Iron Mountain Aims for Peak Performance

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2009-03-20

These days, more than a few IT departments—and even entire companies—stumble en route to a viable strategy. CIOs and other executives often find themselves facing a tangle of headaches, problems and breakdowns.

That’s why breaking free of conventional thinking is paramount. At Boston-based Iron Mountain, a company with 20,000-plus employees and 2008 revenues of $3.1 billion, that’s more than a lofty ideal.

“Reinventing IT is all about creating a culture of change in order to meet customer demands as our company transitions from a physical business to a digital business,” says Bill Brown, the firm’s CIO. Consequently, Iron Mountain’s core business—managing records and archival data—is undergoing a profound change. “We have had to create new solutions and a culture of change,” he adds.

For an organization like Iron Mountain—which operates in 39 countries on five continents, and has more than 1,000 facilities and 120,000 customer accounts—it’s a journey fraught with challenges and potential problems. Companies trust Iron Mountain to protect paper and digital assets, provide state-of-the-art data protection and recovery services, and handle information destruction. “A sense of urgency about change is important, and a vision of what we want to look like is essential,” Brown explains.

The ongoing transition from bits of paper to bytes of data has forced most organizations to re-examine the way they handle records. As security considerations have gained prominence—and governance, risk and compliance (GRC) issues have floated to the forefront—the need for seamless and streamlined storage and archiving solutions has grown.

To meet those challenges, Iron Mountain has positioned itself as a leader and innovator. But there’s more to that than simply installing new IT systems and reaping the rewards.

“It’s about narrowing the focus on the most important initiatives in order to support our transformation into the digital world and defining our IT vision for the future as we evolve from a storage company into an information management provider,” Brown explains. “As the transformation takes place, it’s essential to have IT aligned with the most important business initiatives.”

Managing Change

Iron Mountain has focused heavily on IT portfolio management. In 2007, it brought together 70 of the company’s IT leaders from around the world in order to identify specific measurements, tools, systems and processes needed to manage change effectively. Management took a close look at project management, project portfolio management and overall communications issues with the goal of embedding change management into the basic organizational model, according to Brown.

For example, Iron Mountain wanted to identify specific governance processes related to how it prioritizes initiatives. As a result, it created an office designed to deal specifically with IT-related resource and demand management issues.

Today, an internal team monitors existing projects and resource levels, anticipates the demand for projects funneling into the IT department, matches needs with resources and builds road maps. It also monitors the portfolio of projects and provides input whenever priorities or circumstances change.

The team uses quarterly checkpoints to track objectives and actual results. “It’s an intense program management initiative,” Brown says.

The process involves tracking the number of existing projects, how they are progressing, how they’re performing, and what human, financial and technical resources they demand. Using various metrics and a scorecard, IT is able to map each initiative to its overall relevance to the company.

“The ability to align projects with specific enterprise strategic goals is a way for us to measure whether we have staff working on the right projects and that we’re able to generate the desired return on investment,” Brown says.

Iron Mountain has four change agent teams in place. (It started with seven, but three teams have achieved their goals, and the company has disbanded them.) The current lineup includes: communication, measurement, people and partner management.

In order to boost the odds for success, Iron Mountain offers management training for the IT executives on the teams. Meanwhile, a communications office keeps Brown in the loop about how IT can inform employees about new systems, software and business processes as they become available.

Iron Mountain has also turned to blogs and wikis to streamline the communications process. In addition, it has introduced instant messaging, collaboration tools and proprietary software to manage projects, data and systems. These include SharePoint 2.0 for collaboration, a new intranet, and Web and video conferencing via WebEx and Polycom systems. Brown says that a converged network is in the future.

However, though these technology components help workers connect and interact, the emphasis remains squarely on people.

Keeping employees informed has become a key mission. Iron Mountain has rotating quarterly meetings for three different employee groups. One month, the company’s 350 IT employees attend a meeting to stay informed about changes; the next, IT “people leaders” attend a meeting; and the third month serves as a checkpoint for the IT reinvention teams.

Sets of cascading goals and metrics run through the various levels of the enterprise. Over time, Brown says, employees begin to understand how small changes in their work affect overall organizational goals and objectives.

A Commitment to Value

The common denominator, he says, is a better understanding of what matters most to the business. The company is able to collaborate on IT solutions faster and more efficiently, both internally and with business partners.

Ultimately, there’s a commitment to growing the business value of IT, emerging as a trusted business partner and delivering enabling technology. The last commitment incorporates the concept of designing a foundation for the future—with the flexibility and agility required to compete in an increasingly tough environment.

The reinventing of IT has led to gains in numerous areas. For instance, one of Iron Mountain’s key offerings is Records Center Optimization (RCO). The service provides actionable information to the company’s field leaders, helping them make faster and more informed decisions. The product also helps Iron Mountain’s managers gauge actual versus targeted productivity for various job functions. RCO pulls data from payroll, field engineering analysis and transactional systems.

RCO culls and combines data from these various systems and plugs it into business intelligence software in order to provide insight into desired staffing levels and technology investments. The system taps into an Oracle database server and relies on software, including Business Objects and Crystal Reports, to provide real-time reporting. Brown says that the system has ratcheted up data availability and helped put actionable information in the hands of managers.

It’s a winning approach—and one that Brown and Iron Mountain will continue to pursue. Yet, he and other executives understand that it’s all part of an ongoing evolution and that there’s no room for complacency.

“As we see results from these teams, we’re looking to further refine the process and become more mature and sophisticated in our execution,” Brown explains. “The ability to reinvent IT is helping us deliver better solutions and become a more successful and profitable company.”