Fast, Cheap and Under Control

Fast, Cheap and Under Control

Missed any project deadlines lately? Almost everybody has; after all, 28 percent of all IT projects get killed, and only 26 percent are completed on time and on budget, according to consultancy Standish Group in West Yarmouth, Mass.

Well, Gary Sutula is not one of the deadline busters. He's senior vice president and CIO of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. in Chicago. Sutula and his group just standardised the US $5.1 billion printing company onto a single electronic-mail system. That meant migrating 18,000 users worldwide from a dozen different packages to one, with new hardware, a new network architecture and newly centralised e-mail management to boot. Just to keep things interesting, the migration effort happened concurrently with, and even depended on, Donnelley's Y2K remediation project--whew.

Sound like a familiar story, the one that always ends with an overrun? Actually, despite hitting the usual unforeseen obstacles and taking a few detours, the e-mail migration project was wrapped up six months early. Here, Sutula and company offer an inside look at the project and some fundamental tips for keeping IT projects on the right track: planning and execution, resource management and end user training.

The Problem and the Plan

E-mail migration may sound simple if you've never done it. Take out the old system, toss in the new, activate the accounts--how hard can it be? Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find e-mail system changeovers have their own set of technical and political challenges. Migrating mailing lists and message archives to the new system is a priority. Changing workers' existing Internet e-mail addresses, which have already been printed on business cards and passed out to clients, is absolutely verboten. Training, as always, is a must--and nobody likes to take the time to do it.

R.R. Donnelley also faced additional complications. For starters, of Donnelley's roughly 34,000 employees, the 18,000 electronic-mail users are dispersed across 200 facilities throughout Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Many of these locations came into the Donnelley fold through corporate acquisitions, leading to the usual global melange of information systems. "We had a museum here--you could see all the technologies we've ever used," Sutula says.

When Sutula joined Donnelley in mid-1997, he took inventory of the company's IT systems and found eight major e-mail systems, plus assorted pockets of slightly to heavily modified programs. Even those numbers mask further complexity. For example, the 1,600 users running VMS Mail were actually using 10 different versions of the program. In many locations, employees who had long since departed the company still had active e-mail accounts. Almost all locations handled administration of those e-mail systems on their own--although in some places, nobody knew how to maintain or administer the current system, other than perhaps adding new employee accounts.

Much of the hardware serving the e-mail and other systems needed work to ensure Y2K-readiness. Rather than simply remediating, though, Sutula recognised the opportunity to rationalise and simplify the company's entire systems architecture. Sutula, who reports to William Davis, Donnelley's chairman and CEO, told the executive board, "'For 20 percent more, I can put this back together in an attractive way.' Their response was very enlightened," Sutula recalls. "It was literally a 10-minute conversation." No elaborate cost-justification spreadsheets were required, although the board members clearly mandated what they wanted for the money: better service and lower ongoing costs for e-mail systems.

Plans and Personnel

The first step in any project is finding the right people to lead the charge and make it happen. For Sutula, that meant finding personnel with e-mail expertise. He hired Al Petras as director of information technology to head up the effort. Petras is a bank industry IT veteran who had previously run similar migration projects. Three technical people worked on the project part-time--Notes architect Don Bush and specialists Dave Swanson and Dave Dvorak. Three full-time administrative workers co-ordinated the efforts of the central office with those of the teams handling the field work. This core team met every Wednesday--with ad hoc daily meetings at crucial points--to tweak plans and schedules.

Petras and his team designed a 50- to 60-page packet of instructions--including the project's local time line, a list of tasks and responsibilities, and frequently asked questions addressing user and administrator concerns alike--and distributed it to each site in advance of the actual changeover. Sutula says this script was absolutely essential to hitting the project deadlines. "We wanted a repeatable plan. You'd better pilot it and be open to modification, but you have to get it down," he says.

To perform the actual onsite conversion, Sutula's team hired experienced field co-ordinators through a technical temp agency. Each site had two dedicated co-ordinators during changeover week: one at Donnelley's central IT location in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove and the field co-ordinator deployed at the local site. Local IT employees worked under the direction of the field co-ordinator to do the hands-on tasks. In a mildly ironic twist, the project teams couldn't communicate reliably through e-mail to co-ordinate their efforts--the existing setup was too jumbled. To work around this obstacle, Donnelley brought in another Lotus package called Teamworks for real-time collaborative work. (Now that the e-mail system is up to speed, the company has pulled the plug on Teamworks.) Within this technological and personnel framework, Petras' team was able to handle changeovers for as many as six sites per week, with 100 seats per site--considerably faster than the goals specified in the original plan.

Speed Bumps and Solutions

Naturally, Donnelley's migration project hit its share of speed bumps. At one point, Sutula says, the IT staff engaged "in a pitched battle" internally over the choice of the central package: Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes or Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange. "If it were just mail, we might have chosen differently," he says. Ultimately the company went with Notes because it anticipated using more of the software's collaboration and groupware features--a decision Sutula says has proven correct in hindsight.

Greater challenges arose over training issues. The biggest on-the-fly revamp to the plan involved the laptops used by the sales force. Since sales reps are paid on commission, time spent in the office for e-mail training or moving old files onto a new laptop is money out of their pockets. In light of this, Donnelley's migration team tried to expedite training by providing shorter training sessions for remote workers and letting sales personnel keep their current laptops as long as they were Y2K-compliant. This flexibility ultimately didn't work.

Donnelley eventually recalled all mobile computing devices and replaced them. The company adopted a hardball approach to training that was both effective and necessary. "The legacy mail was turned off and the accounts converted to Notes the night before scheduled training. Each person got activated for Notes in the training class. No show, no mail," Petras says with a grin.

Politics reared its head during the training process as well. Petras contracted with a single vendor, Raleigh, N.C.-based Productivity Point International (PPI), to provide training for all affected Donnelley employees. Donnelley Training Manager Alice Ann DeStefano supervised all the training efforts. However, some Donnelley locales already had technical training contracts they wanted to use in place of the centrally mandated training team. Again, Sutula and Petras tried to be flexible. "We did two of those, but it was a complete disaster," he says. Part of Petras' plan was a simple five-question test employed at random to test trainees' knowledge of simple Notes procedures. Users trained through the central plan averaged better than 75 percent correct answers. Those who received non-standard training were closer to 30 percent, so flexibility on that point went out the window. All locations were required to use the PPI training team. Strong support from Donnelley's executives helped cement Cupertino when a few business units still resisted, Sutula notes.

Donnelley's new e-mail setup is centrally administered, with nine dedicated servers tended by Acxiom Corp. Sutula chose to outsource the servers because that option provided a more cost-effective way to ensure the reliability of the hardware. "We certainly didn't want to build a hardened site here" in the IT group's office-park headquarters, he says. The servers currently have enough capacity for 22,500 users, giving the company elbowroom to grow in the foreseeable future.

One aspect of the new system could stand improvement: uptime at international sites. For most sites, the system is up 90-plus percent, but that number occasionally dips into the 70s for some of the areas where the local Internet infrastructure is less robust. The bottom line, though, is time and money, and Sutula saved both. The project was originally slated for completion in June 2000. The final accounts were activated by Thanksgiving 1999. On the money front, the company declines to divulge specific dollar figures for expenditure or ROI, but Sutula says that Gartner Group figures indicate Donnelley's ongoing costs for e-mail service are less than half of the average corporate per-user expense.

Lessons Learned

What made Donnelley's project work? In addition to careful staffing, Sutula draws three conclusions from his experience with this and other big IT projects.

According to Sutula, the first factor in Donnelley's success was prioritisation and piloting. "You have to go slow to go fast," Sutula says. IT projects always have a sense of urgency attached, whether it's because of e-business pressures, Y2K or just plain old user expectations. However, IS has to enforce project management discipline by collecting system requirements, running pilots, and holding hard and fast to training demands. Cutting corners in an effort to speed up usually has the opposite effect in the long run.

The second factor was logistics, or resource management. Sutula sums up the project--and any major IT undertaking--in this way: "You're no longer in systems--you're in logistics. You have to manage the project based on data, based on resources." Basing timetables on 100 percent resource utilisation--in other words, all the allotted staff working at 100 percent productivity all of the time--simply doesn't work. People get sick or take vacations, and plans need modification. "I've done huge rollouts for 15 years now. I always have a development manager and a rollout manager, and rollout managers are selected based on their ability to handle logistics," Sutula says.

Third was amnesty. Finger-pointing might be the single greatest cause of sabotaged IT projects. Sutula says that despite due diligence and the most fastidious planning, something unexpected will happen to every major IT undertaking. "You can't let that destroy teamwork," Sutula says. "You have to create an atmosphere where people rapidly admit mistakes, take responsibility, and then you allocate the resources necessary to fix the problem."

It's hard to argue with a team that just wrapped up an 18,000-user project six months ahead of schedule.

Executive Editor Derek Slater now uses Lotus Notes, since cc: Mail wasn't Y2K-compliant. Tell him your project management stories at

R.R. Donnelley's E-mail Migration ProjectBefore -Eight major e-mail systems running at once, with the largest numbers of operators using OfficeVision (8,000 users), cc: Mail (3,500), VMS Mail (1,600), All-in-One (1,500) and Notes (1,200) -E-mail servers dispersed and controlled locally at business units -Several different hardware platforms handling directory synchronisation -Lotus Messaging Switch (formerly SoftSwitch) as a corporate messaging hub After-One e-mail system: Lotus Notes -Nine servers with failover capability run by outsourcer Acxiom in Chicago -All e-mail management is handled centrally -Frame relay backbone network. Three major international hubs connected to Chicago via a wide area network, and five smaller international locations connected over the Internet using Notes' native security

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