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CEO's need to spearhead IT Consumer Movement
need to spearhead IT Consumer Movement
industrial revolution saw mass production of industrial products, and was
a witness to the emergence of the consumer movement too. The industrial
revolution is a story of the past and we are now into the information era.
In this article we focus on a typical information age product - the
computer software, and its consumers. In particular, we concentrate on the
consumers of business application software, namely the business heads,
CEOs, the managers and the other business users of application software
trying to use this product to automate their business processes.
industrial age consumer movement had its origin from the frustrations of
the consumers of the industrial products, and the need to protect the
interests of the consumer. In the information age, I see the need of IT
consumer movement for the same reason - a disillusioned IT consumer.
Yes, the IT consumer too is frustrated. The
need for an IT Consumer Forum is more pronounced as most of the IT forums
concentrate on the supply side of software and often the consumer is left
to fend for himself.
high may be the IT fever and the craze to be associated with IT, if you
look deep into what is happening in the IT arena in businesses today, you
will soon realize that for most decision makers, IT is still a strange
animal. Most of the users of this product are not comfortable with it.
When it comes to getting down to business and getting into details of the
study, development and particularly the implementation of an IT
application in a business, the real issues emerge and the discomfort with
this creature, the deep rooted ignorance of IT (both of the IT
professional and the IT consumer) emerges to surface.
are several IT project failures in the corporate world. There is immense
loss to industry on account of unimplemented systems. Imagine the cost of
development or purchase of software, the time and effort spent on the
development or implementation, and the opportunity cost when the systems
are left unimplemented either because the implementation activity never
took off or was an utter failure. These are the direct cost, leave alone
the indirect costs due to the increased stress levels associated with
ignorance, infighting and finger-pointing which are very common during
With so much at stake, there is a need to address the woes of the consumer.
the senior management in businesses is uncomfortable with this commodity
called software is evident from the fact that most of the companies till
recently and some even today do not have the IT departments reporting to
the business head. The IT departments were conveniently relegated to the
Finance departments or some other operations departments, since most CEOs
were not at ease dealing with something they did not understand. This has
also resulted in IT departments being normally headed by relatively junior
is still a vast gap between what is required and what is known about IT
processes by the top management, the senior managers who are users of IT
and last but not the least the IT people themselves. When I refer to the
IT processes, I mean the whole range of activities required to convert a
manual business process to an automated process. The IT process includes
not only the transformation of the process on the drawing board, but most
importantly, putting it in place so that people use the automated process.
And there is equally high ignorance in the IT fraternity too, because
several IT people know how to develop applications but are quite ignorant
of the last part of the process I stated above, that of making it work for
people. They are quite ignorant of the implementation issues and the
causes for failure of implementation.
Most of the IT professionals of the in-house IT departments are
also happy developing the software in the cozy environment of their
air-conditioned offices, but when it comes to facing the heat of the real
life issues of implementation, they fail miserably. By then, having
developed the application, they would be looking out for another
opportunity somewhere else to take up development assignment, because most
of them like only to develop and not implement systems. The story with the
IT people in the software development companies is worse. They may have
high degree of proficiency in the software manufacturing process, but they
are far removed from the practical problems in the business processes,
people issues, change management and implementation issues.
With confusion abound, there is often finger pointing between the supplier and the consumer. There is a gap for sure between the IT and the user, just as there is a gap between the IT department and the top management.
a lot is talked about computers - mostly focusing on the technology, the
bits and bytes. But rarely is the people issue addressed, which is the
core issue behind successful implementations. Rarely do we talk of the
implementation issues and what will make computers acceptable to people.
In other words, most of the attention is directed towards the supply side
of software and very little is talked about, even in IT forums, about the
consumption side. This article hence takes a look at the consumption side
of software commodity, particularly the business applications software
can look at the current scenario
from another angle. Today the consumption of software is poor because of
the poor success rates of computerisation projects, mainly due to failures
in implementation. If the consumption increases, automatically the demand
increases and the software companies stand to gain. Hence, in their own
interest, the software companies need to focus on the consumer. There is
need for IT and software bodies to do something to improve the
I have listed the problems of failed systems and the frustrations of the
end user, I have no intentions to have the consumer up in arms against the
suppliers. Some of the readers may wish that the consumer should take a
more hostile stand and that the forum should address the consumers' woes
by taking the suppliers to task. At the cost of disappointing them, I must
say that the need of the hour is to have a more co-operative movement. For
IT is a different ball-game altogether. In most cases there is no one
party you can point fingers to - it is not the fault of the supplier or
the consumer alone.
As we saw in the previous section, the IT - top management divide
is a result of problems at both ends - the IT on one side and the top
management and user departments on the other.
implementation is a highly collaborative effort and can only succeed
together in a cooperative way.
this movement originates from the frustrations of the consumer, they are
frustrations of a different kind. In the consumer movement of the
industrial variety it was more a showdown between the supplier and the
consumer, but in this case both the consumers and the suppliers have to
work together as they face a common problem - both have to get over the
industrial age mindset and get into the information age mindset. The
current confusion is a result of a broader issue relating to the evolution
of mankind from the industrial age to information era. We shall talk more
about it later. Hence, what I propose is not a movement of hostility, but
a highly co-operative and collaborative movement where the suppliers and
the consumers get together, and work together to understand the real
issues and remove the deficiencies of both the sides. For sure, there are
deficiencies on both ends.
the industrial consumer movement was about making
the consumer aware of the rights, this movement needs to make the
consumer aware not only of the rights but also his roles and
companies and organizations /Associations should champion this movement,
but it must be spearheaded by the CEOs of consumer companies.
IT consumer movement will be a collaborative effort not only of the
supplier and consumer, but a third element in the form of the facilitators
- namely the management institutes. I have also included the HR
professionals as a change agent and facilitators of the change in mindset.
believe that HR departments have a very prominent role to play during
implementations as facilitators in the change process brought about by IT
in companies. They can facilitate implementations through their better
understanding of people and thus contribute immensely to their businesses.
IT consumer movement
one of my previous assignment as a CIO more than a decade back, I had
actually teamed up with HR head and devised a very effective behavioural
workshop for the IT and the user departments. I had long discussions with
the HR person to make him aware of the exact gap between the IT and the
user, the mental blocks on both sides and the misconceptions. The workshop
was designed to make both the departments appreciate each other's
problems, and was attended by representatives of both departments just
before implementing a crucial system. Needless to say, the implementation
was a resounding success.
yet another highly successful implementation, I had, through a workshop,
set right the sky high expectations of the end users from the 'magic
box' that the computer was perceived as, and also mentally prepared them
to what was to come during the implementation process. All that I had to
prepare them was that computerisation was not just smooth sailing, and
that they were in for a rude shock. The HR departments, the HR consultants
and trainers can contribute in this area.
worked both as a CIO in several companies and as a senior professional in
software companies, and also having observed at close quarters the people
attitude and behaviour during the IT change process, I know the pain that
companies go through and the price they pay for the ignorance of the IT
technology and of the IT processes.
seen people behaviour at close quarters has also convinced me that you
cannot blame it on the people - neither the consumers nor the suppliers.
It is just that the time is wrong. We are in the middle of a transition
from the industrial age to the information age. Just as the Industrial
revolution had its share of social turmoil, we are now going through the
turbulence of change from Industrial revolution to Information revolution.
And all the chaos and conflict is because of this change. It is a larger
issue related to the evolution of mankind from the industrial age
psychology to the information age.
that does not mean that we do nothing about it saying that the chaos is
inevitable and unavoidable. In fact, having gone through the process of
change to the industrial revolution we should be wiser to handle the
change from the industrial revolution to the information revolution.
Equipped with our knowledge of the transition to industrial revolution, we
are trying to handle this change, but again we have failed. The
skills and learning of industrial age do not seem to be adequate to manage
this change. There is a subtle difference between the industrial
revolution and the industrial revolution that one has to see while
tackling the information revolution.
are some subtle differences in the way we need to look at the information
age machine as against our deeply ingrained notions of the industrial age
machine. Just as the machines brought about the industrial revolution, the
real machine of the information age is the software and not the computer,
as we commonly perceive with our industrial age mindset. This is also the
root cause of the confusion about computers and computer technology.
Though physically we are in the information age, mentally we are still in
the industrial age.
is beyond the scope of this article to list out the differences between
the industrial age and information age machines, and how they contribute
to the general confusion about Information technology, but there is a
great deal of learning which is possible if we closely examine these
difference. Based on the learning from the change process and frustrations
of industrial revolution, we should be able to manage change better this
same can be addressed by the proposed IT consumer forum and by the
management institutes. The IT Consumer Forum can contribute in this
movement by helping correct the misconceptions about IT which have their
origin from this misplaced ideas due to information revolution. Management
institutes can do well to educate the future managers with this difference
- which will lead to less resistance to change and smoother transition
to the information age.
call it re-engineering the education. For reengineering, you define the
goal, you define your own coordinates (very important and often ignored)
and then find out the best possible way to reach there. We often do not
know our coordinates because we live in the past and our thinking is
highly influenced by the past. Sometimes, you need to forget the past and
open the eyes afresh as if you just got up (Like the rats in "Who moved
my cheese" - they are always looking at the current situation.) Man is
still living in the past, in the industrial age.
movement benefited the suppliers indirectly in that it helped them improve
their products and processes. IT consumer movement will benefit the
software supplier companies more directly than in the other case.
the consumption is poor because of the poor success rates of
computerisation projects, mainly due to failures in implementation. When
more and more companies implement successfully, the benefits of
computerisation will be more visible and more demand will be generated.
Not only will the company who successfully implemented an
application like to opt for more computerisation and implement more
software, but their success will also give the visibility of applications
to encourage others to put their bucks into computerisation. This will
help the software companies grow.
proposed IT Consumer movement can benefit not only the suppliers of
software but the industry as a whole, the academia, and the country.
from the cost saving and improved efficiency and satisfaction due to
improved automated systems, successful implementations, there can be
immense indirect benefits both to the users and to the software industry
implementations of the same software would automatically lead to more
feedback from the users and an opportunity to evolve the product to serve
the users better. The software can also improve if it is put to live use.
The product can evolve to better meet the customer requirements, and
better product can again in turn mean wider markets, and Indian software
vendors can look for the overseas market in products after having tested
and perfected them in the domestic market.
side effect is better utilisation of scarce resources of IT experts. Less
of their efforts will go waste, which means better utilisation and less
wastage of scarce IT resources. They can be used more productively.
CEOs, even of non IT companies have an opportunity to contribute to
software export - by helping improve the software offered by the Indian
is required for successful implementations is a massive effort on
awareness programs, particularly for the top management, the CEOs and the
MDs, who are the key elements in a successful computerisation. There has
to be better change management skills, better understanding of the people
issues in IT. Senior managers need to be taught not only the computer
awareness skills, but also an
awareness of their own role in the automation process. And as I said
before, a better understanding of our coordinates with respect to our
transition to the information age will go a long way in reducing the agony
and pains of the change. It has been my experience that putting the
industrial age machine (software) into correct perspective helped in
clearing most of the misconceptions and in bringing the high expectations
down to earth.
the other hand, the IT people too need to be trained on the implementation
skills, people management skills, human issues of IT, psychology of change
and handling the change. IT people tend to focus only on the development
of software in the cosy environment of their offices, and tend to avoid
the heat of live implementations. They need to be encouraged to learn this
special skill of making IT work for people, because only then they can
become complete IT professionals.
is also a need to train the IT professionals on re-engineering processes
before automation. One of the causes of failure is that the manual processes
are automated as they are and not re-engineered.
important of all, the IT Forum needs to create that environment where all
the concerned parties understand the problems of the other and collaborate
for successful implementations.
all this is the firm belief that "Together we can make IT Work"
the next few sections, we take a look at what companies need to do as an
immediate solution. I believe that there is a need for a new role to be
played in the industry - that of a Business Process Automation expert.
Today there is a vacuum in the industry. We see who is best suited to play
this role today. The management institutes can attempt to fill this gap by
introducing more relevant courses to provide a long-term solution.
of the implementations fail not because of technical issues but because of
issues related to the process, people, change management, top management,
attitudes, and other socio-psychological aspects of computerisation, which
are rarely discussed. Lack of business orientation and implementation
know-how is a major cause of these failures.
is a clear need in industry for a role which can help make the right
applications, be the bridge between the technology and process
specialists, handle change management and ensure successful
at the enormous loss that the industry is incurring due to a gap in the
understanding, isn't there an equally pressing need of a role in the
corporate world which can be the messiah to bridge the gaps between the IT
on one side and the top management and users on the other, between the
manual business process and the optimally automated process?
new role to be played in companies needs to be a technology and business
specialist (at least a business process specialist if not a business
specialist), understand what is involved in transforming manual processes
to optimal automated processes, needs to understand change management,
people issues, psychology of change, etc.
call this new role the role of a Business Process Automation Specialist (BPA
Specialist). We shall see what are the key characteristics and skills
required to fulfil this role. If the skills are not available, then it is
high time that the management institutes concentrated on creating the
required skills to end the torture that the pioneering companies of the
information age are going through.
Technology changes very fast, but it takes generations to change
the mental make-up, unless proactively catalysed by change agents.
us see what skills are required in a business which desires to use IT.
They can be categorised into four types:
Technology and infrastructure skills: Understanding of the
hardware, software and networking technologies which make the
infrastructure to run applications
Software development and deployment skills: Systems Analysis, Design,
development and implementation of application software
Processes skills: an understanding of the Business Processes, particularly
automated processes and the transition from manual to automated processes.
Management and People Skills: an understanding of the psychology of change
and the people's reaction to change.
of the IT departments today perform the first role listed above - that
of hardware and infrastructure management. Few CIO's who are process
oriented may take interest in the second (application software), but in
most places, the activity is completely outsourced to consultant
companies, or relegated to lower levels within the IT departments.
third and fourth skills listed above are rare to find in most IT
departments of companies. The role of business process specialist and
change facilitator is completely ignored by the IT departments. Most
business heads do not even expect IT departments to have the business
process and change management skills. Often important decisions affecting
business process change are made in companies without even consulting or
involving the IT departments.
BPA Role envisaged needs to perform all the roles listed above - that of
hardware and network infrastructure management, identifying and developing
or procuring application systems, translating the manual processes to
optimal automated processes with re-engineering if required, and
implementing the change so that the automation permeates down to the
specialist will play a catalyst role in selection of the right processes
for automation, transforming manual processes to automated processes,
business re-engineering if required, selection of right technologies,
mapping the manual or semi automated processes to the new automated
processes, managing the change, fine tuning the processes to suit the
software during implementation and ensuring that the transition to
automated process is smooth and rewarding. There are several detailed
steps and strategies which need concentrated attention in this entire
cycle, all of which obviously cannot be listed here. There are people
issues, Management issues, attitude and psychological issues, political
tense atmosphere of
vested interests, personal preferences
and a rigid mental-emotional make-up of the people affected by computerization.
today this role is not only completely ignored, but what is worse, the
need for such a
role is also not recognised.
us define the key characteristics of this Role of "BPA Specialist".
What should be the profile of the person to perform such a role?
BPA Specialist would be one who
IT - the technology and terminology
talk the language of IT and business
comfortable interacting with other departments and top management
a business orientation - though a sound technology base
manual processes and automated processes
the language of users
re-engineer processes to suit automation rather than simply automate
strengths and limitations of the technology itself
what processes are suitable for automation and what are not so suitable
which processes are better done manually and understands what is the right
mix of manual and automated processes.
what people do not use computers for and are more comfortable doing it
manually (or using simple tools like spreadsheets/ word processors)
how to give the right doses of automation at right times so that it is
palatable and acceptable to the masses.
the confusion of the user - what is it that the users of IT find
confusing about IT?
orientation - understands the attitudes of people to change, the
personal traits of people who accept change readily and those that are
resistant to change
people react to change, how the organisational hierarchy plays a role in
the change, etc.
psychological issues of change management, apart from the techno
Understands the HR issues, implementation strategies.
management institutes can play a significant role in filling this big gap
in the industry and help in creating future BPA Specialists. The
management institutes need to update their curriculum to cover more
management issues and people issues related to IT implementation, and the
socio-psychological aspects of IT apart from the technical, commercial and
training curriculum for BPA Specialists should contain
issues related to IT Users
for success - simple tricks of the trade
issues related to IT specialists - what motivates them, how to get the
best out of them
to pick the right people for implementation
are the people attitudes favourable to implementing a change. What are the
negative attitudes to change
to develop systems so that they are accepted by people
misconceptions about IT of the users
involvement during system study and implementation
roles of top management, the user department head, the functional
coordinators and IT departments in the automation process.
- Suitable for Indian conditions
the companies afford to wait till the management institutes create the
right curriculum to produce the future application specialists? They need
a solution today.
then can be the BPA specialist in companies today? Either it can be
a process specialist who understands technology or a IT specialist who
understands business processes. It is high time that the IT department
takes on itself this responsibility. The CIO can, if necessary, take the
help of the right consultants with a People, Process, and Technology
Indian software companies too need to work to fully equip themselves to
perform this role. The focus of the software companies in India, where
most of the big software companies focus on the overseas market, is more
on the software manufacturing process and less on the implementation. Such
companies may be well versed with the software development process and the
software delivery process, but they lack the knowledge and experience of
the business processes, the people issues and the management issues in
implementation. Moreover, most of such companies would be more conversant
with the US companies' requirements and as is very common in most
fields, they tend to apply the same criteria blindly to Indian companies
that they would apply while developing software for overseas, particularly
US companies. They need to look at what are the specific needs relevant to
Indian situation. You may be lucky to get a consultant who knows both the
software development and what happens in the hot seat of a CIO. The IT
Consumer Forum can also help to fill this gap.
top management in companies too needs to be aware that they are missing
out on what an IT department can do. They need to broaden their outlook
towards the IT person and look at
him or her not just as someone to look at the hardware and network
infrastructure alone, not only someone who can monitor PCs, commonly used
tools like mail, word processors and spreadsheets, etc., but some one who
can contribute to transforming the business.
many businesses have recognized the role that an IT person can play as an
effective change enabler, as a business process transformer, designer of
automated processes and a mediator to bridge the digital divide.