Individual Project I-2
Technology Management Plan
You have been selected to be the acting CIO for a subsidiary of Largo Corporation called Rustic Americana. Its primary products include arts and crafts that reflect the history, geography, folklore and cultural heritage of the United States. It specializes in direct marketing and sales through its call center. Sales are through a web store, a brick and mortar store, and a direct mail catalogue. All services are housed under one roof that include warehousing, order fulfillment, shipping, corporate management and operations, and the call center. The success of the company hinges on its eye-catching direct mail catalogue and the unique product line.
Unfortunately, annual sales have declined over the years due largely due to internal issues. The previous CIO was terminated some say due to incompetence primarily related to the underperforming call center. In addition, speculation swirled around the activities of the CIO. He was often absent from the building. He secluded himself behind the closed door of his office. Associated rumors mounted, and it was believed that he was running a consulting business on company time. When the Rustic Americana CEO asked him about this during a formal review, the CIO answered that it was a weekend hobby that kept him abreast of emerging technologies. The CEO asked him if one of their competitors was a client and he vehemently denied the accusation. She was certain that the CIO was not being entirely truthful with her.
Call Center Operations
Managing a call center demands a wide range of skills including managerial, troubleshooting, patience and being cool under pressure. Knowledge of computer and communications skills is helpful but most call centers have a technical support division. The call center manager is Prisha Khan – she has been in the job for about 2 months.
The customer service representative (CSR) in the call center responds to a call for product. On the customer management system (CMS), the CSR collects and directly enters customer information; on a separate inventory management system (IMS), the CSR looks up the product, and verifies if the warehouse has it in stock. If it does, the order is entered on the CMS, and the CSR decreases the inventory on the IMS. On the CMS, the CSR creates an order fulfillment ticket that is automatically shuttled to the warehouse processing clerk who prints it and then generates the shipping label. The shipping label is prepared through a web-based system through either UPS or USPS, which also produces a tracking number used by both the company and the customer. The processing clerk enters the shipping costs and tracking number into the CMS. The customer is billed when the order ships.
The warehouse crew uses bar code scanners to track merchandise; once the order is selected, it moves along a conveyor to a shipping clerk who packages the order, affixes the shipping label, scans the bar code, and places the package into a bin for delivery pick-up. The final scan automatically enters the dollar amounts into the system for billing.
An old UNIX system is used to manage inventory. Data input clerks entered information on new merchandise into it, CSRs referred to it for product data, and if the product was on hand, it produced an order processing form which was sent to the warehouse for processing. The CSR could reduce the inventory through the terminal on their desk. The problem they experienced was a refresh rate on volatile inventory. It was a common occurrence that a customer would be told the product would ship when it was in fact depleted by other CSRs.
There were conflicting views on the party responsible for upgrading the systems. The former CIO believed the call center manager needed to take the lead on upgrading operations, while the call center manager complained that this was an IT problem and she could not tolerate downtime. To add to the fray, the Chief Financial Officer balked at the cost associated with this investment. The CEO did not feel the urgency and leaned to the CFO for advice.
Staffing the call center is the responsibility of the call center manager. Ms. Khan uses past volume experience to make sure there were sufficient CSRs on hand. She kept a list of “on-call” CSRs for unanticipated business. Her staffing limit was the number of stations with computer access to the servers. The call center uses a Cisco Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system. The phone system runs on two standalone servers — one for call routing and the other for voicemail. There is a dedicated toll free number into the center, and the system is programmed with an auto-attendant to direct calls. The volume of calls is a problem, and the number of lines is less than the number of agents available to take calls during high volume periods. This is because there is a per-trunk monthly service charge and the call center cannot adjust the number of trunks based on periodic demand. When the caller is placed in queue, the standard practice is to limit the length of the average call to six rings. The phone system requires a local coaxial cable Internet service to supply broadband. Phones are connected to the network architecture using standard Cat5 copper cabling which routes phone traffic to the call center.
Under this approach, there have been issues with “quality of service.” The former CIO was fond of saying “problems with the cable company” when things went wrong. There was no effort to track downtime. During these “downtimes” the entire call center becomes idle and revenue is lost. Because the Internet is tied to the same cable service, web services were also down. The Rustic Americana CEO felt that the lack of access discouraged new customers, but no data was collected to indicate a correlation between downtimes and sales decline.
Inside the building there is an application server, a server for Microsoft Outlook email, the web server, and the typical complement of routers and switches. The former CIO used a variety of hardware from different vendors. When broadband cable services are up, bandwidth is not a problem, except when the former CIO allowed employees to stream movies during their breaks to boost morale. Employees routinely used their workstations to check personal email, and to manage their social networking accounts. There was a problem with one employee posting unflattering comments about the company that resulted in a severe reprimand.
The data systems for the call center are setup as follows. The center has two data servers. One data server has a UNIX operating system, and it runs Oracle database technology. The second server is a Microsoft operating system, and it runs SQL database technology. The two data servers are accessed via 40 workstations in the call center. It is staffed 24/7 but is closed on major holidays. The call center also contains 10 additional older workstations, which are used by data input clerks to update inventory when ordered and upon arrival this inventory was verified and bar code tagged with local stock inventory labels.
CSRs use a “homegrown” customer support application developed in house which uses a generic Oracle Forms interface. The former CIO did not believe in “bells and whistles” of modern Customer Resource Management (CRM) systems — besides, the Director of Marketing did not understand the value of CRM, the CFO was not persuaded to make the software and hardware investments, and the Rustic Americana CEO held stereotypical, non-strategic views of customers. The inability to do their required work was a constant complaint of agents. Moreover, there is no technology infrastructure in place to support mobile computing such as staff use of tablets or (more critical) a wireless interface on bar code scanners used in the warehouse.
Your Role as Acting CIO
You should frame your work around understanding the mechanics of enterprise technology management beyond the need to specifically recommend the replacement of antiquated yet functional systems. You should strive for an alignment of technology with the business needs.
You have been asked by the Corporate CEO to fix the problems created by the former CIO’s perceived mismanagement of the IT operations and resources. In particular, you need to address the numerous complaints about the call center regarding its poor service such as delayed shipping and failure to notify when a product is out of stock.
The CEO asked that a plan be prepared and presented for effectively managing the company’s IT operations – specifically its call center. Within Rustic Americana, there is a Chief Financial Officer, a Director of Marketing, a Direct Sales Director and the usual departments. You are the “acting” CIO, and as such, you have your own staff of ten which includes an assistant who handles staff management and equipment orders, a network engineer for each of the three critical systems, a systems analyst, a web server programmer, and four desktop support technicians.
This learning activity focuses what it takes to manage technical operations. You will learn about creating reliable feedback mechanisms for difficulties at all levels of enterprise Information Technology interface. This includes timely discovery of technology related issues, resolution of these issues, creating a culture of trust and dependence, informing staff of your activities, and developing strategic plans for reducing bottlenecks in the future.
Understanding technology management is important to an IT professional because in this environment, as would be true of most corporate environments, computer-based information systems are at the core of an efficient and competitive service delivery. Effective leadership requires the identification of problems, the resolution of those problems, an eye on the future of the corporation and its profit, and transparency through communication with peers and subordinates.
3. Steps to Completion
1) Analyze the Situation
First review and analyze the business and IT operations of the call center. Break down the entire process into smaller parts and analyze these parts. If necessary draw a sketch.
In general, here are some typical questions one should consider as part of the analysis:
1. What is the business model for the corporation?
2. Where is technology strong? Where is it weak?
3. How do we manage capacity both in terms of our computer system’s capacity (and response time and fault tolerance) and our staffing capacity (does the work performed full occupy the expertise for which it is paid?).
4. What is our sustainability policy?
5. What is our technology innovation strategy?
6. What is our level of contract support? How are contracts evaluated for their full value to the efficiency of the corporation?
7. How are problems solved within the corporation?
Next identify key issues and challenges. Beyond technical concerns, there are also managerial issues that need to be addressed.
Deliverable: Capture this information in an issue matrix which is a table that lists, categorizes and prioritizes these problems (High, Medium, and Low), that assigns responsibility for the problem to internal staff, to contract support, or to others (specify these individuals) and contain other information you feel relevant. This will be shown to management so they will readily identify and understand the key concerns. Use your creativity.
2) Identify Best Practices
Research current best practices relating to technology management practices including operational improvement approaches. You can start with these U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) information:
Also, key management best practices are listed in Chapter 2 of this reference: https://books.google.com/books?id=SPjRBQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Also identify people management skills needed to have an effective operation. You can begin with this link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2014/06/09/6-tips-for-managing-people-who-are-hard-to-manage/
Understand ethical requirements for individuals in an organization. Here is a Prezi presentation about the subject:
Deliverable: Prepare a best practices report that addresses the key findings from this step. This will be shown to corporate management. Minimum length: 400 words.
3) Select Applicable Operational Improvements
You are to identify what is needed for managing the call center. You use all of your staff as a team to identify solutions (Note: you may request for new positions on your staff but you cannot exceed your current number of slots).
You have a sense of the problems; now document the best practices which, if implemented, generate a computing environment more stable, reliable and innovative and help in resolving the challenges you have set as top priorities facing your corporation.
Specifically, identify needed operational improvements applicable to Rustic Americana’s call center with a set of recommendations. Among other approaches, explore the use of ITIL to provide customer-centric IT services. Here is a good starting resource: https://www.traincanada.com/files/downloads/ITIL-the-basics-White-Paper.pdf
Here is an introduction to call centers: https://books.google.com/books?id=0ZdG1qF2XvYC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Also, be sure to address ethical behavior based on concerns raised in this learning demonstration. This has been a major concern in Largo Corporation because of recent unethical corporate practices that has been in the news recently.
Also address needs for the support, renewal, and sustainability of a call center technology. Be sure to specify effective day-to-day practices needed to manage operations.
Deliverable: Develop an operational improvement report that summaries the key requirements discussed above. Minimum length: 600 words.
4) Document Findings and Recommendations
Document key findings and recommendations in a presentation to your executive team (e.g., CEO, CFO, and Director of Marketing). This presentation should document the issues and solutions identified earlier.
Deliverable: Final presentation
The presentation should consist of 10-15 slides. It should include audio narration (directions are found at: https://support.office.com/en-au/article/Add-narration-to-a-presentation-0b9502c6-5f6c-40ae-b1e7-e47d8741161c). The narration should also be captured in the slide notes.
1) Issue matrix
2) Best practices report
3) Operational improvement report
4) Final presentation