Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jun 12 2015   2:34AM GMT

Digitization Efforts Need Good Leadership

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

Enterprise architecture

Digitization efforts in many organizations do not fully yield results that are desired. While reasons could be many, one of the main factors for poor showing is ITs lack of alignment with business. Initiatives that are localized at the level of the IT or taken up by stray business heads hardly ever bear fruit. These initiatives may result in some improvements but they are insignificant and remain within a small sphere. Large organizations manage to steer clear of this trouble because of good professionals on board, but the gap is more pronounced in small and medium sized organizations. SMEs find it extremely hard to manage technology deployment without the right people and therefore their digital journey lacks clear direction.

One way of overcoming this problem is to seek advice from an external source and employ management or technology consultants to draw up a road map and suggest a plan of action. The consultants may be reputed firms or accomplished individuals but the success lies in making right use of them and it here that many are found lacking.

Let me cite a few examples from my engagements with clients over the last three years. In most places it was the lack of effective leadership that resulted in sub-optimal use of technology. Though the CEO is best placed to give it a right direction, any other senior person nominated by him can also deliver if he can think from the CEOs perspective, but that rarely happens. The following examples would go on to show that many organizations do need to wake up and bring in greater professionalism in the work place.

Where the CFO takes charge : It is customary in most organizations to make IT department report to the CFO. I cite an example of a mid-sized manufacturing company which decided to seek advice and their CFO called me over for a discussion. Since they had already decided on an ERP, I helped them through the implementation process with suitable business process changes and help streamline the functioning of IT. However to make effective use of their investment in technology I suggested they use business intelligence to strengthen decision making. The CFO, I guess felt uncomfortable with the idea as he was already getting his usual reports and did not feel the need to proceed further. The CEO never got involved directly but got briefing from the CFO. The company therefore was stay put at that level and lost an opportunity to build up on their initial work.

When the CEO calls for review but delegates responsibility – We often say a job well begun is half done. However, if the direction changes after the start, the job remains half-done. It played true for a fairly large company in the auto parts sector. The CEO was concerned about the efficacy of its IT and its contribution to business and hence was himself present for the initial discussion. He wanted me to do a quick study and share with him my broad findings. After this stage, the command passed over to the CFO, who along with the CIO tried to resist changes. Some of my first recommendations like centralization of the IT, IT governance and enterprise portal required some investment. The CFO cited lack of funds and wanted to defer these actions. I was insulated me from the CEO and he did not get the right status update. This was again a case of opportunity lost.

Where the CEO initiates but does not participate – These situations are also not uncommon. I was called in by the head of an institution who had taken the initiative to modernize work both in the academic function and the administrative area. Products were then selected and the work began in the right earnest. The initial enthusiasm could not however drive the project further due to the organization culture which was slow-paced and had informal work methods. The initial enthusiasm faded as the institutional head thought it was not necessary for him to participate and that technology should be dealt with by IT. The responsibility then was placed on the IT administrator to drive the projects on his own. Due to lack of direct participation by the head, adoption of new methods by employees, discussions on new initiatives, work cooperation, data discipline etc. suffered. Small superficial successes seem to provide satisfaction to the institutional head and the management. Instead of being an advisor to the management, I ended up being an advisor to the IT administrator. Technology could not therefore be gainfully deployed and benefits in terms of governance and better running of the institution could not be realized.

When the CEO keeps himself at an arm’s distance – A subsidiary of a MNC doing well in India decided to automate work to handle their expanding business. I worked with them to draw an overall plan to introduce ERP and other applications, connect with all stakeholders, mobility solutions etc., which was approved by the CEO. The CEO was perhaps advised internally to appear only for the steering committee meetings and therefore maintained a distance from the project. Internal contradictions in the form of cross functional problems arose at regular intervals which affected work but did not surface well during the steering committee meetings. Compromises at various stages resulted in a sub-optimal solution. Without a direct contact with the consultants, the CEO got colored information from his internal team and therefore could not get from technology what he would have wanted.

From the above examples it is clear that right leadership is critical to steer the digital journey of any organization. Unless the digital plan is driven by organization strategy, objectives and goals, work meanders taking care of a few procedural issues but leaving the main purpose behind. Organization heads need to realize that they are in a digital age and should directly confront technology and not just view it from the corners of their eyes.

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