United we stand

NME speaks to GV Rao, IT manager at Dubai Refreshments, on building awareness of IT's role in organisations and how this responsibility might lie with IT managers themselves.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  August 1, 2007

NME speaks to GV Rao, IT manager at Dubai Refreshments, on building awareness of IT's role in organisations and how this responsibility might lie with IT managers themselves.

Do you believe that most IT managers in Middle East enterprises act on technology as part of business strategy?

GV Rao: How many IT managers or CIOs really look into a company's strategic goals and cascade that to company's IT goals? How many analyse whether the company's goals are being supported by IT? Very very few. Only a very small percentage of the IT managers in the region are really going according to a firm's strategic goals. These companies, mostly MNCs and big corporations, know the importance of IT and have realised how IT adds value and profitable growth to the business. The larger portion of companies are not up to that pace and this part is really suffering.

This will change but there is a long way to go. The change is occurring slowly. Culture and awareness around this has to be built and organisations have to realise why IT has to be given preference. A lot of this can be driven by IT managers themselves.

There has been a slow change in IT managers. With the tremendous growth in technology, IT managers have to change and unless you change yourself to that pace, you are out of business. It was all simple before but now the entire concept of IT has changed to become a part of larger processes and business strategy. IT's role is huge in organisations and IT managers should stop thinking of just supporting PCs and should think in terms of business solutions, how to add value and increase shareholder's wealth. If you are not at that pace, you are not in the game.

NME: How can awareness of IT's role in the organisation and management support be increased in the region?

GVR: Some IT managers still do not get support from the management. Either they do not have enough skills to convince them or bravado to approach them and get them on board. Formation of Middle East specific major and minor IT groups could go a long way towards mitigating and addressing these issues.

The IT manager is more than 90% of how well technology can work for an organisation, the vendor is only 10%. Everybody comes to sell, its up to the IT manager to decide what fits best for the organisation.

These groups can have a dual purpose. One, they can serve as a common and neutral platform for IT managers and other IT team members to meet and discuss everything from products and solutions in the market to the kind of experiences they have had with vendor solutions and services in the region. They can also share knowledge on best practices and policies to improve efficiency amongst themselves.

Two, it can also serve as a place where members of the higher management can be brought together by these groups to provide them with sustained and consistent interaction and improve their awareness of the strategic role of IT in the organisation.

There are multiple benefits from the formation of such groups. Such a strong networked group, which shares problems and solutions, can demand improved efficiencies from vendors in the market. This will also work to the vendor's advantage in understanding the overall needs of most organisations in the region. The cascade effect so achieved can be huge.

NME: What do you think IT managers should ask/check with vendors before starting a project?

GVR: Vendors should have a local presence - that is one of my biggest priorities and a condition for implementations and projects that we work on here. I am well aware that there are big suppliers who still operate from outside the region but it makes a difference when you have a person sitting here, ready to fix things for you.

IT managers have to make sure that the supplier has a strong technical background. You have to grill him on his knowledge. Take time to look through his certifications and experience. You have to know for sure that the supplier is strong enough to do the job. If you don't know what to ask, he would probably do a half-baked job for you and then you would have to suffer at the end.

AMCs (annual maintenance contracts) and SLAs have to be drafted well. You have to make sure that the supplier knows your business and understands your goals. IT managers have to look for a strategic fit. The goals of both the vendor and user should be the same. Only when the vendor understands business strategy can there be a win-win situation. Otherwise, there is no point.

Crucially, the IT manager has to be really strong to get the right partner. There are a whole lot of suppliers in the market, the CIO must be smart enough to pick the right person; a vendor who is strong technically, in supply and in service. This is crucial. The IT manager is more than 90% of how well technology can work for an organisation, the vendor is only 10%. Everybody comes to sell, its up to the IT manager to decide what fits best for the organisation.

NME: When you're planning a new IT project, how do you set down clear, achievable goals?

GVR: There's a process we've developed internally - if there's a project which needs to be implemented, by IT or any other department, first we have to make sure it's sold to the management. The ownership needs to come from the management. This is to ensure that no-one can say they didn't want to implement the project at a later point. We make sure this is done first.

Two, we make sure we have the right plan.

Three, we bring the end users in and make sure they understand the focus of the project. We tell them what the benefits are for them - this helps them accept the project. There's always resistance, whenever there's change - people say they're happy with the old system, they don't want to learn. This is very normal in any implementation. So we bring them in and tell them about the benefits they're going to get out of it - don't worry about your jobs, don't worry about anything.

Risk calculations are also very important - what are the problem areas, what could happen, what precautions can we take?

Last but not least, we need to ensure we give the business short-term gains. You don't want to wait for two years and say ‘this is what you're getting'. We'll show them some gains immediately, people are very happy when results are coming - this drives their motivation.

NME: What happens if you do come across a problem during a project?

GVR: We've been fortunate with our two big projects - hand-helds and ERP - to have very good suppliers. They came out with a very strong plan, examining what could happen. They gave us a schedule we needed to meet, and explained what would happen if the deadlines were not met - the ripple effect. At every stage, we sat down and looked at the plan in case things went wrong - the back-up plan. So, what if we don't get the inventory right in the opening balances - we had a back-up plan around a manual count, along with various other factors.

When we implemented our hand-held devices, we trained our customer representatives (CRs) - it took a long time, as we had a lot of people who had been working with us for more than 20 years, and were very used to the old system. We really had to interview each CR, and find out which were good, which were reasonable, and which could not cope with the new system. This was a risk we had identified - we had informed HR that it was highly likely that this number of people would leave the company, and they needed to be prepared to get the new guys in to replace them.

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