Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Risk is a 4 letter word

It was a conference of supply chain heads who had gathered to discuss and debate their collective future. The themes revolved around agility, efficiency, constraints and opportunities; all in a day’s work for a CSCO or a Chief Supply Chain Officer. I was invited to talk about IT lead supply chain innovation and why CSCOs need to partner with their CIO to be successful. It was a good feeling that other functions are looking at IT and their CIO to help them win.

The conference agenda was similar to what CIOs typically see in an IT event; a few vendor sponsors who want to sell their wares, in this case warehouse automation solutions; select IT vendors pitched in to discuss Warehouse Management and Transport Management Systems. Then there were a couple of luminaries from the supply chain world who were looked upon as beacons of success to share their winning formula. And finally a few odd men like me not from the domain to talk about collaboration and synergistic success.

The half day ended quickly enough which happens when you are having fun; the evening transitioning into an informal gathering of the speakers and the participants. CSCOs are a smart lot who know what they are doing and how to get there. They also acknowledge internal and external dependencies that aid or curb their success. IT is one of the key tenets to their capability to execute; thus there were a lot of questions to probe how CIOs perceive the partnership.

We all know that most CIOs are always willing to partner with other CXOs to create change; when there is equal or more commitment from the other side, it is a recipe for a winning team and results that matter. As the discussion unfolded I heard some good stories and some filled with angst and agony. A mixed bag if there was one with fingers pointing in all directions. So I started digging deeper.

A CSCO began narrating his journey towards creating improvements in warehouse processes with some IT enabled automation; the journey took twice as long as promised and thrice as long as expected. He also talked about his struggle in getting his CIO to agree to evaluate a warehouse management system. The CIO kept throwing back questions and never took the steps forward to understand the challenges on the ground. He had almost given up his quest to use IT for competitive differentiation and then budget not being a constraint started creating shadow IT organization to fulfil his need.

Another one talked about his CIO being the best partner creating quick and dirty solutions to solve every business challenge despite budget constraints; he praised the IT teams pragmatism and alliance with the supply chain team and warehouse managers to improve inventory turns and reduce labour required. Analysing the situation with some additional questions, it was evident that the two CIOs approached the opportunity differently.

Apart from everything else that includes alignment, business understanding, etc. that everyone talks about as qualities that a CIO should imbibe, the risk ability of the CIO has direct correlation to how often s/he is able to create a WOW! moment. Everything safe equals no risk; and no risk also mean that innovation takes a back seat. As long as the CIO plays safe, s/he is bound to slip on everyone’s perception. Business will find a way to overcome; the CIO can decide to be a part of it or will sooner or later find him/herself relegated to the background.

I believe that CIOs should give up inertia and work on their risk ability to stay successful. I close with a collectible quote from Keith Johnstone: Those who say 'yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say 'no' are rewarded by the safety they attain. 

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