Monday, March 20, 2006

A new job

I took up a new assignment recently with a large multinational company with multiple business units and a market leader in most segments in which they operate. The job comprises of managing IT for the enterprise and ensuring that the diverse business operations are able to use the systems consistently. The various business units have their own IT shops who attempt to create systems to meet the requirements of their respective business units. The global organization provides technology directions and expects the country operations to adhere to these standards and common systems. Shared service centers provide transactional support and charge the business for the services availed.

Having spent approximately 2 months in the new place understanding the people, perspectives, history and future plans, the realization is that there are many opportunities staring in the face waiting to be exploited. At the same time the business units being well established with over 75 years of legacy operate independent of each other. The IT agenda has primarily been to provide reactive support rather than proactive solutions to the changing market.

With the competitive marketplace putting pressure on marketshares, the desire is felt to create synergies and harmonize operations and IT. The big challenge is to move people away from the old way of working to collaboration. The systems which were then contemporary have served well for over a decade on technologies that are obsolete now with high cost of maintenance. The global organization is pressing for the change and is creating some via global mandates, which is increasing the operating costs for the business units.

Keep tuned in to see how this transformation unfolds.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The T in IT

Many a gurus and vocalists have been expanding on the I in IT. Information goes beyond what is managed by conventional systems and is not limited to what can be processed, transformed and presented by Computers. So the debate on whether the role of IT departments should expand beyond the management of technology enabled information or the I should be dropped from the name.

But does it make sense to treat the words individually by separating them and creating context around what has become ubiquitously IT ?

I met with the CEO of a large respected company in a private party and he made a statement that "You folks do not give adequate focus to technology". Now that was a shocker to many present from the IT fraternity as almost everyone seems to be preaching the opposite of what this gentleman was saying. Be it consultants, experts, users, vendors, the standard message has been "Don't focus on technology, focus on the business". So I probed further to explore how to interpret the message I had just heard. I will not get into the lengthy discussion that ensued, but give you the synopsis of what transpired.

The reality today is that the CIO and the team typically focuses on the business and attempts to deliver the requirements and stated needs using technology. The perceived gap exists from the not so evolved communication capabilities of the earlier generation (and many of today too) IT folks to express themselves using non-technical terms. The gentleman in question is technically aligned and has been a proponent of IT deployment for many years. His view arises from the fact that 95% of the IT business solutions validated by his experience too are based on conventional usage and gains based on "industry best practices" or acceptable deployment.

The other 5% puts technology in the forefront and looks at unconventional use of technology which sometimes works, and many a times bombs. This creates a risk averse attitude towards technology which dissuades innovation and thereby IT ends up playing a supportive role. Explicit communication on the possibilities and the business benefit with shared risk that can provide rich gains does encourage enterprises to dabble in new stuff.

For you to make a difference to the business as well as to the technologists in your team, you have to create the excitement of how it will separate your company vis-a-vis your competitors as well as the benefit internally. If new IT gets driven by the technical staff, the solution may work but will rarely get implemented successfully or will fall off the way in a very short while. Some introspection will provide you with insights on which projects worked like a dream and which created nightmares.

Business as usual is easily outsourced. Go out and sow the seeds of innovation.