Discussions with VP – IT (Manufacturing)

i had a very interesting conversation with a team of senior IT management of a large manufacturing organization. it brought out the pressures an IT function has to bear in a rapidly expanding business environment.
the organization had a history of growing in an organic manner and the instances of M&A were few. nevertheless with widespread operations spanning 3 continents, it was a challenge enough to manage the diverse IT environment. in most cases, they had to deal with outdated systems, low bandwidth, less reliable network connectivity and hence ensuring uptime of operations was a challenge enough (since we all know how an IT function differs in respective verticals, i won’t spend time in detailing it here)

in-spite of all existing challenges, the team felt that by the later part of 2006, they had managed to get a “somewhat grip” on the IT environment. however this was a short lived feeling.

in 2007, the business expanded inorganically and had more than 10 acquisitions across the globe, adding more than 100,000 IT users in one year. even now the team was grappling with a number of IT assets, leave aside the categorization in terms of “servers, applications etc. each organization they acquired came with its legacy of IT environment, assets, processes and most important – people and ways of working.

some of the key challenges (leaving aside the organizational, cultural and people issues) listed by the IT team are:-

  • standardizing IT Management processes across various IT teams
  • consolidating sourcing and procurement processes
  • asset reconciliation for hardware and software – inventory and categorization, identifying end of life & end of support etc
  • mapping IT assets to business process and maintaining an “repository”
  • Getting on top of employee access management , streamline on-boarding and employee termination (especially in wake of M&A, it was a very pressing requirement felt by the IT teams) standardizing on technology standards, both hardware and software (Oracle vs Sql, “windows-XP vs Vista etc)
  • defining global baseline configuration standard for IT assets

the topic of employee access management, streamlining the on-boarding and termination generated an extended discussion and exchange of ideas.
even before 2007, the organization had to live with multiple HR systems. in some places there was no defined HR system, especially in the far flung, remote areas where the employees working in the manufacturing plant were hired on short team. such records were maintained in hard copies and in notebooks of the supervisors. it was clear that there was no way these make-shift systems could be done away with. at the same time, IT was not bothered about such systems as it had no implications on IT as none of these employees were IT users.

post acquisition, the organization had more than 20 hr systems and most of the users in these hr systems were also IT users and hence it became necessary to look at these systems and the problem of access and identity management with increased vigor. with more than 20 HR systems, the team also had a huge task of consolidations user database and use it for enterprise IT. the team had realized that automating the process of identity and user access management was the way ahead for them. with more acquisitions planned for the next two years, it was identified as one of the most important initiative for IT to control cost and demonstrate ROI.

various options were explored on how to go about it. with more than 20 hr repositories, and with each being an equally important authoritative database of employees, it is a challenge was to define a framework that can bring in fast results.

  • in my opinion, the way to approach it was to with have a federated identity management framework till it was clear if the hr databases would be consolidated or not and if so, how long it would take to do so.
  • the federated identity management would allow each of the acquired business units to have control over their employee database and yet allow IT to have centralized access management framework.
  • needless to say – a careful selection of the protocol to implement federation would be required.
  • along with federation, in my opinion, an initiative towards a reduced sign on would give required productivity benefits especially in an environment which is dynamic and undergoing a massive change.

it will be interesting to track the progress made by the IT team in achieving the integration of such a diverse IT environment and be ready to enable business in their rapid expansion plans.

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