The secret life of an IT manager: Managing expectations

Sat at my desk, Friday afternoon, coffee in hand, my mind started to wander (still within the realm of work I might add). But I started to think about some big ideas, you know the ones, the ones which a CEO has that may need - how shall we put it? - “translation”, before they can become reality.

Whilst setting out long-term plans for growth is an integral part of every business, and having a CEO and senior team with a clear vision and tonnes of ideas is both necessary and inspirational, in the real world it’s people like me who understand the long-term and time-intensive nature of the project. But how do you communicate this when you need to ooze enthusiasm, tactfully convince your boss you’re on top of best-practice, and avoid being a killjoy?

In fact, this was a challenge I had to rise to after bumping into the CEO in one of those awkward, fleeting corridor encounters you dread while I was still imagining myself as the IT Guardian Angel:

“Oh Joe, I was reading an article the other day about how our leading competitor has increased margins and reduced time-to-market by automating a big chunk of their processes – why can’t we do this?” That punctured my day dream with a needle. Sure, the benefits of increasing the level of automation across the supply chain are undeniable. Connected devices producing a continuous flow of information from the machine to the customer all at a faster and more efficient rate – as he was saying it, I could see the boxes on my mental wish-list being ticked off. For a mid-sized manufacturer like us, this could be the golden key to growth, increased customer satisfaction and increased productive capacity.

Unfortunately the rose-tinted view of our CEO isn’t always reality. It’s not to say that his vision is unachievable, it’s just a question of whether we’re ready to take the leap and move towards a more connected and automated manufacturing environment where new systems can be used to marry Internet of Things technology, cloud computing and increased data storage and exchange. Or, to put that more simply: embracing so-called ‘industry 4.0’.

I know what he’s concerned about; he’s worried we’re lagging behind. He wants to use technology as a differentiator, to increase the speed and efficiency at which we are producing goods, improving supply chain communications and ultimately increasing customer satisfaction. These are all legitimate concerns but the crucial question for me is whether our existing ERP environment is compatible with the industry 4.0 environment. It’s not just a case of increased data management, it’s also the fact that it might mean significant expense – the upgrade, the development and maintenance all costs money, and we simply can’t deliver on this vision with our existing systems.

I agree with him - Industry 4.0 offers manufacturers like us immense opportunity, but I’m not sure he understands just how unprepared we currently are. Outside of my IT world, there are other, customer experience considerations to take into account. What’s key to remember is that it isn’t about robots taking over the place and replacing every ounce of human interaction. People on the ground are fundamental to offer face-to-face consultation and ensure the new systems work smoothly – that’s the essence of satisfying customers and maintaining relationships with the supply chain

While all this was whirling around in my head, and a little voice was saying “This is the man who pays your wages!”, what I actually said was: “Yes, I saw that article too. It really does chime in with what I’m hoping to introduce here.” Then I heard myself saying: “Can I provide you with some more details of what I’m looking at for us?” Of course, get some time in the diary, he said.

So now I need to translate that vision of moving to more automated processes to increase customer satisfaction and improve efficiency into reality, propose what our first steps should be and question whether we’re prepared to begin exploring the growth opportunities.

Better head off now. I’ve got an IT infrastructure to critique and a presentation to develop.

This content is supplied by Epicor Software, a provider of industry-specific enterprise software.

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