Look Who’s Talking

How Fidelity Investments got its business units to foot their fair share of IT costs.
CFO StaffSeptember 16, 2004

When Bobby Lie, now a senior vice president for enterprise architecture at Fidelity Investments, was in charge of usage-based billing, he had the largely thankless task of hitting up the financial-services company’s many business units for their respective shares of network expenditures. With network usage increasing sevenfold every two years, divisional CFOs weren’t happy about receiving an ever-higher bill, especially since the company’s practice of billing by head count struck many as unfair.

Turns out it was. Using technology from Evident Software (known as Apogee Networks at the time; the company changed its name in July 2003), Fidelity was able to analyze network traffic, with a particular focus on the bandwidth taken up by data-intensive applications. “We published a list of the top 100 ‘talkers’ as part of our effort to allocate costs by actual usage, not simply head count,” says Lie. That was useful, because such a shift in chargeback inevitably results in winners and losers, and divisions that saw their bills rise were not happy about it. Fortunately, the Evident software not only reveals who’s using how much bandwidth but also helps identify faulty software and hardware designs that cause far more data to flow through a network than is necessary.

“Our applications development efforts became much more disciplined about writing programs that made better use of bandwidth,” says Lie. Fidelity was able to slow the growth in network traffic and actually shrink costs by almost a third, saving an estimated $90 million to date. That still left some units digging far deeper than they once did — the applications development team itself went from paying 2.5 percent of network costs to 13 percent because it’s such a heavy user. But Lie says the pain was mitigated by the belief that everyone will save over the long term.

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Evident describes its market space as “IT business analytics,” although “IT asset optimization,” “IT asset management,” and similar terms are invoked by competitors. To date, it’s a fragmented market in which various vendors address facets of IT infrastructure, although many are racing to expand from their initial areas of specialization to a broad analysis of IT asset use. Analysts (and vendors) caution, however, that IT asset management is largely about process, not technology. Lie says the success of the software at Fidelity hinged on support from the CFO and senior finance people at the divisions, who “helped to sell it and get the consensus we needed. This was a culture change that needed buy-in.”