Times are changing. Gone are the days of slow and steady progress. Markets hardly changed then and everyone had time to attend to any issue. What couldn’t be finished today could always spill over to tomorrow. We were told that heavens wouldn’t fall if work was put off by a day. Markets could wait and customers too would not complain.
The situation has taken a different turn now. Markets are changing rapidly and customers are more demanding. Companies have either to quickly react to market changes or to get there first, and take the first mover advantage in order to capture markets and stay in the reckoning. The issue could be growth or just protecting market share; but entails a need to act and to do so without taking much time.
Delay here would mean opportunity lost, which could be detrimental to business. Leaving aside unreasonable demands made by users, it becomes important for the CIO to ensure that he is in a position to address business needs in the shortest possible time. The question therefore is ‘how does the CIO make himself and his team capable of delivering the required services?’ Let me put forth a few actions that CIOs can consider acting on:
Chart out a clear plan
It is extremely important for the CIO to draw out an information systems plan or a clear roadmap, in line with the organizational strategy and business direction. This obviously has to be done in consultation with the company’s management. It is a good idea to pen down thoughts and share it with the management to ensure that your understanding is right. If the IT plan is based on this document, constant deviations could be avoided.
Involve business users
Participation of the business managers from various functions is important not only in the making of the plans but also during the execution time. Let him be involved at various stages right from concept finalization, drawing specification, system testing to the ‘Go Live’ stage. Ownership by users reduces the chances of taking a wrong direction and in encountering ad-hoc changes.
Make systems flexible
It is advisable to get away from in-house tailor-made systems as they tend to be rigid, developed for certain circumstances, and sometimes not of the latest technology platform. Adopting standard packages may accord flexibility as good packages incorporate several possible business scenarios, which we can configure according to our needs. Care should be taken not to customize the package too much to make it inflexible.
On demand infrastructure
Of late, a lot has been said about flexible architecture and of terms like virtualization, flexible storage, SaaS, cloud computing, etc. Even if you have already invested in servers, storage, and networks, it makes sense to consider and slowly move towards such architecture so that the infrastructure does not become a limitation when you want to roll out new services. With falling prices, it is advisable to provision more or have resources on-demand so as to address various business contingencies.
It is good to be prepared and be in a position to facilitate business growth and to be a participant in the company’s moves to counter competition or in the roll out of new products and services. I am often asked about methods to counter funny demands of users or of unplanned ad-hoc changes or new demands not thought of earlier. While each case has to be considered on its merits, much of the madness can be reined in through proper forward-planning and the involvement of the management and business users.