Oh I See! Getting CIOs to view their jobs from a different angle

Jun 28 2011   6:53AM GMT

Does technology assure business agility?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

An intense debate between two CEOs ensued while I was listening with concentration to them; there was no debate on the need for every business to leverage technology to stay ahead of industry growth curve. Both had experienced success, but there was indeed a bone of contention. One of the leaders vehemently recounted the inability of ERP solutions and vendors to address the market dynamics. He cited many instances where the ERP vendor as well as his IT organization took longer time than business could afford; small solace that his competitors also used the same solutions and thus had similar issues.

The other CEO countered with an equal number of scenarios when the specific ERP had indeed been ahead of others. Now every ERP solution provides a complex array of parameters and settings that can be manipulated to provide functionality for most business processes. This complexity also becomes a bottleneck when any change is required. It is rarely as agile as other smaller solutions that can quickly be customized. CIOs have had difficult discussions on this aspect with ‘business’ and ‘vendor’ alike. The monolithic nature of the solutions indeed poses a challenge. Not that there are too many options, so the technology ecosystem has created multiple layers to manage the agility requirements.

Grudging acknowledgements later, both glared at me as if to validate their arguments and then turned back to each other. Before they could continue, I pitched in with thoughts on the new opportunity that has everyone confused and wondering with benefit statements ranging from better ROI to TCO, time to market, productivity, and the panacea to all ills that face every enterprise that uses technology.

This brought a smile to the face of the second CEO who began to lecture on the future being cloudy and why current IT models will no longer survive. He elucidated the benefits of the new disruptive paradigm the cloud is and why enterprises should be embracing this. Now the other looked imploringly at me to help him and I could not refuse the request. After all I had broached the subject so I had to provide a perspective.

Differing flavors of clouds offer different value propositions; the viewpoint put across by the CEO related to Application and Software as a Service. Both offer an easy way to deploy and get started on any new business area or process. The most widely accepted scenarios are sales force automation and collaboration; for SME, the benefit is limited upfront investments and no worries about managing complex technology. Beyond these mainstream business process remains firmly grounded in corporate data centers.

Irrespective of their physical location, the big ERP remains the same animal: big, monolithic, and complex. Separating processes like sales force or collaboration (read: email, chat, etc.) does not in any way create an opportunity for agile business process alignment for the rest of the enterprise. In fact, with the cloud, the base expectation is that business processes are standard and can thus be uniform across multiple companies. Clouds provide faster start points, but the change ability remains similarly constrained. A question from the audience inquired about ROI models for evaluating Clouds; that is another story for another day.

The two CEOs representing a large business house and a leading global ERP vendor acknowledged the reality and it was time to move on. The CEOs and CIOs listening to the interaction went away with both sides of the coin clear (?) to create their own agenda and discussion in their enterprises.

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