Learn, Unlearn & Relearn

By Annie Mathew, CIO, Mother Dairy Fruit & Vegetable Pvt. Ltd.

Annie Mathew, CIO, Mother Dairy Fruit & Vegetable Pvt. Ltd.

Setup in 1974, Mother Dairy is a wholly owned subsidiary of National Dairy Development Board of India.

As a CFO once told me, the CFO and the CPO are the two arms of the CEO/MD who help her steer the organization towards glory and prosperity. By the same analogy, I would say the CIO serves as the eyes of the chief executive to bring visibility and clarity. The CIO helps the CEO make sense of the plethora of information under which the CEO can get submerged. To sieve information out of the structured and unstructured data and make it interpretable and actionable is one of the primary tasks of the CIO.

What are the concerns that keep the CIO awake at night? What factors drive technology decisions today when a 5-year road map appears too long term? The IT road map is built to meet the stated objectives of the business road map. An IT road map is defined for a 3 year rolling cycle, augmented by an annual review with the business to prioritize projects based on revised needs of the business. In my experience, most companies have a backlog of projects to achieve minimal objectives of risk and control management, employee productivity and cost optimization.

The biggest concern of the CIO is that she is not moving fast enough to embrace the new developments, that the IT skill sets available are not keeping pace with the change in technology and that enough thought is not being invested in how to redesign the business to take advantage of new opportunities. Mobility and Internet of Things are going to radically change the way information is generated or handled. The CIO and business have to identify areas of maximum impact. While organizational fitment and readiness are key factors in deploying any new technology, being risk averse is detrimental in today's fast paced world. However, are we deploying a technology because of a herd mentality or does the organization really need it? Does it address a pain point, will it fulfill a strategic need or is it the latest fad? To cut through the sales pitch and empower the business optimally is a crucial role of the CIO. The need for security and for building awareness about security is also a prime concern.

More often than not, the project need is articulated by the business and is rarely originated by IT (at the most, IT guides the business by building awareness of trends), but the onus of ensuring successful implementation somehow migrates to IT. IT has to play a strong role in identifying and managing project risks. A major risk is that it only achieves automation. I believe it is the role of the CIO to facilitate the change from automation to empowerment. For instance, deploying a retail POS application might only end up as an automation effort if a responsive mechanism is not setup to monitor and react to market conditions. To look for enhanced usage and to facilitate innovative ways of using currently deployed technology is another expectation from an effective CIO. One of our projects involved daily auto-debit from our customers' (booth concessionaires and distributors) bank accounts based on actual billing in SAP. This simplified the entire collection process for the company and for the customers' which depended on daily cheque collections; and also reduced the working capital requirement.

The industry as it stands would have been pretty hard to predict 5 years ago. The CIO needs to have a crystal ball to identify technologies that will survive. When an organization like Mother Dairy deploys a distributor management system or a milk collection application, it is essential to sustain the application for a longer duration due to a comparatively change resistant and challenging environment. Whereas, any social media analytics tool or mobile application is more amenable to being revamped periodically. The CIO has to predict the longevity and adoption of a new technology as it de-risks the organization by providing access to a large pool of skilled resources and regular upgrades.

Talent retention and development is of utmost importance and aligning HR to understand the IT talent pool is critical. There is an acknowledged shortage of employable IT resources. As a result, it makes practical sense to outsource any task which does not create a competitive differentiator, such as managed services for infrastructure or by outsourcing client device management. IT team should be best utilized for working with the business to uncover projects that offer competitive advantage. To ensure IT gets the right attention from the business and HR, it is important that the CIO markets IT achievements adequately.

Innovative solutioning rather than picking up expensive products is the dream of any CIO. In reality, urgency of requirement leads to inadequate time to experiment and throttles the urge to innovate. The risk of the business user bypassing IT and moving to a cloud scenario has become very real. Integration and data security concerns mandate that IT has to certify any cloud based technology adoption. To achieve this, business has to trust the CIO to make the best decision and within the timelines expected.

The CIO has the most enviable role in an organization. IT is the only function which has the freedom to reinvent itself every few years, the opportunity to start afresh. To be successful, the CIO needs to have the "ability to learn, unlearn and relearn" not once but multiple times in her career.

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