Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Take any event, survey or discussion with a vendor, or pick any IT magazine or newsletter, all of them have something on mobility and integrally linked to that is BYOD. Mobility has prominently featured in the top priorities in every survey. It has become as discussed or more a subject as BITA (Business IT Alignment) was a decade back. There are views and opinions on everything going mobile from business process to commerce from company to consumer and everything in between.
With number of innovative as well as hair brained ideas vying for attention, there is little to choose from for a CIO. Every one of these comes with a theory and hypothesis to change the world or transform the way business is done and information consumed. These range from recognizing your customers to agile delivery of information to senior management or pushing alerts to the sales or distribution teams. The need for instant approvals to various requests is no more a proposition cutting ice.
When I met a consultant from one of the big and respected IT and Management companies, the dialogue soon veered towards what is happening in this space. Everyone is talking about mobility and related challenges of managing the device, security of information and the big issue of non-company owned devices that connect to the corporate network. He went on to postulate that the future holds a lot of pain for the CIO who has to manage the diversity with new devices mushrooming every day.
So I challenged him to illustrate what he has seen of the deployments across companies that he has surveyed or CIOs met. What kind of applications are becoming mainstream ? Beyond sales force automation, reporting and maybe order entry by field staff, are there other use cases that have gained acceptance ? He mentioned insurance agents and banking relationship managers using mobility to sell their services; but these are corporate deployed and largely laptops with limited customer information if at all.
Then, where is the need for mobility ? Are CXOs demanding information on sales or other KPIs real time or by the hour ? Are knowledge workers expecting to carry their work from the desktop/laptop to their tablet or phone ? Is the shop floor crying for a mobile device or a transactional worker like Finance or HR executive expecting work enabled on a mobile device ? What information and process needs the velocity that mobility enables ? And if none need it, then why is mobility a big deal ?
Most mobile devices, managed or unmanaged, are connected to the corporate network for email access and to some extent on collaboration (read messenger or chat). Most organizations stopped supplying phones a while back and very few have procured tablets beyond the sales or field staff. The information the phones carry is corporate email and almost all users have password protected their individual or corporate device. Loss of phone gets the finder mostly an inoperable device which could get unlocked only by luck, rarely by brute force.
Information contained on tablets could have some value to the finder if again access can be gained bypassing the security. MDM or Mobile Device Management solutions are an insurance cover over and above protection that we all enable on our personal devices. A disabled email id or active directory will anyway prevent email and other information sync immediately. Security vendors whipping up paranoia would like you to believe otherwise by painting a grimy picture of revenue and reputation loss.
I am not propagating that enterprises stop looking at mobility or mobile security; what I believe is that review each case on the business value that can be quantified. Do not base your decisions purely on the spread sheets that vendors want you to use for TCO/ROI. Stop following the mobile information security hype and deploy pragmatic solutions; you are not following your competitors to pick up their lost device, likewise your competitors are not following your people around. Take care !
Monday, March 18, 2013
Not too long ago there was a CIO who was involved in a cultural clash upwards and sideways in a matrix organization. He supported multiple diverse business units across multiple geographies; the business units had CIOs reporting into the respective CEOs, they had limited accountability to the CIO. The CIO reported to the Group CFO locally and the regional CIO functionally; the corporate IT function under the leadership of the CIO supported all the business units across the geographies.
The CIO had taken over a team of submissive staff who never challenged the business CIO demands for fear of conflict. While the overall matrix was a bit complex with differing size and profitability of business entities, the equilibrium was largely maintained with some give and take between the business units and corporate functions. Chargeback was based on revenue as well as headcount; there was occasional rumbling and murmuring which was subdued before it could raise an ugly head.
So when the CIO met the business units CXOs he was surprised at their aggression and attitudes; it was justified that the business team will generate the demand and the corporate will take care of the supply. Corporate IT was expected to take orders based on what the business had decided as the direction and strategy to deliver the systems and technology. It would have worked well except that the timelines were rarely reasonable even when Corporate IT tried very hard.
Corporate IT was also responsible for BAU systems, the data centre, applications and networking. The divide reached morbid peaks during budget discussions; your cost is too high, business cannot afford to pay increases every year; find efficiency was the mandate. Scraping the bottom did not reveal much and that was unacceptable to the business. If business is not growing, how can the expense grow ? Fair point as any was, with business seeing a downturn, it is imperative to cut cost.
The difference was that the business IT budgets grew while the cut was imposed on CIT budgets. This led to frustration and thus the CIO sought arbitration from his boss the Group CFO. That is when things started going out of hand; Business CIOs along with their CEOs represented that we are a Profit Centre while you are a Cost Centre; we pay for your existence and thus have the right to determine how you work while you cannot challenge how we allocate resources. Ouch !
Determined not to lose his temper the CIO silently looked at the CFO who gravely looked at his phone avoiding eye contact. With no help available, the CIO took the challenge head-on and suggested open book costing to get constructive feedback on what can be optimized. This was rejected upfront that it was not for business to run operational systems. Smiling the CIO offered a handover of all BAU systems to respective business units to run and transfer resources too.
Taken aback the group looked at each other; the CFO rose from his slumber to pacify and resolve; he suggested that the groups step down from their positions and create a working model that does not create conflict. The open book model was agreed to with benchmarks with the external world. This was deemed an acceptable compromise. His words on being a team and the need to work in harmony appeared hollow to everyone, which he too realized.
This is not a normal scenario in every matrix organization but some parts play out in every company. It is difficult to align direction when measurement criteria are disjointed. The open acknowledgement of team work towards success ensures that producers and consumers do not see each other that way; rather they work to create an ecosystem that motivates progress. Having been part of a few matrix structures, I believe that finally the culture of the company (read CEO/Head) will determine success.
If you have been a part of a matrix and have stories to share, I would love to hear them.
Monday, March 11, 2013
We are conducting a survey among the top CIOs on IT trends, data centre efficiency, Cloud computing adoption, business analytics, mobility, leadership, top 5/10 priorities, technology priorities, top 5/10 IT challenges, business challenges, social media adoption, big data, security, … phew ! You name it and it is there; every day I get a couple of invites to participate in surveys with varying time indicated, from 5 minutes to an hour. They are run by all kinds of IT vendors, research companies and publications.
Surveys normally have MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions) or a matrix in which you select different options; some also want descriptive answers. Most of them end up taking twice as long to what they mention and what they would like you to believe. For example if a survey indicates that it will take no more than 10 minutes of your time, in all probability it will take 30 unless you are a speed reader. If you actually read all the text in the MCQ before you check/click your answers, then it may take longer !
Why do CIOs participate in these surveys ? They are busy professionals with paucity of time; I think it is to put across their views and get to know what others think (most surveys promise to send the results to participants, 50% do so too). But nowadays they come with incentives attached; take the survey and you stand a chance to win your favourite gadget/device or a shopping site voucher or …. The incentive increases participation rates, gravely said one such surveyor; from 5% to about 20%.
The first page normally gets genuine thoughtful answers; then you hit a block with questions where answers don’t reflect your context or reality; there is no way to skip the question, you end up selecting a random option. Questions are constructed in a way that support what the surveyor wants the outcome to be. Soon you hit a complex grid or matrix where you are expected to balance options in a way that you select one option per row whether it matters to you or not. The more interesting ones are when you keep track of totals in a column across multiple columns.
That is when most respondents start randomly marking answers or rush through the pages. Any online survey or questionnaire that requires more than 5 minutes or has more than 10 MCQs tends to get into indifference zone. What you get is random responses or a middle path or a horizontal row of answers if the questions use a scale of 1-5 or 1-10. Many are kind and desert the survey mid-way rather than input garbage. Why are most surveys so painfully irritating and difficult to respond to ?
You can now understand why most CIOs don’t agree with the results; because the input is rarely a reflection of reality of the participants. The responses appear to be from a different planet, the analysis bewildering, and the implications or actions disconnected from what makes sense. CIOs blame the outcome when they largely respond with indifference to surveys that seek their inputs on what matters to them. The starting point is the survey itself. So how to overcome this situation ?
To begin with reduce the complexity of the information required. If you want a split of percentages across routers, switches, wireless, bandwidth, network management, which is a subset of hardware, which is a part of the infrastructure, then you will only get what you deserve. CIOs do not measure these, neither do IT Managers. Ask questions that can be answered without a calculator or the IT budget spread sheet which has numbers, not percentages. If I don’t do social media, then I need an option “Not Applicable” or let me simply skip the question.
Now I rarely participate in surveys and if I do where possible put in textual answers with my views. Surprisingly no one has as yet written or called me back despite having my email id or cell number. Do people really read the answers ? Do they care about what is being said if their agenda or hypothesis is met ? Maybe the surveys are just to say that we conducted a survey and keep the data aside to publish what you wanted to anyway.
Monday, March 04, 2013
I am beginning to discover new benefits of drinking wine; apart from being a social icebreaker with people discussing the merits of Merlot over Shiraz or the lineage of the grapes and the geography, it also opens up their heart with the cup of woes flowing over with gushing speeds. I was party to one such conversation with a well-known CIO who had scraped through challenging times and was drowning his sorrows in the red. And thus the saga unfolded.
He had joined a diversified conglomerate as the Group CIO; most of the companies within the group had mid-level IT heads who now reported to him. He was expected to bring synergies and efficiency across the companies while taking the IT agenda forward to the next level. The group itself had aspirations to grow manifold over the next 3-5 years and believed that IT can contribute to expediting the journey. Everything looked well set for the CIO to capitalize on and forge ahead.
The group had humble beginnings and had tasted success with some of the new ventures that brought it to prominence. Expanding global presence, the founders had begun to hire professionals to run individual businesses as well as leaders like the CIO to drive the corporate agenda. Collectively the team was tasked with bringing to life the strategy and goal. The recipe thus appeared to be what would achieve the stated objectives.
The seasoned CIO got started by meeting the business and functional leaders, understanding their key drivers and opportunities, and within a span of 30 days charted the IT agenda and roadmap. It had all the components of internal efficiency that could be gained with technology standardization as well as connected some of the initiatives with the external end customers. Commendable progress noted the family who owned the business.
The next 30 days had some of the initiatives getting off the ground with participation from business and IT stakeholders. The larger investments needed discussion and debate on the selection of solutions as well as partners who would deliver them. Everyone had a view on how they wanted to make the selection and everyone had an opinion on what should be prioritized. The CIO attempted to moderate expectations without success. And that is when things started going haywire.
Over the next 30 days the power struggle continued with no one wanting to give away, each holding their ground; the CIO in his righteousness and professional pride believed that he knew how to run with the critical projects. The business leaders believed that they knew the business best and the CIO should yield to them considering they have to finally deliver the business outcomes. The owners left it to the group to take a decision not wanting to be the arbitrator.
As the status quo continued for some time, patience wore thin and the level of exasperation grew; in the next quarterly business review meeting they orchestrated a show down. Most of them updated the respective family members of their discomfort and the decisions they were hoping would prevail. The CIO did not have this connect and neither did it cross his mind that he should work with the majority owners to achieve what he believed was the best outcome.
In a stormy meeting the CIO quoted from success within and outside the industry with his proposed solutions and why his path was the best way forward for everyone. The business leaders refuted the claim and chorused the CIO’s limited knowledge about the culture and business. The Chairman had to react and he did what was obvious; he took the path that the CEOs had advised him of rebutting and chastising the CIO for not listening to his customers.
The CIO had a devils choice; he could accept the verdict and get started or he could refuse to bow to the decision and move on. His stand had created a deadlock; his abrupt manner and straight talk had alienated the business. The superior attitude ensured rejection of the proposals giving him limited options on the way forward. He believed that others did not understand technology neither did they respect his experience.
We know the CIO should have tactfully managed the relationships first selling his ideas to become the choice of solutions and vendors. The politically incorrect situation was self-created and this dawned upon him in our discussion after a few drinks had been downed. I am not sure if the self-revelation was too late to make amends or he had the opportunity to go back and change the direction. He thanked me and left. How this unfolds ? Keep watching this space !