Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Oct 5 2013   4:15AM GMT

Whether to build on existing or to redraw fresh IT plans

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

I have often faced this dilemma when moving to a new organization. In new organizations, the systems I had to deal with were either in a good shape or in a bad condition with very little documentation. Places where the systems were well defined and documented, I had very few problems. All I had to do was to review and determine whether they were in the right direction or needed suitable changes. At other places where I landed up with systems in a mess, recreating new systems proved to be a massive challenge. Let me deal with both these situations.

In any new organization that we move into, systems do look alien and different from what we may have been doing in our previous engagement. A natural tendency would be redraw plans to bring it in line with what we are familiar with – the same hardware platform, software packages or vendors. That would really be a waste of effort and a move just for our comfort but not necessarily for the good of the organization. Such a situation calls for a dispassionate assessment of the status and determination of what is best in the circumstances.

Bad state of systems

In a couple of situations I had landed up in organizations which had no real enterprise IT worth its name. In one place I found a host of disjointed systems developed over a period of time for individual functional use and a later attempt to force integration by writing some programs for data transfer. There was no method in the build up to the final architecture and some of the systems used different platforms perhaps born out of personal preferences of the then software developers. Another situation was one in which the company installed a certain ERP though not successfully and therefore topped it up with a host of external systems to supplement unfulfilled requirements. In the absence of good documentation, handling of the systems was best left to a few individuals in the IT department. Sorting out such a mess I thought would have been a nightmare and therefore recommended to the management that a fresh study be instituted to assess the company’s requirements anew and that we redraw a new IT Strategy. These were right decisions in my opinion and it worked out well in the long run.

Reasonably good systems

Even organizations that have reasonably good systems pose a challenge to the new CIO. The CIO has to exercise discretion and draw up new plans that do not carry a personal bias. Let me illustrate through two examples.

In one of the organizations that I got into, the team had decided to go ahead with Oracle ERP and had also placed order on them. Having been on SAP for the last few years I had a strong feeling within that I should persuade them to change their decision and get in SAP instead. In fact I had started asking questions about their choice in an effort to prove them wrong. A little later however I realized my pretenses and decided to get along with my colleagues to build further with the platforms and tools available.

In another organization the situation was very different. Systems were reasonably good and were well documented too. The previous incumbent had drawn up an IT Plan which had been presented and agreed with the management. The plan also carried a roadmap for the next three years. While all this looked impressive I was only worried about one aspect of the approach. The plan reflected a strong personal bias of the previous CIO. He had, perhaps because of his previous background, based his entire plan on the basis of tailor made systems, and that too developed by small boutique software firms (he had a particular dislike for large firms) and even elements like system interfaces, security, identity management were sought to be developed using web based software or scripts written specifically for our needs. I somehow felt this would place the company at the mercy of developers and a strategy that could turn company’s attention to IT instead of focusing on the needs of business. I decided to redraw the strategy placing emphasis on using enterprise packages and solutions and away from software development. That put us into the mainstream of business and we derived wonderful results over the next few years.

Conclusion

Drawing from experience I would opine that taking up a new assignment always poses a challenge. We stand at cross-roads not knowing whether to toe the same line or make changes. We have to act in the best interest of the organization and keep our personal preferences and bias at bay so as to make the right choice.

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