The issue of aligning ICTs and business processes and goals has been the subject of many discussions and debates. I felt the need to relate the issue to our own Zimbabwean situation as we are equally or in a worse position than those that are making the loudest debates.
It is not clear to me whether ICT failures are government policy related, limited resources, ICT management failures or corporate failures. In Zimbabwe, some recent notable ICT failures are in the electricity billing system, voters roll, and health records system. Apparently some of these national projects were feasible but complete failure to deliver on time at reasonable cost on most of the recent national projects is a major concern.
I am not at all sure that looking for a single cause is a worthwhile undertaking. In business, most unexpected and, hence, impressive failures precipitate from not one but a confluence of several factors. These are potentially harmless on their own, but together form a perfect storm. But this is not my point.
In the wake of many big private companies, parastatals, and government ICT projects, questions remain as to the reasons for this kind of spectacular ICT projects failure in our beloved Zimbabwe. And since there are questions, there is no shortage of analysis, often bordering on speculation.
Is it the traditional African under-development culture or technophobia within the ‘dead wood’ in some of the non-performing parastatals/government institutions who have always been labeled the ICT rebellious generation? Is it the choice of suppliers of the technology to make a quick buck without providing the right prescription to Zimbabwe’s ICT problems like the cheap Chinese products that are flooding the electronics market or the choice of materials and resources available that do not allow us to get good business deals through use of appropriate technologies? Maybe the management of available ICT resources or the (not) best practices in our industries? The GPA administration or an unfortunate alignment of the ICT gurus with non-ICT executives?
Some of these failures can be attributed to the most popular organizational structures found in most large and medium sized organizations that exist in Zimbabwe. What I mean to say is these failures are created by bureaucracies top-heavy with non-ICT people that fail to include the right kind of people who contribute in decision making process(s) as part of the upper level management group. Key management decisions are made without adequate ICT input resulting in projects going disastrously off the rails when previously brushed aside ICT aspects of a project gradually emerge to be integral parts of the foundation of the solution. Hiring a consulting firm instead of doing it in-house may not help. A consulting firm makes more money out of an over budget project than from an on-budget after all. In my view companies with ICT departments/sections should develop in-house talent at all levels of the corporate structure that can talk ICT. Investing big dollars on SAP consultants is usually a sign of a company that is spending too much for what it is getting.
The preaching by non-ICT executives about cost cutting pressures of the environment have accelerated outsourcing efforts and a support function is a natural candidate for outsourcing which naturally takes off the ICT departments wheels.
Most of executives in most Zimbabwean companies who make ill-informed decisions year-in year-out do miss the fact that any methodology is only a means to an end, never an end in itself and that it is always secondary to the goal. These non-ICT executives always confuse the two, which is dangerous because it clouds their thinking. The understanding of making products and services that are reliable and safe by the executive is a fantastic goal but our industries need to do so efficiently through the use of appropriate technologies as this is the means of staying profitable so that organizational goal(s) can be pursued. Not vice versa. We routinely observe this in ICT departments. The traditional self-positioning of ICT as a support function provides for a particular way of thinking where the expedients and tasks trump strategic goals and results.
The other weakness is in ICT where methodologies are routinely implemented as a matter of “best practice” without much reflection on their alignment with organizational goals. Projects are often pursued because of the infatuation with the “coolness” of the underlying technology. Such ICT departments are doomed. Anyone who leads an ICT department must have the ability to understand business language as well but unfortunately it is not very true in most Zimbabwean organizations.
To achieve the goal of aligning ICT with business ICT departments must be positioned not as a commoditized support function, but as a valuable strategic asset of the organization. Business and ICT executives should not confuse means with ends. ICT is as integral to their organization as marketing or finance is. ICT management must think in terms of business results, speak the language their organization actually understands, and constantly innovate. This makes ICT departments crown jewels. They will live and prosper, along with their respective organizations, for a long time.
How does one begin to make business and the economy start operating more efficiently and effectively through the use of ICT? I think it begins with appreciation that ICT is the driving force in today’s business world. As company directors we need to correctly position an ICT representative qualified to make decisions and give correct advice when key business decisions are being made.
Secondly, ICT professionals should not invest all their efforts on the technical side of things only but also on how the business operates so that they can match technologies on the market with business situations and they may also give practical advice during decision making.
Thirdly, both the ICT and business executives should learn to speak the same language for better understanding of the critical issues in different areas of the business. Lastly, we should understand that technologies change every day, the more we delay implementing some solutions, the more irrelevant and obsolete the solution becomes and the sooner we lose our competitive edge.
Related articles that I found interesting on the subject:
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