IT Euphoria – A Reality or Delusion?

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Turmoil of Information Revolution?

It may not be apparent, but we are right now going through the turmoil of the Information Revolution, just as we went through the turmoil of the industrial revolution. In this post I have not only tried to bring you face to face with this turmoil, but also explored ways to avoid the turmoil.

Almost hundred years of Industrial Revolution (between years 1740 to 1840 approx) dramatically changed the social structure of the world. Industrial revolution resulted in overcrowding of the cities and breakage of the old form of family. Though some were optimistic about the new means of production and increased wealth, there were serious concerns that the social and environmental effects of industrialization might prove disastrous. The century was characterized by hot debates, skepticism, protests and violence due to poverty, disease, environmental issues and moral issues arising out of the change. This is called the Turmoil of the Industrial Revolution. Many of us, particularly among the younger generation are not even aware of the 100 years of turmoil and upheaval that the world went through.

The people who went through the turmoil were unaware that they were going through the turmoil. It is only when the dust settled that the world realized what had happened. Similarly, today we are unaware of the turmoil of the information revolution. On the contrary, there is an overall euphoria about IT, a lot of excitement and expectation from IT. But this euphoria is a delusion or a mirage. Take a closer look in corporates trying to introduce technology, you will find that the picture is not so rosy. There is stress, upheavals, resistance and organizational politics because of IT.

As per research, there are 70-80% failures in ERP implementations, in spite of the fact that the best proven ERP products are being implemented by the best world renowned consultants. I believe IT itself is disruptive in a sense – implementing even the simplest software solution disrupts or unsettles people and people resist change. And I can say this having worked on IT in businesses for over 30 years in global markets, including so called advanced countries. I think it is a problem of mindset change, which takes generations.

Where is the Turmoil?

Not all tend to believe when I talk of a turmoil. I was once talking to a class of students at a leading Management Institute and one young student said “Where is the resistance and turmoil that you are talking of? We see technologies getting adopted so easily. The example he gave was of adoption of facebook, twitter (and social media in general) by untrained common people. So, he said, where is the problem of lack of training and where is the resistance to change that I was talking of?

I think this is the root cause of the myth or delusion – the fact that IT appears to be so easily accepted by the younger generations gives us a false impression that everything is hunky dory in IT. The fact that youngsters adapt so easily to the technology gadgets, powerpoint, facebook, etc., they are likely to fall into a trap of believing that they are IT savvy. The reality in the corporate world is different. Being extremely proficient with using latest smart phones and laptops for PowerPoint presentations or MS Word is certainly not what it takes to be an IT savvy manager. There is a lot more for a manager to know – not only about technology, but also knowing how to pull the right strings to successfully manage technology within his or her department. The manager needs to successfully manage the people and their behaviour under IT-Driven Change.

Is IT Euphoria a Myth?

Is IT Euphoria a myth? If it is, what is the cause of the myth?

We are comparing apples to oranges when it comes to IT adoption in businesses and IT adoption with respect to social media. The scenario is different when it comes to implementing business process automation involving several people and departments. Whenever multiple teams are involved, there is need for management of change. And most IT projects in business which involve business process automation involve multiple teams with conflicting objectives.

Facebook implementation and ERP implementations in companies are two very different things.

Difference Between Adoption of Social Media and IT Adoption in Businesses

Let us look at the difference between the issues of IT adoption in social media and businesses and why IT adoption is such a big issues in businesses.

  1. Facebook users are voluntary. There is no compulsion. So people join at their own will, only people who are interested join and they too participate as and when they want, not compulsorily on a regular basis. In companies, those who have to use it have no choice not to use it and they have to use it compulsorily for all transactions. They have to use it for transacting business. Facebook will be deemed to be successful even if 1% of the possible users use it, whereas an ERP in a company cannot succeed unless 100% of its expected users use it. If even one invoice, which is supposed to be raised using the ERP is raised manually or outside the ERP system, the ERP system is rendered inaccurate and unreliable which can lead to complete failure.
  2. Use of Facebook does not involve a process and is not dependent on others. An individual does an atomic activity like posting a comment or uploading a photo, etc. which is an independent activity not dependent on any one else’s activities. Whereas in ERP, it is a team activity. Other people are affected by your accuracy and timeliness of usage. For instance if a new employee record is not added accurately and timely in an ERP, the employee may not be able to mark the attendance, the transport department may not be able to provide transport to the employee and so on. The business processes are long and distributed over several people. When there are interdependent teams involved in implementation, there are management problems and challenges.
  3. There is more need of managing change, regulating and guiding. There are more managerial and organizational issues in ERP implementation.
  4. ERPs are not so user friendly systems like web based applications meant for masses. ERPs were not designed to be so user friendly as they were not designed for masses.
  5. There is no fear of loss of job, power in case of facebook. In businesses, the sword of loss of job or loss of control always hangs on their necks, rightly or wrongly. This results in organizational politics, inherent resistance and stress.
  6. Facebook does not need master data. ERP needs a huge, accurate master data to be first created which is an extra burden and extremely painful activity. Often errors in data misleads people into believing that the system is misbehaving and the blame game starts.

In a nutshell, when people are involved in a collaborative, interdependent process, there is bound to be disruption, resistance and stress. It is not so easy as using facebook or twitter.

How to Avoid the Turmoil? Introducing Behavioral IT™ !

Managers need to equip themselves to overcome this turmoil of the Information Revolution. There is a major confusion as to what managers should know or learn about technology. I believe that managers need not know IT, they need to know Behavioral IT™. Behavioural IT is a new skill which I have defined which encompasses just that what Managers need to know to manage IT-Driven Change and to succeed in using IT without having to know the technicalities of IT. Google on “Behavioral IT” to know more about Behavioral IT skill, which can help managers and their companies to reduce the turmoil of Information revolution.

IT Needs a Facelift – Building Brand IT

I agree with the author of the post CIO Brand Value when he says that a CIO needs to build a brand for himself and his department in his organization. But before a CIO can build his “Brand CIO”, there is a need for the IT industry to build “BRAND IT”.

The CIO’s task in brand building is doubly tough as the general impression about IT and IT folks is, unfortunately, not so great. Comments like “IT folks do not understand business”, “They are in their own world”, “IT Folks don’t listen, they think they are always right”, etc. etc. are not uncommon.

In this backdrop, I believe that there is a need to first build a “BRAND IT”. By “Brand IT” I mean a brand for the IT departments and the IT folks in general, an image building in the eyes of all senior and top managers. Such an effort will ultimately help each CIO build a brand in his company. The CIO needs help because s/he starts off with a handicap – against the high expectations of the managers from a technology which is overrated. My article “In the Wonderland of Information Technology” contributes in a small way to correct this perception. Forums like CIO Associations, Computer Society, etc need to take it up as a cause. This needs to become a movement.

I will narrate a small story to illustrate this need for a facelift for IT.

A manager once took me into confidence and said, “I know you are different (he was being nice to me), but why are all IT folks so possessive about the solutions they offer? If you suggest to them changes and improvements in the system, they get angry instead of accepting them readily in the interest of their customers. They get angry because their big fat ego cannot tolerate a criticism of their solution.” He therefore felt that the IT folks were not open to suggestion.

This, I would say is not a one-off manager. Most managers carry this impression about IT folks.

I said, “You may be right when you say that the IT folks get angry when you ask for changes. But they get angry not because of their fat ego, not because they think their solution was the best, nor do they get offended by your criticism. They get angry because they think that you did not have the time for them when they came for the requirements study. You could not give any inputs then, and now when they have built a castle on top of the requirements given by some x-y-z folks in your department, you have all the bright ideas to suggest changes even before stepping into the castle.”

If you analyze this story, the mistaken belief of the manager about the IT folks has roots in his ignorance of basic rules-of-the-game of an IT project. He did not appreciate a simple fact that IT projects followed fixed stages like scope definition, freezing of specs, sign off, design, configuration or development and implementation of the first version, and that all his bright new ideas had to, therefore, wait till the next version. Added to this is an ignorance of the fact that it is not so easy to change the software. If it really was a castle which was built for him, he would know that he cannot ask for modifications in the room layouts and move the pillars left and right because it is obvious in the physical world. But in the virtual digital world, there is a mistaken subconscious belief that, with the magic box called computer, changes can be made left and right.

These appear to be trivial things, sometimes difficult to identify, but very important for the users and managers to know. Now what would you call this lack of awareness? There is certainly a need to educate managers, HODs and CEOs if we want Brand IT to improve and IT folks to succeed. And I believe there are some very simple facts to know and some things to unlearn for the managers. The problem is that they are not so obvious. CIOs need to, in their own interest, identify these not-so-obvious causes of confusion and educate their customers.

Need for IT Awareness amongst CEOs and Senior Professionals


In the long industrial history of mankind, functions like Finance, HR, production and Marketing always existed. IT function is new which has come into existence not in the industrial age but the information age. No wonder, IT is an area where there is maximum ignorance amongst the top management. Man will evolve to understand this new function as the dust of the information revolution settles.

My readers may think I am being arrogant – posing as if IT folks know everything and others don’t know anything. That is not my intention. Yes I do not know the finer points about other functions like Finance, HR, Production, Marketing. CEOs and senior managers too may be equally ignorant of all other functions – you may argue. So why am I complaining about IT alone?

There is a difference. The senior management may not know about finance, HR, Production, marketing, etc. But the good thing is that they know that they do not know about these fields. They also know what they do not know about them. Further, they know that there are other experts who know more than what they themselves do and are therefore willing to use the expertise of the experts.

In case of IT, particularly with respect to Software, the senior management does not know what they do not know and need to know. They certainly know that they do not know software and programming, but there is much more to Software Management (particularly in managing software within corporates) which they can and should know as it is not technology. What is worse is that they do not know that they do not know something which they can know.

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Fig. 2
 
Let me explain what CEOs and non IT Managers do not know and which they can easily know.Most managers think IT management is all technology. What they do not know is that software head not only has technology skills (Fig. 1), but also has people/change management and process skills. So whereas the CEOs will readily consult the IT guy for technological advise, they may not know that they can also use their change management and process management skills.
 
On the other hand, most managers are quick to admit that they do not know technology (“I am not a technology guy, you see”). With this they may also absolve themselves of all their responsibility of automation. Technology is just 5% of what they need to know if they are part of an automation project (Fig. 2). What they need to know and can easily know is the management of change and the psychology of change brought about by automation. User Managers should know the process of software development and the limitations thereof. If they can learn this and be fully involved in the automation process, there is no reason why a software project should fail.

There are several change management issues, people dynamics and process issues related to Software management that senior management can easily know. But unfortunately, in the field of software, ignorance is rampant because it is thought of as only a technical field – whereas there is a lot more to it than technology. What is worse is that several CEOs do not even know that such expertise is available to use. They are not aware of even the need to use this expertise, because for them, automation is a technology exercise.

My Experience with the Best and the Worst CEO for Computerization


It is often the CEO who makes the difference between success and failure of a software driven transformation.

In my long career as head of IT and implementing software projects within companies, I have come across a variety of CEOs – some of them who were excellent change managers and others who were not. So, I classify all CEOs into 2 major categories – those who understand computerisation (not computers) and those who don’t. Understanding computerization for a CEO means understanding the psychology of change brought about by automation. How well he understands this determines the success or failure of software projects.

(Update: I now call this special skill as Behavioral IT™ skill. So you can classify CEOs as those having Behavioral IT skills and those without Behavioral IT skills. I define Behavioral IT skill as a special skill required by all CXOs, Department heads and top managers to manage IT-Driven Change (which is the biggest driver of organizational change today) and to succeed in an IT-Driven Corporate world. “Managers do not need IT skills, they only need Behavioral IT skills.”  Click here to know more about Behavioral IT™ and click here for top management seminar on Behavioral IT).

Whenever I speak of the role of CEOs or top managers, I always remember this CEO who was the best CXO I have worked with in my career – the best at least from computerization point of view. His name was Mr S C Jolly and he was the head of Sarawati Sugar Mill in Yamuna Nagar, (a group company of the Saraswati group consisting of a Sugar mill, heavy engineering unit ISGEC, etc. where I worked as their Group CIO/IT Head).

It was my first job as a IT Head with only 4.5 years of prior work experience, and I set up the entire IT department and was highly successful in developing and implementing complex applications (happy to share the success stories published in Computers Today and Times of India at http://pukamble.tripod.com/ct1 and http://pukamble.tripod.com/toi. The GM referred to in these articles was Mr. Jolly himself; there were no fancy designations like CEO/COO in those days!).

Mr Jolly is the best IT enabler CEO I have come across in 28 years of my IT career and 24 years as Head of IT). I hope Mr Jolly reads this. Anyone who knows him may please convey my feelings of appreciation to him. The last time I was in touch with him he was living a retired life in Delhi. (Update: This blog thankfully helped me to reconnect with him!! Read how)

And what was it that he did best to enable successful automation? You will be surprised to know – the best thing that he did was that HE DID NOT REACT. He did not react spontaneously to complaints but took a very balanced view. I was a young ‘below-30′ manager but he spent quality time with me when I used to meet him, often sharing some of his wisdom. He said that he received several complaints about computerization. Some of the users were fed up and frustrated. What was different about him (which I have rarely seen in many CXO’s I have worked with later) is that he did not immediately start blaming the computer department on hearing complaints from the IT-user departments. He said that the complaints and frustrations were not a result of any problem with technology or the tech department – they were a result of their discomfort with change and their resistance to change.

Let me paint the following scenario of an incident to illustrate what I said.

My first automation project with Mr. Jolly’s company was sugarcane farmers’ accounting solution. It was fairly complex but very successful (real success story published in Computers Today http://pukamble.tripod.com/ct1). This was because the folks from the user departments were very cooperative and mature. After completion of that project, I started the automation of the most common and relatively simple application – payroll. But unlike the first project, this simpler project provided bigger roadblocks. The HR/Admin manager was simply not able to go live with the application. As is my style, I first tried hard to persuade him and convince him that he had to drive the implementation. He had to get the master data entered and ensure its accuracy and currency. But when I realized that my persuasion was not working, I set up a meeting with the CEO, Mr Jolly. And following is the scene at the meeting.

There I was sitting in front of the CEO’s desk – a clean big table with just one Economic Times lying in one corner. By my side was the HR Manager – both of us facing the CEO. And the Manager beside me immediately took off by cursing the system, fretting and fuming and blaming the system in no uncertain terms.  He seemed to have a bagful of abuses and complaints. “Our neighboring company has been using Payroll for years and they do not face any such problems. We just don’t know how to do it…” There I was, waiting sheepishly for the worst to follow.

But I was in for a surprise!

The CEO quietly listened to all that was said. To my surprise, there was no reaction whatsoever and no expression on his face. He patiently waited for the manager to finish. When the manager was done with blurting out what he had to, lo and behold, there were no fireworks from the CEO that I was waiting for. Completely unmoved by all that was said and with no emotions on his face, all that he said was, “What next?”!!

He reviewed the immediate steps to be taken, set targets for master data correction (which, I explained, was the primary reason for all problems) and closed the meeting in a few minutes.

And believe me, it worked wonders. The payroll application soon went live!

Next day, as I sat leisurely in front of his desk, he gave me his words of wisdom.

“The HR Manager was reacting as he did,” he explained, “because he was uneasy under the impact of change, not necessarily because of any problem with the system.” These words were music to my ears!

“The frustration, anger and complaints of managers implementing a change” he continued, “have nothing to do with the technicalities of the change they are implementing, the root cause is the change itself . The managers themselves do not know that their discomfort is a result of their resistance to change, and have no relation with the issues that they complain about.”

And then came the golden words.

“I give them a patient hearing just to allow them to let off steam”, he said. “And quite often, I do nothing about it!!”

I have not heard wiser words than these from any CXO in over 20 years of my career after this incident. I have suffered from some of the worst CXO’s too – I have seen highly gullible CXOs who would believe the first guy who went and complained about computerization. And hell would fall on IT department. I often thought that if I had gone and complained first, hell would have fallen on the other guy!

Update: I now call this special skill of the CEO  as one of the many essential Behavioral IT™ skills that every CXO, department head and top manager needs to learn. “Managers do not need IT skills, they only need Behavioral IT skills.”  Click here to know more about Behavioral IT™ and click here for top management seminar on Behavioral IT.

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Challenges of being an in-house IT Head

Recently, as a head of in-house Applications Software group, I was asked a few questions related to my job. Given here are the questions and my responses.

public-domain-photos.com Managing large scale software development, implementation and operations, can you give a gist of key challenges and how do you approach your implementations?

Everybody thinks that computers are smart and can do anything. But we, as software professionals, alone know that under the hood we are harboring a dumb, adamant and yet most powerful creature in the world (the computer) which can bring your world crashing with the silliest of mistakes. Computer software is like a glass house which needs to be handled with extreme care. A small change in a comma or a full-stop in a million-line code can crash the system or lead to completely erroneous results. For this dumb and powerful guy called computer to be faithfully serving you right, you need to have a very disciplined process where not even a small mistake is allowed. Now since the world has a very different image about computers, you run a great risk of being completely misunderstood and sometimes hated for your “over cautious and strange ways”. The big challenge for the IT guy is to continue to do the right things in the best interest of the company, even if people misunderstand you and you have to be the “bad guy”. In other words, you cannot be a nice guy and do the right things for your company.

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clip_image001[1] How does business and software development unit collaborate?

Software development and implementation is a very collaborative activity and needs perfect teamwork between the business and IT. The IT person who programs the computer does not know the business process and the business expert who knows the process does not know how to speak to the computer. In such a scenario, it is imperative that both collaborate and create automated processes. It is like two people doing rock-climbing, where both reach new heights by pulling and supporting each other. Having developed and implemented several solutions which are being used successfully by several internal customers, in itself, is a proof of the collaboration.

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clip_image001[3] What do think are the biggest challenge in a internal software development scenario?

Having worked both in internal software development scenario and also in software companies, I can say that internal software development scenario needs very specialized skills which are very different from what a software development company needs. It is a great balancing act between the pressures of your internal customers, senior management expectations, the dumb guy that is computer (as I explained above) and your own staff members who are ready to quit and join a software company at the drop of a hat.

Developing software in the confines of the computer department is relatively easier part of the job. The real challenge comes in implementations when you want to make the software work in the heated environment of personal preferences, attitudes, interests and fears. The people issues of implementation are unique to internal development scenarios which software companies rarely experience. Making it work and sustaining continued error free operation is the challenge only in internal IT.

Creating a Strong Team by Using Individual Strengths

Following is quoted from my article Key Success Factors which described the key success factors behind a record that I created in a SEI Level 5 software company that I worked with – that of delivering all software projects on time to the utmost delight of the overseas customers. Using individual’s strengths in the team was one of the key success factors.

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In a team, it is important that one member’s weakness is covered by someone else’s individual strengths in such a way that each one contributes through his strengths and the team as an entity is solid. A good team is one where everyone puts in his or her strength and covers others’ weaknesses – without any ego problems, without taking pride and without belittling others.

I am sure you will ask, “With this approach, you can never help people overcome their weaknesses”. On the contrary, a good manager uses the strengths of his team-mates while slowly working on their weaknesses – so that the weaknesses are overcome without making the team-mate too conscious of his or her deficiencies. A person normally does a good job when working on the job which he loves to do. Success is a big motivator and the motivation of a job well done gives him the energy to do the other jobs which he does not like to do, and thus helps him to overcome his shortcomings too in the course of time. A motivated person can certainly work over his weaknesses better than a person, who cannot even use his strengths, can. I believe that it is the manager’s job to see that the individual’s strength is used and he feels motivated.

I have seen some people who mainly look at the weaknesses and keep pointing out errors and personal deficiencies. Nagging a person for his weaknesses makes him very conscious of himself and he cannot even use his strength. Only a very strong person, who is truly self-motivated and strongly believes in himself, can continue to perform consistently in spite of continuous nagging by his superior.

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One very important key success factor which I practiced (but did not list in this article when I wrote it back in 2002) was “Effective Client Management”, or effectively managing client expectations. I now call it the policy of being “Polite but Firm”.

Managing Client Expectations

Most of the delays in projects are due to scope creep. Scope creep occurs because the project heads are not able to say “NO” to the client requests. The client does not know what impact it has on the project, but he is certainly interested in incorporating all the bright ideas which crop up after sign-off.

The key to success, in fact one of the most important one at that, was that I was able to say “no” very politely to the client and explain to him that I was saying “no” in the interest of the client and his project, not because I did not want to do it. And mind you, I still had excellent relations with the client.

Drawing a Balance between Customer Pressures and Employee Pressures

IT arena is fraught with acute shortage of skilled and trained staff. Particulalry for in-house IT, the developers may be the authors of the software developed or may have got trained on the products being used. When they leave, it takes time for a new recruit to take control of the code level details of applications which someone else has developed. With the IT job markets booming, the in house IT manager has the constant risk of losing trained persons to the software companies. He has to keep them constantly engaged and motivated to avoid the pressures of natural attrition.

On the other hand there is a constant pressure from the internal clients for continuous changes and for change responses at break neck speeds. Developers too get demoralized due to client pressures, when the client wishes, nay demands, that his requests be met instantly.

The IT manager has to draw a balance between the pressures of the internal client and the fear of loss of employees. The more the CIO lets the customer pressure pass on to his employees,  the more will be his pressure on attrition. I have seen CIOs committing aggressive dates to their internal customers either under pressure or to please them. And then they get jittery and put tremendous pressures on their staff to deliver on the promised dates as their own reputation is at stake. When the IT manager bends backwards to satisfy customer requests, he is bound to put pressure on his team to deliver on unrealistic timelines. This increases the risk of employee attrition due to undue pressures. The burnout has to happen sometime and the employee will call it quits. Then the CIOs panic and bend backwards to retain the employee when he or she puts in resignation or threatens to leave. This adds to the pressure of the CIO – leave alone the tremendous pressures he goes through if he has made unrealistic commitments to the customers.It has a snowballing effect which can break the CIO’s back. Whether it is the burnout of the IT staff or the CIO, in the long run who suffers the most? It is the company which loses out and the company’s IT plans which get jeopardized.

So in the long term interest of his company, it is best for the CIO to stand erect in front of both the customer and the employee and not bend backwards neither in front of the employees nor the customer. He should have a win win relation with both.

This requires that the IT Manager has good client management skills and that he does not succumb to pressure. He also needs to have the skills and the confidence in himself to be able to tell the customers realistic solutions and timelines. The CIO may thereby displease the customer, but will benefit the company and prevent the company’s IT plans from going haywire. If the IT Manager is too concerned with his own image and with earning brownie points, he may compromise on company’s interests. Not many companies understand this balancing that the CIO has to do for long term interest of the company.

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