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New Year wish: CIOs, may your tribe increase!

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By Manoj Chugh
President – Group Public Affairs; and Member, Group Executive Board, Mahindra & Mahindra

It was 1982, I was a young turk, trying to learn the ropes of the game in the IT Industry. I was attempting hard to crack a deal with an Industrial customer. “Who do I need to truly convince to bring home the deal ?” I asked my senior. “Don’t you know,” he remarked, in an anguished tone. “Of course it is the EDP Manager! And once you convince him, the draconian final negotiation will be with his Boss- the GM Finance.”

The EDP manager of yore had an air of “Mr. know all”- deeply respected for his knowledge of computers and their ability to automate all mundane, manual tasks. Given his strong understanding of the manual processes, he was the true cross functional leader. Payroll, Financial Accounting, Production Planning & Control, Inventory Management, he knew them all. The EDP Manager was multi-lingual, he could code in multiple languages and speak in many tongues with the Electronic machines. BASIC, COBOL, FORTRAN, he knew them all.

He could arrange data in structured file formats and then pull out useful reports at will. Without the respected EDP Manager, many large organizations would flounder. Yet, the EDP Manager rarely found a spot on the “high table”. He was not the first port of call on organizational strategy or ever consulted on which new market segments the firm should go after. No one solicited his advise on the next diversification. He was on the “cost” side of the house and came in “after the affect”. His goal was to help improve efficiency, enhance productivity and drive the CFO Agenda. He was an important exec, but not important enough!

Fast forward 35 years, the IT footprint has changed dramatically. In-house EDP Rooms have morphed into hybrid cloud environments. Every aspect of IT has changed many times over- the data centre, end user computing, applications and development environments, all have undergone a metamorphosis. And of course data itself- now that we have oodles of it, lots of it unstructured. This has been both a bane and a boon. Managing data has become an art and science.

From being an aggressive cost cutter to driving competitive advantage, IT has crossed many chasms…and so has the EDP Manager, who quickly became the CIO ( from Electronic Data Processing to the Chief Information Officer). Everyone realized that data was the raw material, which when processed delivered huge value as Information- the “I” of IT. The transformation of the EDP Manager to the CIO had some pain, but was relatively seamless.

With the advent of Digital, the story somewhat changed. As users donned personal devices and demanded smarter engagement with their service providers. Suddenly all hell broke lose. No longer was IT just viewed as a cost cutter, but as a persona that could sense a customer’s needs and wants, influence choices and predict behaviour. Organisations, large and small realized that data was the new weapon that would help them win in an every increasingly competitive market-place.

This shift was evident when a potential customer sent out an RFP request asking IT vendors to help them come up with a plan to engage more meaningfully with their customers. They were losing market share and were desperate to claw their way back. Most vendors took the traditional approach of studying what their competitors were doing and came up with a “check list”. A new age Digital player, took a radically different approach.

They went to the streets and interviewed customers and potential customers. They came up with a list of delights that would thrill each type of customer. They mapped the journeys of these customers to potential new services and came up with a radically different approach. They focused on “designing experiences” rather than a “product” that met or beat competition. The decision maker was the CEO, hungry to serve his customers, by weaving the magic of digital to drive greater stake holder value. A marked shift has occurred. Finally IT and the Chief Digital Lead is in the drivers seat.

Customers today are looking for Transformation Experts who can design new experiences. They are looking for Chief Digital Officers who can help leverage digital assets to build a unique competitive advantage and create new revenue streams.

The CIO of yesteryears is perceived to be highly ill equipped to fight the New Age battles. A change in mindset, from a “ I need to be served to I need to serve” is a good starting point, in addition to learning new age technologies. The Digital Warriors have a seat on the “high table.” They help design new ways of serving customers. They massage data using AI algorithms and build new revenue streams. Will our CIOs be able to make the shift with elan? Will they become the new age Digital Generals? I know that it is not going to be easy, but I am an optimist. Maybe, 2020 will prove to be their acid test!

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of the author’s organisation)


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