The art of influence

Without it, you'll never get anything done. Five CIOs share their tried-and-tested techniques of exerting influence with management and colleagues to ensure that the growth of IT is in the best interests of the enterprise.

Chanakya's Arthashastra talks about four ways of dealing with people: saama (by cooperating with them), daama (by buying them off), bheda (by instigating differences) and danda (by cracking down on them). Every CIO has his own style of functioning, and this determines the way he exerts his influence on the management, his peers and the end-users. In the following Web pages, five CIOs share with us the methods they employ in order to accomplish their goals.

Clearly, their styles vary. Probir Mitra, Tata Motors' senior general manager for IT, believes that a CIO should offer the management a very strong business gain. On the other hand, Reliance Communications' Sumit Chowdhury says he pre-sells his ideas to business teams before presenting them to decision-makers.

Some people have more issues persuading end-users, as opposed to the management. Consequently, Bharat Aluminium's Subrata Banerjee does rigorous studies on end-user perspectives before implementing any new technology. Manish Choksi, chief of corporate strategy and CIO of Asian Paints, believes in solid reason and logic, and says one must be very, very successful with the first project. If you achieve that, you become a trusted service provider to the user community, he asserts.

Finally, there is Anjan Bose, who believes one needs to get tough at times in order to succeed. Bose, CIO of Haldia Petrochemicals, says he tries to convince people but at times he simple has to conquer them.

Many CIOs keen on getting heard by the board might wish to remember the words of former U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who pointed out that the right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously. In other words, you are taken seriously only when you are influential.

Win early credibility

What you do first, and how you do it, determines the influence you will command with the management team.

Manish Choksi, chief of corporate strategy and CIO at Asian Paints, says his company is more working capital intensive as opposed to being asset intensive. A decade ago, when Asian Paints decided to improve the working capital efficiency, it examined options such as borrowings or dilution of directors' holdings. Since these were considered inappropriate, it decided to embark on a third alternative: improving the operations-related efficiencies. "When you try to look at improving operational efficiency in a working capital-intensive company, clearly, the area of supply chain management comes first," he says. One has to look at how IT fits in with the strategy of the company, and should not include technology for the sake of technology, Choksi adds.

Typically, IT problems tend to arise even when a lot of planning goes into a project. "Around 1999, we were trying to put together an SCM system, and we didn't feel that we would need an ERP," he recalls. But when the need for ERP was felt, the IT group had to exert a significant amount of influence with the management in order to convince the top bosses that Asian Paints should deploy both ERP and SCM at the same time.

The process was made difficult because the combination of ERP and SCM came from two different vendors--the ERP was from SAP and the SCM was from i2. These were Asian Paints' first investments in packaged solutions, and the management was naturally skeptical about the ability of the IT group to implement two different packages from two different vendors, and integrate them into a seamless system.

The management had a variety of questions for the IT team. Would it fit into the environment? How much customization was required? How long would the implementation take? To convince them, Choksi used data from various sources--for example, from the vendors themselves and additional data about other implementations. "But it is your own skills that you have to use to influence the organization," he points out.

Choksi's clinching argument was this: If both ERP and SCM were deployed simultaneously, the organization could become more responsive. Looking back, he says, "If you were to look at the success of both these implementations, you will see that it reflects on our balance sheets. We went from having debts to having no debts at all." In fact, Choksi thinks Asian Paints has been able to pay for its international acquisitions because of the growth spurt provided by the synchronized implementation of the SCM and the ERP systems.

The biggest advantage of this successful implementation was that both the management and the end-users developed a great deal of confidence in the IT group. The IT team enabled Asian Paints to grow bigger and this pleased the management, while the end-users felt they could raise their performance.

This initial success, says Choksi, helped the IT team gain a lot of influence with the company's decision-makers. "Whatever you take on first, if that is very, very successful, and delivers good benefits, then you have established yourself as a trusted service provider to the user community," he points out. When that happens, he feels, you are not just brought in to implement IT -- you are there at the conceptualization stage itself.

But the pace of IT progress has to be sustained if influence is to be maintained, believes Choksi. In the case of Asian Paints Home Solutions, he points out, everything was run on an IT platform from the first day itself.

Thanks to the credibility and the influence that the IT team had developed within the company, "users were confident that, without the IT platform being available to them, they would not be able to scale that far," he says. Choksi also points out that his team was involved in the conceptualization of the project from the very beginning.

Pre-selling an idea

There is much you can do before the management meets to vote on your projects. You can win the approval of business groups.

When Reliance Communications' CIO Sumit Chowdhury and his team embarked on a large project that involved self-service in telecom, he faced a variety of issues. For one, self-service in telecom is not very prevalent across the world, and his company didn't have any ready module. So, he needed a plan to sell the idea to the management. "In India, the take-up rate of self-service has been very low in many sectors," he notes. But this didn't deter Chowdhury. "We took a chance and put a business case together," he recalls.

The vision was large and included all the customers, dealers, employees and partners. Once the project was completed, all these stakeholders could use the self-service portal. It was not just for Reliance Communications--it would be available to the entire ADA Group, allowing people to pay electricity and telecom bills, or even buy insurance.

The impact would be huge because the group would get a unified view of the customer as opposed to a stand-alone view relevant to one group company only. But, to get the project off the ground, Chowdhury had to convince a lot of people in several departments. Various issues, ranging from the choice of technology to setting the requirements, were involved. There was also the big question of communicating with the business groups--an area where Chowdhury was able to exert his influence.

"My background is in consulting, and I have done a lot of work in selling solutions to a lot of telecom clients," he says. "So, I used my consultant selling approaches to propose a solution and the business case, along with an ROI model to convince people about what would happen if they were to go ahead with the technology that I had proposed."

Chowdhury also talked about how the day-to-day processes would change, and focused on the expected efficiency gains. Summing up, he says: "Rather than making it a technology sell, I converted it into a business sell because my background is in helping the business."

A key thing Chowdhury did was pre-sell the idea to the business teams before the executive meetings happened. Therefore, when the executive meeting took place, the business groups were all supportive of his ideas. "You have to pre-sell the idea, and not try and sell it in the meeting in which the decision is taken," he avers, citing past successes. This is important because you have to gain the mindshare of the decision-makers much before the sale is actually made, says Chowdhury.

While pre-selling an idea helps, it is not all. Chowdhury encountered a situation, in which many people wanted to have mini portals, and were not keen on the idea of a unified self-service portal. "Everyone wanted their own little space and wanted to go ahead and give the work to one small little vendor, who was going to build a small little self-service portal, instead of looking at it from across the enterprise," he says. So, Chowdhury had to convince them about the advantage of having a common view of the customer, and the clarity it would bring to the group.

While he managed to convince the business groups that the unified model was the best, some were still skeptical about the scope and size of the project, and how it would be deployed. There were also fears that if a unified self-service portal was created, their position would be diminished. "So, I had to put a solution in place in such a manner that they would not lose power," he says. He did this by creating a delivery and deployment architecture that enabled people to get the feeling that though they were part of a larger framework, they still had their own little space.

What are the lessons Chowdhury has learned from this project and others on how he can influence decisions?

Firstly, he says, you need to win the respect of the business groups, and this is only possible when you learn to talk their language. Secondly, you have to quantify gains in a realistic manner, he says. "If the ROI has to take 12 months, then let it be 12 months. Why do you have to say that it is three months?"

Put people first

Technology can sometimes be dehumanizing. CIOs would do well to remember that it is people who use it.

Subrata Banerjee, CIO of Bharat Aluminium (Balco), says there are two kinds of people in his organization -- "youngsters who are very tech-savvy, and the older generation who don't want to change." He has used two distinct management styles to win over the two groups. "I have faced a lot of resistance to change from the older people. They are always asking: what is there in this for me?" he says. Banerjee responded by making a thorough study on end-user perspectives. On several occasions, he has had to prove to end-users that the IT plans he has implemented are for their own good.

One case he remembers well is when he had to put an IP-enabled closed-circuit television monitoring system in the plant. This was a case when the resistance to change came from end-users. "The management had approved the plan--in my company, when you prove your credentials, the management gives you money very fast," he says. Banerjee just has to prove the business case and the pay-back to the management before getting this go-ahead.

When he tried to use the CCTV, people were worried they would be monitored. Banerjee then had to take pains to convince them that this was not the case. "There was huge resistance even from the middle management," he recalls.

So, what did he do?

"I implemented the CCTV in prototype mode, made some recordings, and then I demonstrated that it would be used to monitor processes and not people," he says. As an example, he cites this--if he has to delegate a task to an expert engineer but replace the person at a later date, the CCTV coverage can be used to coach a newcomer. In this way, Banerjee demonstrated how the CCTV footage could be used as a teaching aid.

But an important deliverable for Banerjee was a system to monitor employees. "In summer, people normally try and avoid our furnace areas, and my monitoring system also enables us to determine if people are tending to the furnaces properly," he points out.

There was also a security angle to the CCTV system, which enabled Banerjee to persuade end-users about the need for the project. "In a plant, there is always some danger of falling parts, and thanks to the CCTV system, we can monitor this and ensure greater security for people working in the plant," he reasons.

Asked what is important while trying to influence matters, Banerjee says that communication is most important--if the end-user knows what the IT system is going to do for him, then resistance to change is lowered.

There are issues even when IT is seen to be doing too much. If you talk about production or inventory management and improvement through IT, then the relevant managers don't approve because they feel that IT is taking the credit away from them, says Banerjee. When they begin to feel that management perceives that the software and not the people are doing the work, they refuse to use the system.

Banerjee cites an inventory management system he introduced. Balco used to store huge inventories, causing waste and loss. He modernized the system. Now, no stock is held for a period greater than 90 days. While this was appreciated by the senior management, Banerjee faced problems lower down the line.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2