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Issue of January 2006 
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Bridging the process-technology gap

R Batliwalla

Eruch R Batliwalla, General Manager, Tata Power Company Limited feels that CIOs should do more to bridge the gap between processes and technology, to make businesses more efficient.

To raise the efficiency levels of their organisations CIOs should try to bridge the gap between process and technology. This is one of the biggest challenges CIOs face since users do not understand technology and IT personnel do not understand processes. The trick is to understand the process requirements and deliver an effective and efficient process support system on a reliable IT-enabled platform.

What The User Wants

The business user really wants process and information support. Firstly, the actual process requirements of the organisation in areas such as operations, accounts, and business planning have to be understood. The IT department should not talk about IT-specific solutions such as SAP modules, which make little sense to a business user.

In such a situation, the main job for the CIO will be to sit with internal customers (business users), and later with his team and effectively bridge the gap between the two.

In my organisation, for instance, every time we get down to activities such as making the annual planning and budgeting cycle, and deploying new initiatives, I have to ensure that the process-technology gap does not come to the forefront.

Signs Of The Gap

There are various signs that reveal that an enterprise has not been able to bridge the gap. Some are obvious while some are not.

The obvious signs are user and internal customer dissatisfaction. For example, users may complain that jobs are taking too long and the system is too slow. The user may not be able to increase lead times and may get too many errors while using the system.

The not so obvious signs are harder to track. An internal user may be satisfied but the business is unable to meet its stipulated goals and strategic needs.

Identifying The Technology

After the CIO identifies the business processes and the areas which need to be made more efficient, it is necessary to look for related technology that will actually introduce the required efficiency

After the CIO identifies the business processes and the areas which need to be made more efficient, it is necessary to look for related technology that will actually introduce the required efficiency.

Looking for the technology is not rocket science, but requires a simple understanding of the capabilities of various enterprise solutions. One has to scan for relevant technologies from what is available.

A Balanced Scorecard

It is necessary to make a clear strategy, which articulates and explains the company’s processes and the role played by technology to support them. This can be demonstrated and monitored with a help of a balanced scorecard. See box: Balanced scorecard for more details

In my organisation, in terms of processes, I believe that we are highly mature and well established. However, in terms of information delivery, we still have room for improvement. Therefore, we have embarked on a new business initiative to improve the quality of information delivery in the form of MIS infrastructure. We hope that the business users will use the MIS tools for decision support and not just for making presentations.

We will also deploy a business data warehouse as a mechanism to get more meaningful information from the vast information resources of customers that we already have. Some other companies in the Tata Group have also adopted this technology successfully.

Higher Management Involvement

Higher management must be committed to implement the strategies and policies that go with the necessary organisational change processes. Committed management is always the major driving force of any organisation’s success

For any enterprise IT initiative to be successful, the CIO must ensure that there is adequate support from higher management. The initiative to bridge the technology and process gap is no exception.

Higher management must be committed to implement the strategies and policies that go with the necessary organisational change processes. Committed management is always the major driving force of any organisation’s success.

Involvement Of External Consultants

In certain situations, it may be a good idea to use the services of an external consultant. Organisations may not have the required skill-sets to perform particular jobs, in which case it may prove to be cost-effective to get external help. In many cases, a third party consultant can help the CIO get a better perspective of the organisation.

However, CIOs must keep themselves updated and alert for the latest technologies that can be used to solve business problems, particularly those needed to bridge the technology-process gap.

Measuring Returns

It is not always easy to measure tangible returns on IT deployments especially for those made to bridge the technology-process divide. Here is how we measure returns on our business warehousing initiative.

Earlier, the systems did not allow us to create departmental reports which were detailed, reliable, timely, online, and flexible. We can now, with the help of the analytical capabilities of the warehousing solution, get updated, reliable, and timely reports which are available online from various company locations. In short, we have better control over business processes today.

I make the IT budget in two parts. One is the maintenance budget which looks after the existing processes, and the other is for new initiatives. IT budgets are usually scanty, which makes it very necessary for CIOs to convince the management that there are sufficient tangible and intangible returns from the IT initiatives.

Signs Of The Gap Being Closed

Now that the CIO has been able to successfully bridge the gap between technology and processes there are a few vital signs which indicate that the two are indeed connected.

The business will start to achieve tangible results. The important parameters for aspects such as cost control, reduction in cycle time, inventory control, and reduction of manpower will be achieved.

In a broad sense, the management will actually realise that all this would not have been possible without the role of IT.

Qualities Of A Good Strategy Maker

For a CIO to be a good strategy maker who can fill in the gap between processes and technology, he/she should have both technology and business backgrounds. CIOs with solely IT backgrounds can be good strategy makers if they have interacted with the business over a period. Alternatively, CIOs not strong in technology should groom themselves to get a better understanding of technology.

As told to Soutiman Das Gupta and Sneha Khanna

 
     
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