People before technology

People before technology

When implementing technologies like BI and unified communications, the human element is by far the hardest for CIOs to grasp.

The value of people was one of the key messages put across at the CIO Asia Breakfast Roundtable held at the Ritz Carlton Jakarta recently. Sponsored by Microsoft Services, the topic was ‘Making Better Decisions: Using Business Intelligence, Collaboration and Unified Communications to Capitalise on Economic Recovery’.

Ross O. Storey, managing editor for Fairfax Business Media Asia and editor of CIO Asia, noted that the growing optimism throughout Asia with big logistics providers like DHL and FedEx, all pointing to healthier order books, provides the perfect backdrop to the need to acquire new technologies — particularly business intelligence and unified communications — to take advantage of the anticipated growth.

Technology overview

Business intelligence (BI) refers to the skills, technologies, applications and practices used to help an enterprise acquire a better understanding of its commercial being. It is a decision support system designed to help with better decision making, by providing primarily historical and current views of business operations, but can also be used to help predict the future based on trends and analysis.

According to CIO Asia’s latest State of the Asian CxO Research, done in July 2009, business intelligence was a key focus by senior executives across Asia as enterprises position themselves for the economic recovery. “BI is now seen as the number one technology priority for 2010 alongside an ongoing management focus on aligning IT and business goals,” said Storey.

Meanwhile, unified communications (UC) is generally accepted to be a communications system that combines several elements, such as voice, voicemail SMS fax, video and even video conferencing. “In today’s connected world, with consumer technologies pushing into business, researchers have found that, on average, organisations now support at least seven different communication tools and applications used by employees,” said Storey.

“In a nutshell, a unified communications approach makes real-time systems—such as instant messaging—share information with non-real time systems, such as e-mail or voice mail, and runs them over the same network, and are usually all pulled together so that users can operate from one simple interface or dashboard.”

A July 2009 survey, by CIO magazine in the US, involving some 400 senior IT executives, found that increased productivity (64 per cent) plus faster response times and delivery of information (50 per cent) were the major benefits.

In addition, a separate 2008 survey, conducted by technology marketing consultancy firm Vanson Bourne, found that on average, companies save 10 per cent of communication costs using UC solutions, causing a 21 per cent improvement in customer satisfaction.

After the introduction by Storey, the roundtable discussion kicked off, and here are some key highlights.

Relevance of BI

While the definition of BI can be standardised, its implementation is anything but, and participants at the session had much to say on what they expect.

Yohanes Liauw, head of IT operations, Bursa Efek Indonesia (Indonesia Stock Exchange): We are talking about BI, but in our case, it is quite unique because we have a lot of data across the industry. In particular, we have our own data, we have another set from the customers, and another from the authorities. The challenge is, given diverse ownership, how can we make data transfer smooth?

K. Srithar, functional head - IT, Busana Apparel Group: Today, the responsibility for efficiency improvements have been passed on to IT, and become the purview of the CIO. Businesses are already facing a lot of challenges, and many measures taken have been taken to overcome the recession. We may have already implemented many systems, but economic recovery as well as business survival is important, and we must be involved with business as well as productivity and efficiency improvements. And decision-making is an important aspect of business.

You may already have systems in place, but how best can you make the decisions with the available data? How do you analyse it and make the information available to the right person at the right time? That is the most critical thing, and having that on hand, you get both better and faster decisions.

Krisna Suswandi, CIO, risk management and call centre head, Oto Multiartha: What is important to our company is not only analysing past data, but the projections. We are in the finance business, and we want simulations. What is the impact if we reduce interest rates by 0.5 per cent, but our volume increases? That is what we need from BI. We want to see profiles of customers and their quality. That can take one minute or two days, depending on the tools you have. So you need to ask the question: how long can you wait for the data?

Richard Anthony, associate director, information systems and technology, Gunung Sewu Kencana: It is important for us to look back, as that will allow us to understand what actually happened, and what went wrong. Simulation is important because what happens when assumptions change? You can’t do this in an ERP system, because it is to run operations. If you play with ERP, your operations will go haywire. You need another system to play around with until you are satisfied. Then you implement it.

The people factor

While technology was acknowledged as important, one key talking point was the huge role people played.

Muljo Witono, CIO, GE Money Indonesia: We have thousands of accounts. If we miss one day, it is worth several hundred million dollars. We deploy a lot of people, and collection plays a very important part. BI is important, and we need to understand our customer data and make adjustments to create opportunities. It is one of the tools that will help us to make the right decisions, but in the end, people are more important.

Eko Ryzananto, head of IT, Nestle Indonesia: I still believe in people, process, and technology. We should not forget about this when trying to make better decisions, but technology can make a difference to those who make these decisions.

Ciendramawan, deputy director corporate IT and system, Kalbe Farma: Success is an equation of IQ and EQ. The IQ is there, but not EQ. People have different perceptions of the same thing, and BI can evoke positive or negative reactions.

While we understand the concept of actionable information, we may not understand the actions of some people. It could be the board of directors’ problem. We may provide what they need, but they change every year, so we have to change every time the board of directors changes, and every time the business changes. Even though the information is the same, the outcome that we expect is not there yet.

Jeffrey Cheung, chief technology and services officer, HSBC Indonesia: In HSBC, we have all the money in the world to buy all the gadgets, but I have to confess that the degree of success we have is rather limited. It is because people are not really talking to each other.

Everybody looks out for themselves and wants to get the bonus. In addition, even if you have a data warehouse, what you want to bring out is completely driven by your objective. So the inherent weakness is that it can be taken advantage of by people.

So one of the visions we have is how to make it more transparent. Do we bring in psychology and behavioural sciences? If we do, it is only a matter of time before the EQ dashboard comes out. One people aspect that was discussed focused on a single person, the CEO, and how to get his attention when it comes to IT.

Ravinder Mawa, head of IT, Surya Citra Media: We have been implementing a lot of SAP, but I really want to see a corporate dashboard in front of our CEO. So that he has enough tools to make decisions, to plan for the future. Certainly, we are looking for a BI tool which can collaborate, provide dashboards, and balanced scorecards, all those things. But before we started, we called our CEO and asked him to tell everyone that we have chosen SAP, and we will live or die with it. Don’t say whether it is good or bad. If we leave it to the users, they will find some reason not to use it.

Michael Harrison, director, Microsoft Services Asia Pacific: I looked at Gartner’s recent research and BI and future analysis is certainly hot. For me, one of the things that always comes up is the justification for the purchase of this knowledge base.

How do you justify the internal purchase of technology to make better decisions? I know of a customer in Singapore where a final signature couldn’t be done for a few hundred thousand dollars because there was a need to have a 20 to 30-page plan. They could see the value, but couldn’t get the executive committee to sign.

Ciendramawan: The most precious thing for the CIO is management attention. They don’t have that. We have hundreds of branches in our company. Time is very critical. Of course, we want to talk about the purpose of BI, but it is hard to get their time.

Unified comms

The topic then shifted to UC where one of the talking points was the low-cost cost of communications in Indonesia, making the case for UC more challenging.

Anthony: Telephony cost is so cheap, not the Internet, but the phone. You can get unlimited voice calls for US$5 a month. It is hard to beat even with unified communications. While UC is effective within the office, this solution is when you are mobile. The quality may not be the best, but with cost in mind, it can be difficult to justify implementing UC successfully here.

Srithar: Currently, we have so many alternatives available in the market which could be expensive or cheap, but their business goes on. Our company has it all whether instant messaging, e-mail, video conferencing, or blackberry, so when we try to propose a new solution, how do we justify it? We have to prove it with the current economic situation. Management is trying to control the expenses, where to save is more important. However, we are trying to innovate with a new solution, and we need to show not just intangible benefits, but definite forecasted savings. There is benefit for sure, but how do we justify it?

Harrison: For 97 per cent of the business, the US$5 buffet works very well. The bringing together of the communications may apply only to a very small percentage of your business depending on the need.

Optimistic outlook

The session ended with an optimistic outlook of growth.

Cheung: BI is still in its infancy. Ten years ago, 70 per cent of ERP implementations failed, but now it is much better. BI is lagging behind ERP, but there is a lot of opportunity to make it better.

If there is one thing we share in common, it is to grow. Most experts believe that Indonesia is a rising star. If we can link that growth to BI or UC, you will have no problems getting it implemented. MIS Asia

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