Monday, October 03, 2016

Blaming technology is an easy target when business fails

The company was a pioneer in adoption of technology for a long time; this was facilitated by a visionary business leader who believed that IT will make the difference when every other aspect of business had been copied by competitors. Thus he pushed the enterprise to invest in technology which none in the industry had deployed; they did not succeed all the time, but he continued to push on, challenging not just the business team, he also nudged the IT team to take risks and come up with new opportunities to grow the business.

As the company grew, so did competition expanding the market as well as taking advantage of newer technologies. That did not take away the advantage of process and technology maturity from the early adopter; with new leaders taking on the primary mantle of business, they however did not pick up pace that was necessary in the face of new paradigms of business. Leadership change made decision making shift to lower risk model for new projects and doing more of what made them successful in the past.

A shift occurred when a new CIO was hired to replace the exiting IT leader who had lost interest due to change in organization dynamics and the fact that he had lost connect with the business. With the new came wave of expectations; he got off the ground running and had the IT team charged up with his collaborative approach. Business also loved his connect, can-do attitude and the ability to get things moving; he established credibility with projects that were deemed difficult and path breaking in the industry.

The project was neither innovative nor first for the industry, but its scope impacted the entire business and company reputation. The CIO worked with the business head to present the case to the management and then the Board. They were given an in-principle approval but with a low-risk caveat attached to keep investment to the barest minimum. Even if it does not work, we will not be too much out of pocket. So the investment schedule was changed along with the solution to adapt to set expectations.

Since the project required cross-functional collaboration, they had difficulty in aligning everyone to the goal which stretched timelines and budget a bit. Coaxing and cajoling the non-believers, they managed to get off the ground and launched the new business. Ramp up was slow and steady as business slowly found traction with customers; the peak during the following festive season broke the process as they faced the ire of customers and internal teams who were stressed by the additional workload.

Learning from the incident, root cause indicated the nonchalant behavior of the unaligned as the primary reason. The CEO unwilling to acknowledge the failure by the business team blamed the technology and implementation partner seeking a change to an alternative solution. With no recourse, the team reluctantly moved on to evaluate a better system which would help them scale up and also meet expectations; the caveat remained this time around also, do more with less, we cannot invest too much.

Usual project travails and a year later, the new system found light of day; newer technology comes with new features which were expected to provide better capability to the business teams. Some of the non-believers converted and joined the wave which made good addition to their resumes. Since the root cause was not fully addressed, the next big surge created problems of larger proportions, also impacting the brand apart from loss of business; the ostrich CEO fired the team and decided to go to market again for a better solution !

The new team wiser to history took cautious steps towards selection of the new solution going with global leaders, unwilling to try any other approach. They patiently waited for budget approvals and the cross-functional team to be formed that would drive the project along with the technology team. They chose the best of implementation partners, collectively turning it into the mother of all projects for the company. With the large budget the CEO was under pressure to deliver the project right third time, the Board demanding results.

From the first attempt to the one now, the gap was close to a decade; competition had risen with the waves, many had fallen too. Customers had evolved expecting better experience, service and bargains. Changeover took some effort, the new platform was deployed with new capability and expectation of higher business. The large investment rankled somewhere, the Board expecting commensurate returns in a fast growing market. The business teams continued their other lives while the platform struggled.

Internal process alignment, market dynamics and customers finally decide success; the CEO was heard blaming the tool again !

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