Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jan 10 2011   8:39AM GMT

CIO as a custodian of IT assets

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

Many years ago, as I was submitting the summary of our findings of study to the CEO of a client organization, his remarks stayed on with me for long. Our assignment was to assess the efficacy of their IT program, and suggest improvements in its functioning. Amongst other things, we found that some of the IT assets like PCs, printers were bought but not utilized; similarly, some software solutions were not implemented due to disagreement with the users. As expected, the CEO was disappointed, and said that he expected his CIO to be more responsible.

The CEO considered his CIO to be the custodian of all IT assets —one who ensured that right solutions are bought and put to proper use. When the CIO asks for a budget and subsequent buys, he clears them in good faith with the expectation that he would look up to the CIO to take care of them. I thought that these were significant remarks which clearly demonstrated the CEO’s expectations and consequences of the CIO not living up to those expectations.

What I learnt in that exchange helped me immensely when I moved on to the corporate world as a CIO. Whenever I put up a plan to the Board, I did sufficient homework, and then proceeded to ensure that all spends were properly justified. Let me share with you some of the actions that I took.

In early days, desktops were provided to officers and staff based on their requirements. However, certain senior officers would often misuse this facility. They would get a desktop or laptop on their table (as a status symbol). They ended up not using it; or occasionally asking their secretaries/assistants to come and type out their emails or letters. Sensing this as the waste of an asset, I sent a message on behalf of the management saying that PCs that not being personally used by officers would be withdrawn. This worked like magic. Officers scampered to learn usage, and were home.

To cite yet another example from another organization, I found that the previous CIO had ordered for VSATs a year ago, but couldn’t somehow put the solutions to use. The first thing I did was to introduce enterprise wide e-mail and use the VSATs – that helped in developing an immediate rapport with the CEO.

Later on, I was put in charge of the ERP project. Instead of just attempting a successful implementation, I felt that the real success of ERP was when it starts to benefit the organization. So I worked relentlessly on process improvement in all areas (including manufacturing, materials, sales and finance). That proved to be a great experience. In such cases I feel that the best approach is to resist the temptation of putting the blame on users—instead, try to work with them and turn them around.

Assuming full responsibility for IT assets means due evaluation of requirements, proper selection, full participation to ensure success of each implementation, regular scanning of all areas to ensure that the assets are being utilized, and to keep looking for continuous improvement.

The bright side of this approach is that the management and users develop confidence in us as CIOs. Budgets and proposals for new projects are easily cleared. People start trusting us, and the famed user resistance reduces to a low and a manageable level. Vendors are also happy that their product/service is being utilized well and they come forward to support our initiatives. This really works.

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