Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Dec 12 2011   7:43AM GMT

Inappropriate use of technology

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

There is no doubt that technology helps bring efficiencies in our operations, decreases turn-around time of transactions, brings transparency, helps exercise control, etc. The right use of technology, of course, gets us all the intended benefits and makes our life easier. However, a wrong choice of technology or an inappropriate use defeats the purpose, and besides delaying the project, it causes loss of morale and financial loss which could be hard to justify. I have seen these situations occur in the following circumstances:

1. When the CIO gets enamored with a new technology and decides to gamble without adequate study and/ or invests in it a little too early—before the technology matures.

2. Inappropriate choice of technology; getting carried away by vendor’s sales talks.

3. Under pressure from users who cite examples from other places and thrust a decision down the CIO’s throat.

Let me cite a few real business cases that I have observed as examples of failures:

(1) Implementing Bar Code: In an automotive company, we had users who had just returned from a visit to the collaborator’s plant abroad. Keen to prove their smart ways and of having learnt something new, they proposed implementing bar codes for monitoring material movement in the paint shop. When they approached us for PCs, we raised a few questions on the process suggested. Unable to answer, they went back and procured the PCs separately from their project budget. Since the whole process was misconceived, it died its natural death and the PCs had to be diverted to some other users in the plant.

(2) Thrusting RFID solutions: When RFID came into the scene a few years ago, it was touted as the next big thing and many organizations were tempted to adopt it. I too experienced this pressure from our manufacturing wing who wanted to track movement of materials and vehicles in the plant. When confronted with the fact that any material entering the manufacturing process completed its cycle in 36 hours, the users beat a retreat. But I am aware of many organizations who tried various pilot projects only to shelve them after a while. I am laying emphasis on the fact that a detailed study should precede the final decision on the project.

(3) VOIP phones: On joining an organization, I was surprised to see a VOIP phone placed on my table which did not work. On enquiry, I was told that my predecessor had got installed a dozen phones to bring down STD costs. Well, the connection never worked well, and the users too did not find it convenient to use. Later, as the telecom charges dropped, the project was quietly shelved, though not formally closed.

(4) Mobility solutions: Under pressure from the management to bring innovation in the markets, the sales department decided to implement sales force automation system. The objectives were, however, not very clear and the whole purpose was shrouded in generalities. They went full hog and collected a lot of data from the field; but the use of data for reporting and analysis left much to be desired. They were at a loss, explaining to the management the justification of the investments made and the benefits that they could demonstrate. The money and resources spent did not yield appropriate results.

(5) GPS: I came across an instance of a transport company wanting to install GPS based monitoring system in all its vehicles which numbered a few thousands. When asked about the specific objectives and advantage that they thought would accrue, answers were vague and packed with several long winded explanations. As some of the earlier technology projects went off well, the CIO wanted to do more and impress, but I thought that was a pure gamble.

Any technology project therefore needs to be taken up with due care. Clear definition of objectives, detailed study of the processes, consultation with all stakeholders, and a clear assessment of the intended benefits versus cost are absolutely essential before starting on any such adventure. Well implemented systems succeed in creating an impact and go further building on the gains, but inappropriate use puts the organization in big trouble and should be avoided.

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