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January - 2012 - issue > CIO Insights
IT Department still Undermined and Underfunded in many Organizations
Jaya Smitha Menon
Monday, January 2, 2012
Avinash Jhangiani is the CIO, Global Head IT & Digital at Reliance MediaWorks, a part of the Reliance Group. He is based out of New York. . He has over 13 years of broad IT experience working with top consultancies and leading 20+ projects across Fortune 50 retail, media, financial services, and public sectors. At Reliance Media Works Jhangiani provides technology vision and leadership to assure the timely, innovative and cost-effective use of web, social, mobile and cinema technologies in order to improve business efficiencies, cut costs, and drive profitable growth. With a collaborative leadership style Jhangiani has a consistent and strong track record in building high performance technology teams and developing executable strategies. He has done his MBA in Information Systems from University of Pittsburgh. Jhangiani shares his wisdom on his personal IT innovation blog at http://youarenew.blogspot.com

Top IT initiatives brought in at Reliance - BIG Cinemas is the largest Indian cinema chain and a well-established brand. It continues to explore ways to develop deeper relationships with its customers and increase brand loyalty. In order to meet these business objectives, technology had to become a bigger part of the customer experience. We created a "Digital strategy and innovation" team whose sole purpose was to shape the digital brand of the company and leverage new technologies and trends (such as social media and mobility) for business benefit.

This required us to sit with Marketing and Operations teams to understand the entire customer lifecycle and look for opportunities to engage customers with digital experiences at the cinema as well as on their mobile devices.

Due to high costs of printing and distribution, the company was about to retire its entertainment magazine - 'The Plot'. The team digitized its content by converting it into a blog format and relaunched it as 'The Plot 2.0'. Integrating it with the main website increased traffic and stickiness. In the business context, going digitalwas not only about pushing new web and mobile platforms, it was also about finding the right application of mainstream technologies to support business goals. For instance, for the Woman’s Day (‘proud 2b a woman’) campaign, we displayed responses received via SMS in real-time on LCD displays in our cinemas.

Other digital efforts included Bluetooth activations, QR codes on tilt talkers at cinemas, and implementing RSS showtimes feeds.

As IT enables the customer-centric vision of the company, the future will be about integrating these external platforms into our customer intelligence systems and mining for changing behaviors and trends.

Measuring IT Effectiveness

While the primary responsibility of IT is to maintain high uptime of systems that support business operations, the true effectiveness of IT is measured by how well it was able to provide the right tools and technologies to drive profitable growth, improve business efficiencies, and cut costs. To meet these objectives, it is advisable to understand the business and give them what they need, not necessarily what they want. That is how IT adds value and can be more effective in the organization.The critical success factor is IT’s ability to seamlessly integrate with Marketing, Operations and other business functions.

Emerging technologies every CIO should bet on

I would probably be an outlier in the CIO spectrum if I did not mention “cloud computing” as one of the tech trends to bet on. While you may hear different definitions of this new trend, it is important to understand what it can do for you – business today demands agility and faster innovation in a cost effective manner, and what better way to meet these needs than to leverage the internet to host this ‘pay as you go’ model. However companies must conduct appropriate due diligence on service providers, especially in terms of data security and compliance.

Another trend that no more can be ignored is "social media". As consumers spend increasing proportion of their time on social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, companies have been forced to establish a presence on these sites. Brand awareness and customer engagement are the immediate benefits. However companies are looking for ways to leverage these social behaviors to empower customers, untap hidden networks, enable better collaboration, and foster innovation. Companies that implement collaboration platforms that are able to effectively address these needs will gain sustainable competitive advantage.

Challenges faced by a CIO

The expectations to drive the business agenda have increased dramatically. IT today needs to continue to act as a support function for the business, but now faces added pressure from business to innovate while being lean, agile, and efficient. While the need to invest in new tools and technologies that enable customer centricity may seem obvious, what makes it more challenging is the economy. Another challenge faced by CIOs is finding professionals who bring a unique blend of technical and business analytic skills. However modern your business might be, when you are a brick and mortar business, it is never about the technology, it is about effectively leveraging technology to drive business benefits. As expectations from IT to deliver business value increases, IT professionals who are able to combine their technical skills with business analysis, financial and project management skills will tend to experience faster career growth than purely technical professionals. These resources are hard to find since IT professionals mostly come from a technical background and are typically not business savvy.

How IT is evolving in entertainment Industry

The internet has not only changed the way entertainment content is delivered to the end consumer but also shortened its shelf life. For instance, today the cinema business is challenged with issues like movie piracy and alternate media. Movie goers do not need to go to a cinema to watch a movie. They can choose to watch a movie at home via the Internet or rent a DVD. The challenge is how to entice them to watch movies at the cinema and provide a more valuable experience.

While this may be a business problem, it is also IT's opportunity to transform itself from a support function to a business partner. It has to play an important role in enabling customer connect, managing relationships, analyzing buying patterns, and understanding consumer preferences (e.g. genre, language).
For instance it is no more a choice but a necessity to implement a CRM system in order to increase marketing efficacy and empower ground operations staff with real time customer information. Also with mobile devices and social networking platforms rapidly becoming the preferred choice for customers to share feedback and express themselves, IT now needs to implement customer analytics solutions that incorporate unstructured data and provide an enhanced 360 degree view of the customer.

Driving Innovation

Cloud computing, social media,big data analytics, mobility, and green IT are some of the emerging zones of technology heroism. This is only the beginning of an age of IT innovation. Tomorrow there will be a new wave of technologies and trends coming our way that companies will want to leverage in order to refine or even redefine their business models.

To drive the business with IT-enabled innovation, IT leaders will need to embody creative leadership and inspire others to walk the path of innovation. They will need to develop the right long term strategy and supporting structure, such as creating a nimble, high performance team of business-savvy IT resources and dedicating time to assessing emerging technologies on a regular basis. It is however the responsibility of every IT professional to continuously think of new and improved ways of getting the job done.

While innovation would typically mean providing competitive advantage with introduction of new or improved products and services, in an economic downturn, innovation takes a new meaning. It's about finding new ways to get the same job done with cost effective solutions.

Are CIO’s really decision Makers?

Let us be honest. The PC age, Y2K phase, and Dot com era have come and gone; each of them highlighting the relevance of effectively managing IT in the business environment. Despite multiple attempts to prove its worth, the IT department in many organizations is still undermined and under-funded. It has struggled to change its perception of being merely a support function for the business. Only some CIOs have been able to find a seat at the top table. But times are changing. Today with IT increasingly becoming the central function in most modern companies, CIOs are being asked to come up with big game-changing ideas. CIOs need to stop talking about technical upgrades at these meetings and start discussing how technology might accelerate the company’s strategic imperatives.

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