Sam Nolan clicked the mouse for one more round of solitaire on the computer in his den. He’d been at it for more than an hour, and his wife had long ago given up trying to persuade him to join her for ma movie or a rare Saturday night on the town. The mind-numbing game seemed to be all that calmed Sam enough to stop thinking about work and how his job seemed to get worse every day.
Nolan was chief information officer at Century Medical, a large medical products company based in Connecticut. He had joined the company four years ago, and since technology into its systems and processes. Nolan had already led projects to design and build two highly successful systems for Century. One was a benefits-administration system for the company’s HR department. The other was a complex web-based purchasing system that streamlined the process of purchasing supplies and capital goods. Although the system had been up and running only a few months, modest projections were that would save Century nearly $2 million annually.
Previously, Century’s purchasing managers were bogged down with shuffling paper. The purchasing process would begin when an employee filled out a materials request from. Then the form would travel through various offices for approval and signatures before eventually being converted into a purchase order. The new web-based system allowed employees to fill out electronic request forms that were automatically e-mailed to everyone whose approval was needed. The time for processing request forms was cut from weeks to days or even hours. When authorization was complete, the system had dramatically cut the time purchasing managers spent shuffling paper, they now had more time to work collaboratively with key stakeholders to identify and select the best suppliers and negotiate better deals.
Nolan thought wearily of all the hours he had put in developing trust with people throughout the company and showing them how technology could not only save time and money but also support team-based work and give as he recalled one long-term HR employee,61-year old Ethel Moore. She had been terrified when Nolan first began showing her the company’s intranet, but she was now one his biggest supporters. In fact, it had been Ethel who had approached him with an idea about a web-based job posting system. The two had pulled together a team and developed an idea for linking Century managers, internal recruiters, and job applicants using artificial intelligence software on top of an integrated web-based system. When Nolan had presented the idea to his boss, Executive Vice President Sandra Ivey, she had enthusiastically endorsed it, and within a few weeks the team had authorization to proceed with the project.
But everything began to change when Ivey resigned her position six months later to take a plum job in New York. Ivey’s successor, Tom Carr, seemed to have little interest in the project. During their first meeting, Carr had openly referred to the project as a waste of time and money. He immediately disapproved several new features suggested by the company’s internal recruiters, even though the project team argued that the features could double internal hiring and save millions in training costs. “Just stick to the original plan and get it done. All this stuff needs to be handled on a personal basis anyway,” Carr countered. “You can’t learn more form a computer than you can talking to real people-and as for internal recruiting, it should not be so hard to talk to people if they are already working right here in the company.” Carr seemed to have no understanding of how and why technology was being used. He became irritated when Ethel Moore referred to the system as “web-based”. He boasted that he had never visited Century’s intranet site and suggested that “this Internet fad” would eventually blow over anyway. Even Ethel’s enthusiasm could not get though to him. She tried to show him some of the HR resources available on the intranet and explain how it has benefited the department and the company, but he waved her away.” Technology is for those people in the IT department. My job is people, and yours should be too.” Ethel was crushed, and Nolan realized it would be like beating his head against a brick wall to try to persuade Carr to the team’s point of view. Near the end of the meeting, Carr even jokingly suggested that the project team should just buy a couple of filing cabinets and save everyone some time and money.
Just when the team thought things couldn’t get any worse, Carr dropped the other bomb. They would no longer be allowed to gather input from users of the new system. Nolan feared that without the input of potential users, the system would not meet their needs, or even that users would boycott the system because they had not been allowed to participate. No doubt that would put a great big “I told you so” smile right on Carr’s face.
Nolan signed and leaned back in his chair. The project had begun to feel like a joke. The vibrant and innovative HR department his team had imagined now seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream. But despite his frustration, a new thought entered Nolan’s mind: “Is Carr just stubborn and narrow-minded or does he have a point that he is people business that does not need a high-tech job posting system.
What are the initiatives that Nolan has taken to integrate technology into the systems and processes at Century Medical and with what results? What is the present system suggested by Nolan and Moore and what are the intended benefits?
“Technology is for those people in the IT department. My job is people, and yours should be too.” What is your take on Carr’s statement? Is there a way to balance Nolan’s and Carr’s differing perspectives?