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Issue of April 2006 

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The Relationship Intergration Officer

Managing internal affairs

Maintaining relations internally is crucial for the smooth functioning of an organisation, especially when it comes to IT initiatives. Megha Banduni & Priya Jain on how CIOs are doing it

Communication is an important aspect of the business process. Under the mandate of a Relationship Integration Officer (RIO), maintaining relationships with his team members and users in the organisation is as crucial as interacting with the external world.

Today, CIOs believe that interaction with users is the key to improving business processes. These next-generation CIOs help in maintaining progressive user interaction, co-ordinate effectively with their teams, and feel the need to be attuned to the business objectives and future plans of the organisation.

User Interaction

N Mohanakrishnan

It is crucial for a CIO to maintain a good relationship with users as they have to be updated with upcoming changes in technologies and processes. This can be achieved through continuous interaction with all the users across the company in an effective manner.

N Mohanakrishnan, Special Director, Information Management Services, Ashok Leyland firmly believes that when introducing any new process one has to involve the concerned functional users for getting their inputs on the new process. In addition, healthy discussions between the two teams (user and IT team) are a must for resolution on the best practices for introducing and achieving targeted benefits in a specified time-frame. “We have always been successful in bringing in the best practices in a process. The interactions have also included a section of cross-functional members wherever the new process introductions involved cross-functional interactions. These have also resulted in a number of contributions to best practices.”

V Babu

Bank of India also follows a proper methodology for registering the problems and complaints of its users. Says V Babu, its Deputy General Manager for IT, “We maintain an escalation matrix to register problems or complaints in our organisation at the branch level. Depending on the problem’s magnitude, the IT team then works to solve it.” Similarly for the zonal level; the bank maintains a tracking chart which lists problems in detail.

“Once a problem is registered we use a holistic approach to solve it keeping in mind the company’s IT policies. There are FAQs in each module which help keep users informed,” remarks Mohanakrishnan.

User interaction is one thing but involving the IT team is another. During these processes, it is important to convince and ensure the IT team’s support for user interaction. For this, Eveready Industries has sessions every two months. Users from all departments such as manufacturing, commercial and the head office are called and various issues are addressed.

Arup Choudhury

“I think it is important to keep the user in the loop and we have been doing this for a long time in our organisation. Normally, IT initiatives are based on business initiatives. Keeping users informed is important because they are the ones who have to use the new technology,” says Arup Choudhury, GM, IT, Eveready.

However, it is not always that the requirements can be met. Here again the CIO has to play the role of a mediator to get the best possible solution. Mohanakrishnan explains that “The interactions are continuous, but when they result in lack of resolution or roll-out of best practices the policies that are decided by the company are implemented by way of explaining the need for such processes/controls, and no compromises are encouraged.”

Along with this one needs to follow up on the initiative taken. For instance, Ashok Leyland follows a process of periodic reviews with individual functional groups across the company to get their experience/feedback on usage of IT processes. This builds mutual confidence among the teams on the level of IT initiatives and their progression. The company has an online feedback system from all users on the IT infrastructure’s efficiency, support systems and applications. This is currently being effected on a bi-annual basis, but there are plans to up the frequency to quarterly.

At Eveready, an internal procedure is followed called the internal Technical Assistant Request, whereby the user can lodge a call with the central team. Hierarchy is built-in with this approach. The problem initially goes to the first-level support. If it doesn’t get solved, it goes to the second-level, then third-level, and so on. The advantage of this approach is that address history is maintained so that if a similar problem is faced in future, the solution provider can refer to the address history and save time in sorting out the problem. There is no paperwork involved. Hardware-related issues are addressed by a help desk outsourced to Wipro Infotech.

User Training

Training helps users know the implemented technology’s intricacies and thus utilise its functions to the fullest, or else the implementation fails to bear enough fruit. At Bank of India we arrange for both in-house and outsourced training programmes to meet this objective

Training is important not only in terms of building relationships but also in leveraging the best advantages of the IT platform. Babu agrees. “As we make huge investments in technology, we need to observe that the IT infrastructure matches business objectives. Training helps users know the implemented technology’s intricacies and thus utilise its functions to the fullest, or else the implementation fails to bear enough fruit. At Bank of India we arrange for both in-house and outsourced training programmes to meet this objective.”

Choudhury feels that user training is important right up to the grassroots level. At Eveready, they conduct two types of training:

  • Interactive/Refresher training, which is conducted every three months. It is location-based.
  • Remote training/On-job training, where the team logs on to a particular Web site and demonstrates to the users what to do.

At Ashok Leyland, user IT training is imparted by a co-ordinated effort between the management development function (part of HR and involved in training programmes) and the IT team. This is a continuous process, and training is provided based on need and the role played by the individual.

The CIO And His Team

Retaining the best talent, ongoing training and upgrading the skills of team members is a challenge for every CIO. Different organisations have different methods of doing this. Skill-set rotation is one of them.

Choudhury believes that switching roles helps in the long run because an organisation will have many people capable of doing multiple tasks. “Upgrading skills is important. We normally conduct external training programmes for the team. For example, sessions are organised by Oracle, Microsoft and Cisco. These help in upgrading the team on latest technology.”

Babu opines: “Recruiting the best talent ensures better work. At Bank of India we need domain experts who are acquainted with the necessary IT knowledge. For this we have our own training centres like the Information Technology Training Centres. We also send our team to other training programmes conducted by RBI to build the necessary manpower in our organisation.”

There are times when specialised teams within the company change the way a CIO maintains relations with his team. For example, Eveready has an external consultant as well as an internal team for security. “The organisation derives the best industry option from consultants and the internal team retains technology which is relevant to it. We do a mix-and-match of both internal and external consultants and then come up with the best,” informs Choudhury.

He adds that his role comes into focus with regard to three things during weekly analyses:

  • Where does the organisation stand now?
  • Where does it intend to go three years from now?
  • What can be the best security policy for the organisation?

Managing across geographies is also an issue. Ashok Leyland’s IT team is spread across four locations. In the process of interaction, a fortnightly review with the individual groups of the IT team (risk management, infrastructure and application team) by the concerned functional heads within the IT team is carried out. In addition, the IT teams from different locations at Ashok Leyland also meet, discuss and exchange information on areas relating to roll-outs/initiatives on a continuing basis.

States Mohanakrishnan: “This has enabled us to have an effective functioning of the IT teams though they are located in multiple locations—80 in total. For example, the Hosur team is responsible for supporting all manufacturing solutions, the Chennai team for marketing & finance solutions, and so on.”

He reviews the teams on a fortnightly/monthly basis based on the team’s location. The review process includes issues relating to infrastructure, application support, quality standards, training and career aspects. Of course, not all of them will be discussed every time. Depending on the priority, the issues on infrastructure, application and so on are discussed fortnightly/monthly, and the other issues are discussed on a quarterly/bi-annual basis.

Attuned To Business Objectives

It’s the experience that matters. Also, one should have the knack of understanding business. Perception and ability are more important qualities for a CIO than having an MBA degree

CIOs can help the organisation by creating an effective IT platform which is close to the business objectives of the company and is capable of scaling up quickly to meet its future plans. This is why it is often argued that the CIO should have a management background in order to understand the business objectives and dimensions. A management degree helps him to understand the core of the business and enables him to take the right decisions.

But Choudhury does not agree with this. “It’s the experience that matters. Also, one should have the knack of understanding business. Perception and ability are more important qualities for a CIO than having an MBA degree.”

Gone are the days when the CIO was responsible only for technology-related issues. Today, he needs to know the ins and outs of all the processes in his organisation. He needs to know the ‘business talk’. Many a time the CIO might have to call on, and push an initiative through right contacts.

While leveraging initiative, Choudhury tries to figure out three things before implementing an idea. First, whether the initiative is being deployed by someone else in the industry. Second, find companies which have implemented this initiative. Third, examine advantages derived from it.

It is necessary to implement new ideas/applications by leveraging the right contacts. In the business world, most CIOs are in touch with each other through seminars, conferences and so on. Using these interfaces, many of the CIOs form relationships, good, bad, or indifferent. Whatever the case may be, they may require each other’s help while implementing an initiative in their organisation. These may prove effective in avoiding pitfalls that others might have already faced in similar projects.

Last but not the least, feedback is essential. Choudhury feels that receiving feedback is important because you then come to know whether you are headed in the right direction or not. “Also, we get to know the various bottlenecks. It helps to address issues as per priorities. In our organisation, we receive feedback from customers, users and the internal team as well.”

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