|: Is the IT Scenario Really So Rosy?|
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There is so much euphoria about IT, particularly with IT proliferating into every area of our lives. Miracles of IT like the internet, on-line services like banking, shopping, home delivery of goods, cab-booking services, ease of communication through social media, GPRS, home-based conferencing have made life so much easier for us that we are immensely satisfied.
On the other hand, the world is complaining about the VUCA (Vulnerability, Uncertainly, Confusion and Ambiguity) world and disruptions created by IT. The picture looks so very rosy on one side and so gloomy on the other.
“Why this dichotomy?” you may wonder.
While you enjoy the convenience of on-line services delivered by IT, this paper tries to turn your attention to a little known and publicised aspect of IT – the effort and processes involved within corporates in actually bringing or delivering these services to you. Some people have made efforts behind the scene to build the solution, to implement the solution and ensure smooth delivery of services suitable to your satisfaction.
You will be surprised that your experience of IT in the workplace is completely contrary to your experience in personal life. Unbelievable, but true, the scenario in offices developing and implementing ERP solutions to bring these services to you is anything but rosy – it is, in fact, gloomy and miserable. There are over 70% failures in ERP implementations. There is turmoil due to overwork and stress during these implementations, Failures give rise to blame-game, finger-pointing and politics. So the services that reach you are only 30% that succeed, 70% don’t see the light of day.
“Why worry, when the 30% successes give you so much satisfaction and comfort in your private life?” you may say. Imagine how much better your life would have been if this 70% had succeeded. Imagine what you are missing in life because of these failures. Imagine the misery and stress that it brings to the people working behind the scene, and you could be one of them. Think of the money and effort which went down the drain. After all, the money collectively belongs to all of us.
The dichotomy is about two different scenarios - IT in your private life which is rosy, and IT project implementations in Corporate which is not so rosy.
Unfortunately, major part of Industry and Academics are not even aware of this miserable scenario. They tend to focus on the manufacturing side of IT industry and ignore the user/consumer side of IT industry. They need to focus on this most vulnerable aspect of IT – the ERP Implementation phase. The problem is not so much with technology, but with people and mindsets. Since the problems are behavioural, the solution has to be behavioural too.
Euphoria About IT
“There is so much euphoria about IT. On the other hand, the world is complaining about the disruptions created by IT. Why this dichotomy? Is the IT Scenario really so rosy?”
There is so much euphoria about IT, particularly with IT proliferating into every area of our lives. Miracles of IT like social media, on-line services like banking, shopping, home delivery of goods, cab-booking services, GPRS, home-based conferencing have made life so much easier for us that we are immensely satisfied. You could very well be wondering why the world is complaining about technology disruption and VUCA (Vulnerability, Uncertainly, Confusion and Ambiguity). The IT scene looks very rosy and is only adding to the convenience.
The impact of IT that you see and experience in your daily life is what you see as IT in personal life and you are fairly satisfied with the changes. So where is the disruption that we talk about? Let me turn your attention to not just IT in your personal life, but IT in your work life, for instance in your office if you are working, or in your business process automation if you are running a business.
You will be surprised that your experience of IT in the workplace is completely contrary to your experience in personal life.
Where is the Disruption?
While you enjoy the convenience of on-line services delivered by IT, I would like to turn your attention to a little known and publicised aspect of IT – the effort and processes involved in actually bringing or delivering these services to you. Some people have made efforts behind the scene to build the solution, to implement the solution and ensure smooth delivery of services suitable to your satisfaction.
When you enter your new house or office premises or a new factory you have been freshly appointed to work in, you see the final end-result of your building or factory. You are not aware of what effort and meticulous planning went into building that product. I realized the amount of effort that goes into this when I had the responsibility of IT Head in a projects firm which was building a Steel Plant. I was shocked to know how much attention needs to be paid to every detail, the forces operating on every single truss, every single beam and pillar that holds the building, to ensure that it bears the pressure of things it is holding not only in normal times but also in disaster situations like earthquakes, etc.
Similarly, when you use, for instance, the online banking application you are not aware of how much effort and pain (yes pain) has gone in bringing this automated service to you. Possibly, the bank would have failed in the first few attempts before succeeding to bring you the automated service. There are umpteen stories of ERP failures if you just search the web on “ERP Failures” [Ref.5, 6]. Not only is the effort of developing or configuring software for your business processes a very intricate process taking months and sometimes years, but the process of transition from the old system to the new automated process (called System implementation) is also extremely painful. It is very stressful, not only because you are shifting to an entirely unknown process from a process which you had mastered for years, but also because there is a duplication of work because of a process called parallel run. During parallel runs, there is duplication of work because you have to work in both the old and the new system to compare results and establish the accuracy of the new system.
As we will see later, Implementation is the most vulnerable phase in the entire life cycle of a project.
The Vulnerability inside Businesses – Over 70% Failures
Not many are aware of the turmoil and hardships that company employees go through during this process of implementation. Leave alone the academicians, even software professionals who work in consultancy organizations or software manufacturing firms are not aware of this, since they have rarely implemented systems. Manufacturing and implementing software are two very diverse activities. The people who are most familiar with this aspect and may have faced the heat of this phase are the CIOs, IT Heads and other members of in-house IT departments who are on the ground during the implementation phase. In most of my discussions on of issues in IT, I have noticed that people mostly discuss issues in software manufacturing companies, not many even understand the problems of IT user companies implementing IT/ERP solutions.
And lesser still is the awareness that there are over 70% failures in ERP implementations. Yes, researchers say that over 70% of such ERP implementation projects fail despite this humungous effort and a huge amount of time and money spent on the project. [Ref.5,Ref.6]
What the World is Missing
Just imagine, 70% failures would mean that you get the benefit of only 30% successful automation projects! The comforts that you experience from the online services and are immensely satisfied with are due to just 30% of the projects which could be successfully implemented and could see the light of day. Other 70% of the projects which would have brought so much more comforts to you never saw the light of day. Just think of it, your life would have been 70% better had the ERPs not failed. Not to talk of the huge money lost, because after all, it is finally your and my money that goes down the drain due to failures.
So the need of the hour in this new world of disruption is to focus on the most vulnerable part of the technology disruption, that is, the IT implementations. Such implementations are carried out either entirely by the internal IT departments of companies (the type of that I have been heading as a CIO) or by the IT departments with the help of external companies who have experts to handle ERP implementations.
So the real focus of academicians and researchers should be on understanding this most vulnerable part of the IT process and ensuring that the failures are reduced. But unfortunately, neither the academic fraternity nor the IT folks have taken this issue very seriously and worked to reduce the chances of failure.
Shifting Focus from Software Manufacturing to Implementation
Fig. 2 shows the different phases in the ERP project cycle.
Information Technology or IT is not all technology. People are an important part of this technology game.
Academicians and Researchers have rightly emphasised that software development is a people-intensive activity, unlike a manufacturing activity where machines are involved. Rightly, therefore, there is sufficient stress on the behavioural aspects of IT. But the problem is that there is more focus on the production phase of software development involving technical, well educated, well-paid people doing white-collar intellectual job. What is not very well appreciated is the role that a huge number of people at all levels of an organization (from the lowest clerk to the top CEO) play during the implementation of software. Implementation, i.e., the actual transition from the old system to the new computerized system and user acceptance of the new system, is the last mile without which no IT activity can be complete. Implementation impacts much larger groups of people as software gets rolled out to reach all the users in the company. This last step is critical because it is the most prone to failure (Fig.2), and a failure at this stage would clearly imply a higher loss of resources and time, having already spent the time and money on software, hardware, consultancy, training and trial runs.
Unlike the development phase where mostly white-collared, motivated staff are engaged in doing interesting challenging jobs, implementation involves blue collared employees doing the most tiresome and routine jobs, and work under the fear of losing their jobs due to computerisation. Implementation phase is a highly stressful activity, both for executives and managers.
Attitudes, mindset, beliefs, misconceptions, fears and behaviour of people at all levels play a significant role in the success and failure of this phase of an IT project. A failure at the implementation stage implies higher stress and lower morale for the maximum number of people and often results in conflict, finger-pointing and politics.
If we were to compare the IT Project with a building project, there are similarities and contrasts. For both, the project design and conceptualisation happen in the cool comforts of the office with few white collared employees involved. The execution or implementation for both (the actual construction using brick and mortar in case of building, and the implementation in case of IT project) happens in the field where multiple people of all levels.
There are however, two critical differences. While the building may be built by persons who are well trained to do the job and may have built several buildings before, the IT project implementations are carried out by persons who are doing it for the first time using a technology completely foreign to them. Secondly, the IT project implementers always have a sword of obsolescence (fear of losing their job) after implementation. They work with a fear that they may be axing their own feet. Hence there is severe undercurrent of fear. Hence resistance can be extremely high and morale extremely low in case of IT project implementation.
There is a need to turn the focus from the developer and the development phase to the most volatile phase - the Implementation phase. The top management has to work hard to reassure the implementers and allay their fears.
There is a need to turn the focus from the developer and the development phase to the most volatile phase – the Implementation phase.
Need for Behavioural Approach to Solution
Behavioural aspects are very important in the implementation phase not simply because more people are involved, but because people are expected to do what they resist most, i.e. change their way of working. People naturally resist change and complex behavioural patterns come to the surface, which the IT Transition manager or Implementer has to overcome to succeed. It involves people’s attitudes, fears, dogmas, mental paradigms, misconceptions, resistance to change and various human character traits.
I did an extensive search on the web on people issues of IT. Most of the papers written so far deal with Human-Computer Interface, Interface design, collaboration, people issues in software development, etc. (and of late, on the impact of social media on people's behaviour). If at all behavioural aspects have been studied in IT, they are concerning two main areas of IT – behavioural issues in software-development phase or software project management, and behavioural aspects in man-machine interface. There is very little work done on behavioural issues faced during the Implementation phase. Whereas researchers have gone as far as neuro-science to localize the functionality of the brain areas that impact Technology Adoption (a field of study called NeuroIT), not much research is done on the behavioural aspects that are at play during the most people-centric stage of IT project, that is, the stage of IT implementation.
Researchers have identified the primary cause of failure of ERP long back. Over 30 years back when I joined this industry, I was told that the primary cause of failure of ERP/IT implementations is lack of top management involvement. Even today, the primary reason quoted is the same. There has been no progress in finding a solution to this problem. There is no research on WHY the top management does not participate, and what should be done to ensure that they do.
The fact that Senior Management does not participate is a behavioural and attitudinal problem. Technology failures are wrongly thought of as a technology issue. IT failures rarely happen because of technology issues. Most often the cause of failure is people. People naturally resist change. Technology changes fast but it takes generations to change the minds and behaviour of humans. I call it the “inertia of the human mind”. To deal with the social problems arising out of Information Technology, you need a solution with a behavioural approach.
Technology and people are two important wheels on which the businesses run, but unfortunately, one wheel runs at jet speed and the other wheel runs at bullock cart speed. While technology has changed from industrial technology to information technology, from machines to computers, human minds are still in the industrial era. Man still has an industrial-age mindset.
So how do we bring the other wheel to speed? How to overcome the inertia of the mind? We like to make rapid upgrades in Software, but what about upgrades to our minds?
Enter Behavioral IT
The author has coined a new term called “Behavioral IT®” to address the behavioural issues of IT [Ref.3]. Behavioral IT can be looked at as a new field of study, a managerial skill or/and a strategy which deals with the psychological, behavioural and attitudinal aspects of technological change.
Behavioral IT focusses on the behavioural issues during the implementation phase of people at all levels right from the lowest clerk to the business head.
IT is the primary driver of change in businesses today. And people naturally and strongly resist change. Behavioral IT® is a study of behavioural aspects of participants and stakeholders in an IT Implementation that can make a difference between success and failure of the project in any company. Alternately, Behavioral IT® skills are the skills required by all managers to manage people and processes impacted by rapid IT-Driven Change.
Man has already gone through the shocks of industrial revolution. Not many, particularly of the younger generation, know that man went through 100 years of turmoil of industrial revolution. WUCA is a result of the turmoil of the information revolution. A study of the industrial revolution can help us to be wiser to tackle this turmoil of the information revolution. Behavioral IT draws lessons from the biggest change in man’s history, the Industrial Revolution.
Behavioral IT helps upgrade human Mind from Industrial Psychology to Information Psyche. Behavioral IT® is a multi-disciplinary skill - a mix of
Business Managers need to mentally evolve from the industrial-age psyche to the information-age psychology to successfully face the challenges thrown by IT-driven change. Behavioral IT helps to leapfrog into the information era by changing our machine age mindset.
Senior managers go through frustration and anxiety because of the feeling “I do not know IT. Youngsters know IT, whereas I don’t”. The reality is that CEOs /Top Managers don’t need to know difficult IT, they only need to know Behavioral IT, which is easier for them.
Behavioral IT is about managing not just change, but managing IT-Driven change which is a very specialized topic. Behavioral IT® ensures that the top management not only participates but drives the change. Managers become catalysts to change rather than a hindrance to change
Behavioral IT ensures the behavioural change required for Managing in the Information Era.
Behavioral IT is a vast subject and beyond the scope of this short article. But you can find enough details on the internet by doing a web search on “Behavioral IT”. Some relevant articles are given in the References section.
Upgrading our minds to information psyche from industrial psychology will help the world in multiple ways:
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