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Technology’s evolving value

“Not all problems have a technological answer, but when they do, that is the more lasting solution”: Andrew Grove
As an Information Technology (IT) executive, it is easy to wake up in a bad mood. While life in general may be good for such leaders, the regularly occurring news of how IT projects and operations go badly despite having scores of best practices, proven methodologies, education and certifications can bring on a migraine rapidly. During a recent visit to Pakistan, I spent some time with leaders at the State Bank of Pakistan, including Mr. Zafar Iqbal. Iqbal is Director of Training and Development at the State Bank of Pakistan. Iqbal and his colleagues observed that technology is rarely the issue when projects and operations go south. He went on to state that the real problem is in the execution and most often stems from people, processes or unhealthy politics.
That is how I ended up contemplating the many ways execution is a fitting description of what IT leaders experience. So how should IT leaders whose crime is wanting to make the organisation run better be dealt with?
Sometimes the execution is dramatic with explosive bangs. I have observed and unfortunately experienced the results of championing change both within public-sector and private sector organisations in North America staffed by people with inordinate amounts of power and influence who want to protect their turf at all costs. In this environment, IT leaders who are successful in moving the organisation forward quickly become lightning rods for undeserved criticism and even inappropriate staffing and budget cuts. This harsh reaction — very painful and often done in public — causes IT leaders to think twice about upsetting the power structure in the future.
On the other hand, sometimes the execution is slow, with toxicity building up over time. The underlying cause can be the same — people who do not want change — but the approach is a slow poisoning of the organisation against IT. Snide comments, innuendos and other falsities, even when proven wrong, undermine trust and support of IT and its leaders. They also waste vast amounts of time and energy. These lethal injections may be far less dramatic, but they are equally as detrimental to the IT leader and organisation.
Sometimes, simply being the messenger leads to deadly execution. Having to report to officials that maintenance costs are rising significantly in lean budget times, or the vendor’s software and hardware caused a major outage, or additional resources are needed to support the ever-increasing amounts and complexity of technology all lead to a kill-the-messenger mentality. Facing the firing squad can occur even when the messenger is a recently hired IT leader brought in to fix what is wrong.
Retirements, elections, management takeovers and fresh recruitment can result in a loss of institutional knowledge, especially when this knowledge is kept in people’s heads based on the belief that knowledge is power and must be hoarded, not shared. These beheadings leave IT leaders struggling to retain or find the business and technical knowledge necessary for success.
Finally, IT leaders can be left hanging, wondering what to do when the bottom falls out from beneath them. Support from organisation leaders and business units, funding and resources all have a way of disappearing, leaving IT leaders scrambling to clean up the mess.
Despite these grim analogies, IT leaders globally still can be successful in their mission by donning their armor, surrounding themselves with the best soldiers available, and actively pursuing allies and establishing alliances.
IT leaders will find an ally in technology that enables and takes the business forward. For example, business analytics takes an organisation’s data on activities, tools, employees or attributes and uses it to influence organisational decisions. The private sector has been playing the business analytics game for a while now. Regardless, both private and public sector enterprises will benefit from additional adoption of analytics. The tough economy may be driving more organisations to consider broader use of analytics for decision-making. Data dashboards and other decision-making tools created by analytics software can help decision makers and policymakers understand the impact of their decisions. That packaging also makes it easier for stakeholders to digest the information when, for transparency’s sake, it is presented on websites like a government agency’s IT Dashboard. Business intelligence technology brings two immediate benefits. They can create internal efficiency reports for themselves and publish related information online for transparency.  Beyond this, predictive analytics tools should turn up more frequently in the years ahead. For example, using business intelligence to place personnel and allocate resources can result in significant cost savings.
Perhaps more technology is not the answer, but rather a thoughtful assessment of available resources might make continuing existing projects less dollar-intensive. But it certainly would not be a bad idea when building enterprise IT to think carefully about how technology is positioned relative to the external factors that will affect it.

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