Of late, I have been visiting IT deployments in many small and medium organizations — in the private sector as well as the Government sector. During the process, I had the opportunity to study initiatives taken by the business, as well as the IT support necessary to make business succeed.
In many such cases, the IT group helped in making the organization more efficient; enabling them to respond well to their customers and successfully roll out e-Governance initiatives. Some of them appeared very successful ventures, and showed a lot of promise. In the case of a few others, I did not find the IT response to be adequate. Though everyone seemed happy with the situation, a closer look gave a feeling that the gains were not sustainable given the inadequacy of the IT infrastructure that supported these initiatives.
Let me explain the issue further. A meaningful IT support to business begins with a plan, a strategy and a definition of a roadmap for the long run. Sometimes this is ignored in the interest of immediate gains, and at other times this aspect is not properly understood. I will list out a few situations to drive home the point.
Piecemeal solutions over time: This is a usual phenomenon noticed in many situations. Each requirement expressed is converted into a system, and programs written to roll out for implementation. Several systems then get developed, often by different programmers, and on a variety of platforms. Whenever the need for an interface arises, some element of data passing or a loose integration through Web services makes everyone happy. Little do they realize that it is these ad-hoc solutions that lead to an avoidable mess as the needs expand, and several solutions get developed.
Total reliance on in-house staff: In several cases, people take pride in announcing that all systems have been developed in-house, and that there is no external input. The impression given is that they have saved costs for the organization, and that the internal staff is good enough to handle all organizational needs. The trouble in such cases is that the group’s knowledge does not grow, and they keep doing what they know. This aspect is reflected in the way the solutions are developed, in the way hardware platforms are chosen, and the manner in which systems are written. The methods at times are outdated, and lack a contemporary approach.
Lack of participation at the management level: Unless the IT head is senior enough and participates in business discussions, the solutions will always be ad-hoc, and lack a long term vision. I have met a few managers who were fully involved in the business initiatives, and were well aware of the business directions and goals in focus. Others were happy to play a background role — the solutions they developed were suspect, as they could have not have held when the business expanded or when the situations got complex. Such an approach remains to be one of a programmer, who only looks for an opportunity to write a program.
Make do with small IT teams: I was surprised to hear from a few Government departments about their achievements in spite of being a small team. They spoke of economizing on budgets and about outsourcing. I thought many of them did not understand the importance of IT, and thought that by outsourcing system development they had done the right thing. There was still no IT direction and their moves were dictated by the appointed vendors.
From all these situations, I learnt that managements which drive such initiatives should ensure that IT solution infrastructure is aligned to organizational growth; that built IT platforms will last for the next few years. It is also important to ensure that the technology is suitably updated, so that IT gives them an edge, and that the organization benefits from technology usage.