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 !

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Intriguing post on dilemmas of CIO.

    Technology is not only changing the way businesses are run,but also nudging CIOs towards more pro-active roles.

    Technology can play two roles in any business - A definer: If technology forms the backbone and purpose of the business OR as an enabler:where it provides the rails and infrastructure for the company to manage its core business.The role that the CIO/CTO plays is largely defined by this differentiation.

    My two cents of how such situations can be better handled.
    - The CIO/CTO have to wake up to changing tech landscapes and have to put in dedicated effort to understand them and how it can impact the business positively/adversely. He has to take the lead and show to the business
    - He needs to have the integrity and the guts to at least present his case irrespective of its acceptance by the CEO. It is his duty to place an objective view of such impacting factors from tech.
    - Change management is paramount in an transformation activity. He has into invest in people, process and tech change management.

    A CEO is akin to a ship captain, fending off various events and hazards, trying to stay afloat. It is natural that the CEO and CFO may shoot down some proposals based on financial juggling.

    Krishna Iyer