Requisite ICT Knowledge for Today’s Manager
(Presented as the 8th Annual Management Lecture
of Nigerian Institute of Management,
Ile-Ife Branch on Thursday August 9, 2018)
titi omo-ettu and segun sorunke
I have no idea when the Nigerian Institute of Management commenced capacity development in InfoTech (IT) applications, but I remember I gave my first lecture at the Institute in August 2000. It was titled ICT FOR EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT. The first thing we did in class was to change the topic of my presentation to ICT FOR MANAGERS which was a fall-out of my preview of the list of participants and their status. My record shows that there were 81 participants in the program, and as it was my practice, we did an exercise at the end of class. 76 of the participants were attending such a course for the first time, 4 already had personal email addresses and more than 50 pledged they would subscribe to an email service immediately after the program and send their addresses to me. 11 eventually did and I believe that 5 of the 11 are still on my broadcast list till today, even in the face of several changes that had happened to my mailing lists, which at its peak, reached 60,000 members. I have collaborated with one of them to implement a big time project, and I will not be surprised if at least one of them saw the notice for this lecture and probably might have liked to attend or even be in this audience.
The point I want to drive home here is that, it has been a while since we commenced advocacy for ICT applications for Managers and my reading is that we did well and some of the efforts built relationships.
However I recently had to evaluate work in a government establishment, and I was amazed at the near total lack of IT applications in their work. It surprised me that the situation still existed. I was touched and I felt I would have a chance to do something about that one way or the other. It thus became an opportunity and a privilege when the NIM invited me to deliver a paper today with the theme: “Dynamics of Requisite ICT knowledge for today’s Manager”.
This paper is not meant to tell us how ICT assists every manager to do his or her work, as that is taken as a given in every, and all situations in the workplace. The objective here is to demonstrate that the minimum knowledge of ICT tools that managers can use to improve performance and therefore increase profit margin is not STATIC but DYNAMIC. It changes every day. The good story is that those who initiate those changes have only one motive: TO MAKE TODAY’S EXPERIENCE BETTER AND CHEAPER THAN YESTERDAY’S.
The discussion also does not set out to run a campaign on ICT applications. It cannot teach what is required by every Manager of today to be e-compliant. What it can do is to discuss the DYNAMICS of the ever-changing requirement of being e-compliant. To be literate in ICT applications is not as difficult as to be compliant with present day status because the requirement is dynamic, that is, always changing AS TIME GOES BY. Even if the knowledge were to be taught, it is not me that would do that because I do not possess the knowledge. My goal here is to articulate the strategy by which our environment can prepare every manager for doing his/her work more easily, more competently, and more profitably. It will also allow the manager to know how to search for opportunities to develop himself/herself for improved performance.
Every manager be it in the public or private sector, must DOCUMENT, REPORT, CALCULATE, PRESENT, REPRESENT (as in Imaging), and COMMUNICATE (as in Voice, Email, and various other applications). I call them Desirable Critical Actions of a Manager. In all of these actions, ICT has provided the means to do them 100 times better, 100 times faster and 100 times cheaper. Even if there are no longer people who want to do things better and faster, I know everyone wants to do it cheaper to enhance his or her profit margin.
We shall use the engineering approach in this short discussion, so that we can gain a lot more from talking only a little. That is to say we shall draw a table around those 7 DESIRABLE CRITICAL ACTIONS of work and business, and discuss each one along the path of tools, cost, development, training availability, cost of training, and finally ways of improving availability of opportunity to improve ourselves. We shall then talk about special issues such as optimizing the use of smartphones, Personal Assistant Apps, OTTs and the YouTube.
I deliberately left out WEB MAKING out of that list of desirable critical actions of a Manager because we shall the talk of WEB at a different level.
Indeed the future I see is one in which all of us will use the web the way you and I use the biro. I may not be here with you then but I see it coming one day.
However before we do that let us look at some fundamentals that will aid our discussions.
2. ICT APPLICATIONS
The relatively rapid change in the dependence on ICT (Information and Communication Technology) from being a useful adjunct ten years ago to a critical aspect of the business now, has meant that the management of this function has become a challenge. Although there is no single, universal definition of ICT, the term is generally accepted to mean all devices, networking components, applications and systems that combined allow people and organizations (i.e., businesses, nonprofit agencies, governments and criminal enterprises) to interact in the digital world. There are a few definitions of ICT but my favourite is this : “Information and communication technology is another/extensional term for information technology that stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications, computers as well as necessary enterprise software, middleware, storage, and audio-visual systems, which enable users to access, store, transmit, and manipulate information” – Wikipedia. As will be seen from this definition, this is a rather wide and varied field of study and application. It is generally believed that ICT technologies boost productivity, though how quickly and by how much is a subject of much debate.
The term ICT is also used to refer to the convergence of audio-visual and telephone networks with computer networks through a single cabling or link system. There are large economic incentives (huge cost savings due to elimination of the telephone network) to merge the telephone network with the computer network system using a single unified system of cabling, signal distribution and management.
Let’s start at the beginning: there is Information Management (IM) and Information Technology. (IT) and by extension Information and Communication Technology(ies) (ICT). At its core, IM far predates IT. Well before the computer age, IM still played an important role in organizations, in the form of administrators, managers, and extensive file systems. The information was on paper and filed away in storage for when it was needed. As technology developed and IM moved to a more digital format, it began to get confused with IT.
Today, IT is required to support IM, but IM is a much broader concept and must be tackled first, before IT can even be considered. In short, IM relates to understanding the information required to run a business; IT is the structure that supports it. The key to understanding IM comes down to defining the purpose that a company’s information is supposed to serve and truly understanding the mission of the enterprise. What are the objectives? What are the key business areas? What processes support those business areas? Once those questions are answered, managers can start to understand what information is crucial to execute those processes. Only then can they know what IT tools – databases, document management systems, etc. – are necessary to manage that execution effectively. In short, all the IM work has to happen and be in hand before a team can decide on the appropriate technology to manage it. Why do we bother with all these definitions? It is simply to allow us to connect all the dots as we move along in this discussion!
4. ICT AND SENIOR MANAGEMENT
Regarding using information technology and the Internet, senior executives differ in a number of ways with respect to other people in an organization. First, they are appointed for their vision, style, and personality and hence are unlikely to be highly influenced by peers or subordinates. Any mandate imposed on them about using IT for their job is doomed to fail. Second, once they use an information system or IT tool, it is likely that the influence of peers and superiors will diminish to non-significance over time with increasing experience. Finally, it is also highly likely that senior executives are not required by superiors or subordinates to use IT and are obliged to decide themselves how they will use IT. The effect of social environment on senior executive perceptions and use of IT is therefore very low. As a result, there need to be other incentives for the senior executive to start using IT and the Internet to its full extent.
The majority of studies of senior executives focus on their use of systems dedicated for their tasks, mainly to provide them support for their decision roles. These roles are, however, only a subset of all the tasks and responsibilities a senior executive has to perform. These responsibilities can be divided in two groups, each supported by different methods and procedures. First, most senior executives have staff that helps them in day-to-day operations. Apart from secretarial employees, specialists in finance, legislation, or other areas are available. All these employees normally have dedicated systems to support their work, e.g., financial systems or customer database systems.
Second, some senior executive tasks are well supported by generic tools, such as word processing packages, email systems, and spreadsheet software. Most organizations set one standard for the whole company so as to make communication and exchange of information as easy as possible. These generic systems do not warrant special attention for senior executives, although implementation and actual use of these systems is much harder to accomplish for this user population. The often-referred notion that executives attempt to hide their basic computer illiteracy by claiming they do not have the skills to learn all new IT applications no longer rings true in the light of the adequacy of the readily available, easy-to-use tools and the supporting organization nowadays.
Nor does the dedicated staff of the senior executive require special attention, because part of their work is adopting and using information systems and applications to do their job. These users typically have a very low learning curve with respect to new technologies, mainly because they are intrinsically rewarded by using new applications to obtain the information they need. The Internet has put them more in control, and sometimes in command, of new developments within their departments.
5. IT TOOLS FOR MANAGERS
The success of every business depends on certain factors, some of which are accurate analysis, choosing the right technology and the future vision. ICT provides the organisation the opportunity to analyse specific data and plan your business strategy with some confidence, while also providing tools that can solve complex business problems while the organisation can also plan the scalability of the business.
Many new IT tools for the senior executive, many of which are successors to EIS (Executive Information System) software, are rapidly being developed. Most of the new software uses a Web interface as well as an interface design closely resembling the way executives work (e.g., cockpit-like arrangements of instrument panels and displays with information on the senior executive’s PC screens). Internally, however, these systems still have the four key aspects of the “old” executive information system functionality: (1) communication, (2) coordination, (3) control, and (4) planning.
New systems such as business intelligence systems, data warehousing, and so on, build upon the EIS concept. The main difference with the older managerial IT systems is that new software often targets middle and lower management levels of an organization. With the decentralization and empowering trend in most organizations, this scarcely comes as a surprise.
Trends in society and business organizations indicate the emergence of different perspectives on how we deal with information, on the one hand, and the facilitating role of information technology, on the other. In the new economy, senior executives must begin thinking about how people use information, not how they use IT tools or Internet. In other words, the new open-network economy is much more people-focused and how information is used rather than on IT. Having the right managerial IT tools in place is necessary, but not sufficient for good information and information use.
Too many managers still believe that once the right technology is in place, appropriate information use will follow. The ability of an organization to deal with a changing environment depends on the flexibility and dedication of their top managers in leveraging information and IT for improved business performance. As a result, it is not IT investments that are key but how IT is used by every employee from the top to the bottom of a company. Also, if the company is becoming more dependent on sharing and using information and knowledge, senior executives should pay particular attention to the cultural values and behaviors associated with information and IT use in their company. Changing a company’s information culture requires altering behavior, attitudes, and incentives that relate to information.
It has long been recognized that information adds value to a business. In today’s business world, organizations use information to gain a competitive advantage. Business imperatives, such as growth and continuous innovation, require senior executives to use available IT tools to obtain timely and accurate information.
If senior executives use a computer or an information system, they want information to help them make the right decision at that particular moment. Moreover, providing executives with analysis capability to look at new and unusual information should take precedence over providing more accurate, timely, and reliable versions of currently available information. But the paradox emerges that executives will not use such an analysis tool or the Internet in this respect until it becomes an essential part of the management process, but this will not happen unless executives commit adequate time to the process of developing and using the right IT tools.
6. THE ROLE OF ICT IN BUSINESS MANAGEMENT
For any business, there are many reasons why the adoption of an ICT strategy is vital for not only its growth, but its eventual survival. Information technology can help businesses in the following major ways:
6.1. DECISION MAKING: Speed and accuracy are at the heart of making right decision for your business. Every successful organisation has to go through a comprehensive market research process which enables management to make the right decision. Market research can be done in many ways through online surveys, forums, blogs, group discussions using World Wide Web and of course through in-person interviews as well. Currently Big data, Google Analytics and Microsoft CRM Dynamics are also great tools to extract useful information which can impact on decision making. These online tools not only provide real time responses from the potential audience but also ensure the accuracy of data by minimising the risk of human errors. In all aspects of decision-making, IT is very vital, as shown by the following
a. Step 1: Identify your goal. One of the most effective decision making strategies is to keep an eye on your goal
b. Step 2: Gather information for weighing your options
c. Step 3: Consider the Consequences
d. Step 4: Make Your Decision
e. Step 5: Evaluate Your Decision
6.2. MARKETING AND BUSINESS GROWTH: The heart of the business success lies in its marketing which enables the management to identify its target audience first and then observe their trends and needs. Whatever the company produces, be it goods or services, it needs to be sold, and the success of the marketing effort is very dependent on the application of good ICT facilities throughout the company. While the industrial age was characterised by mass production, the information age is characterised more accurate levels of production, more targeted communication, and more relevant pricing, driven by massive data acquisition and analysis. The overall marketing covers public relation, advertising, promotion and sales which subsequently impact on business growth. Many types of marketing can help you reach your potential customers. But I will briefly explain digital marketing here which was the dream in the past without Internet technology. Digital Marketing is a modern phenomenon which let you promote your products or services all over the world. It is a broad term which includes many concepts like search engine optimisation (SEO), pay per click (PPC), blogging, discussion forum, email shot, SMS, MMS, social media marketing and Smartphone app advertisement etc.
7. Currently WEB MARKET is booming at a very fast pace because most of the entrepreneurs have understood that the long term success in business is not possible without digital presence on the internet. Millions of new websites are being added on the internet every year. A marketing information system, which is a continuing and interacting structure of people, equipment and procedures to gather, sort, analyse, evaluate, and distribute pertinent, timely and accurate information for use by marketing decision makers to improve their marketing planning, implementation, and control, can be vital in this guise. The marketing of products or services using digital channels to reach consumers. The key objective is to promote brands through various forms of digital media. Digital marketing extends beyond internet marketing to include channels that do not require the use of the internet. A digital marketing professional, or specialist, is often responsible for developing the strategy used in marketing a company’s product online, utilizing such techniques in the field as social media, Web analytics, e-mail marketing and search engine optimization, among others.
8. CUSTOMER SUPPORT AND SATISFACTION:
Higher level of customer satisfaction is the key to success which cannot be achieved without a real time customer support process. Business success depends on knowing its customers’ needs, trends, behaviours and satisfaction level. Effective communication is the best tool to understand the customer demands, problems and their solutions. Thanks to the Internet Technology that has enabled us to communicate with millions of potential or existing customer in the real time. IT provides many channels to communicate with the customer without going out in snow or rain. Some of these channels are email, webinar, social media, member portals, online newsletters and text or multimedia messaging through the smart phone. Enterprise organisations normally use customer relationship management systems (CRM) to hold valuable data for understanding customer behaviours and future needs.
9. RESOURCE MANAGEMENT AND GLOBALISATION:
Technological advances in transportation, shipping, and communication have made it easier for companies to market in other countries and easier for consumers to buy products and services from marketers in other countries. Resource management plays a crucial role in business success. When it comes to medium or large organisation, it is very hard for the top management to manage all the resources manually. These resources may include tangible, financial or human resources etc. Information technology has played a vital role in automating such complex problems by introducing user friendly solutions. A decade ago, most of the resource management solutions were desktop based. Thanks to the Internet and cloud technology which enables software engineers to introduce cloud based ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solutions. Now, the managers can manage or monitor their organisational resources virtually anywhere in the world by using their personal computer, laptops, tablets or Smartphone. This concept has introduced the idea of globalisation. Most multinational companies (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, McDonalds etc.) in the world use these cloud based solutions to manage their virtual or physical offices and staff worldwide.
10. BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Executives must use IT and the Internet so that they can serve the needs of the members of their organization: Above all this involves communicating with one another. New technologies such as the Internet can serve this goal. Moreover, the computer is invisible within the Internet. Even the PC, primarily used to date to access the Internet, is being rapidly replaced with information appliances with dedicated functions. Interestingly enough, the PC was the front end of the executive information system investigated in earlier research. Some argue that the PC is perhaps the most frustrating technology ever produced in that it is not task-specific. They advocate that any IT tool should be designed in such a way that it fits the task it is supposed to support. Perhaps this explains why most executives are quick to take to new gadgets such as mobile phones, PDAs, and electronic organizers, all of which have dedicated functions. Gradually, new task-specific tools, using intelligent interfaces alongside the tried and trusted keyboard and mouse, will fully connect the executive to his organizational infrastructure. Finally, it is worth noting that although the Internet may only be one of many communications channels, it undoubtedly has been the driver behind the change in attitudes by many executives to the opportunities IT offers. The Internet is ubiquitous, has no switch to turn it off, is easy to use, is designed to be always active, and is likely to be used by every senior executive in the near future to manage geographically dispersed employees.
Any intervention or support either by support staff or personal secretary then becomes superfluous, because there are a range of carrots and sticks to help persuade even reluctant executives to use IT actively. After all, valuable IT tools are still just tools: New technologies or even the Internet alone will not change the attitude and behavior of the senior executive. A better understanding of the factors that may impede or increase effective utilization of IT can facilitate the design of programs or interventions addressing issues regarding the introduction of a new IT tool, information system or the Internet. Based on a number of studies addressing the issue of IT usage by senior executives, three factors were identified that can be manipulated using the right interventions.
It has been shown that these factors play a significant role in the use of any tool targeted at the individual senior managerial level, whether it is a dedicated application such as the Internet, a software package, or a Web-based system for the senior executive. It is time for senior executives to hone their Internet skills. In the not too distant future, the employees of the company will work any time, any place, anywhere, with any device. The senior executive had better be prepared.
It is virtually impossible to attain long term business success without leveraging the benefits of information technology in this digital age. The companies have to bear a reasonable cost to achieve this success because using an innovative approach in business strategy, employing highly trained IT professionals and making right decisions at right time are the prerequisite of business success. As IT solutions continue to increase the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of business operations and communication, business will continue to rely on Information Technology for success.
In this era of big data, (extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions) most company will be overwhelmed without the benefits of very good ICT infrastructure that takes advantage of the massive amount of data available in a structured and associative manner. Big data is often characterized by 3Vs: the extreme volume of data, the wide variety of data types and the velocity at which the data must be processed. Although big data doesn’t equate to any specific volume of data, the term is often used to describe terabytes, petabytes and even exabytes of data captured over time. When combined with AI (Artificial Intelligence), big data allows corporate organisations to rely less on humans and more on robots by combining big data, robotics and AI.
12. SO HOW DO WE PUT ALL THESE TOGETHER AS MANAGERS TO AID OUR FUNCTIONS?
At the break of Internet around here in the mid-nineties I remember we used to put in our training notes that the future we ‘can’ forecast is one in which the internet would ultimately shape the way we lived, worked, played, and prayed. I guess we were right as it has done all of those.
Today, I am inclined to say the future we can forecast is one in which everyone of us will have his or her own identity in cyberspace because that is the space in which we shall all meet and interact. I may not be here with you then but something tells me that will happen to all the peoples of the world!
In collaboration with
August 9, 2018.