ACS' CIO - Leading the Way

By Pam Baker

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Nearly every CIO is squeezed between the urgent need to increase IT adoption vs. staving off rogue staffers hot after their favorite device or software. In this regard, the CIO both giveth and taketh away. But nowhere is that squeeze harder or more brutal than at the helm of high tech companies where staffers often know as much about tech as the CIO.


One example: Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a global Fortune 500 company that provides business process outsourcing and IT solutions to world class commercial and government clients, including such giants as General Motors and MetLife.


Commanding from the post of CIO is Tasos Tsolakis, who masters the daunting and critical task of implementing common component solutions across the business lines to minimize customer implementation intervals and reduce cost. Spread throughout the organization is an army of highly qualified, tech savvy consultants and technologists. The company has 63,000 people supporting client operations reaching more than 100 countries.


But Tsolakis has no problem retaining respect in this highly disciplined organization of over-achievers. His accomplishments are definitely noteworthy. He was named to the Top 100 ComputerWorld IT Leaders list in 2003, is Six Sigma certified, and holds an MBA in Finance and Entrepreneurship from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton Business School, and a Ph.D. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va.


That’s not to say Tsolakis is resting on his laurels. He’s up to quite a bit these days.


The ACS IT team is composed of 4,000 global resources focused on internal and external applications. The IT infrastructure operations team is outsourced to ACS ITO Business Group whose core business is IT outsourcing. ACS has grown through acquisitions and organic growth and is supported by many diverse solutions. “Our key focus has been the establishment of standards for both process and technologies to be leveraged across all five lines of business: ITO, Business Process Solutions, Transportation, Commercial Solutions and Government Solutions,” said Tsolakis.


He says ACS started its efforts in 2007 with the Government Solution Group, worth about $2 billion in revenue, by centralizing IT resources under a single organization and then expanded the efforts in 2008 to the remaining four business groups.


The Government Solutions IT team now uses common processes across all projects and leverages common development tools and technologies with significant reduction in implementation time and costs. In the second half of 2008, ACS is consolidating IT assets across business units. This includes consolidation of mainframe and server virtualization with an order of magnitude reduction in hardware. Tsolakis says the key challenge is “the implementation of standard technologies and processes across the decentralized teams.”


“Frankly, my most pressing concern is ensuring that there is continuous communication with the business at all levels and so, they in turn are able to focus on top business priorities—for ACS and our clients,” he said. “Retaining high performing global talent while managing a distributed team is an equally pressing concern, as well.”


Surprisingly, the struggling economy has limited impact on ACS, at least for the moment. “Many of our customer contracts are long term,” explains Tsolakis. “We continue though to identify expense reduction opportunities in order to be prepared for any further deterioration in the economy.”


Perhaps this is due to the hallmark of ACS for the past 20 years: its sound financial management. “Our clients frequently approach us to help them through challenging cycles to enable them to achieve better results through improved business processes and cost savings.”


Given the frequent free falls on one or another stock market, the calls for this service are likely to reach a fever pitch. Tsolakis said virtualization has had significant impact on ACS in recent years, new applications are SOA-based, and services are leveraged across all accounts. “Globalization of resources through a comprehensive delivery model has had a significant impact on how we operate, as well.”


Among his predictions for the foreseeable future, Tsolakis expects virtualization to move to storage and client devices; enterprise applications will continue to evolve in a Web-Centric approach; and social collaboration will become part of the enterprise activity for continuous communication and learning.


“The SaaS movement will gain popularity as it enables the enterprise to use new solutions with limited capital investment while possibly reducing monthly expenses,” he predicts.


For now, he deems rational development tools and the Dell M100 blade servers among the best technologies available.


But Tsolakis, despite his record achievements and tremendous responsibilities, is not abhorrent of play. He enjoys boating and motorcycling during down time – after all, he has his favorite devices too.