Berners-Lee’s Definition of Digital Divide – Beg to Differ

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It is strange to see how far removed researchers and inventors can be from corporate reality.

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of Internet, says that all school students should be given some hands-on experience of programming. (Click here to read article “Programming ability is the new digital divide: Berners-Lee”). He cannot be more far from reality when he goes on to say that lack of programming knowledge leaves users at the mercy of corporations.

I am not against giving hands-on experience of programming to students, but to say that users are at the mercy of corporations because of lack of programming knowledge is far from true.

Any one who has implemented IT systems will vouch that the cause of IT failures (and the infamous ERP failures) in corporate world is not lack of programming knowledge, but lack of what I call Computer Awareness among the senior managers who are involved in the implementations or use of IT solutions. This includes managers, Heads of departments and CEOs.

Tim says, “…this approach will promote a view of the computer as a machine that can be made to do anything its owner wants rather than a domestic appliance “like a fridge”, performing certain fixed tasks.” Any CIO will tell you that the problem is not of under-expectation, but over expectation. Need is to tune down the expectations of managers to realistic levels. With the common belief that computer is a super machine, the expectations are sky high resulting in disappointment, frustrations and friction when the results are not so instant and, most often, not so miraculous.

The real need in order to reduce the amount of ERP failure (which researchers say is anywhere between 70% to 80%) is for functional managers, functional heads and CEOs who can intelligently interact with consultants, with realistic expectation, with an understanding of the human, behavioral and change management demands of IT. It is a common misconception among managers that they need to know technology. While working on any project, a manager needs to manage people and manage change. While working on an IT project like ERP implementation, a manager on the contrary has to unlearn about computers and not really learn.

The real digital divide then is between IT and non IT. Another divide is between managers who understand this change management aspect or people aspect of technology and those who just do not understand. They look at every IT problem as a technical problem. There are others who know that there is much more to IT implementations than technology.

Some of my previous posts which discuss the human and behavioral aspect of IT in greater details:
Need for IT Awareness amongst CEOs and Senior Professionals
Behavioral IT – The People Aspects of IT-Driven Change
The Best and Worst CEO for Computerization
How and why IT fails
More Relevant Posts..

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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.

Change Management Needs a Change

The only thing that is constant in this world, they say, is Change. And the maximum impact of change is on humans. Or perhaps humans are the slowest in adapting to change (remember “Who Moved my Cheese”?). The funny part of Change Management is that the concepts of Change Management themselves need to change. True to our reputation as slow adapters of change, we have resisted change in the concepts of Change management too.

Why does change management need to change? We can find the answer if we ask ourselves a simple question – What is one single factor which is the largest contributor to change? No prizes for guessing – the most powerful change agent today is technology – particularly, Information Technology (IT). IT is not only the biggest driver of change, IT itself is changing at the fastest pace. As a result, change management now has a new meaning and connotation – it is mainly IT Driven Change Management.

Change Today is mainly IT-Driven Change

So our principles of change management need to change with IT taking the driver’s seat. Though the basic principle is still the human psychology of change, managing IT driven change needs further focus on the intricacies of IT related change. To begin with, special attention is required to understand what has fundamentally changed, what have people understood (or rather misunderstood) of this change, what are their frustrations and fears with respect to technology? You have to be an active part of the IT driven change to understand the impact of it on people and how people cope with it. On the face of it, it all sounds the same, but there are strategic and subtle differences in the way you manage IT Driven change.

This opens up a completely new specialized field for HR Consulting –IT Driven Change Management. This also provides a new IT-Age role for HR departments the world over.

Managing IT-Driven Change

I have effectively used HR in bringing about IT driven change in my companies. In fact in one of my previous assignments, I devised along with a HR professional (who had an inclination for training and development) a workshop to prepare our company for a major IT implementation. The workshop was designed to help the participants in mentally preparing them for what was to come, removing their major misconceptions and setting right their expectations. No wonder, the implementation was a resounding success with total and close co-operation between the IT department and the user department. In fact the two worked so much hand in hand along with full support of the top management, which was also a part of the workshop, that there was no chance of a failure. For devising this workshop, I remember I had several detailed discussions with the HR person to apprise him of the real fears, misconceptions and paradigms based on my experience of having implemented several IT implementation projects.

I will be happy to work with HR folks, IT folks or senior management folks who would be interested in such a change management workshop. You may write to me by clicking here

There is one more reason why this IT driven change needs a special approach different from the one followed so far. This change is more hidden. Unlike say in the industrial revolution where one could see the agents of change in physical form which (to some extent though not fully) made it easier to comprehend change. This IT driven change happens due to software which is not physical, not visible, and very difficult to comprehend. It is much more confusing to the people. Hence it is important to understand the real impact of this vague animal called software on the human psyche and mentality to be an effective change manager.

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.

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