Hadi El Arawi is a senior technology consultant for the municipality of Riyadh, a co-founder of professional training and event management firm We Grow Minds, and former regional director for international advertising giant J. Walter Thompson. In this Q&A he talks about how his experience in leading tech teams led him to his biggest lesson: Be prepared for resistance to your biggest projects.
When you joined J. Walter Thompson. What was the business problem you needed to solve? How did you determine the requirements of the project?
One of the main concerns of the business — headquartered in the USA — was the adoption of IT service management based on the ITIL [Information Technology Infrastructure Library] framework, which was part of the global IT transformation project. For MEA region, service desk outsourcing to an external supplier was the major part of the project, which I managed as the regional IT director including but not limited to designing and developing service catalog to be implemented across all offices, tailoring service desk processes according to region need, and ensuring full implementation across all IT departments across MEA.
I determined the needs and requirements of this project by conducting different assessment sessions with key stakeholders in order to assess operations, identify needed requirements, and ensure alignment with the business need at JWT HQ.
Which technologies did you decide to use and why?
The core technology we needed in this project was to have a service management tool. We implemented ServiceNow as an ITSM [IT service management] tool which helped us avoid using multiple, non-integrated, IT tools for digital transformation, thus eliminating information silos. We were able to seamlessly define all our core service desk processes and generate the needed reports to monitor and control the implementation of the project.
What lessons did you learn from the project that might be beneficial for our readers?
To identify lessons learned, one should ask what went well, and what went wrong. In fact the project was seamlessly implemented since agile has been used as the main implementation methodology. In addition, the project had many cross-functional tasks, and had to be implemented across a wide geographical location in decentralized IT environments. For that, splitting the projects into sprints gave us the ability to manage individual tasks before moving to the second.
Resistance to change was one of the challenges we faced during the project rollout; employees insisted on using the old approach in executing processes. The key here is to always “Expect resistance of change”; we should not be surprised, even if the proposed solution is a great improvement to any issue that was present before, expect that there will still be resistance to change.
Going back to our scenario, I tried as much as possible to engage the team from day one, starting with the IT managers of respective offices in MEA, moving to randomly selected employees. Moreover, I managed to have a kind of transition phase, although it was relatively short, between the old service desk approach and the new one to give space for employees to get used to it, assess the added value behind it, and start to “love” to use it instead of feeling it was imposed on them.
What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organization in the coming year?
I went through a document on Deloitte website a couple of weeks back that says: “The next stage of digital’s evolution welcomes us with the promise of emotionally intelligent interfaces and hyper intuitive cognitive capabilities that will transform the business in unpredictable ways.” Technology is advancing at a relatively fast pace, the key for a successful organizations is to find the right way to exploit this era in a way to always stay among the leaders and never fall behind, keeping in mind the alignment of whatever IT projects they do with the strategic objectives of the organization. By moving from JWT as a Regional IT Director, to becoming an entrepreneur where I co-founded We Grow Minds with my wife, currently the CIO of We Grow Minds, I am investing in my company to be the leader in cloud technology, to leverage from every technological advancements. For the coming years, having core services accessible anytime anywhere is a key target for us at this stage ; moving “fully” to the cloud is among our targets.
Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT?
At We Grow Minds, most of our digital applications are on the cloud. From CRM, to HR, to mail service. We are using very specific KPIs for quantifying the value of IT. For example, how automated our processes are and how efficient and effective they have become in comparison to the previous manual processes. So we can measure that in terms of speed and quality of information. Another example is the speed to recruit and get people on board; our KPIS are about measuring how fast and how effectively we can perform the recruitment and selection process. In our training services at We Grow Minds, we are measuring how effective and efficient our customer solicitation process, management, and after sales support. So all these are managed through BI Reporting tools to make sure we are getting the required value.
What are the lessons learned from the pandemic as an IT manager and what are your priorities in the next month?
Everyone agrees that “technology” was the HERO in this pandemic! Without the services offered by technology, it would have been impossible to run our business and keep track of everything going around us. At We Grow Minds, I believe the real “saviour” that lies behind “technology” is our team! Being apart, working from home, unable to coordinate instantly as before, we used a different approach in dealing with our team. We learned to further empower our team and give them the required authority to make decisions. I believe that companies that follow a “macro management” approach were able to survive this crisis more easily compared to those following the “micro management” approach. Managers should learn to take a more hands-off approach by empowering their staff and let employees do their jobs with minimal direct supervision. This will surely leave the ground to our employees to excel and grow from within.