January 04, 2004

Tom Sanzone, CIO of Citigroup's Global Corporate and Investment Banking Group, hopes the first thing he sees in the morning isn't red - green or yellow he can deal with, but not red. Each morning Sanzone walks into his office, sits down with his assistant and gets a rundown of where the 15,000-20,000 development projects within his group stand. On this particular morning, his adviser reports that a risk-management application had been completed the day before. It was on time and on budget. However, another project needs an extension, and yet another is slightly over budget. The list continues.

After his initial consultation, he is well informed and prepared to start his day. Sanzone has never had an assistant like this before - one who can give him the exact status of each project, where each is trending related to its original budget, and the level of customer satisfaction after each job is complete.

Since this assistant came on board in 2001, Sanzone has been able to decrease his budget by $200 million. Contrary to what one would think, his assistant is "by no means expensive," as it is not a high-salaried consultant. Rather, this trusted adviser is a sophisticated portal that helps manage the firm's many projects, as well as its 15,000 developers. And, at a cost of a small development team, it was well worth the price, Sanzone says.

Sanzone, who was the visionary behind the portal, named it Mystic, for My Systems and Technology Information Center. The goal of the system - used by both developers and tech and business managers - is performance improvement, knowledge sharing and standardization.

Performance was first noted using the colors of a traffic light - green, yellow and red. Projects coded in green meant the project was proceeding as planned. Yellow meant there could be a problem but further investigation was necessary. And red meant something was wrong.

"When we started out, we were probably 60 some-odd percent on time (with our projects). If you look at it now, it says we're around 80 percent," the CIO says. Using Mystic, Sanzone was able to cut the $200 million from his budget through better management of projects and people. This cost savings also came from the ability to share components throughout the global enterprise using Mystic's applications repository. Rather than constantly recreate the wheel, the system provides an index of applications that have already been developed, so they can be reused.

In addition, Mystic makes it possible for Sanzone's managers to manage larger portfolios, he says. Citigroup used to have one manager for every five developers, now that has changed to one manager to 10 developers, enabling managers to do more, notes John D'Onofrio, head of development engineering, who reports to Sanzone.

Now that the portal is proven, Citigroup is considering selling it to other institutions or companies that are looking for a system to monitor performance and standardize practices. "It's in the exploratory stage, we're just feeling it out," Sanzone says, declining to comment further on when a decision would be made or what the price tag would be.

Hams El-Gabri, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner, calls this portal a project-portfolio-management (PPM) system and notes that the space is poised for growth. "It's not yet mainstream. When people think of project management, they think of Microsoft's project server," she says, explaining that Microsoft's tools are helpful when managing a single project, but not a portfolio of projects.