Monday, July 27, 2015

Padding accomplishments: half truth or half lie ?

Consider the following statements recently taken from a few senior professional resumes:

·        Leading a team of professionals providing technology solutions across Asia Pacific enabling digital business transformation
·        Managing change with a high performance team in all business domains
·        Consistently rated “High Performer” for 12 appraisals
·        Deep understanding of technology solutions and their application to business in a cost efficient manner
·        An entrepreneurial result oriented business executive with focus on performance

The statements impress you well enough to decide to call the candidate for a meeting; you start the discussion with the accomplishments mentioned and realize that it was a case of good linguistic skills combined with jargon and superlatives that tugged you to shortlist the person. Quickly you realize that the person is a waste of time but you still have to spend some time being polite and attempting to stretch the conversation to a respectable time of at least 15 minutes. You end the meeting with a sigh and move to the next candidate.

This cycle repeats itself everyday many times across different organizations wanting to hire good talent at senior levels. This is despite the fact that executive placement companies and head hunters make loads of money filtering and fitting candidatures to roles. It is not just language that skews perceptions and makes people look better than what they are; many resumes have accomplishments with little or distant association to success as described, or suppressed facts that somehow makes a bad job start looking good.

Take the case of this CXO who was highly recommended by another; the picture painted made the person appear to be a guru, someone who will bring about transformation, the best resource anyone can find, high performance individual ! The accolades created an urgency to hire and get on board at whatever cost. Interviews were surreptitiously organized with management team members who had no way of judging capability but were influential enough to endorse the hire. Any stray thought or query on the credentials was frowned away.

The person came on board with a lot of fanfare, given a red carpet welcome and assigned the most coveted and visible projects to manage. The questioning brash and opinionated, the team began to provide information tentatively unwilling to stick out their neck. The shallowness and superficial was evident to them; fearing retribution the news did not travel upwards with the shield provided by the CXO who brought the person onboard; he continued to build an aura that was beginning to be larger than life ! (see Living with Bad Hires)

In another instance a person posing as an expert high performer was hired by a mid-sized company based on claims made in the resume and the fact that the interviewer could not see through the fa├žade. He always changed within the same industry and alignment with specific vendors ensured survival for a reasonable time. Everywhere he went, the same solutions were implemented and after a few years he moved on to greener pastures in an industry where technology adoption was based on need to survive and used only by a few as a competitive advantage.

So how to separate the truth from the written and the real ? What steps can be taken to take a better decision which leads to no regrets later ? The fine art of interviewing has to do not only with assessing the person based on the written word, but being able to extract the finer details behind the language. The starting point is to let the person speak as you thread the story around the keywords on paper. Inconsistencies in behavior and/or disjointed patterns should trigger additional probing or leading questions to understand reality. (See Selecting the Right Candidate)

Interpretations from the list we started with:

·        Leading a team of professionals providing technology solutions across Asia Pacific enabling digital business transformation
My Boss quit and left me holding the baby which I did for a short while until a replacement came onboard and rescued me.
·        Managing change with a high performance team in all business domains
I write follow-up emails to the project team to provide weekly status updates
·        Consistently rated “High Performer” for 12 appraisals
I spent 23 years in the company, we had quarterly appraisals; was indeed rated “High” in 12 times
·        Deep understanding of technology solutions and their application to business in a cost efficient manner
For the last 20 years I have been working with one technology, and after that much time I know a fair bit of it
·        An entrepreneurial result oriented business executive with focus on performance
My brother runs a company to who I outsource which has worked well for me

PS: in both cases the candidates were fired from their previous companies a fact that emerged much later.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Banning mobiles at work in the age of BYOD and Digital

Enterprise X has banned employees across all its group companies from using mobile phones in office. On July 30, it was extended to offices of all group companies, including …. The thinking behind the move, according to an employee who did not want to be identified, is that "people tend to misuse social networking sites inside office. Popular chat applications, while used for official purposes can also be used to chat with friends and family. So the management is trying to curb the unwanted use of these platforms during work hours”.

One step forward, two steps backward, or did I get it wrong, two steps forward, one step backward ! Either way it does not matter, reality for the hapless employees of Enterprise X is that one of their primary sources of collaboration and customer insights is no longer available to them. Everyone is bewildered; what was the trigger that caused it ? Did employees protest ? Did they voice their anguish to the Management ? Did the quality of work improve after the draconian law was passed ? Did output actually go up ?

On the same page of the publication was another report: “No one really doubts the importance of digital transformation to today's businesses. Our global survey found that few can deny the mounting internal and external pressure to do more than pay lip service to digital. Yet, digital adoption is not achieved without changing the behavior of the business. Management must be convinced of the business case, a thorough implementation plan must be in place, and enterprises must alter and revamp internal processes, technology, and staff to make the digital transformation”.

The founders had held on to control despite the next generation driving the business; the younger inheritors were adept at technology and current with the times however unable to challenge the occasional unilateral and irrational directions the company took. Were the business interests of Enterprise X immune to Digital disruption ? The answer is a vehement no; in fact they had led digital innovation from the front. Then something changed and they started lagging behind competition with the margin increasing with time.

Discussions on clamp down on social media and mobile enablement are in the past. Digital aspirations of enterprises changed the dialogue, while benefits from mobile computing driven by consumerization of smartphone, created new opportunities for information dissemination and customer engagement. Better telecom networks also enable geographically dispersed workers to stay logically connected thus improving collaboration and productivity. In such an environment the concentration camp mentality raises curiosity to get to root cause.

Reading the report verbatim the purported trigger was work hours being utilized for personal interest; it raises an interesting question on the dividing line between what are defined work and personal hours. For most work hours extend beyond the time spent in the place of work; laptops changed the paradigm two decades back, the smartphone redefined it a little later. Globalization of enterprises extended work hours beyond the conventional 9 X 5; whatever limited time that was remaining disappeared in the economic troughs.

Is Enterprise X giving a message that staff needs to clearly demarcate work and life hours ? Are they saying don’t indulge in any activity that can be construed as personal at workplace and similarly when they step out of the hallowed premises they shall not be expected to cast a cursory glance at the official email ? Or for that matter if the workload increases, the employees will not be expected to spend extra hours to complete tasks at hand ! An internal circular demanded people to deposit phones on the way in and take them when leaving the premises. OMG !

Everyone would nod their heads to the fact that attention span of the new generation has significantly reduced. Messages and notification craving have people checking their smartphones with increasing frequency; distractions apart, reality is that everyone is also connected to the enterprise 24 X 7 with rigor and passion unknown in the past. Weekends and vacations have laptops, tablets and smartphones as constant companions seeking wireless networks. With the work and life disconnected it’s anybody’s guess if withdrawal symptoms will emerge post working hours.

Maybe Enterprise X is path breaking with this new policy; only time will tell …

Monday, July 13, 2015

Professionally correct or Politically correct decisions and alignment

The company had decided to undertake an IT led transformation journey; the Board and Management including the CIO had agreed that this would help the company move to the next level of performance. Digital upstarts were threatening their existence, creating a business environment with reducing margins. This might sound like unfamiliar situation to many businesses, reality being that all industries are facing such situations from Angel and VC funded business models that surprisingly do not appear to be financially viable.

The new competitors grew in leaps and bounds leaving them struggling to stay relevant in the digital euphoria the market embraced. The company was forced to look outside its old school of thought which had worked well for decades in a customer engaged relationship model. They did not need incremental change, a revolution was imminently required and everyone knew it though it was rarely spoken of in operational review meetings; after all the current foundation had built the business to the level where they were now.

The foundation was set by the founders when they seeded the business; they were technologically on par and business competed on even keel. With pace of innovation increasing, the company started lagging behind though the brand kept them moving ahead. Despite insufficient expertise, the founders continued to interfere in every technology decision thus widening gap. They did use technology, sketchy at best leaving many open unaddressed and manual processes rendering technology led automation ineffective.

What will boss say ! How can we tell him we need better systems ! The world has gone mobile, we are yet to start ! He will not agree to change the existing platform even though it has outlived its usefulness. Laden with perceptions of embarrassing the promoters or rebuke from the boss, people refrained from raising the matter of obsolescence of existing solutions and resultant efficiency deficit. People accepted increasing inefficiency and worked harder to keep going; it was a losing battle which came to notice soon enough.

Business results in the face could not be ignored. Hurting from ignominy finally the management decided to wake up from self-imposed slumber. IT got the blame squarely for neglecting the business, the CIO replaced and a ray of hope for everyone with new talent wanting to create quick wins. Multiple discussions with vendors facilitated with external help, it was the beginning of renaissance. After the initial progress things started slowing down rapidly. The new CIO was confused and sought an ally to push forth the new agenda.

Every technology discussion required presence of the head honcho; his opinions were cast in stone which no one dare challenge. His legendary obstinacy had no cure, the CIO was advised to toe the party line or face irrelevance or eventual expulsion. He accepted reality and attempted to work towards making progress to the best of his ability. Technology decisions were taken were reviewed and changed frequently leaving the vendors and the CIO helpless; attempts to educate increased the uncertainty of progress.

Some of the technology choices were overturned unilaterally, the CIOs given the task of conveying the decisions to the vendor community. Internally the old hands were immune to this churn of verdicts having lived in uncertainty, accepting it as destiny. For the CIO, the professional in him had difficulty in accepting suboptimal solutions, he seethed with frustration. He faced a difficult dilemma; he knew that irrespective of the decision he took, someone will be hurt. Unfortunately that someone happened to be himself.

He turned to his mentors seeking salvation; some advised him to take the predicament head-on and not accept a compromise; after all how could he accept this dictating of technology to a technologist ? The pragmatic and realistic suggested that he set aside his pride and make the best of what he had and work towards delivery even if the solutions were conciliatory. Rest sympathized with him and promulgated survival over creating a better world; you are of no use dead to anyone, so stay alive and do what you can within the constraints.

The CIO made his choices and survived the ordeal, the organization continues to make snail like progress losing market share, vendors have ceased following up, and the world continues to evolve ! Business world has many case studies of companies unable to change that have now been relegated to history. Charles Darwin quoted “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”, while Edward Deming quipped “It is not necessary to change, survival is not mandatory”.

Ahem !

Monday, July 06, 2015

The adaptive and intelligent datacenter !

It was a big day for the company, every function had planned for many months. The last time around which was actually the first time, the company had fallen flat amidst a huge uproar by customers who were left dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Learning from the fiasco, they had planned carefully looking at each and every component distributed among the three streams which had to work together for collective success. This was their last opportunity to redeem themselves; the team was on tenterhooks, they badly wanted success.

D-day arrived; there was complete harmony between them as if they had telepathic connectivity; intelligence of the highest possible order ensuring that when one requested a resource, it was made available within fraction of a second. Together they ensured that no one was starved of any resources with what appeared to be limitless elasticity. The datacenter team had solved the problem of planned and unplanned demand peaks. They had learned to manage high variability and surge, and now could think of life beyond work.

Who comprised the magic team that found the silver bullet and solved the problems that every datacenter head and CIO struggle with ? Triad of the most critical resources for any application to work: network, compute and storage ! With a combination of Automation, Orchestration, Central Governance, and Dynamic Workload Placement, the ultimate dream of a Software Defined Datacenter – that is application aware and ensures that no resources are ever constrained irrespective of workload – had been achieved.

The journey started almost two decades back with Server Virtualization quickly evolving to allow spread from one server to going across multiple boxes within the rack, then data center and finally the Cloud. With unlimited resources running on commodity hardware, it’s now possible to react to sudden and planned upsurges. Cloud providers have built capacity that collectively can address the entire world’s needs on steady state. Economies of scale have been achieved by many; the decision to build dedicated datacenters is now an emotional and not rationale decision.

Software Defined Networks have evolved to allocate resources based on workloads managing capacity to optimize. They are application aware and prioritize traffic based on neural network based learning; the disruption to existing hardware players had them acquiring some of the new innovative startups. Finally hardware independent storage virtualization and automation brings up the rear having evolved last and still facing some challenges of interoperability threatening stranglehold of dominant players. Collectively SDDC has arrived and gaining momentum !

Software Defined Datacenter is a complex architecture of hardware, network, compute, storage, and unified software that is application context aware working within the boundaries of defined SLAs and configured for business. The abstraction layer thus defined, delivers everything as a measurable software configurable service. The business logic layer is intelligent to identify trends and constraints overcoming them in an interconnected world of on premise datacenter and Cloud (compute, storage, and applications).

In contrast the current traditional datacenters focus on discrete components – hardware and devices – which require individual configuration, provisioning and monitoring. Depending on the maturity curve, enterprises have adopted various parts of SDDC in their environment, whereas the mature service providers have come closer towards the creation of the software defined datacenter. Interoperability and transition between competing SDDC propositions still remains a challenge with proprietary and still evolving software stack.

So where should IT and CIOs focus or place their bets ? Can they create the magic described above within their datacenters ? Is it feasible with permissible or marginally higher investments ? Which vendors should they bet on and how to manage the existing stack of hardware and software ? Does it make sense to just outsource the entire proposition and let someone else manage the solution and associated headaches ? What about skills availability to create and then manage the complexity that SDDCs bring ?

I believe that the answer lies with the existing scale and intricacy; SDDC can bring high level of efficiency to large datacenter operations where the variability of demand coupled with dynamic scale provisioning will bring efficiency and potential cost savings over the long run. The other scenarios that make a case are business with unpredictable load and variability (e.g. ecommerce portals, news sites, stock exchanges, and social media). Smaller companies can derive benefit from parts of the solution with high levels of virtualization.

Either way, start building components that can help you move towards SDDC.