Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jul 26 2010   6:03AM GMT

CIO and his role in improving business processes

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

The CIO is a champion when it comes to procuring and deploying new technology elements in an organization. However, IT as a function does much more than making the tasks run faster; much of the advantage comes from generating information for decision-making, as well as in helping the organization become more efficient through better processes.

Now, it is at this point that the CIO becomes a bit shy at times. He wonders about how can he think of (and suggest) better processes in, say Production, Sales, Maintenance or Finance. Users in these areas are domain experts, and know the processes inside out. It will be odd to go and discuss improvements with them. He feels that a CIO is not equipped to deal with this task, and he would be better off dealing with the task he knows well. Some may find that this argument makes sense. However, isn’t the CIO missing a chance of playing a greater role in the organization?

In my opinion, a CIO has the rare distinction of being part of designing processes that cover various functions. Over a period of time, he develops knowledge of the business processes and inter-linkages between various systems. When discussing the process specifications, he comes across differing views of people. This opportunity gives him an insight of not just the possible solutions, but also about the underlying cultural issues. When he weaves these systems together to generate MIS for the top management, he has a chance to view the entire organization from a management perspective.

I have seen many a CIO playing significant roles in what is called ‘business process improvement’.  I have also been a part of such exercises, especially so with ERP implementation projects. All that I had to do was to get engaged in a discussion with the users, raise innocent queries, or suggest changes (when appropriate). Things worked even better when I could put words into their mouth as they spoke about these changes. I applauded them and gave them full credit.

While it sounds simple, I had to work hard and make several attempts to be successful. I had to go around and study these processes in-depth before I could enter into such discussions. But what I learnt was that not being in operations was an advantage; I could look at the processes from an entirely different perspective. For instance, when I was with an automobile company, I could initiate discussions on inventory control measures which resulted in considerable inventory savings. It was possible to seed thoughts of declaring buffer stocks and transparency, thereby optimizing shop floor stocks. I could push towards synchronization in planning processes across sales, purchase and production functions which lead to arresting several redundancies. These opportunities came in purely through interactions with some of the senior managers and being persistent with reforms, despite being under fire for disturbing the prevailing serene environment.

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