Monday, September 26, 2016

Dear CIO, Don’t just align, be the business !

More than two decades back starting my life as an IT leader, I had aspirations to be an industry first and transform the company and leverage the then technological innovation – the “Internet”. Consultants and vendors joined the rising crescendo – if you are not on the Internet, your survival is at stake ! FUD created by Y2K threat was a welcome diversion for Glasshouse dwelling IT. Neither the Internet nor Y2K lived up to the disruptive promise; the subsequent squeeze on budgets did challenge IT Heads to change the paradigm.

Driven by technology evolution, the IT function transformed itself into structures with centralized, federated and other models of governance. The CIO was advised to “Align to Business” and get out of the ivory tower; frameworks offered help to the challenged, smarter ones declared themselves aligned with self-assessments. IT created demand and supply organizations to address the needs articulated by business and IT projects shifted to being jointly owned by business. The harmony however did not last too long.

“Be a Partner” became the new mantra, necessitated cohabitation of Business and IT teams and clearly defined business accountability for IT enabled projects; Business Relationship Managers were implanted across. COTS, Self-service and Cloud created opportunities to dismantle legacy as business loved the new mobility solutions that created new opportunities to engage internally and externally. Internal structures and cultures did challenge many while breakaway groups became beacons of success much written about and to be emulated by others.

Martha Heller in her new book “Be the Business” has captured journeys of many Rock Star CIOs who lived their journeys – with or just ahead of the hype curve – validating some of the theories built around their modus operandi and success. Assimilating these into almost a step by step process, the book makes great reading for existing CIOs to benchmark and make adjustments as required. Aspiring CIOs would do well to use the text as a guide to shape their behaviors as they get ready for the seat on the table and not behind it.

Interspersed CIO experiences ensures that the book is not prescriptive in disseminating pointers and tips. Martha offers that CIOs should take the bold step and risk to fill in gaps in the ever evolving technology landscape which keeps throwing demand for new competencies and capabilities fueled by every new buzzword. She goes on to dismantle the fad the Chief Digital Officer became and how CIOs who seized the moment grew into larger business roles while retaining their technology foundation or passing the baton.

The “iceberg” of IT first acknowledged in the early part of the century makes welcome refresh for large IT budgets struggling to keep the lights on or business as usual. Dismantling icebergs is a complex process and requires continued support across the enterprise without which the CIO finds it difficult to create change. Real life examples validate the need for holistic and structured approach to change and becoming Change Agents. They echo my journey in a few organizations; I wish I had the benefit of the learning available now to readers.

From the famous “IT Doesn’t Matter” by Nicholas Carr, the CIO has come a long way with business gains from automation, disrupted a few business models, co-innovated to create new products and services. Traversing the milestones I find the book easy reading with insights that offer models for CIOs to improve their success rates as they lead from the front and work in sync with business teams. As a veteran CIO blogger, I find the content resonates with my experiences and complements the learning.

Being part of the CXO team is a privilege which comes with its own set of management complexities; managing peer groups, measuring business outcomes and cascading them to the IT organization requires deft handling and setting expectations. The CIO is expected to create interventions that cut across silos while helping each functional head win their battles while the war needs to be won by the enterprise. Being the business is an equal task for the CIO who needs to keep the technology roots strong while being an equal on the Management team/Board !

Get off from your comfort zones, take a cue from the leaders who made it, your own destination and journey could inspire your teams to excel. The book is worth the investment.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Internet of Things is invading our lives in many more ways than we can imagine !

Industrial sensors have been around for a long time providing data streams to measure effectiveness and reduce breakdowns in assembly lines; these specialized solutions over the last six decades apart from automation helped faster, better, cheaper production. A score years later RFID created new possibilities with anti-theft in retail, toll payments, building management systems, supply chain track and trace, and identity management with smartcards amongst other use cases that has sustained interest in the technology.

Another two decades passed for the advent of what we know as IoT which in the initial days had imagination run wild on use cases and potential; auto-replenish refrigerators, trashcans and garbage bags posting to social media on what you consumed, it has been a wild ride for dreamers and thinkers. Two decades later, price and technology improvements have started shaping some of the whacky ideas into reality. The possibilities are exciting and scary at the same time with traceability resulting in loss of privacy for individuals and society.

Today almost all of us are being tracked by virtue of our presence on the internet and mobile phones we carry; almost all websites now what to send notifications across devices, track our movement, maps store data of directions we ask for and travel we complete; loyalty, credit and debit cards store transactions creating personas that would probably scare the hell out of us. Finally our fitness bands and smartwatches gather vital data that can influence our insurance premium, healthcare costs and medical profiles.

Current hype is all about transportation which has already seen aggregation and disintermediation on a large scale globally. Add autonomous to that and suddenly it starts impacting a large number of ancillary industries as the world moves to conveyance as a service. No more car loans or insurance, or scares with crude prices fluctuating, or breakdowns; no worries about parking slots at work or when out with friends or shopping; no traffic violations to worry about, toll payments, or upgrading the car ever so often.

The most beneficial aspects of Internet of Things come to life with Smart Cities where the number of use cases keeps increasing. Smart energy management, traffic monitoring, water management and leakage detection, waste disposal, and citizen services. Protection of energy grids or control of emissions and gases, and monitoring, surveillance of public infrastructure, law and order round up the IoT enabled services. Smart Cities also promise ubiquitous wireless connectivity to offer services and track tagged individuals.

Another benefit that the industries across have garnered is in temperature controlled logistics; food chain definitely benefits from IoT enabled trucks and vans, the bigger beneficiary has been the healthcare industry with medicines and pharma products retaining efficacy when transported and stored in defined controlled environments. The industry has boomed with the availability of efficient and reusable technologies that now dominate across use cases; though a decade after the world’s largest retailer mandated use, unit level tagging still to take off.

Irrespective of industry, IoT promises to provide new found opportunity to improve internal operational efficiencies or the way customers interact with the company. Industry wise use cases are plenty with Consultants willing to provide useful to harebrained ideas. Startups are also beginning to impact this space with innovative technologies and use cases that challenge conventional wisdom. The challenge to enterprises is to weave these into the exiting organization fabric without disrupting business as usual.

Symbiotically linked to mass adoption of IoT is the ability to analyze and mine insights from the vast pools of data that is flowing in with ever increasing speed. Our ability to store and analyze data has kept pace with the data streams that threaten to flood storage space if not managed effectively. The ability to separate the real stuff from the noise will differentiate the grades of success enjoyed by companies and their customers. Newer data sources and correlations make better actionable insights fueling the IoT wave.

It is contingent on business and technology teams to continuously explore new IoT technologies and use cases; the potential to disrupt is not always obvious at face value. Driverless cars will put out of earning more than a million people directly and many more indirectly. Smart energy sensors have already started slowing down the increase in energy consumption; IoT has also improved efficiency factors in linear production facilities and warehousing. Smarter, cheaper, and relevant is the way for IoT to keep everyone on their toes.

Don’t sit on the fence, start exploring, keep in touch, stay connected, IoT is all pervasive, use it !