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.

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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..

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.

We are all Experiencing the Turmoil of Information Revolution

              Image:http://www.flickr.com/photos/blvesboy/ / CC BY-ND 2.0

Turmoil of the Industrial Revolution
We are all familiar with the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution. The problems were caused by the change brought about by machines in the lifestyle, work culture, organization structures at work, the structure of family, the change in ethics and values. The change in values created heart burn and frustration – relationships which were more at personal levels became more formal. It took generations for man to come to terms with the changes brought about by the industrial revolution.
Similarly, currently we are all going through the pain and turmoil of the Information Revolution.

Turmoil of the Information Revolution?

“Turmoil of the Information revolution?”, you may ask. “What turmoil? Computers are proliferating in business organizations and entering every walk of our life. The computerization scenario looks very euphoric. So where is the turmoil?”

Just as man did not notice the turbulence caused by the industrial revolution till it was all over, we today are not aware of the turmoil we are going through. If we look more closely into what is happening in most of the companies trying to automate processes using computers, it will be evident that deep inside, this technology is still foreign to us. Man is still not at ease with this device. He is perplexed, foxed, fidgety and sometimes angry when dealing with this creature.

Implementation of computerized systems, particularly business application systems, is a major problem in most countries, including advanced economies. Most of the computerization projects fail because of poor implementation. More often, it is due to people issues and not technical issues. It is due to the way people react to computerization and how they understand or misunderstand computers. The gap between computer professionals and computer users and between computer professionals and the company top management is evident. And so is the turmoil of the information revolution.

Need to Address the Turmoil

I believe that the world incurs colossal loss due to this turmoil on account of failed or delayed implementations. There is loss of people’s productivity due to conflicts and stress.

There is a need to address this issue. In most IT forums and meets, surprisingly a lot is talked about computer technology, and about bits and bytes. Rarely do we talk of the implementation issues and methods which will make computers acceptable to people. The turmoil of the information revolution should not be pushed under the carpet but discussed threadbare and openly.

Why don’t computers find a smooth entry into the minds and lives of human beings?
What is the root cause of this confusion?

The chaotic situation is not country-specific; it is related to the human species as a whole. It is a problem of the evolution of human psychology from the era of industrial revolution to the information age.

I have analyzed and found few fundamental problems in man’s perception of computers and his understanding of computers, due to which however hard he tries to be at ease with them, he finds himself jittery and confused. What is required is an eye-opener. I define an eye opener as something which brings to fore a simple fact which always existed but was never noticed. We need to open our eyes to some common myths and misconceptions about computers and this technology. I shall discuss these in the forthcoming posts.

The Legacy of the Machine Age

(c) FreeFoto.com

The current generation of man has a legacy of a mental make-up which has been shaped and groomed in the machine age and which is unable to adjust itself in an age of computers.

It took generations for man to come to terms with the changes brought about by the industrial revolution. Man went through the turmoil of that revolution and emerged victorious. As years passed by, machines and mechanical thinking started seeping into his mindset. Slowly, he had mastered the change, and knew how to live with machines. A new era dawned over mankind creating a new industrial culture.

As man was evolving into the industrial psychology, machines too were evolving. Initially there were mechanical machines. Then came the electrical ones and then electronic. Thereafter came computers. As the industrial culture was deeply ingrained into his mental makeup by then, man thought that computer was just another machine. Armed with his centuries’ old knowledge and the experience of dealing with the change brought about by machines, he adopted the same old approach to deal with the introduction of computers. He thought it was just another electronic machine.

What he did not realize was that it was not merely the introduction of one more new machine, but a dawn of a new era altogether, a change from the industrial era to the information era. Little did he realize that just as the industrial era required a new thinking, new approach and a new culture, the ‘Information era’ too requires adopting new methods and new ideas to tackle the onslaught of computers. His concepts of machines, which were shaped and developed in the machine age, failed miserably when applied to computers. He did not realize that the computer was not just another industrial age machine but an information age device. This failure on his part has caused some key misconceptions, which is the primary cause of the turbulence of the Information revolution which I talked about in my post earlier.

I found Mr. SC Jolly, or rather he found me

I had in my previous post dated 4th April 09 talked about Mr SC Jolly, ex COO of Saraswati Sugar Mills, and wished that he read my blog as I had lost touch with him. I had requested anyone who knew him to get me in touch with him. By a strange coincidence, I found him. Rather Mr Jolly found me through this Blog. Mr. Jolly was visiting his son in the US and just out of curiosity his son searched on “SC Jolly, Sugar Technologist” in Google and found my blog on the first page of his search output. Had he searched on any other keywords, he may not have found my page. Mr. Jolly went through the blog and then visited my website at http://pukamble.tripod.com and left the following post in my guestbook at my website on the 4th of Aug 2009:

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I have been deeply impressed by the awesome work done by you since you left Yamunanagar. From the day one I was touched by the way you approached the problem & the enormous patience you had. This was probably because you were convinced that the change you were trying to bring about was sure.


All the same, wish you the best. Pl keep in touch. [S.C.Jolly]”

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I was thrilled to see his comment in my guest book. We later exchanged mails and also talked on phone. I am back in touch with M. Jolly!

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