and fall of management accounting” the result of poor overhead cost allocation is that perfectly profitable processes and services, burdened by excessive and misallocated overhead costs seem to be unprofitable.  Kaplan goes further and points out that all overhead which cannot be directly incorporated into the cost-of-goods-sold should be absorbed by the business and not charged back to the market verticals and service lines.  This is the fairest method but most businesses avoid this method because high SG&A costs has a negative impact on financial ratios and therefore investor attractiveness.

HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY 

In a recent article (shown below) McKinsey & Co pointed out a variety of methods which their client firms use to calculate IT chargebacks.   Even though they differentiated between new and mature models it is worth noting that very few companies charged their business units for what they used (Activity-Based Costing).   Rather, they used some form of bespoke methodology.  This is usually (i) a flat rate, (ii) a budget rate with penalties (for behaviour change), or (iii) a market rate (usually with additional penalties for IT R&D costs).

IT Chargebacks. McKinsey. IT Metrics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALIGNMENT & ACCOUNTABILITY

Chargebacks are essential.  They are a critical means for companies to take charge of their IT costs.  Otherwise, a ballooning IT overhead can destroy perfectly good processes and service lines.  However, chargebacks can obscure accountability.  If they are not calculated transparently, clearly and on the basis of value then there will be no accountability of IT to the business and whose capabilities they enable.  Without  accountability there can also never be alignment between IT and the business.

CHARGEBACK AS AN INDICATOR OF MANAGEMENT-VALUE-ADDED

Traditional methods of IT cost modelling, on which standard chargebacks are calculated, only account for the hard costs of ICT,  namely infrastructure and applications.  It should be noted that chargebacks should only be applied for Management Information Systems (eg, knowledge bases, team collaboration sites such as MS Sharepoint, CRM systems, and company portals etc).  All other systems are either embedded (eg, robotics etc) or operational, (ie mission critical to a business unit’s operations).  MIS are largely used by overhead personnel whereas operational systems and the finance for embedded systems should be accounted for in the cost-of-good-sold.  The real question therefore, is: what is the value of the management support to my business?  The question underlies the myth that Use = Value, which it does not.  Good capability applied well = Value.

THE COST OF CAPABILITY

The cost model, therefore, needs to determine the cost of capability.  Metrics based on per unit costs are inappropriate because the equipment amortises so rapidly that the cost largely represents a penalty rate.  Metrics based on per user costs are unfair because each user is at a different level of ability.  In previous blogs we have outlined how low team capabilities such as distributed locations, poor requirements, unaligned processes etc all have a negative and direct financial correlation on project values.  We have also written about how projects should realise benefits along a value ladderdelivering demonstrable financial and capability benefits – rung by rung – to business units.

It is reasonable to say, therefore, that managers should not have to pay the full chargeback rate for software which is misaligned to the business unit and implemented badly.

It is unfair for under-performing business units to be charged market rates for inappropriate software which the IT department mis-sold them.  If that business unit where a company in its own right they be offered customisation and consulting support.  In large firms the business often scrimps on these costs to save money.  Given the usual overruns in software implementations business units are traditionally left with uncustomised, vanilla software which does not meet their needs.  The training budget is misallocated to pay for cost overruns and little money is ever left for proper process change.

In order to create a fair and accurate chargeback model which accounts for the Cost of Capability, use the following criteria:

  • Incorporate the COSYSMO cost coefficients into software and service costings so that low capability business units pay less.
  • Only charge for  professional services which the business doesn’t own.  Charging for professional/consulting serrvices which are really just work substitution merely encourages greater vertical integration.  This is duplication and duplication in information work creates friction and exponential cost overruns.
  • Watch out for category proliferation, especially where the cost of labour for some unique sub-categories is high.  Don’t let the overall cost model get skewed by running a few highly specialised services.  Remove all IT delivery personnel from the verticals.  Where there are ‘remoteness’ considerations then have people embedded but allocate their costs as overhead.
  • Do not allow project cost misallocation.  Ensure that cost codes are limited.

In order that businesses do not fall into the “Build and they will Come” trap a clear and precise chargeback model should be created for all IT costings.   Businesses should start by charging simple unit costs such as per user.  Everything else will initially be an overhead but firms may then move to a more complex chargeback model later.

It is important that low capability business units do not pay full price for their software and services.  As Kaplan is at pains to point out, where businesses do this they are at risk of making perfectly good processes and service lines seem unprofitable.  The only way to properly broker for external services is to account for the cost of capability.

 

The Complexity of Cost (Pt.2): a 3-tiered strategy for an effective ICT cost reduction program Reply

cost-reduction

In our last blog we recounted that most ICT cost reduction programs fail.  More to the point, we noted how they fail in larger businesses through a vicious cycle following increased overhead from poor process analysis.  All this stems from a limited view of direct and indirect ICT spend.

In summ, the answer is detailed cost modelling of ICT which analyses the firm’s technology in its place as a business capability enabler. This is vital in the current economic climate otherwise businesses will simply benchmark their costs against similar firms rather than try to pare ICT costs to the bone.

The results of traditional IT programs?

  1. ICT cost reduction programs usually only attack the easy and obvious.  For sustained cost management in ICT the cost reduction program needs to attack:  (i) soft costs (indirect spend), (ii) managerial costs and (iii) program costs as well as all the standard hard costs.
  2. Cost cutting reduces capability.  Traditional approach is to cut applications and services as well as heads but capability will eventually suffer.  Senior people are often made redundant was work is pushed from higher to lower paybands.  With them also goes much of the firm knowledge capital and goodwill of the firm.  If we want to quantify this cost of lost knowledge it is the difference between the market value and the book value of a business.

The problem is that IT is usually seen as a black box.  Few senior executives understand the subtle dependencies which stretch from technology throughout the business.  More importantly, few understand that actual capex and opex of ICT  just represents the hard costs of ICT.  In addition to the hard costs are the soft costs, the management costs and the program costs of ICT.  In more detail:

  • Soft Costs relate to all the indirect spend which flows from ICT procurement.  This may include travel for non-IT personnel involved in change, training and customisation or process change etc.
  • Managerial Costs is the accumulated cost of decision making from management.  This is pure overhead and is not accounted for in the Cost of Goods Sold but rather shows up in bloated Sales, General & Administrative (SGA) accounts.
  • Program Costs are the costs of running ICT programs beyond the costs accounted for in the various cost allocation systems.  These can be the cost of running distributed teams, the cost of low development capability etc.  Such cost coefficients are statistically generated.

On top of all these are the hard costs of ICT.

Borrowing diagrams from Accenture  the solution is to run a 3-tiered cost reduction strategy:

strategic cost management.accenture

After the easy stuff is done, the business must ultimately streamline its processes (and align cost structures accordingly) and then lower it non-discretionary spend.  The key is to (i) see the whole process, (ii) understand the dependencies, and (iii) engage locally.

  • Minimise (Hard Costs) –  Tactical Cost Reduction. Grab the low hanging fruit and take out the obvious costs; the costs in plain sight.  Engage locally with account managers and business unit leaders to reduce headcount but understand and model the dependencies by seeing the whole capability.  The Boston Consulting Group advise that managers proceed on third of a third rule, ie 1/3 of all FTEs are non customer facing and 1/3 of those can be removed without adverse impact on the business.
  • Optimise (Soft & Program Costs) –  Proactive Cost Governance.  This involves detailed spend analysis and process optimisation.  Indirect process costs grow like barnacles on a ship.  The longer they are there the more they are accepted but ultimately they increase the financial drag on a business.  Remove all the invented tasks by modelling the firm’s value chain and seeing where the processes fit into larger business capabilities.  Once this is done executives can optimise the key cost drivers and their inputs.  This improves the delivery model for ICT and enables better demand management.  Accompanying these operational actions the business should improve cost governance.  It can achieve this by removing the management structures around excessive process governance.  This requires a more active and dynamic GRC system but ultimately the business feels a lighter GRC touch.  Most importantly, simplify processes and remove the  ‘cost of complexity‘ ie vertical integration and convoluted workflows which increase process time and transactional costs.

cost reduction level.accenture

  • Re-design (Program & Managerial Costs) –  Strategic Cost Management.  In order to achieve significant and lasting cost reduction benefits the business must lower its discretionary spend.  However, managerial cost structures (which are significant) can only be made redundant when the overall complexity is reduced.  Once this happens shared services may be implemented and rationalised.  The ICT offering can be standardised and the business can create re-usable technology components.  Then the business can change its transfer pricing models and look towards offering the customer-facing SBUs a more sophisticated multi-channel mix of capabilities, ie give them the agility to increase their high-end customer offerings.   Only once this is achieved can the business look towards modernising and streamline technical architectures.

The key is to look at ICT as a capability enabler and not as a business unit in its own right.  ICT should have to justify its very existence.  However, once it does and develops full cost transparency then and only then can it move forward in real partnership with the business.