Monday, December 29, 2014
Case 1: It was a global RFP for a solution that had almost every solution provider pitching for the business. It was a large opportunity with the customer being one of the leaders by size in the industry. Everyone wanted to bid and put their best foot forward with local and global resources leaving no stone unturned. The business teams were excited too, to traverse the path they had not imagined possible. Evaluations progressed over almost 6 months until a couple were left to choose from. The shortlist was setup for negotiations aligned to financial period endings.
Case 2: The Company always followed best practices especially for their backend infrastructure and data center. Every 3 years they refreshed the hardware even if it had some juice remaining, thus staying with innovation; they procured all the equipment on operating lease which was good in a way. In the current landscape they were spoilt for choices with Public, Private, Hosted, Hybrid Clouds as well as engineered systems which promised leading edge technology. Spread over 9 months the evaluation led to shortlist that was a relief to everyone involved.
Case 3: Audits had demonstrated inherent weakness in the systems and the business was growing faster than the market. The management was being challenged to invest in better technology solutions which the rest of the industry had adopted many years back. Reluctantly they agreed and invited leading Management Consultants to review the landscape and recommend the best way forward. Many months and a fat bill later they had the answer they knew; the solution provider along with partners wooed the customer with enticement that was difficult to refuse.
All the cases above represent companies that are deemed successful by the external world on all the KPIs (primarily financial) that are used to define success in this world: CAGR, ROCE, ROE, market share, EBITDA, or market capitalization. They all had invested in IT building a foundation that sustained their business; they all had faltered through the journey and now become slow followers or laggards in the fast paced digitally disruptive world. The CIOs were operationally effective yet ineffective in the business partnership.
The need was neither lesser nor the urgency; participation from all quarters was enthusiastic with clear benefit from the investments. The companies were doing well with whatever they had, acknowledging the fact that competition had an edge with some of their new IT investments. Loads of clarifications, comparisons, and references later, they had everything required to take a decision. Thus armed with data the teams presented their conclusions to their respective management teams anxious to close the deal and start reaping the benefits.
At the opportune time, the case was presented to the senior management. As is with most management teams they want to add value to whatever they see irrespective of the domain, subject or context. The collective wisdom could not prevent their desire to help the team take the best decision; so they complimented the team and asked them for related and irrelevant data points and moved on to the next agenda item. Uneasy at the new request the team promised to get the desired information quickly to force a decision.
Weeks and months passed in the quest for the anticipated and unanticipated information needs of the senior management. Getting on their agenda again took some effort and lobbying; the team presented in all completeness the requested information and then some more. The CFO put a new twist to the story challenging the foundation on which the evaluation was conducted. A sense of despair floated in the room, the team unable to effectively protest the direction into which they were being hurtled. The situation appeared to be a losing one !
Analysis paralysis driven by the need to value add is not a random occurrence; it’s a tactical move honed by practice to avoid or delay a decision. When in doubt, ask for more information; when you don’t understand something, create a lateral stream; when you don’t want to say no directly, expand the scope or change the business assumptions. The list is endless, result the same, no decision. It is not procrastination, it is a savior for those who like to maintain status quo or are uncomfortable with change. For some it is a way to get even !
No decision is the biggest enemy of progress, are you addressing it ? Wait until next year for some answers !
Monday, December 22, 2014
The project had all the trappings of success beyond belief; everyone was of the opinion that this would be the project that will change the way the industry uses IT, at least for this specific use case. The vendor proclaimed success in the global markets with large companies and leaders in the industry. Published case studies were flourished and accepted on face value. The CEO claimed to know a member of the board which added to the halo around the company and derived credibility; and thus the high cost project got off to a ceremonial start.
A team of business users were dedicated to the project along with IT; the vendor CEO himself ran the workshops and requirement gathering. He almost knew the subject and talked the language of the business; any shortfalls were disguised under the barb of the users’ ignorance of global trends. He churned out voluminous and complex documents that did not really say a lot and thus remained under discussion and clarification for a long time. Timelines started slipping as he rebuked the users for lack of participation.
Soon everyone wanted to get busy with other work and not be part of the project that had serious communication challenges. Team members wanted to get off and pleaded to their managers to get back to their previous roles. With withering participation evidence continued to stack up against the business with no sign-offs while payments to the vendor continued as per milestones which according to him were achieved. No one challenged the situation afraid to upset the board member with whom the CEO claimed be chummy.
The board member was involved in the project during inception but had gotten off the team somewhere in the middle of the journey after he saw the flamboyant display of expertise. He believed the project was in safe hands and functionality appeared transformative. By the time the noise filtered through to him it was crisis time. He reviewed the situation and was aghast by what he saw; the project appeared irrecoverable and the blame game pointed fingers everywhere. The vendor threatened to stop work and sue for recovery of dues.
A senior member was appointed to review and assess the situation; his maturity and balance were the strengths which were the hallmark of a seasoned professional. He reviewed past credentials of the vendor, current team members from both sides, process of engagement, documentation, project plan, communication, minutes of meetings, allegations on both sides, and deliverables received thus far. He engaged an independent technology consultant to review the efficacy of technology architecture, and solution delivered thus far.
The vendor’s company really had no past or for that matter employees in any number to talk about. It was almost a one man team and his Secretary who had worked on the projects which he had claimed against his name, though only as an external consultant to another company. Effectively there was no depth in the company that made lofty claims on global case studies. The relationship with the board member was barely an acquaintance; no one had really asked the board member about the level of camaraderie and assumed rather than risk asking.
The documentation was sketchy and inadequate, technology framework in line with generally accepted industry trends, the solutions delivered partially useable specific use cases. Users had not read through the volumes that described the process automation and functionality; their ignorance evident in the remarks and clarifications. Compliance to schedule of meetings and reverts was far from satisfactory thereby leaving gaps which were exploited by the vendor to his advantage. The absence of business leadership in the project was glaring.
The vendor sued for un-cleared dues and the company sued for non-delivery; compromise was ruled out. They decided to go into arbitration lasting over 3 years; in the interim neither could use the limited solutions created. Business continued to use their legacy solution while the vendor CEO had collected many times the value of the deliveries made. The industry continued to evolve with newer solutions whereas the leadership step taken by the company failed to bring any benefit because of lack of due diligence, ownership and perceptions of team members.
The above case is based on reality though has been exaggerated for impact. Suing each other kept everyone with a bad taste and frustrated experience. With passing time the relevance faded away and it appeared to be a futile exercise. A collective failure that could have been averted easily ! When customers sue their vendors or vice versa, what is the cost of a win to either ? Time, effort and opportunity loss cannot be easily quantified especially when the industry is evolving at a rapid pace. It is better to break free and move on !
Monday, December 15, 2014
They were deemed a reference customer for the industry and one of the favorites of the big name vendor and solution provider. Over a long period of the relationship they had acquired almost every solution from the same vendor for any business problem. At times the price was quite attractive to turn down the offer, and at times the perceived time taken, complexity of evaluating and then implementing another solution appeared to be too big a task. So the CIO and her team continued to invest with their preferred IT partner.
Life would have continued for them with incremental innovation and harmonious coexistence with their vendor ecosystem had not events overtaken them. The company was caught up in an industry turmoil which required information agility they had never experienced before. Their strategy to stay with one solution provider had given them a basket of solutions for every stated need; the implementations technically successful and were declared live. The business use found them lacking in the new paradigm when efficiency mattered.
Earlier business had continued to use parallel systems and created business critical spreadsheets that became the lifeline for the enterprise. The level of (in)efficiency was deemed acceptable as change required them to actively participate in the definition and building of the solutions. It appeared easier to let the IT organization manage the complexity of IT’s favored solution which ended up becoming a system of records while business users added headcount to solve problems. Now the murmur of disenchantment grew louder.
The CIO was in a fix and wondered why her winning strategy was no longer deemed effective ? They had bought from one of the largest providers in the world and the vendor had in many meetings acknowledged the leadership in implementation of some of the solutions. Business had participated in the selection of the solutions in almost all cases and signed off the choice. Now how could they be pointing fingers and distancing themselves ? Okay, there were some disagreements on the solutions and partners, but …
The applications lead had grown within the ranks and his first implementation of any major system was from this big solution provider. The success of the first big step gave him sense of invincibility if he continued to bet on the same provider. Guess what, it actually worked for a while and the resultant growing arrogance made him deaf to the occasional issue and limitation. After all not every wish list can be fulfilled by the solutions; why did they not admire the brilliance of simplicity of integration of parts from the same vendor ?
The CEO instructed the CIO to benchmark with specific companies to find out how they stacked up in comparison and what they can learn from some of the finest companies. Initially skeptical and full of themselves, the CIO and the team ventured out to explore the world and how others lived. The chosen benchmark had a much awarded CIO who was seen as an early adopter and trend setter. He was always happy to share his success with others and welcomed the team to spend time with him and his IT and business teams.
There were many common solutions deployed between the two companies; they had the same big name vendor as their primary provider and that is where the similarity ended. The CIO had given the freedom of choice to his team to seek solutions beyond the initial investment. In fact he challenged his team to find alternatives just to be sure that they had covered all options before making a choice. They were cautious of the fact that they did not want compromise solutions and were willing to stretch to get the best.
Both companies having started their IT journey had taken different paths at the crossroads; one had gone down the well-trodden path of low risk and reaped the fruits that came along the journey. The other created their own path and enjoyed the journey and the new experiences that it brought. The first was finding her achievements pale in comparison to the risk taker who had the business totally in sync with the decisions, the pains and the success. Two different paths enabling business, two different outcomes, two tales of success.
Which path have you taken and what is your story ?
Monday, December 08, 2014
It appeared like a losing battle for the CIO; he was struggling to keep momentum going with new initiatives as well as running the business as usual. Most function heads had begun raising voices in review meetings; the CIO had been unable to find time to attend the last two management meetings trying to solve one crisis while other fires burnt bright. He was running faster than ever before to stay in the same place but was unable to; despite best of intentions and good past performance, the CIO was facing a credibility crisis now.
It was a traditional company with nondescript existence for a long time with unimpressive growth and undifferentiated products. They hired people below market median who worked with them until they retired; you could find employees with impressively long careers in doing the same thing for decades. They had invested in IT along with everyone and like everyone they had stuck to automation basics. Everything worked but never reached a wow ! Parallel systems continued thereby rendering the entire framework a passive failure.
Then something explicable happened, no one knows what changed but the company found its mojo after a long time; the business started beating market growth and acquisitions added to the excitement. It brought lot of expectations and the demand on IT suddenly multiplied. New opportunities required new skills and way of working for which the CIO and his team were unprepared. They toiled longer and harder in a quest to meet the demand; they did deliver more than they had done earlier but somehow it did not seem enough.
The CIO had hired based on need and the team was happy to find stability which they valued; they were good in a passive way and executed the orders they were handed. They never had the opportunity nor the need to collaborate or take first steps; the company was satisfied with what they had. Over the past year the CIO attempted to change team behavior and found capability improvement had limitations. Training, coaching and mentoring got acknowledgement of lessons and then they would be back to normal as soon as they went back to their workplace.
Pressure on the CIO and IT team increased manifold creating a cycle of underperformance and frustration on both sides. Adverse impact to process and efficiency due to lack of IT solutions began affecting the business. Not seeing any visible change, Human Resources was confidentially tasked to build a parallel team including finding a new CIO ! The news trickled back to within the company after some time leaving the IT team scurrying for survival. Shaken the CIO conferred with the team to explore avenues to bring themselves back into relevance.
Variations of this situation repeats itself in many enterprises where IT teams fail to keep up with changing expectations. As a C-level executive, the CIO is expected to anticipate change and plan for it rather than been told what to do; inability to demonstrate leadership results in change of CIO who pays the price for failing to scale and change with the times. Sometimes the IT team sees forced attrition and collateral casualties which leaves the team either weakened with the exits or strong with infusion of fresh talent.
It is imperative for CIOs and IT teams to anticipate change to stay relevant in the new business; they are expected to be equal partners and work across layers to institutionalize new technology enabled processes. Failing to stay relevant (see Stay Hungry, Stay Relevant) will create situations described above. The problem is a lot more widely prevalent than acknowledged; the real CIOs are able to thrive in this uncertain world, the wannabe CIOs and IT Managers sporting the title give away their lack of maturity and ability.
The CIO rose to the challenge; seeking help from industry peers, he worked with HR to segment the team into groups based on competency and capability. The group low on competency and capability was outplaced with help of IT partners; competent team moved into operations while the capable teams were happy to move into other functions. The last group which had competency and capability scaled into business facing IT roles. Fresh blood inducted into the team strengthened the organization ability to move with the times.
The CIO earned his position onto the Management table where he was welcomed as an equal.