The changing paradigm of Technology supporting business or Business supporting Technology

Lately there has been some articles talking about the role of a CIO becoming less important to companies. This looks unusual mainly when businesses are embarking heavily on technology projects and adopting technology like never before. However, there is a great amount of truth in this statement. To understand this better, let us see how companies used to work and how the new era companies are working now.

The old age companies like manufacturing, Healthcare, Retail, Banks and logistics used to have large businesses that came out of years of work and brand building. Working in retail for over a decade, I have seen the way retail giants created huge empires of brick and mortar stores and large network of support structure that was initially very manual. Eventually, technology was introduced and the CIO was the key person who worked with business to make these changes happen, slowly and steadily. The CIO organisation that has been typically called the IT or Technology department ever since remained a support department like finance and HR. Their core purpose had been to support the brick and mortar business to grow and provide services as business needed.

paradigm-shiftAs the businesses grew, the stature of the CIO also grew. From a typically dozens of tech geeks to thousands of IT employees and vendors became the empire of the CIO in most of the large companies. The never changing mantra these companies continue to follow has been ‘More the business grows, bigger will be the IT department to support them’. This all was perfectly fine till the time eCommerce started picking up. The old age CIOs, who were typically from the data center and infrastructure domain found it difficult to cope up with this change. Moreover, the systems growth that happened over decades of CIO model were not ready to move quickly to the next level. More than anything else, almost in every case the limitations of the CIO organisation started becoming the bottleneck for the companies growth. Nevertheless, the new faces in the CIO team and some more dollars continues to give more time to their organisations. In some cases, CIO has a rival in eCommerce CTO and has given rise to faster organisational political issues while real benefit on ground happened at a slow pace.

If I see in terms of retail, inspite of all changes over decades, all CIO organisation based companies have been feeling the heat from the newcomers like Amazon. New entrants like Uber, eBay and many more have adopted new model of business. These new business are fundamentally doing the same what their elder brothers did, but yet, they are very different.

These new entrants changed the way business is being done. Instead of technology supporting the brick and mortar business, these businesses are essentially technology supported by brick and mortar. This fundamental difference is something that has suddenly put a question mark on the future of the CIO and the organisation they have been leading all long. Amazon is a marketplace and a cloud that uses traders and their own stores to sell cheaper and better. Similarly, Uber is a technology platform that helps people in solving their commuting problems better than a traditional taxi service. While Amazon has eliminated the brick and mortar need, Uber has eliminated the need of a middle layer of a taxi paging company and the taxi driver can talk to you directly and be far more personalised.

These new companies do not have a CIO who owns technology in the company but these business have technology at their core even though they solve the business problems that traditional companies have been solving over decades in their own traditional ways. Their business teams have their own technology and CTO manages the common part that business cannot handle it alone. There is no one large IT team that does work for these businesses. If we take example of these new line of companies, they have eliminated the middle layer completely and have proven that they can change the way business is run. Similarly, it is soon that the middle layer of a big common IT team should be reviewed by all traditional businesses and start looking at the business differently. It is no more business supported by IT, rather IT is the business now. If businesses have their own technology, they will be faster and certainly better in terms of getting results. Amazon is a live example on how this change can be successful while the traditional retail businesses continue to push harder the old way and wonder why their efforts are not bringing desired results.


Alok Kumar

Alok Kumar is Managing Partner of SRKay Consulting group, a private equity company, nurturing innovative ventures. Alok also serves on the board of ICCL (Indian Clearing Corporation Limited - A subsidiary of BSE- Bombay Stock Exchange) as an external advisor for technology and information security. Prior to this, Alok had been Managing Director of Sears IT & Management Services India Private Limited (SHI) since its inception in December 2009 and served in the same position till very recently. Having been in senior IT management positions in Fortune 500 companies, Alok has won several national and international awards. Alok is instrumental in planning and setting up SHI and thereafter growing it to a multi-locational thousand-plus people organization. Over the last five years, with his strategic vision, Alok helped SHI grow roots in India, develop and support technology applications and infrastructure across core mainframe, cutting edge e-Commerce and big data technologies. With his unique people-oriented transformational leadership style, Alok turned SHI into one of the most valued investments of Sears, garnering great ROIs, and creating value much beyond cost arbitrage. Under his tutelage, SHI has filed two patents and is recognized widely for its best practices in various areas, the latter, currently featured in Indian Institute of Management (IIM) case studies. SHI also became a CMMI Level 3, PCMM Level 3, and ISO 20000 certified organization. Alok is a widely acclaimed corporate leader in India today. He regularly participates and leads various forums as a keynote speaker and is an author of several books in different genres. Alok has several awards to his credit. He is particularly known in the industry for his people management skills and innovative ideas in improving the productivity of employees through unique people practices. He has been credited with the following industry awards: ¬ Emerging Leader of the Year award 2013 by ¬ Game Changer CEO of the Year 2013 (SHRM) ¬ CIO 100 - The Bold CIOs - 2008 (Reliance Infosolutions) ¬ CIO - Ones to Watch Award 2008 (Reliance Industries) ¬ Extended Manager Award - CIOL 2004 (Tata Teleservices) As an able leader of SHI, Alok got SHI recognized widely in the industry with the following several awards: ¬ CII Award for HR Best Practices in 2014 ¬ Global Excellence in Outsourcing Award - AIOP (Phoenix 2013) ¬ IT Innovation Award (Design & Engineering) - Computer Society of India 2012 ¬ Golden Company of the Year - Economic Times 2011-12 ¬ 7th Employer Branding Awards - World HRD Congress (Mumbai, India) 2013: • ‘Asia’s Best Employer’ Award • ‘Best HR Strategy’ in line with business • HR Leadership Award • Talent Management Award by Bloomberg TV India ¬ Employer Branding Awards - World HRD Congress (Singapore, Asia) 2013: • 7th rank in ‘Asia’s Best Employer’ award • Award for ‘Best HR Strategy’ in line with the business • HR Leadership Award Other recognitions: Alok had served on the distinguished panel of NASSCOM's GIC (Global In-house Centers) National Council members. The council members play a key role in major initiatives of the industry and include the torch bearers of IT industry as panel members. Books and Papers: Alok is an established author, with three books to his credit. Alok’s third and latest book, a novel, “The Spy from Unaula” is a 2015 publication. A handwriting analysis enthusiast, Alok collaborated with his wife Nandani on the book, “Handwriting Speaks” in 2006. “Value Sourcing – Future of IT Outsourcing” was co-authored with Keith Sherwell (currently CIO, Altice USA) and was released in 2013. Alok also researched and published two whitepapers: a. “Creating next generation captives” talks about the best practices that are helping generate higher value from the IT company captives.

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