Monday, January 02, 2012

Proactively Resistive

Uncertainty is certain, that is the maxim of today and reality for all of us individually as well as for enterprises. A repeat of the economic downturn of a few years back or worse, that is the question everyone is pondering over. When the sentiment is down, the first casualty is perceived risky innovative propositions. People withdraw into their anxieties and work to keep status quo. Any remotely disruptive thought is beaten black and blue unless inaction threatens existence.

So what does it do to the IT budget and the CIO who is being challenged to do more with less and find resources to create efficiency ? How can operating expense be lowered when a large chunk of the allocation is to paying license fees and annual charges for the large systems ? Cloud may shift some capital expense but does not take away the payout for license and support. Can the business critical solutions be shifted to open source ?

Even if the shift to open source was possible for some processes, the core ERP systems are the ones that will be resisted by the users; be it HR or Finance, they do not want to shift away from already stable (take that with loads of salt considering the patches that continue to make the system unstable) and comfortable systems. The big vendors know that such a shift is almost impossible and continue to hammer the proverbial nails into corporates with increases year on year. So what is the way out for the CIO ?

In a CIO forum I met one of the thought leaders who has and would make it to every list globally. He ran a discourse on change that IT brings about in an enterprise. He talked about some of the change projects being executed by many global enterprises pertained to reducing expenses across the board led by IT. Mandated or democratically agreed to, these were being resisted by layers across the enterprise. He preached top-down and bottom-up collaboration to “sell” the ideas along with existentialist discussions. If we did not do this, then the sky would fall upon us.

It was nothing new as CIOs use this strategy quite well to garner buy-in for most projects. It is another matter that measurement of the impact is rarely done a few years later as the business context has changed, or we have moved to another crisis, or the people who made the case no longer exist in the company. Push ahead and ye shall be rewarded he expounded. Maybe I have become a cynic after trying this so many times to believe that it would still work in the current business environment.

I believe that irrespective of support levels across the enterprise, the CIO should continue to engage with the stakeholders to have them share the pain before embarking on the journey to create colossal change or transformation of the IT landscape. Finding business allies will be difficult, but the journey in solitude is a sure way to achieve martyrdom. After all we all live under the same sun but have different horizons. So lead the way, but make sure that there are others along with you, not following you.

The words that stayed with me a long time were “the cultural response was resistive, sometimes proactively resistive”. Hasn’t the world always been the same for the CIO ?

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