Posted by: Arun Gupta
ERP strategy, Leadership, legacy systems, managing teams, People Management
Technology evolution has created many opportunities and challenges for IT departments. The pace of change in recent times has been going up exponentially with obsolescence setting in faster than the adoption curve maturity. Each new flavor, trend and hype creates a flurry of activity which forces the CIO to react. Despite claims of various consultants, there is shallowness of expertise to get some real stuff done. Today it may be difficult to find COBOL programmers; it is equally difficult to find UX or Big Data experts.
Every company and function wants to retain talent and leverage the years of experience and expertise rather than losing them. This is more so if the person is really good at what s/he does; which is why we have retention plans, fast-tracked development, high potential identification and many other financial and non-financial incentives. We also face the challenge of managing a few members who have failed to change with the times and are unable or unwilling to adapt to the new world.
The technology treadmill keeps some of us running to explore and evaluate how and what could be potential uses that will create a differentiation. We embrace the technologies when something works and soon you find the trend becoming main-stream with everyone following. Consultants, vendors and tech media keep the hype high with new buzzwords and technology lead disruptions. The already scarce resources end up stretching to explore the opportunities over and above their operational activities if any.
Operations are necessary and critical to ensure that business as usual continues while the new stuff keeps the excitement going. Most enterprises have teams that either built the systems a few decades back or were part of the teams that conceptualized the implementation. If you are lucky they have been able to reskill and stay current while managing the legacy. It is also possible that some have not been adept. Many organizations outsource the legacy sustenance and thereby the BAU operations.
The challenge that many face is to find productive use for the team members that failed to stay current with technology or business. These old-timers built the legacy that did well for the business contextual to the need at that time. With evolution their inability to adapt makes them deadweight in the current hyper-competitive business environment. The quandary for the CIO is to find useful work for them or find a humane way for their easing into other functions or out of the company.
One of my CEOs in the past had remarked of this phenomenon “We offer employment to qualified people on merit, we do not guarantee employment”. With profitability pressures and economic uncertainties this is true even for the better ones with work not just shifting to lower cost but also adding on to existing staff. Do more with less is here to stay and the bar keeps rising every year. Discussing this with a CIO, when she asked me “What is your ERP strategy?” I was stumped.
ERP is presumably the new term for Early Retirement Plan, effectively created and deployed with HR. Her company had moved off the legacy technologies that had survived more than two decades and through the planning process she had attempted to reskill the old workforce offering those positions that would have created a graceful exit over a period of time. Most took the opportunity clutching straws and made the grade. A few who did not had to be offered the new ERP!
In some companies old tech still stays, so do people; the pressures of current technology enabled disruptions will require them to sooner or later transition to newer and contemporary solutions. Recent times have seen many transitions from custom legacies to COTS systems to compete in the new normal. The eventual will arrive; CIOs need to hasten their people strategies to ensure that they are not left with a situation where they are pushed to a wall to take a decision.
All ERPs require planning, so why wait?