Posted by: S R Balasubramanian
business-IT alignment, CIO career, language of business, user awareness
I have spent half my professional life spreading awareness among the senior management staff in various organizations, importance of Information Technology for the business, and the need of management attention. It was an enjoyable experience, since I got to observe them in various moods depending on their interest and grasp of the subject.
While some are curious and ask questions, others nod their heads as if they understand everything. A few look bored all through, and the rest of them remain cynical — not believing a word of what is being said. But all would sit through the sessions, enjoy their lunch, and cherish the break from routine work.
Of course, quite a lot depended on the CEO and his take on these awareness sessions. If the CEO was keen and attentive, you would find a couple of others serious about the awareness session and benefitting from it. But if the CEO yawned, others would do so too – the effect is contagious.
Some of these sessions would be a short session of two hours or span an entire day, depending upon the objective. In some cases, I took upon myself to deliver these sessions. At other times, I invited external experts to brainwash them into believing the importance of IT. I succeeded on a few occasions, and fell short of my expectations at other times. You would agree that this is a difficult task, but it is extremely important to get a buy-in from these top guys if one has to be successful.
I certainly cherish moments when some seniors came to me and confessed that they had undergone a certain transformation in understanding IT — afterwards their dealings reflected this change. They became supportive, started to participate, and offer suggestions. But these were a few picks from the lot. Most of the others stayed unchanged, and continued to be as ‘intelligent’ as earlier.
Let me narrate a couple of incidents. During the introduction of a whole new IT program in the new organization, I arranged a full day IT awareness session (with a leading global IT vendor) for the top brass. Their director in charge of training flew in from the US to pick up this challenge. He asked me to join only at the last session, as he wanted the directors and VPs to feel free in expressing their take on IT. He took a wonderful session (I was told), wherein he cited various examples and subjected them to case studies which had to be solved in groups. I joined them on the last hour, and I was impressed with the rapt attention with which the audience listened to him.
Just after the day ended, the head of marketing came up to me, and said that he realized that his department has been given a lesser number of PCs than the finance department. The next half an hour was on a discourse about the politics of PC distribution in the organization. He refused to get drawn into a discussion on the specifications of the new sales and distribution system (which was lying with him for his approval). Perhaps what he learnt from the session was that PCs are the most important aspect of IT.
In another organization, I made a comprehensive presentation of the IT strategy and plans that I had drawn up for the next three years. Since this was in keeping with the business plan drawn up earlier, I sincerely hoped that I had been able to inject a bit of IT into their hearts. However, the experience was to the contrary, as three of these vice presidents converged on me to complain about their PC and printer troubles.
I have often tried to draw these chaps into intellectual discussions. However, I often find that they talk more about PCs, printers, or troubles in accessing e-mail and the Internet rather than speaking on the business issues for which they need a solution. Well, IT seems to be all about these simple equipment and facilities. I wonder whether IT is so complicated that it frightens these simple beings. I have not given up still, as I continue my research on the subject.