What makes the Public Sector CIO different from his Private Counterpart?

DQI Bureau
New Update

While we are similar to the private enterprise CIOs in many respects, the

only differentiating factor is our procurement process, wherein we have to be

all-inclusive, fair, equitable and provide equal opportunities to all, sums up

PA Kalyansundar, GM, IT, Bank of India. While Kalyansundar succinctly phrased

the key difference between the so-called private enterprise CIOs and their

government counterparts, there are many more such differentiators. During our

interaction with the PSU CIOs (perhaps the first time that we were focusing on

the PSU CIOs breed), many wondered on the need to emphasize the difference when

most of the functions they performed were similar.


Almost, but not all, the PSU CIOs have to battle for technology adoption in a

domain where technology is still considered by many as a support function (some

departments although may be high on the technology adoption curve). However, the

scenario is changing rapidly. The government may be slow in adopting technology

but when it decides to do so, it takes definite steps and there is no scope for

ifs and buts. The PSU CIOs also have to adhere to the guidelines and procedures

laid down by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and other governing bodies.

And if this was not enough, they have to transform the I-hate-technology mindset

of the government employees who still in many cases perceive technology as an

intrusion and a possible threat to their jobs.

Another relatively minor difference was quoted by Kalyansundar, If I find a

good location for an ATM, Ill have to float a tender detailing my requirements

for giving a fair chance to all. Under no conditions can I negotiate directly

with the property owner. This is unlike the private banks who can deal with the

concerned owner directly.

When it comes to differentiating between the private and

public sectors, the difference is at the planning leve

Vikas Guru,


PSUs are forward looking when it comes to IT adoption, they

know IT can sustain growth

PA Kalyansundar, GM, IT, Bank of India

A private sector CIOs role is dynamic

Dilip Kumar, GM, IT, Punjab National Bank


People Management

Pending retirement of key staff, lack of adequate compensation, delayed

promotions, absence of in-house expertise and to top it all the lure of growth

opportunities coupled with higher salary packages offered by the private sector

are some of the people related issues which a PSU CIO has to face everyday.

The PSU CIOs have to deliver results for tomorrow using the manpower they

have today besides attracting fresh talent to fill in the gaps. While most

professionals may be drawn to the government sector for fulfilling their desire

to serve the community, yet government agencies sometimes overlook critical

aspects of compensation and stimulating work environment. The government HR

policies may not be as flexible as those of the private sector.

As Dinesh Kumar, executive director, IT, NTPC puts it, One of the biggest

issues while working in the government is the employee mindset which takes time

to be put to productive use. For instance, at NTPC, while implementing SAP,

extensive change management exercise had to be carried out as the implementation

virtually covered all the processes and all the employees (approximately 25,000)

had to work their daily activities using SAP only. Earlier, the technology

available allowed us to carry out transaction processing which was mainly used

for record keeping, thereby catering to lower and middle management level. Now

the tools are available which help the top management in decision making. Top

management has also appreciated the benefits and it has become a very involved

user. All this is a result of change management exercise. However, now in order

to compete with our global counterparts (since not many private operators exist

in the power sector) we need to make proper use of IT. In the power sector, IT

utilization has traditionally been poor.


Most PSUs admittedly have created value for the country whether it is in the

oil, natural gas, power generation, steel plants and justifiably so they have

accorded the Navratna and Mini-Navratna status.

While Kalyansundar may feel proud in working for BOI, a hundred year old

organization with a modern approach, yet he too has had his share of people

related issues. On his experience of working in the public sector, he says that

one has to overcome the feeling of working in the public sector. Secondly, you

have to deal with an older employees age profile who although have good

experience but take time to unlearn, learn and relearn; therefore changing

mindsets is difficult unlike the private sector where the employee age bracket

is younger.

Money, No Problem

Yes, funds are certainly not a problem for the government sector (even in

recessionary times when most of theprivate entities struggled to keep afloat),

the real issue is how to make good use of the funds allocated. While the

government agencies (read politicians) may like to think that they do not have

enough money to make the difference, the truth is different.


Most CIOs during my interaction admitted that while money may not be the real

issue, the challenge is to take the management to approve the required IT

investment. The issue is not spending but convincing the management to approve

the required investment, says Kumar of NTPC.

However, for Kalyansundar it has been a smooth ride when it comes to getting

approvals for IT investments. I have not faced any problems in getting the

budget approved. PSUs are forward looking when it comes to IT adoption, they

know IT can sustain growth and is a vital part of the strategic plan. The

essential requirement is to be fair and unbiased, he says. Even during the

recession when most organizations undertook cost-cutting measures including

reduction in IT budgets and putting on hold new IT deployments, government

entities have more or less sailed through the turbulent times.

Across the board, the procurement process is

similar for almost all PSUs

Karan Bajwa, head, public sector, Microsoft India

One of the biggest issues while working in the

government is the employee mindset, which takes time to be put to productive


Dinesh Kumar, executive director, IT, NTPC


For Dilip Kumar, GM, IT, Punjab National Bank, it has been a mixed

experience. In our bank, for any approval of an IT investment, we have to

prepare a note plan (plan chart) post our vendor interaction showcasing the

benefits accruing from the said IT investment. This plan chart then goes for

approval to the top management committee (TMC) who decides whether the

investment is an add-on or an essential service seeking the opinion of the IT

advisor on the same. Considering that resources are limited, one cannot exceed

the budget.

While the government may have spent heavily during the late 90s in setting up

the IT infrastructure and deployment of applications and recruiting huge IT

support staff, the time is now ripe for the PSU CIOs to take a call which are

the investments worth pursuing for providing the best possible service. They

have to ensure that technology truly helps in achieving the organizations goals

on time and within their budgets.

Procuring IT

Even though the government may be slow in technology adoption, theres no

stopping it once it decides to do so. And presumably so, bagging a procurement

contract in the government sector has become the big ticket for most IT vendors

to gain a foothold in the sector. The procurement process in the past has been

much maligned due to several factors like presence of contract mafias, bidders

being killed by competitors, manipulation of bidding process, charges of

corruption and bribing. The procurement process in any government department is

complex, time consuming and often involves high stakes and often does not

produce the desired results.


Almost all government departments now have to strictly adhere to the norms

and procedures laid down by the CVC and other bodies which ensures that the

purchase processes are the same across departments. Vikas Guru, DGM, IT, MTNL

says, at MTNL too the procurement process is similar like any other undertaking.

Earlier it used to be physical submission of documents for bids with a two week

process time including technical and commercial as well as financial evaluation.

Once the technical evaluation is done the financial evaluation is completed

after which the contract is awarded to the lowest bidder. MTNL has now gone the

e-way and has implemented the e-procurement process for fair and transparent

bidding process.

At Bank of India, says Kalyansundar, we deal with public trust, therefore all

dealings related to banks have to be transparent. As a government undertaking

we follow the pre-defined procedures to ensure equal participation from all

vendors giving equal opportunity to all. The purchase process too is on similar

lines, which includes publishing tender requests both in newspapers and

websites, thereon an request for proposal (RFP) is floated and then technical

and commercial bid evaluation is done post which the lowest bidder gets the

contract. He adds that this is unlike the private sector enterprises that

negotiate directly with the vendor.

Guru echoes the same sentiment. When it comes to differentiation between the

private sector and a public sector, the difference is at the planning level. In

a public sector undertaking the procedures and plans, procurement and project

commissioning takes around one and a half to two years time mainly due to the

long drawn tender process, he says. Therefore, the CIOs have to work in advance

to ensure that the technology does not get obsolete since the tender process as

Guru had mentioned earlier takes a considerable time to be completed. The

process at times is too straight jacketed locking the bidders into a dated



As a government entity, the PSUs have to ensure wider participation and any

partner falling in the periphery has to be included. Says Guru, When you are

formulating specificationseven though you may be aware that a particular

technology may be beneficial for you (even though there may be no tangible

benefits)you cannot go for the deployment of the technology since as a

government undertaking you are answerable to a strict government audit including

members who may not be IT experts.

In a PSU, the CIOs have to shoulder the responsibility; they have to be

accountable and are expected to fail. In addition, they have to convince all

stakeholders of the investment, you have to take everybody with you.

The procurement process is strictly bound by pre-defined procedures and

rules. We feel there should be some competition among vendors. While vendors

will discuss technology and related aspects with you, but if they are not

interested they will not quote correctly in the tender process and the whole

rigmarole of floating tender will have to be started once again. This implies

that you are again the tender process loop, says Kumar of NTPC.

Kumar cites another difference between the private and the public

enterprises. While it may seem easy to bag contracts from private enterprises,

it is difficult to get the dues cleared from them; however this is not the case

with PSUs. We may have our own processes and procedures to follow which may be

time consuming; however once the contract is awarded and the deployment is done,

the payments are made as per a set timeline.

Karan Bajwa, head, public sector, Microsoft India believes that besides the

procurement process being the differentiator, another critical difference is

that the CIOs in a PSU have to align with their PSU heads (who are either

appointed or nominated for a fixed term) and a lot of decisions are dependent on

the charter of the executive. Bajwa goes on to add that across the board, the

procurement process is similar for almost all PSUs. Perhaps this is the reason

why most vendors for convinience slot the PSUs under one domain- public sector.

In the case of government entities, the other difference is the source of

funding for a project. There is no surprise element in the working of a PSU.

Making a Difference

A Deloitte white paper talks about these CIOs as being expected to help

transform their departments by making innovative use of IT. A change that will

entail breaking away from old habits, learning new ways to do business, and

adopting a radically different approach to serving constituents.

Most of the PSU CIOs I interacted during the course of this story and

otherwise have expressed satisfaction working in their current capacities. The

PSU CIOs unlike their private counterparts have no pre-defined roles and they

have to shoulder several responsibilities. A private sector CIOs role is

dynamic, adds Kumar of PNB. However, Kumar categorically dismissed any thoughts

of quitting the job and joining the private sector. But he does mention the

disadvantages of working in the public sector. For instance, if I have been

working on the chart plan of a BI project and after months of research, the TMC

disapproves it obviously a sense of discontent creeps in but not so much so as

to leave the job, he adds.

For Guru too is has been a fulfilling and enriching experience as the scope

of experience is wide and all encompassing and one gets an opportunity to

interact with a wider audience right from security experts to niche IT vendors

unlike the private sector, where one is focused on a particular vertical.

Although sometimes when I do want to embrace an exciting technology and am not

able to do so because of the bidding procedures (where the lowest bidder gets

the contract), a tinge of dissatisfaction does creep in. While some CIOs may

feel dissatisfied over certain issues, it is the independence of working coupled

with the opportunity to enhance experience respective of the vertical that makes

our PSU CIOs stick to their guns.

The government incidentally constitues one of the highest spenders on IT. of

working with the government IT heads has been delightful unlike the common

perception. These CIOs are forward looking in their approach in terms of

adoption of new technology and new infrastructure are high on the IT maturity

curve, he says. This certainly is a challenging time for government CIOs. But

theres never been a better time to make a real difference.

Stuti Das