Jeff Sorenson is a vice president and partner in A.T. Kearney“™s aerospace and defense practice.
He is responsible for helping lead the company“™s practice that aims to reduce acquisition costs and increase efficiencies within the public sector.
The former Army chief information officer recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about his Army experience and his perspective to help expand the company’s capabilities with current and potential federal clients.
ExecutiveBiz: What role do you play on a daily basis to aid A.T. Kearney serve its customers and deliver on its mission?
Jeff Sorenson: I joined A.T. Kearney in June 2011 as a partner because I wanted to assist this firm in its mission critical work of helping government organizations become more efficient. Having spent 37 years in the Army and the last 20 years managing acquisition programs, I bring a unique government user perspective to the table that I think can help A.T. Kearney be even more effective in leveraging their commercial best practices into the public sector.
A.T. Kearney is founded on the notion we only make recommendations that we can either stand by or implement. The mission of A.T. Kearney is probably best stated by our founder who said: “Success as consultants depends upon the essential rightness of the advice we give and our capacity for convincing those in authority that it is good.”
We live those words every day with our work. Essentially, if we can“™t vouch for or execute a recommendation, A.T. Kearney simply won“™t make one. And, that is a fundamental principle I would have requested from a consulting group assisting me when I was working for the government.
So today, we are working throughout the public sector, whether with major weapon systems or just day-to-day business operations, to help departments and agencies reduce costs by streamlining operations, improving supply chain management, and determining what a system should cost.
Over the past few years, we have done a considerable amount of work within the Defense Department community, specifically the Air Force, Navy and Defense Logistics Agency to reduce program costs, and I think our success within DoD could certainly be extended to help other government sectors departments, like Homeland Security, Energy and Veterans Affairs, reduce cost, too.
ExecutiveBiz: What strategies do you use for success in your position and how has your previous experience shaped those strategies?
Jeff Sorenson: I think my leadership experiences in the military and my ability to collaborate with experts from diverse backgrounds and skill sets taught me that different perspectives are critical for addressing difficult problems. As well, I think the strength of our firm lies with our ability to leverage our extensive consulting capabilities from across the globe to develop a diverse set of recommendations to help solve problems.
A.T. Kearney is a global firm with 2,700 consultants in 38 different countries with operational expertise in a number of industry practices such as automotive, communications and high tech, financial services, consumer retail, pharmaceuticals, and utilities and energy, plus a number of service practices such as supply chain management, strategic IT and complexity management. By collaborating with each other across regions, industry areas and service practices, we continuously demonstrate an ability to leverage tools and techniques to solve complex problems.
For example, we are currently applying transportation best business practices from our work in Europe and Asia to support a small company in the Washington, D.C. area on their work with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
As well, we helped the Navy gain insight into controlling the cost of building aircraft carriers by leveraging work from A. T. Kearney“™s energy practice, which has advised several of the large oil platform construction companies. The complexity involved in constructing oil platforms and aircraft carriers is extraordinary. By leveraging our best business practices from the oil industry we were able to help the Navy control costs of constructing and outfitting their aircraft carriers.
So, at the end of the day, collaborating with others and leveraging their expertise is a true strategy for success.
ExecutiveBiz: What sorts of challenges or lessons-learned do you bring to your current position from your time spent in the military and in particular your time spent as CIO of the Army?
Jeff Sorenson: During my last 20 years as a program manager, my most difficult challenge was the almost daily investment decisions that I had to make. As a result of changing budget priorities or fact of life changes in a program, I frequently had to make an investment decision, but often lacked sufficient information to make the right call. In fact, I often think back to my acquisition years and recall several times thinking, “Gee, I wish I would have known what I know now“ in terms of the type of data analyses we do at A.T. Kearney that could have assisted me with my decision making process.
I would say that the challenge of making the best investment decision still exists today, especially with IT systems. Not only are budget priorities or program changes the norm, but the daily changes in the IT sector adds additional complexity to any future investment decision. However, as I just mentioned, gathering smart people together with different areas of expertise is needed to vet different alternatives, so as to make the best business decision with limited information
ExecutiveBiz: What are the key elements to both effective consulting and effective acquisition?
Jeff Sorenson: Let me take the last question first. Effective acquisition management is all about balancing the three legs of the stool“”cost, schedule and performance. Almost every day, something would go wrong and the question was which leg should be adjusted to keep the program in balance.
Should we add more dollars against this program? Should we extend the program delivery schedule, or should we reduce some capability to deliver the system on time, but maybe not the fully functional system they were asking for? What tradeoff makes our decision optimal? At the end of the day, I frequently had to make a call to restore balance among the three legs of the stool and, because time was short, I often lacked sufficient facts to make the best informed decision.
Effective consulting is out-of-the-box thinking that can help any organization leader or program manager make better informed decisions. If consultants are good, they spend the time needed to gather facts, use tools and frameworks to rigorously analyze options, and then recommend a course of action that can be implemented.
ExecutiveBiz: What role does consulting play in the acquisition process and do you see that role increasing in importance amidst the current budget environment?
Jeff Sorenson: The Defense Department, as well other government agencies, is under enormous pressure to reduce costs. As is often the case, if you keep looking at the problem the same way or doing the same thing, then you can“™t expect a different result. Therefore, it will be absolutely essential that all government organizations think about how to do things differently to reduce cost.
As is typically the case, the simple answer to reducing cost is just to eliminate people in the workforce. Yet, significant personnel cuts often have adverse consequences because it“™s usually the best people or the senior managers with the institutional knowledge who walk out the door.
A.T. Kearney has a lot of experience with driving out costs of very large and complex private sector companies. For example, we“™ve done about 3,000 strategic sourcing projects, everything from facilities management to telecom to vehicle acquisition, for most of the Fortune 500 companies and saved them about $150 billion out of a $1 trillion in spending.
The bottom line is A.T. Kearney is focused on making companies and organizations more efficient and effective. As I learn more about A.T. Kearney, I see how creative they are in developing new tools, techniques and framework approaches to improve business operations and reduce costs that are certainly applicable to the government sector. In the long-term, we have the knowledge needed to help government organizations reduce cost and be more efficient.