Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jan 18 2011   5:41AM GMT

Use of technology for business

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

I followed one axiom very early in my career ― always try to get the most out of the technology we acquire. This may seem very simple to state but when practiced the results could be amazing. I would expect many to say that this is what they are doing but then where is the catch?

People implement technology in its various forms and do implement those projects ‘successfully’. But success is a relative term, it could either mean technical completion that is successful or that the purpose for which it was put in place has been served. More often than not it is a successful completion of a process. It is like scoring marks in an examination but not taking into account whether the student has thoroughly understood the subject or not.

Let me explain further with examples. We have seen many of our friend CIOs claiming their ERP program to be a success. I am no way doubting their claim of having putting in the ERP in their organization and making it run, but when asked about the main business drivers for ERP and their fulfillment, I do not generally get clear answers. I find very little transformation being attempted and no significant changes to the business processes. The usual refrain is that there is user resistance and that it is only for the functional heads to suggest and drive process changes, etc. So it’s usually a story of a job not fully done.

Another area that lacks full credibility is business intelligence. I have heard CIOs proudly announcing of their arrival into the BI club and that they are now ready to share their success story with anyone. When quizzed further, I find that their implementations speak of various reports and the ease of their generation. Many a time I find them to be routine reports comparing actuals against targets or budgets or reports showing analysis, say of region-wise, product- or category-wise, or salesman-wise sales; or may be, a simple inventory analysis.

Well, these reports can be generated otherwise though with some effort, but I don’t see any intelligence in them. These reports do not generate any insight or throw up hidden trends or exceptions to the general rule. How then we call it a BI project?

Let me also talk about sales force automation (SFA) ― a clear demand of business with the advancement of communication technologies. It’s good to see CIOs willingly pursuing this initiative and taking a lead. Implementation is done, field salesmen regularly send in data, and thus, the reports are generated. They give more information than was possible earlier and the marketing/ sales team can get data at a more granular level. But when asked whether the data has given them more insight into matters or trends that they did not know or whether they have got valuable info to re-strategize their moves, they draw a blank.

Now imagine if the ERP were implemented with noticeable process changes leading to elimination of non value-added steps, significant reduction in process time, savings in inventory, better customer order fulfillment and better response to market needs, the technology would work wonders.

Similarly if the BI implementation gave important information through deep dive analysis of production wastages, of market trends, customer behaviors not otherwise known, the result would itself pay back the investments in BI many times over. If SFA could give deeper understanding of markets and trends that we can immediately attend, the company can be a real winner.

My point of emphasis is that an IT system that we implement can be more comprehensive and the one that addresses the objectives of business. We need to apply ourselves fully, get into the depth of the business systems, and keep an eye on the competitive advantage that the business can derive.

Anything falling short of these requirements would be what I will term as ‘vanilla’ implementations.

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