Monday, June 24, 2013

Flexible or efficient ?

When the going gets tough, the tough don’t get going anymore because companies cut cost. In the last 4-5 years the economic, governance, and policy uncertainties across geographies, markets, industries and sentiment in general, have had an overall negative bias. We saw recessionary trends that never really went away; an after taste remains even today. Companies that have globalized continue to see challenges in some situations every day thus keeping the teams on their toes.

Cost cutting or management has become a way of life; we have all been through these cycles or what management types call S-curve of investments and cuts; the corporate strategy and agenda oscillates between cutting costs and creating efficiency when lead indicators of performance reveal that growth is stunted and profitability is taking a hit. The onus of efficiency many a times rests with the CIO who has a micro view of every process. Sooner or later the process reaches a break point within the constraints.

Green shoots that bring promise of the era of growth has most companies scrambling to invest again; with the herd mentality everyone then wants agility, process flexibility, and an ability to respond to the market faster than equally ill-prepared competitors. Why are you unable to deliver new functionality faster ? Market will not wait for us to build systems at leisure; IT is not aligned to business reality, they do not understand business priorities and how to deliver to them.

The CIO retaliates and cites budget cuts in the past when the going was slow; when IT and business teams had some spare time, we decided to fine tune efficient processes rather than building new capability that could have helped retain market leadership. All good things take time to build and deliver; now putting more men on the job does not solve the problem. If you (Business) continue to look for the perfect solution, we might not complete before the next recessionary cycle making all the effort pointless.

This tug-of-war is played across many enterprises with no learning applied from past cycles of cuts and investments. It is like a knee jerk reaction to external factors that throws strategy out of the window and the company to the mercy of fickle minds and men. The short-term prevailing over the long-term takes away the flexibility to respond to market shifts with no latitude to adapt. Thus benefits available with sustained investments thus continue to stay elusive.

Can organizations and CIOs create a balance between the efficiency and flexibility agenda ? Is such a position desirable and achievable ? Can IT help the cause ? I asked these questions to a few learned CIOs; everyone nodded unanimously to the fact that cost containment drives every few years has taken away a lot of energy. The yo-yo keeps them and their business folks running to stay in the same place. Discretionary budgets not being available now, the tussle for flexibility is an uphill journey.

Turning to a consultant amidst the group for wisdom of the ages, there was no solace in what she offered as advice. She propounded the obvious: stop investing and cutting cost in spurts. Don’t lose sight of your direction; focus on your customers, explore cloud, analytics…. With no real input coming from this quarter, we decided to brainstorm the issue. The nemesis was universal and thus participation eager; while we did not solve world hunger problems, an outline emerged that offered some promise.

The new engagement model with outcome based payments holds a lot of promise; as CIOs engage with the partner ecosystem to link outflow to projects delivering to business metrics, two things will change. Firstly business will have to define outcomes and their commitment upfront; this will impact discipline of execution and the ability to stay focused. The second change will be the acknowledgement of the role of IT in business excellence putting the CIO in the driver’s seat should s/he choose to take on the opportunity.

Are you ready ?

1 comment:

  1. I agree. The CIO has to shed his techie bias & acquire a greater understanding of business drivers to succeed.