A Memo from the Future

A Memo from the Future

What does productivity mean when support requests that should never take more than two e-mails inevitably take five because of language problems?

Six years from now, CIOs may have their heads handed to them - unless they play their cards right.

Date:December 15, 2009

TO: Executive Committee

FROM:General Manager at a Fortune 500 Packaged Consumer Goods Company

RE: The IT Business Performance Audit

This past year has been a nightmare. We've been experiencing the backlash of bad decisions our IT "leadership" has made - or should I say, not made - during the past five years. While the technologies may have greater capabilities, our IT management does not. Shame on the Executive Committee - and the Board - for not confronting IT earlier. Shame on me for not complaining earlier and more often. So much for the "alignment" promised by our CIO. He should be replaced. Now.

I do have some praise for IT before burying it. The Bangalore help desk seems fluent in English - finally. At least, I don't hear complaints about it any more. But IT's pending proposal to shift the help desk to Chinese tele-centres in the Guangdong province to cut support costs and save an additional 15 per cent strikes my management team as ill-advised. I think IT is chasing false economies in the name of making its numbers look better.

What does productivity mean when support requests that should never take more than two e-mails inevitably take five because of language problems? Or a straightforward upgrade that should take five minutes on the phone ends up taking 20? Do the maths. IT's "productivity" comes directly at our expense. That's unacceptable. Attachment A is an audio file of real support calls with comparable Chinese help desks obtained from a colleague in another firm. I'm prepared to post it on our intranet if you tell me we have to go to China.

In fairness, however, I acknowledge that the remote diagnostics infrastructures IT has built into our mobile, laptop, desktop and server assets have made an enormous difference in both uptime and maintenance. Running those remotes overnight and getting people to call in or e-mail application settings to the help desk URLs for next day service has yielded phenomenal benefits at (apparently) very little cost. I'm prepared to give credit where credit is due.

It's too bad the best help desk interactions we have don't involve human contact, but we're still impressed. If we can effectively replace Chinese and Indian help desks with artificial-intelligence-based or neural net expert systems support, let's do as much as we can. Open Attachment B to see three XML-based prototypes of autonomous software initiatives our group wants to see from IT. Let's build on success.

I am similarly pleased by the business Wizards that empower our departmental, account and supply chain managers to make real-time modifications in process/workflow execution without any IT intervention. Our ability to improvise and customise process innovations on the fly has made people both feel better and work better. They feel less like data slaves to the ERP.

That said, why do I think that IT set up these Wizards to get us out of their hair? They are nifty tools. But IT kicks us over to the Wizards rather than collaborate with us whenever we come out with innovative ideas for IT-based differentiation. IT's definition of collaboration and business alignment seems to be giving us new Wizards when we have new ideas. I confess we like the Wizards, but the approach seems very tactical. IT's strategy appears to be focused on having us do ever more work on our own rather than in partnership. This is a feature of our relationship that has the potential to be a bug. It's a sign of the CIO's constant "accountability avoidance". I'm sick of it.

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