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Issue of August 2004 

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CIO Strategies: Tackling The Hurdles

Keeping pace with change

When it comes to information technology, change is a constant and obsolescence is inevitable. A look at how IT managers deal with the overwhelming pace of technology change

Change is good. In fact, it's one of the few constants. But an institution (more likely one from the Banking sector), that invested a few crores of rupees in state-of-the-art infrastructure, won't easily accept the fact that a part of its IT infrastructure is obsolete. The fact is, technology changes at a fast pace and vendors offer new solutions or upgrades every few months. The question is are enterprises still willing to invest in the latest technology if it makes business sense? Remember, the days of free technology spending are long gone.

Businesses may upgrade technology to keep up with changes, more notably expansion. But it is important not to let other (external) factors influence that decision. Usually, enterprises would prefer to stick with what they have as long as it fulfills the immediate business needs.

L. Sundarrajan, Sr. Vice President, Corporate Information Technology, Aditya Birla Group affirms this. "I think this (technology change) is more from the vendors' perspective. Vendors keep offering new technology and say it can do a lot more. But it really boils down to what one requires. That's why we have a long-term plan for investing in technology."

According to Sundarrajan, when the Aditya Birla Group evaluates new technology, it considers issues like TCO derived over a five-year period. It carefully considers the business benefit derived from the proposed technology, year-on-year.

Sundarrajan says, "Technology change or obsolescence is not the real issue as it is under our control. We can decide what to buy, when to change and how to derive business value at different stages/phases."

Vijay Kumar Magapu, Executive Director, Larsen & Toubro Infotech Limited, shares the same opinion. He believes that one should hold on to existing technology, sample the new technology and be assured that it's going to bring in business benefits, before implementing it. "Technological change is driven by actual change but more often than not, it's hyped-up by commercial interests. It is important to stay with yesterday's tried and tested technology, properly establish today's technology before disturbing everything and spending on tomorrow's hype. Our experience has been that staying a little behind the cutting edge and far behind the bleeding edge of technology is a sound policy for most organizations."

Generally, most CIOs are curious about the experience of using a new technology, before they adopt it themselves. They talk to vendors and other companies that have actually used the technology, so as to get a clear picture of the pros and cons.

But even before that, it is essential to be aware about the technology fundamentals and related concepts. That comes from reading, attending technology seminars, and from discussions with technology consultants.

"The CIO has to keep himself informed using independent sources that give an unbiased opinion. The crucial factors to be considered while making a choice are upgrades, customization requirements, the technology vendors' credibility and sustained performance—and their ability to support the change management," says V.K. Ramani, President (Information Technology), UTI Bank.

Keeping pace

It is also important to continuously keep pace with developments around the world and evaluate these from a business perspective.

"The challenge is not just in identifying the technology. It's also about bringing it into your organization and realizing the benefits," says Jason Gonsalves, General Manager, IT & Costing, Goodlass Nerolac Paints.

Organizations like Goodlass Nerolac Paints have a cell that continuously studies technology. The management then decides which technologies will play a key role in its business.

C. Kajwadkar, Sr. Vice President, NSE.IT talks about a CIO's "knowledge obsolescence". He believes an IT head's knowledge can remain current if he spends reasonable time reading participating in core technical discussions inhouse and in workshops and seminars (such as Network Magazine's Infrastructure Strategies and Technology Senate annual events).

Upgrade Cycles

Most organizations follow a definite pattern for upgrading IT infrastructure. After the business objectives and plans have been outlined, the CIO gets down to short-listing technologies and plans upgrades that would enable that business plan. Clearly, these are business-driven decisions.

At NSE for instance, all upgrades are planned in advance. "All upgrades are on a planned basis with projections of business expansion. Some of the upgrades happen as a part of the obsolescence policy," says Kajwadkar of NSE.IT.

Some companies will choose to upgrade only when there is a significant shift in the business or if major changes occur within the organization.

For instance, LG Electronics India Pvt Ltd (LGIL) does not have a fixed upgrade cycle. "We do not have any fixed time cycle for upgrading. But if a technology or business need arises we act on it very fast," says Arindam Bose, Head - IT, LGIL.

At Air-India, upgrades take place both on a routine basis, as well as to meet growth requirements.

In some cases, upgrades are delayed due to lax organizational policies. The private sector, which is highly competitive, will willingly invest in new technology to stay cutting edge. Conversely, at PSUs, the technology upgrade cycle meanders slower than a lazy stream, thanks to bureaucracy, budget constraints, and yes, corruption.

"Technology is changing at a rapid pace and it is a struggle to keep a few paces ahead of 'obsolescence.' In a PSU, even though one is aware of the benefits of the new technology, implementing it could become a long-term process because of the various formalities," says S. Mukherji, Director-IT (O), Air-India.

Keeping the pace of technology change in mind, it is up to the CIO to choose what works best for his organization today, without forgetting about the latest technologies and developments. After all, technology no longer plays just a support function. It is now a business enabler and in many cases, the pulse of business.

Brian Pereira can be reached at

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