While the financial services and even the manufacturing industry have been quick to adopt new technology, the same cannot be said of the natural products industry in general. There appears to be a degree of diffidence to leverage the power of cutting-edge information technology (IT) for higher efficiency and growth.
Preparing an IT strategy and roadmap is the first step on the road to higher levels of efficiency, enhanced global competitiveness and higher profitability.
New technology platforms focusing on cloud and mobility, protection from cyber criminals, and deploying faster and more capable hardware and networks are critical to organization efficiency. An organization can substantially enhance customer acquisition and servicing capability by deploying data mining, analytics and machine learning solutions.
Pinpoint customer access is possible through GPS-enabled solutions. Social media platforms have made customer outreach across regions and continents possible. Transformative IT solutions and technologies have made it possible for companies to become more efficient, bring costs down, achieve nimbleness and bring higher shareholder return.
It is critical to develop a properly defined and comprehensive IT strategy road map. This will help a natural products organization induct technology at a controlled pace. Knee jerk or ad hoc induction adds to cost without commensurate benefits.
A strategy and roadmap definition involves undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the company and the industry.
IT Strategy Analysis Model
A strategy and road map preparation exercise can be broadly broken down into three steps:
1. Current state analysis
3. Strategy and road map recommendations
Current State Analysis
The current state and future need of the natural product organization business and technology should be examined to help define the IT strategy and road map. The organization’s business vision, strategy and plans need to be understood. Constraints, challenges and opportunities of a natural product industry segment should also be identified. This is often done through a series of focus group discussions.
The state of the network, operating environment, applications, technology and the interoperability among various pieces of technology in the company need to be studied, and the constraints need to be understood. It is best that at this stage, which is also called the requirement gathering stage, to review the IT adaptability of the workforce in the organization.
An assessment should be made on the ability of the workforce to adopt and re-skill post introduction and implementation of the proposed new technology architecture. Some organizations seek the help of the IT strategy team to make an assessment of expected workforce redundancies post new technology introduction.
This, if carried out simultaneously with the strategy and roadmap exercise, will help the company gain a 306-degree independent view of changes that will be required to be put in place during implementation. This will also help the company decide the pace of change acceptable. Factors that dictate the pace include, among other things, new technology introduction time, manpower management planning, re-skilling, process re-engineering and overall costs required for a holistic IT upgrade.
The IT strategy and road map recommendation is based on the organization’s vision, and long- and short-term objectives. Some companies just want a step up from current levels of efficiency to higher levels. Others may want to achieve a best-in-class status in the industry segment. Still, others may want to incorporate cutting-edge technologies and achieve transformational changes.
Depending on the organization’s objective, benchmarking need to be undertaken. Generally speaking, the bigger the technology leap, the more disruptive it is likely to be for the organization. The exercise will help the organization prepare for the disruption.
Recommendations and road map are based on the current state assessment and benchmarking. Here the consultants recommend from the technology standpoint, which pieces of software, hardware or network are to be either upgraded, re-engineered, retired, retained or developed.
IT Recommendation Model
IT recommendations should take into account interoperability with other pieces of legacy or new technology. Efficiency within the organization is influenced by the ability of pieces of software to leverage and analyze data from others.
Hardware and networks at a high level are best sized and estimated. This will assist in seamless integration of the proposed new IT ecosystem. A solution architect will help determine how technologies could be integrated in the organization with the least amount of redundancy and minimal disruption. The technical architecture recommendations also help factor concerns on cyber security, data protection and disaster preparedness.
Even the most technologically advanced organization needs people to operate it. A workforce capability assessment exercise to assess workforce retooling need is best done alongside IT strategy and roadmap definition. This will help the natural product company prepare human resource (HR) management plans that can be rolled together with new technology induction.
An IT strategy and roadmap consulting team should be composed of an IT strategy expert, solution architect, network and hardware specialist, security, HR and training specialist, and a business analyst.
Sudhir Ahluwalia is a business consultant. He has been management consulting head of Tata Consultancy Services, an IT outsourcing company in Asia, business advisor to multiple companies, columnist and author of upcoming book on herb, “Holy Herbs." He has been a member of the Indian Forest Service.