The art of influence

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"You can't go and say that inventory management has been streamlined by the ERP system," he points out, because this can make some people feel bad. Therefore, Banerjee pushes the idea that it is the people--and not the software--who ensure greater efficiency. This is another way in which he drives influence-- by stressing on the importance of people. "Otherwise," he feels, "people will not use the system."

Keep going at it

Perseverance is key, no matter how big you are. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again.

Haldia Petrochemicals CIO Anjan Bose says his company is destructured, and once it has "a strategy in place, individual process owners...are given a lot of autonomy." This seems to work for Haldia, which has revenues of Rs 9,000 crore ($2.2 billion) and a workforce of less than 900.

Haldia is so IT-enabled that it has become a core component of business strategy. Bose's company has an IT infrastructure that spans real-time databases, transactional data, and decision-making tools.

One thing that differentiates Haldia Petrochemicals, says Bose, is that while most companies use their warehouse merely as a storage location, Haldia uses it as a tool that enables it to sell items at the most opportune moment--and IT plays a key role here. For this, he says, a major recent initiative aims to make the plant work on auto-pilot. "We are still far from this, but this is the direction in which we are moving," he says.

One big advantage Bose enjoys over many other CIOs is his added position as the head of HR. "Very few people like to confront the CIO and the head of HR," he avers. Bose says he can catch people during their "weaker periods, during the appraisals," and influence them to push his IT agenda. But he doesn't do it in high-handed fashion. "I try to convince people, but at times, you have to conquer people," he says pragmatically.

While he enjoys unusual influence, Bose admits challenges in pushing IT projects and says he needs to find new ways and means to push them when investments get struck down. Bose gives the example of a project involving a linear programming tool. "When we said that this is cost-saving, people didn't believe us, and so pushing the idea took time, and went on for around six to nine months," he recalls. But he persevered in the hope of convincing the head of marketing about the savings. Bose says convincing people in this case took a lot more time because the linear programming tool was very complex. "These tools are normally not acknowledged in the IT industry," he rues.

So, how did he get buy-in?

"We have a method called the 'keep going at it' method," he says. "If you fail the first time, you go the second time. If you fail the seventh time, go the eight time. If you fail the 20th time, go the 21st time." Thanks to this approach, Bose managed to implement the linear programming tool, and expects to generate savings of over Rs 1 crore per annum.

Another example of how he influenced decisions concerns a SAN. "We wanted to implement SAN for messaging. Unfortunately, the non-IT people equated SAN with a bunch of disks, but we didn't try to convince them that SAN was more than a bunch of disks," he says. Somebody even suggested that, instead of a SAN, the company should put data on a CD and have a CD-changer, which can be bought for around one percent of the cost of a SAN.

Consequently, Bose says, he was not able to able to get SAN approved during the last budget. Instead, they got a CD-changer with around 20,000 CDs. But one day, the person managing this task woke up and said it was not working. Therefore, the SAN issue was reopened. SAN will soon become a reality at Haldia Petrochemicals, says Bose.

"Last year, I failed, but this year, I managed to get it," he says.

Research, research and research

Smart CIOs learn which IT projects to push because there are always too many around.

To Probir Mitra, senior general manager (IT) of Tata Motors, IT is an integral part of his company--not something desirable, but something essential. "We cannot imagine any function in our company that can exist without IT support. It is a part of the bloodstream of the company," he says. While this helps him play an influential role at Tata Motors, it also means that he has to constantly keep an eye on the business goals and objectives, and align these with IT.

"It is not just one project--the influence is across several projects," he says. For instance, if one considers engineering automation in the basic IT services vertical, the company has always had a very strong CAD/CAM base for product design. But, over the last two years, it has made significant inroads into computerized process engineering for digital manufacturing.

Tata Motors also has made a major business decision to exit an older legacy product data management system in favor of a modern PLM product, which is used extensively in all the new projects. Additionally, all the legacy product data is being converted to the new PLM system. This, Mitra says, gives better visualization of data, besides enhancing collaboration with vendors.

How did he get such new systems in place?

"Always go to management with a very strong business gain," says Mitra. "There are always several potential IT initiatives, and we choose, among all these potential initiatives, that initiative which presents the strongest business gain."

For this, Mitra does a lot of research. Even then, sometimes the management raises some doubts for which the IT group doesn't have an immediate answer. In such a case, the IT team goes back to the management after more research. Mitra encountered such a situation with regard to a home-grown solution for connecting with vendors, called Value Chain Management (VCM).

"VCM was a very stable product," Mitra recalls, "and it was operating for many years. We wanted to switch over from this system to a SAP solution." At that point, the management expressed some concerns because the system was so deeply ingrained into the day-to-day working environment. A lot of questions were raised about the switchover.

Mitra responded by explaining that the existing solution was on a technology platform that would become difficult to sustain after some time. He also pointed out to the management that rebuilding the application on a totally new platform would be costly. The management also was made aware that the SAP solution would possess a richer set of useful features. The management was convinced and, once the implementation proved to be successful, the faith in the IT team increased.

What has Mitra learnt about influencing the management?

"The implementation of an IT solution is around 30 percent about the software, hardware and the networking. The remaining 70 percent concerns the mindset change and the business process change," he avers. As long as CIOs remember this, Mitra says, they have a much better chance of influencing the management. He also feels the CIO should start by exerting his influence at the "working level" before moving his way up to the board, though there are exceptions.

Mitra recalls a time when his company was looking for a Business Intelligence (BI) solution and he had to pick one of two competing analytics products. He used customary research before approaching the management with a lot of analyzed data. Mitra looked at the robustness of the database that had to support the analytics, the solutions platforms, and the output generated from the BI software. The IT organization also worked out the TCO of the BI software before seeking management approval.

"In the process, we also showed them samples of analytics generated by the BI software, and told them that if we have the BI solution, this is what we will get, and if we don't use the BI solution, then what handicaps the company will face," he says. This approach, he feels, works well while trying to influence the management.

This story, "The art of influence" was originally published by CIO.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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