Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jul 16 2015   4:25AM GMT

Building Digital Capability

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

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Organizations embark on the digital journey with a fond hope of staying ahead of the competition. Their decision to go digital is often influenced by the desire to use contemporary technology & methods, peer pressure, persuasion of the CIO or other business heads or advise of consultants. Whatever the reason to go digital, the start of the journey should always be marked with careful thought and planning to avoid subsequent hiccups.

Taking up the project without a careful assessment of capabilities and resources could land the organization in trouble. With a focus on technology and its possible benefits, companies often forget that organizational readiness is important. They need to consider factors such as the organization culture – to see if it supports digitization, orientation of the senior management – whether they have been briefed and taken on board, capabilities of the key staff members – to assess if they have the right skills & attitudes, and a capable IT organization – if they have the right set up and capability of handling digital information. Let us discuss each of these factors.

Organization culture : Companies undergoing business transformation often ignore the risks of non-adoption when they fail to address  cultural issues, either assuming that people would align themselves on their own or that they could be forced to fall in line. These measures, however, do not work and the proposed change remains a hostage to the work methods and behavior patterns of various people groups. It is important therefore to work on the cultural aspects and have the HR department hold transformational programs to bring about a change in the mindsets or even relocate staff members who do not fit the bill.

Orientation of the senior management : The C-level executives should be the driving force for digitization but they could also be the hindering factor. Their participation is important as they are expected to provide direction to the operational staff who work with them. The Board or the CEO should take these senior members into confidence and discuss the entire plan with them and buy their commitment and support. It is important for them to realize that their success as business heads hinges on the successful roll out of the digitization initiatives. Wherever possible they should be exposed to the contemporary methods by getting them over to visit companies that run such digitization programs. Once they are convinced, they will themselves champion the cause and work for it.

Capability of key staff members : This is an area generally not given much attention to. We often see staff not adequately qualified, short on capability, not skilled or differently skilled, not trained or wrong on attitude. It is important to assess this aspect of readiness and address the issue before the start of the digitization project. This is a transformational program and therefore needs thorough assessment. This involves selection of the right people, relocation of those not fit, training, skilling or reskilling them, taking them through motivational and soft skills programs, empowering them to act independently and make them customer centric. Where the required talent does not exist within the organization, immediate steps should be taken to acquire talent from outside. Reorganization and restructuring of functions and changing of reporting relationships might be necessary along with defining new job descriptions and this need to be carefully worked out, taking external help where necessary.

A capable IT organization : Many companies are still unclear about the best way to set up their IT organizations and develop the tools and talent required to manage digital information and establish and maintain online services and automated processes. The traditional set up is usually carried along with some superficial changes. Such an attempt would not work and may derail progress. Most do not properly acknowledge that many of the critical resources required to facilitate this transition may not be available in-house. The right talent may be in short supply and may often take years to build such capability. It is therefore necessary to hunt for talent outside and also consider outsourcing a few tasks where the required skills do not exist within.

Before taking on the digitization programs companies would do well to assess their level of preparedness and build capabilities to successfully implement and derive benefits on a sustained basis. Companies need to identify the business domains and activities that would most benefit from rapid digitization, and should manage those projects separately from their conventional IT projects.

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