It has been a decade since I left an organisation which had a profound effect on my career. In June 2011, I walked out of the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) for the last time as an employee of ICTA. As I reflect on the time I spent at ICTA a decade later, I [...]

Business Times

Timeless learnings


It has been a decade since I left an organisation which had a profound effect on my career. In June 2011, I walked out of the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) for the last time as an employee of ICTA. As I reflect on the time I spent at ICTA a decade later, I realise that what I learnt during my near six-year career at ICTA still holds true. I have also realised that these learnings are equally applicable to any organisation, be it a government institution or a private company. Following are six key learnings which I believe are applicable for a service driven or a product driven organisation to be successful.

1. Citizen (ie customer) centricity

One of the fundamental lessons that I learnt very early at ICTA is that any service (or product) that you conceptualise, design and deliver needs to keep the needs of the citizen in the centre. While this sounds like a ‘no-brainer’, I have realised how challenging a task it is to look at something from a perspective of a citizen (or a customer) when you are working within an organisation which delivers that product or service.

Quite naturally, organisations look from ‘inside-out’ as opposed to ‘outside-in’. Organisations look at how internal processes need to be in place, how to adhere to rules and regulations, circulars, audit requirements and approval levels etc to deliver a product or service. In doing so, it is easy to lose the perspective of how the citizen or customer eventually consumes that product or service. While many organisations have tried to address this issue by introducing concepts such as ‘single window service’ or ‘one stop shop’, we still see today how citizens have to go from one counter to another and wait for an unreasonable amount of time to get something done. This is true for both government and private sector organisations.

Therefore, organisations would do well to change from an organisation- centric mindset to a citizen-centric mindset when conceptualising, designing and delivering services or products.

2. Processes over Automation

When looking to introduce efficiencies within your organisation, do not look to information technology (IT) as the panacea to solve all your ills. There is an over reliance or a misplaced trust in the benefits that IT could bring to an organisation. IT should be viewed only as an enabler or a facilitator that would help an organisation to perform tasks in a more expeditious manner. However, IT would never be able to remove the inherent inefficiencies which are embedded into processes that are followed by organisations. Therefore, one should never embark on a blind automation but first look at how the internal processes can be made more efficient. For example, if a particular process takes six hours to complete and goes through 10 touch points, one should first look at reducing the time and the touch points taken to complete that process. Once the process is optimised, then you can introduce information technology to deliver that process even faster and in a citizen-friendly manner.

Therefore, always look into optimising processes within your organisation first before thinking of automation.

3. Aim for quick wins while working on long term success

If an organisation is looking to introduce technology to improve the delivery of its services or products, it needs to score some quick wins by introducing technology to gain the confidence of the internal staff as well as those who consume its services. It is important especially if introducing technology to automate the core manual processes takes a long time. Sometimes introducing such systems would take a few years and there can be a tendency among the stakeholders to lose interest in such initiatives. Therefore, showing how technology can help by introducing systems readily available and can be implemented within a short span of time is important. These could be simple inventory control systems, payroll systems, leave and attendance systems, workflow systems to share and approve documents, token issuance systems to regularise serving customers or even introducing email for office correspondence. Such quick wins could capture the imagination of the stakeholders and also enable a good platform for them to be more receptive to technology by the time the core systems are delivered for use.

Therefore, always look to score quick wins with rapid implementation of readily available systems to gain an acceptance among the stakeholders for technology as well as to prepare them to embrace new systems which are coming their way at a later stage.

4. Never underestimate the
resistance to change

It is a universal truth that change makes humans uncomfortable and there is no exception when it comes to introducing changes within an organisation even when keeping the best interests at heart. There will always be naysayers and those who view change with apathy. One of the key reasons for many an initiative to fail is underestimating the resistance to change. You can introduce best in class systems which could revolutionise delivery of products or services but given these systems are to be managed by humans who are inherently resistant to change poses significant challenges to any organisation. Therefore, change management should be given the highest priority whenever embarking on an initiative that significantly alters the way things have been done in the past.

Preparing stakeholders to embrace changes within the organisation and outside it needs to start even before plans are made to change the processes and subsequently automate them. One of the strategies that organisations can adopt to successfully implement changes within an organisation is to select individuals who have a wider acceptance within the organisation or wield influence over others due to their position or popularity, to be those who lead change. When those who are influential within an organisation are embracing change and leading the way, there is a general acceptance among the rest to follow suit. It is imperative to identify such ‘change champions’ within an organisation, bestow them with the necessary knowledge and skills to lead change and send them out to the floor as change disciples. It is equally important such change champions remain within the organisation until the initiatives are implemented and changes become part of the DNA of the organisation. An irreversible damage can occur if such change champions are suddenly transferred or leaves the organisation while the change initiatives are in progress. Even when you have a perfectly planned and executed change management initiative, there will still be a few who would not welcome such change initiatives. Even when such naysayers are in the minority, they should not be ignored but managed carefully so that their negative influence does not derail the initiatives.

Therefore, pay close attention to managing people who are affected by change by having a comprehensive change management programme in place before you embark on key initiatives which fundamentally changes the way people have been used to work.

5. Test the waters before you jump in

Whenever you are conceptualising a new product or service, it would be prudent to do a proof of concept (POC) to understand the intricacies of your concept rather than jumping headlong to developing the product or service. A POC offers a golden opportunity for you to fine-tune your product or service and understand its acceptance. It is also an opportunity to capture the interest of your stakeholders at an early stage prior to the actual delivery of the product or service. POC provides a glimpse into the future and what is to be expected when the actual product or service is implemented. Therefore, it would supplement change management initiatives as well. POC could negate unforeseen or unfounded fears among stakeholders of an initiative before it comes to full fruition.

It is equally important that an initiative is not limited to a POC but the actual product or service is delivered with a sense of urgency. Many initiatives lose the initial excitement and the interest among stakeholders the longer they take to deliver. Initiatives which have a longer ‘incubation period’ need to be designed with multiple milestones and those milestones need to be celebrated to constantly capture the imagination and the interest of the stakeholders.

Therefore, always look to understand and showcase the promise of a new product or service by developing a proof of concept prior to actual development.

6. Think Big, Start Small, Scale up Fast

Once a product or service is ready to be launched, it is important to pilot it under a set of scenarios before a full rollout. Results of a pilot launch would allow an organisation to make necessary course corrections, understand risks, and be prepared to face the challenges that lie ahead in a full rollout. While developing a proof of concept provides an opportunity to understand the viability of a product or service, piloting the actual product or service gives an opportunity to understand the demands of its full implementation.

There should not be a significant time-gap between the pilot and the full rollout as such a delay could again lead to stakeholders losing interest. Piloting a product or service should also not mean that such a product or service is withdrawn after some time. Piloting is a permanent endeavour that takes places at the cusp of a full-scale implementation. The full implementation of an initiative should be undertaken with a sense of urgency and there should not be significant time gaps until the full implementation is completed. It is always a difficult task to run two systems in parallel and it gets even more difficult if one such system is a manual system and the other an automated one.

(The writer is the Chief Operating Officer of LankaClear Private Ltd. However views expressed in this article are those of the
writer and do not represent views or opinions of ICTA or LankaClear).


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