8 things execs hate about IT - HBR Blog

. Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I recently read this really good article by Susan Cramm in HBR blog on '8 things execs hate about IT. This article highlights the key issues we learn about in any IT strategy course in a business school.

1. IT limits managers' authority: IT's bureaucratic processes rival the tax code in complexity. When challenged, IT justifies red tape as necessary because the business makes half-baked requests and is clueless about enterprise impact.

2. Consists of condescending techies who don’t listen: The CIO may be impressive, but he or she is also totally unavailable. When you have questions, your only option is someone a few rungs down, who lacks the breadth of expertise to advise senior executives. The irony is, these “techies” often feel just as frustrated by managers who treat them like servant-genies.

3. Doesn’t understand the true needs of the business: IT nags you for requirements and complains that you always change your mind about what you want from your systems. Why doesn’t IT understand that change should be expected in a dynamic business environment where nothing is static?

4. Proposes “deluxe” when “good enough” will do: Your “simple” request requires a boatload of specialists and weeks (if not months) of analysis. Yet you wanted a timely, cost-effective solution, not an expensive panacea.

5. IT projects never end: It’s not just that IT projects are never completed on time…it’s that they never feel completed at all. They’re perennially 90% done. "Finished" projects don't have the agreed-to functionality.

6. Is reactive rather than proactive: When you need help, you feel like a technology pauper, going door-to-door begging for help from functional specialists who complain that you didn’t get them involved early enough.

7. Doesn’t support innovation: When you try to brainstorm with IT about new technologies you could use to innovate – like 2.0 tools, for instance – they patronize you by dismissing your questions and noting that your people aren’t properly using the systems already in place.

8. IT never has good news: No matter how much you spend or how hard you work, the promise of technology seems perpetually beyond your reach. Even the “successful” launch of new systems is accompanied with the inevitable onslaught of bugs, crashes, and change requests.

While the article makes IT organizations appear like inflexible, bureaucratic organizations, no other division in any organization has an enterprise level reach like IT. And from there flows the constant tussle between IT and business. With the role of IT becoming more involved in different business units, I believe that some of the following steps can help organizations have better IT departments:
1. Know thy role: The IT team must know if they are going to be equal partners, revenue generators or support functions in an organization. Every person, manager and leader in the IT organization must primarily know the role of IT in the larger scheme of things.
2. View the profitability of IT divisions, rather than its costs: In most of the articles that I have read, leaders and organizations often talk about IT spending. I think that a better alternative is measuring the profitability of IT organizations. Irrespective of the role that IT plays in the larger scheme of things, it must be able to earn revenues from the other divisions in the business. This will result in BU's being more selective in putting forth their IT requests, and IT teams becoming more accountable for their deliverables.
3. Clear Organization Structure: From my current job search experience, I have felt that most firms do not have a lean IT organization that have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. I think it is important for firms to outline a clear organization structure and roles.
4. Integrated approach to projects: In most businesses whose core competency is not IT, most IT projects are viewed as technology issues rather than developing an integrated IT services model, where emphasis is given to integrating a new solution with the existing IT infrastructure. This can result in lots of 'blank spaces' between multiple 'support points' or rather, a spaghetti architecture. Eventually, these organizations feel the need to integrate their IT solutions, and the more delayed this process is, the more difficult (read as expensive) it becomes to untangle this mess.

The purpose of IT teams is to support businesses in their operations. But effective support requires clarity in terms of organization structure, processes and how the IT organization is viewed within the organization.

Interactive Movies and 3D movies - The new face of consumerism?

. Thursday, March 25, 2010

I came across this interesting article on the future of consumerism by John Gerzema, which spoke about how it is Maslow's 'Hierarchy of needs' is increasingly becoming upended. Increasingly, consumers want a personalized experience and the notion of market segmentation is becoming increasingly narrow. With the advent of social media and CRM softwares, companies are in a position to understand uniquely the needs of the customers. Firms that offer customized products or services that are tailored to individual customers (by means of an enhanced experience, selective pricing and services) are set to outperform their rivals.

In the movie industry, two trends (rather one trend and one possible trend) further demonstrate this hypothesis. The first is the onset of 3D movies. I believe that 3D movies can become a destructive force that can open up a whole new industry based that aims to satisfy this experience. More and more movies are launching their 2D and 3D versions today. While still in its nascent stages, the recent thrust in developing televisions that support 3D further accentuates that destructive force that 3D movies are expected to be, in the next few years.

Another rather interesting trend is the onset of 'interactive movies'. I came across a YouTube video for this movie called 'Last Call' by this European television channel called '13th Street' (More about 13th Street here). This movie is said to the the first 'interactive movie' ever made. The YouTube video is posted below:

Basically, the movie has in-build voice recognition technology. The theatre asks for the phone number of the audience and a member of the audience will be called and the protagonist of the movie asks the member specific questions during the movie. Based on the recommendation of the audience, the movie can have different ending.

Personally I think that while this is going to be a very expensive technology to implement, this technology can take the level of interaction that the user has with cinema to a completely new level. From a distribution channel perspective, I am not sure if an entire theatre would want to see 'one viewer' deciding the course of action for a movie. Also, this can put a lot of pressure on the viewer who is called to make the decision. However, if this experience is delivered in 'direct to home' model, can you imagine the success levels that this technology can have. Again, this can be a game changer, and revolutionize the way a movie is seen (or experienced, in this case).

Nestle's PR disaster

. Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nestlé's PR issues is another case in point on how social media can be an equivalent of mob justice and how poorly companies are able to cope with the new-found power of the customer.

A brief overview of what went wrong with Nestlé. For sometime now, Green Peace targeted Nestlé in their website when they accused the chocolate manufacturer of "using palm oil from companies that are trashing Indonesian rainforests, threatening the livelihoods of local people and pushing orang-utans towards extinction. The company's Facebook page was was suddenly filled with 'hate messages' by 'fans' who criticized the company for not taking a stand against the use of palm oil. With many Facebook users and 'fans' putting up profile pics that are altered versions of their logo, Nestle put up a request that went like this: "we welcome your comments, but please don't post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic - they will be deleted." What followed are a series of PR disasters!

Nestle has gone wrong on many counts here. For starters, they must have learnt from their predecessors (Shell, McDonalds anyone?) and must have issued a press release clearly stating their stand on the palm oil. They could have even partnered with Green Peace as some of the other organizations have done before, to identify what is the best solution to this problem. Some of the things they could have done is initiate a campaign to save the orangutans, offer to provide employment and education to the local population, take steps to improve their standard of living. Instead, they decided to fight with their customers in a public forum.

The important lesson though is the power of Social media. Whenever you are experimenting a new channel to reach out to your customer, it is important to realize the reason why you are using the channel - to reach out. Social media should not be a PR stunt and firms must realize that this is a channel by which they can engage with their customers, establish a loyal base.

It is a pity that what could have been a wonderful example of how a company managed to reach out to the customer to re-brand itself will be now remembered as the biggest PR disaster for a firm that was just not ready to learn from other's mistakes.

Consumer Research and Process Improvement

. Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Most firms have their IT teams taking care of their business process re-engineering projects. Often, this is seen as the challenge in process engineering, as there is a disconnect between the IT and the business units when it comes to who takes ownership of process engineering. IT teams increasingly act as a horizontal division in the matrix that cater to the business unit (verticals). As a result, they are in the best position to 'implement' any process improvement initiatives. But, from a 'what process to improve' perspective, the business units have the best idea of what is right and what needs to change. This clash of conflicts is common in most organizations.

Another problem in process re-engineering is the business case for these projects. Most process re-engg. initiatives are internal to the company, often aimed at improving the operating efficiency of various BUs. But how often are BPM projects a result of a consumer research result? And considering the minimal interactions that IT teams have with marketing / Consumer research teams, are they in a position to understand the pulse of the customer and develop processes that are aimed at specifically enhancing the service offering to the end customer?