Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Congratulations on your new role ! We would like to come and meet you to understand your key priorities and challenges. We can help you in classifying your portfolio of applications, the technology landscape that you have, or consolidation and rationalization strategy, IT strategy and roadmap and help you align to the business. For multiple companies we have helped them optimize their IT operations and save costs. We can move dollars from BAU to innovation. Can we meet you in the next few days ?
Even if you are not new to the role, I am sure that all CIOs (at least I do) receive such messages from all kinds of vendors, consultants, research companies, and what have you with alarming frequency. They claim to have worked with companies who are highly successful in their use of IT; they make it appear that these customers would have remained in a challenged state if they had not come to the rescue with their frameworks and consulting practices that helped them get out of mediocrity to become winners.
They are aggressive in their approach and are willing to go across the layers of the company to get to you, as if the sky will fall by next week if you did not engage them. Some of them have retired or ex-CIOs as primary subject matter experts; most use decade old models as their base which were created by a few academicians. These frameworks can still be applied with reasonable success to most company’s IT portfolios throwing up opportunities for improvement or validating success for a well-run enterprise.
Having known some of their “subject matter experts” in their past avatars, I have never been too keen to connect with them with a bit of credibility crisis staring them in the face. Despite that, surprisingly the number of customers using one or more of these wonderful companies – who have answers to all the challenges faced by the CIO – appear to be overpowering with almost every enterprise that I know on the list. While I knew of some and their reasons, I found it hard to digest.
So I started connected with some CIO friends to ascertain what were their key drivers ? Did they face an identity crisis or they developed cold feet in putting forward their strategy, plan or take risks ? Behind the brave face that they put up in conferences and meetings, were they a bunch of scared or uncertain individuals struggling to figure out how to make things work ? I could not accept my own fears on this hypothesis and gingerly approached the subject lest I create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Sigh ! The result was a mixed bag; in most cases the usage was to get endorsement or a stamp of approval from an authoritative source for higher credibility to the project or technology. In some I observed that the organization was risk averse or did not have the requisite confidence on the IT team and thus sought validation of the CIO proposals. Global and local research analysts and the models I referred to earlier give the requisite crutch or platform to the CIO to get endorsement and alignment.
The more interesting insight was with a few CIOs who did need the help to get there. They were bright individuals with technology expertise but limited ability to create a business case or put across a transformation agenda to the Management or Board. They were smart enough to work with these companies to find solutions thereby overcoming their limitations. I stopped applying my filter criteria for evaluation of the proposed engagements from this plethora of value providers.
Considering there is indeed a segment that finds value in engaging such companies (which is why they exist and continue to thrive, demand supply equation you know), my sincere and humble submission to all the wonderful companies is not to assume that everyone they talk to has a problem that they are unable to solve. All CIOs are not equally created, some are bigger Idiots than others, and others believe “I” stands for Intelligent or Innovation …. I think I was an Idiot for some time, and that will pass.
Monday, May 13, 2013
By design, omission or inadvertently, all of us have faced the situation where the vendor has declared the product “end-of-life”. This puts at risk legacy applications, instrumentation, automation, or in many cases plain old processes that have survived all attempts to change them. CIOs and IT realize that upgrades are expensive and in some case not as good as the earlier working versions in terms of stability and/or functionality. But then they have to do it lest there be no support when the software fails.
Many CIOs succumb to the pressure quickly, only to realize that the deadlines have shifted and they could have avoided the nasty dialogue with respective functions (normally finance). They could have saved the unbudgeted expense in the upgrade which wiped out buffers that were provided for some innovation. Sometimes this leaves a feeling that this was a ploy to move everyone along reducing the support costs for the vendor, maybe some incremental licences (new versions typically may have different breakup).
A CIO friend bought a software package that fit business requirements so well that it appeared to have been developed using the requirement specifications of the company. She loved it as it implied very little customization and a deployment timeline better than what the business wanted. Everything went like a dream, the solution went live with celebrations and everyone was happy. The vendor was acquired by one of the big IT product and services companies; the new CEO promised to keep old customers happy.
As it was time to scale up, the CIO approached the new entity for new licences. The offer for upgrade had her fall off her chair; it was twice of what she paid earlier. Reaching out to the old team she found no help forthcoming with them citing new policies of the acquirer. The big guy sales team explained the new investments into the solution justifying the increase. Left with no choice in the face of the earlier business success, the CIO felt cornered and frustrated though had to accept the new terms.
In another scenario recounted to me some time back, a packaged vendor gave a demonstration of a specialized solution to the business team who loved what they saw. They approached the CEO and the CIO with a claim of higher productivity and ROI. The CEO endorsed the purchase and the IT team got down to creating the project charter, implementation plan and timeline. Quickly they realized that the solution required significant customization to work in their environment.
The CIO got together with the Business Head to provide the reality which was quite different from the short trailer and demo. Since they shared trust, it was evident that the solution provider had only revealed the surface; they had pressed the right buttons and given the messages that created empathy. The resultant in high expectations created a feeling of being short changed; while there was no false information, limited revelations created desire and expectations that were unrealistic.
I could go on and on with many examples on how every day we face situations which leave us with a negative gut feeling and a sense of having been taken for a ride. Some of these are a result of our own naivety, inexperience, or overenthusiasm; also in many cases due to intentional concealment of facts and/or our interpretation of what is said. There are rare cases when mal intent has been the driver too; it is largely taking advantage of the gullibility of the buyer. And every time I hear of an incident, I feel restless.
I do not believe for a moment that this situation is unique to the CIO; at times all CXOs face situations that leave a feeling that we are being taken for a ride, sometimes during the journey, sometimes after we have been gypped. Is there a solution to this ? I do not have a silver bullet to resolve such situations; I believe that tactically the CIO has to work on each case to address the issue at hand. Due diligence and contracts go some distance, the rest falls into risk zone and have no easy answer.