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.

Fig. 1
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.

How and why IT fails – My interview in CyberMedia India Online Magazine

(c) FreeFoto.com

Following is my interview published in CyberMedia India Online at http://www.ciol.com/EC/CIO-Speak/How-and-why-IT-fails/3308104134/0/

How and why IT fails

Monday, March 03, 2008

Prem Kamble, Vice President, Global Software Infrastructure, Sutherland Global Services, shares his experiences with Pratima Harigunani of CyberMedia News.
It was a candid speak and some bird’s eye view on the reasons, mistakes and mishaps that go behind failures of apparently promising IT deployments in an organization. For successful implementation of IT, a go-getter ready to experiment and take risks is a must, says Mr. Kamble.

What kind of IT initiatives falls in the failure bucket? Are they being talked about?

There are many failures that are not often talked about. Failures can be delays. In some cases, applications bought or developed but not used are failures. And no, they are not talked about. Most IT seminars discuss technology but rarely the people issues, which is the single most critical factor in success or failure of IT initiatives. The issue which I call the IT – Management divide is never discussed in seminars. We should have the courage to discuss this threadbare and not push it under the carpet.

Why do they fail?

The greatest pitfall in this otherwise fantastic technology is communication. There can be failures in communication of requirements: the business expert knows the process well but fails to communicate, or the person has incomplete knowledge, or the IT expert who listens interprets wrongly. Most often, the businessperson does not understand IT and the IT person does not know business.

How have you tackled such failures so far?

To minimize this big communication gap, pundits in this field have prescribed a method of not only documenting the requirements but also signing off. Because only if someone has to signoff the requirements is he really serious about it. Unfortunately this is not always practiced. The other very successful method I have often used is to find the right person and put him in charge of the implementation project. Since people and their attitude make a big difference in successful implementations.

Who should take the blame of a failure? The CIO or the users? Is it ever seen as a joint accountability?

Yes, it is a joint charge. Any computerization is a team effort between the IT and the end user. Either both succeed or both fail. But there is one more party, which plays a major role in the success or failure –the senior management, who has to look at it as a team effort and not as an IT initiative. IT institutions and event organizers like you are also partly to blame, for not discussing the real issues which are people issues.

So what is the right way of solving failure dilemmas?

The Communication pitfall should be taken care of. The user requirements should be shared and gathered properly to start with and signed by the user. Proper documentation and trials are important too. Most importantly, senior management’s involvement in the right degree makes a lot of difference. I say the “right degree” because sometimes, over-reacting to issues may make matters worse. The senior management has to be aware that most often, they are more of change management issues than technical issues.

As a CIO, what should one remember in tackling failure situations?

The role of CIO is not to do with only technology. One needs tact more than any other skill in handling the people issues. There are people, political and psychological problems to be combated. The CIO should sense a possible failure and act immediately. The trick is to find people who can endorse and espouse the IT initiative. You need people with enthusiasm and risk-appetite here. I have, in my experience, seen user department heads who were eager to have automation but too scared and not ready enough to experiment. I have in the past brought back projects from the brink of failure by hand picking from the user departments a person who was a go-getter, a risk-taker and courageous to try out, and putting him at the helm of implementation. Such people are instrumental in driving an IT change.

What is easier in implementing the right IT solution, is it being convinced by the right vendor or convincing your organization’s people?

There is nothing called a right IT Solution. The trick is in making it work for people because the best products can fail and not so good solutions can succeed – the difference is people.

(pratimah@cybermedia.co.in)

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