United Services Automobile Association (USAA) started benchmarkingnarrowly about three years ago, focusing on the internal performance ofinformation technology resources (see "Is IT Investment Hitting The Mark?"January 1999).Since then, the San Antonio, Texas-based insurance company has joined aGartner Group IT benchmarking survey of financial services firms for abroader perspective on its IT performance and expanded internalbenchmarking to overall operations.

The IT benchmarking formula reflects the company's value philosophy,including metrics for customer relationship management, net present valueof capital, infrastructure efficiency and other areas of performance.

The commitment to benchmarking sprang from a need to assess USAA'sreturn on investment for information technology resources, explains CharlesBeneke, an information technology analyst who coordinates the benchmarkingprocess. Benchmarking became critical in 1998 when the company isolated itsIT operations as a profit center that provides services to other USAAoperations.

Beneke says the benchmarking data helps shape the strategic commitmentto IT resources by providing a real sense of value of technology. TheGartner benchmarking survey, which focuses on software and applicationdevelopment rather than service, adds an additional perspective.

"We are now in the process of using 1999 data from the survey to makean assessment of our development activity in 2000. When we have more dataon our own performance, we can use the combination of information to seewhere we are in relation to other companies and set some goals for thefuture," he says.

USAA is benchmarking its business operations and also is integratingthe process into its management operations.

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