Let us also look at the positives:
Sorry, I’m busy!
I have found some of the CIOs quite stuck up with their office work and go home late every day. Vendors find them hard-pressed for time and take several days to get a meeting fixed. People look for them at various seminars and other professional events but are told that they couldn’t make it because of work pressure. Some poor souls call up to cancel their participation at the last minute regretfully citing important meetings, such as those with their Directors or the CEO, as the key reason. There are, of course, others who state very clearly that they are not available during the month-ends and month-beginnings because of the accounts-closing and for generating MIS reports.
I feel sorry for them. Sometimes I reckon there cannot be more unfortunate victims than them and that the industry should do something to improve their lot.
Professionals of wage slaves?
I have often wondered what makes them the most victimized set of professionals. I remember those days when the IT head used to supervise data entry and processing and was answerable for generating various reports to the management. He couldn’t then leave office till the processing was completed and reports were handed over. Today, however, users do their own tasks and reports are available online. Users are made owners of the systems and are custodians of the data quality. Routine IT tasks are outsourced and the CIO plays only a supervisory role.
But he is still busy and an overworked executive! He slogs and still feels he doesn’t get his due. His evenings are not his own and sometimes misses important social functions.
A possible way out
It is very difficult for any expert to prescribe a solution. Every situation is difficult; some are genuinely difficult, especially if in an organization maintains a high pressure work environment.
One solution could be to delegate and initiate some succession planning so that the incumbent starts taking additional responsibilities and frees up the CIO’s time. Another way could be to stop accepting random / ad hoc requests. He could work on a long term plan in conjunction with the business heads and work as per an agreed plan only. It may not be a good idea to try to impress management with our late sittings – it doesn’t work in many situations.
I had once angered my CEO by closing work in my department at the evening closing office hours but later he realized that no work was affected and admitted so to me. Our difficult position, in some cases, is perhaps of our own making.
Why ERP takes that long to implement?
There is no doubt that ERP integrates all functions and takes care of the most organizational needs. It’s a comprehensive package and is designed to cater to companies of all sizes and from various industries. Therefore to make this package run in any organization, one has to configure various parameters as per the defined needs. The package being complex it requires people with knowledge and skills to undertake this task.
Most ERP vendors have prescribed clear methodologies which are field tested at various companies across the world. If we follow these diligently we can be sure of success. The methodologies speak of several stages which include as-is process documentation, designing to-be processes, configuring testing, conference room pilot 1, conference room pilot 2, go-live preparation, go-live and post go-live support. It is therefore natural for ERP implementation to take that much time. It also requires considerable effort of people in the form of skilled consultants (from the implementation partner) and internal team members who are competent.
What’s wrong with this?
Times have been changing; companies now face a lot of challenges in the market and expect IT to help their organizations in overcoming them. However talking of six or eight months puts us out of sync with the management. I had to face such embarrassing situations more than once. In one of our management committee meetings, we had discussed and decided on a few strategic steps. The attention then turned to me asking for a solution. Knowing fully well the ERP processes, I asked for a few months. That didn’t go well and I had to face a barrage of questions. Though I explained the situation well, I did feel sheepish and sorry for being a drag in the company’s quest for progress.
I realized that implementation of ERP in its present form was unfit for the world of today. Whether for extension or upgrade when ERP takes months, its efficacy and effectiveness is called to question. My dilemma was for real and I wished that there was a solution which could accelerate this process.
It was just last week that I met my friend, director of a well-known IT Services firm who mentioned to me about his plans of bringing in a software tool designed to help expedite ERP implementation and asked for my opinion. When I expressed my thoughts on this subject he was glad and asked me to share my views with the audience at the seminar that he was holding to launch this product.
I attended the seminar and shared my views, which was then followed by an exposition of the product features and demonstration. I liked the product and I felt that there was at last a solution that I was looking for. The tool called Rapid e-Suite; it sits on top of Oracle Business Suite and automates a lot of steps and helps simplify the process by making it possible to work in an off-line mode and then transfer changes to ERP. It has various other features like a knowledge repository, feature mapping for upgrades, the configurator engine, data migration, replication of instances, etc., which help in quick implementation and rollouts. Based on the roll outs in various countries, the company claims to reduce implementation times by over 50%. I am sure there would be other solutions that are available for different environments.
I strongly suggest that CIOs/ CXOs should look for solutions to implement ERP projects in much shorter time and help IT stay relevant in their organizations. The conventional way of implementing ERP solutions is unsuitable for the current environment in which our businesses operate.
There have been so many instances of activities coming to a stop because of the CIO leaving the organization and projects resuming only after the new CIO is recruited and is firmly in place. Isn’t this detrimental to the organization and shouldn’t we do something ourselves to mitigate such risks? Irrespective of whether the organization formalizes succession planning or not, CIOs should, in my opinion, take initiative in implementing this good practice in their environments. But just to mirror what happens all around, adoption of this practice by CIOs has been very low; we can perhaps count such CIOs with fingers.
It is probably easier said than done. I too have moved from one organization to another and in spite of giving enough notice of leaving, companies had not been able to address the take-over formalities and had taken several months to recover from the disruption caused. Now let us discuss the subject a little more to understand it fully.
What is succession planning?
Succession planning is a process of identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key business leadership positions in the company. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available. Taken narrowly, “replacement planning” for key roles is the heart of succession planning.
Succession planning is an organizational process and is one which is driven from the top and usually handled by the Human Resource department. In a few cases, it is an initiative taken up by a department or a business division and endorsed by the management. Isolated initiatives however do not help and fail to deliver the result.
How to make it work
Clear objectives are critical to establishing effective succession planning. These objectives however need to follow some well-established practices, some of these are:
Implementing it at our workplace
The common refrain is, “Why should we take efforts for identifying a successor when the organization itself does not show interest?” Secondly, it is a feeling that grooming a successor would endanger our own position. On the contrary, driving succession planning projects can boost our confidence and may set us up for bigger tasks. For instance, when I had a clear line of succession, the CEO started engaging me in various business-critical projects knowing fully well that IT work could be managed without requiring me to be present in the department all the time. My role therefore got enriched.
The plan need not be limited to CIOs alone and we also need to plan succession for various critical positions in our department. There are times when we are seriously handicapped due to a critical resource deciding to move on giving a short notice. Succession planning at the department level provides a career path to staff and improves our chances of retaining them.
Succession planning is a process which de-risks the organization and need to be practiced. Even if not prevalent in some organizations, CIOs there should take a lead and make it happen in his area of influence.]]>
There were mixed reactions to such action of vendors. Whereas some said that vendors, in the interest of short term gains spoil their long term interests by straining their relationship with the CIO, some others in the IT services fraternity shared that they are often constrained as CIOs sometimes are not responsive enough.
A concern was also expressed by some that CIOs often get into a balancing act, trying to go as per their conscience and better judgment taking the interest of his organization into account, but at the same time risking their position by taking a stand that is contrary to the interest of some in the management. Sure, this is a valid concern and is a real-life situation that need to be addressed. A CIO should not behave like an activist trying to reform everyone, but has to use his art of persuasion and be convincing. He cannot overrun the powers of superiors and has to act within the authority he possesses. From an idealist he has to turn a practitioner who understands the limits of his powers but who is not afraid of raising questions.
Let me talk of a few instances from my experience:
CEO’s prestige on the block
I was once caught in a peculiar situation quite a few years ago. Egged on by a vendor, our CEO wanted video conferencing facility to be installed in three of the main offices which were within a 30 KM radius. The requirement was unclear but the CEO perhaps wanted it to hold his head high in the circle of CEOs. I certainly thought this was uncalled for and was sure this would not be used as people moved around between offices every day. I held back the proposal for over a year but the CEO told me in clear terms that he wants it to be installed and I had to obey his command. My senior whispered into my ears ‘you can’t be more loyal than the king’. I learnt a lesson.
Use persuasive skills
During days of the internet boom, a wily vendor met our CEO and convinced him to have an e-visioning study done paving the way for e-commerce. Our CEO mentioned of his CIO telling him to stabilize systems with ERP first before embarking on e-commerce. You can trust the vendor to argue his case and sow seeds of doubt in the mind of the CEO. The CEO therefore held back approvals and wouldn’t let me proceed. It then took me a lot of effort and couple of months to convince him that even if we were to go for e-commerce, we had no reliable internal systems to efficiently process orders received through the internet and that such instances may actually tarnish the company’s image. Fortunately I had my message through and was able to tackle the problem created by the vendor.
When unconvinced, pass off the ownership
I faced an instance when a vendor made a direct contact with the marketing and sales head, making him pitch for introducing sales force automation to tackle competition. On enquiry, I found that adequate study was not carried out to evaluate the extent of data to be captured, people needed for deployment, the process changes and the intended analysis of data for decision making. However, the marketing head went ahead and obtained approval of the CEO telling him that his expectations could be met only through such a system. Knowing that it was futile to resist further, I convinced marketing and sales to take on the ownership of the project assuring them of full IT support. Though the system was implemented successfully, the management was still asking for the benefits being delivered by the project.
I am sure there will be several such experiences which others can share. The fact is that it is never too easy to handle situations created by clever vendors who sneak in to solicit business. Organization culture, power equations, hierarchy status and competitive politics are factors that we have to tackle, but if we manage to cut across these factors and to have our way, it would give us that extra sense of satisfaction.]]>