Thursday, June 01, 2006

Dynamic Resilience

Every CIO worth his/her salt will strongly defend their Disaster Recovery (DR) plans and put forward claims that it works well and is aligned to the Business Continuity Plan (BCP). Its only when some kind of disaster strikes, the reality test comes to fore. When IDC recently redefined expectations with new dimensions added and they called it Dynamic Resilience, I wondered whether the new paradigm will fly with our business users. I quote below the definition put forward by IDC:

Business continuity as a partner with security, which encompasses: high-availability/fault-tolerant computing, performance monitoring, RAID (redundant array of independent disks), SAN (storage area network), NAS (network-attached storage), load balancing, disaster recovery, back up, archiving, continuity services, consulting, implementation services, management services, and training and education. The holistic implementation of these fundamental enterprise controls, with constant testing and reviewing, will make for a dynamically resilient company.

That is indeed a holistic definition of what constitutes business continuity and disaster recovery readiness. But fundamentally this does not make sense to me as it ignores one key element, i.e. people. So when they invited me to speak in a seminar to unveil their concept, there were many questions that I had which I put forth to the audience as well as other fellow speakers.

When disaster strikes, do people behave rationally ? What is paramount on everyone's mind ? It's their and the safety of their family and near ones. Its a rare possibility that anyone will immediately commence execution of the BCP/DR steps towards recovery or continuity of services. In most cases, plans fail to address this effectively.

Humans are not unemotional machines that swiftly switch from one mode to other based on stimulus, e.g. if a router were to fail and if implemented well, the standby can take over with no disruption to the service. People will not do such an act even if trained with repeated drills.

When you have a crisis and are restoring status to business as usual, is training and education a priority in anyway ? The premise above expects business readiness even for such tasks. One could argue to say that in a people oriented business activity like a BPO or Call Center, it may be worthwhile to have this service given priority during a disaster, but only if you could find the staff to take over from those who are indisposed or unavailable.

Disasters like 9/11 (NY, USA) or 7/26 (Mumbai, India) or Katrina (USA) impact large segments of the population. When an entire city is impacted, such plans could be executed from other locations. The above will then be useful not for invoking the BCP/DR but to revert back to normalcy. Once again the BCP/DR plans should focus on how to revert back to normal with minimal disruption.

What is the preparedness of your Organization when facing any such event ?

Friday, April 28, 2006

ITIL and aligning Business to IT

Earlier this week I attended a seminar titled "ITIL and Aligning Business to IT". I wondered what the connection was and how can ITIL facilitate the nemesis of all CIOs "IT-Business alignment" considering that ITIL has been around for over 20 years and rarely this connection has been made.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library developed in the UK for controlling the chaos in IT services and creating a consistency in what IT does remained a good case study for long until it became obvious to many that there were indeed a few good practices that could be adopted by other IT Organizations to improve their internal ratings with their customers. Consultants created practices, Software organizations started talking about ITIL compliant tools and suddenly a market for ITIL certified professionals began to appear.

Having implemented ITIL practices across two different companies in the last 3 years, I was wondering how the SDIM (Service Delivery Incident Management) and other formalized practices like Change management, Configuration management etc will help create a better business alignment if the underlying technology or solution is not compliant to business requirements or if your customers don't like the way you look.

As the seminar unfolded, we had the vendors' view of how their tools bring you closer to the holy grail and then a consultant from the big consulting organizations presented his perspective. It was but fortunate for me that the subsequent panel discussion between CIOs, the vendor and the consultant had one dropout and thus creating an opening for me to be called upon to fill in the gap. It's becoming a bit irritating to be pulled off the audience onto the stage regularly with no preparation.

So I asked the question to the panel braving brickbats from the audience for asking such a stupid thing.

ITIL provides consistency in service delivery that comprises typically 70-80% of the activity carried out by most IT organizations. It ensures that the experience does not have elements of surprise irrespective of rank and order in the enterprise. ITIL defines everything explicitly and expects commitment to deliver which some IT shops do extremely well and a few even with internal Service Level Agreements (SLA).

The underlying assumptions being that the systems, hardware, networks etc are well crafted and architected, services and service levels promised are in line with expectations and effective usage of these systems by the users, ITIL will create harmonious co-existence between IT and business. There you are !

Now you know how ITIL will help you align IT with business ? No ? Then if you find the answer let me also know.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A new job

I took up a new assignment recently with a large multinational company with multiple business units and a market leader in most segments in which they operate. The job comprises of managing IT for the enterprise and ensuring that the diverse business operations are able to use the systems consistently. The various business units have their own IT shops who attempt to create systems to meet the requirements of their respective business units. The global organization provides technology directions and expects the country operations to adhere to these standards and common systems. Shared service centers provide transactional support and charge the business for the services availed.

Having spent approximately 2 months in the new place understanding the people, perspectives, history and future plans, the realization is that there are many opportunities staring in the face waiting to be exploited. At the same time the business units being well established with over 75 years of legacy operate independent of each other. The IT agenda has primarily been to provide reactive support rather than proactive solutions to the changing market.

With the competitive marketplace putting pressure on marketshares, the desire is felt to create synergies and harmonize operations and IT. The big challenge is to move people away from the old way of working to collaboration. The systems which were then contemporary have served well for over a decade on technologies that are obsolete now with high cost of maintenance. The global organization is pressing for the change and is creating some via global mandates, which is increasing the operating costs for the business units.

Keep tuned in to see how this transformation unfolds.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The T in IT

Many a gurus and vocalists have been expanding on the I in IT. Information goes beyond what is managed by conventional systems and is not limited to what can be processed, transformed and presented by Computers. So the debate on whether the role of IT departments should expand beyond the management of technology enabled information or the I should be dropped from the name.

But does it make sense to treat the words individually by separating them and creating context around what has become ubiquitously IT ?

I met with the CEO of a large respected company in a private party and he made a statement that "You folks do not give adequate focus to technology". Now that was a shocker to many present from the IT fraternity as almost everyone seems to be preaching the opposite of what this gentleman was saying. Be it consultants, experts, users, vendors, the standard message has been "Don't focus on technology, focus on the business". So I probed further to explore how to interpret the message I had just heard. I will not get into the lengthy discussion that ensued, but give you the synopsis of what transpired.

The reality today is that the CIO and the team typically focuses on the business and attempts to deliver the requirements and stated needs using technology. The perceived gap exists from the not so evolved communication capabilities of the earlier generation (and many of today too) IT folks to express themselves using non-technical terms. The gentleman in question is technically aligned and has been a proponent of IT deployment for many years. His view arises from the fact that 95% of the IT business solutions validated by his experience too are based on conventional usage and gains based on "industry best practices" or acceptable deployment.

The other 5% puts technology in the forefront and looks at unconventional use of technology which sometimes works, and many a times bombs. This creates a risk averse attitude towards technology which dissuades innovation and thereby IT ends up playing a supportive role. Explicit communication on the possibilities and the business benefit with shared risk that can provide rich gains does encourage enterprises to dabble in new stuff.

For you to make a difference to the business as well as to the technologists in your team, you have to create the excitement of how it will separate your company vis-a-vis your competitors as well as the benefit internally. If new IT gets driven by the technical staff, the solution may work but will rarely get implemented successfully or will fall off the way in a very short while. Some introspection will provide you with insights on which projects worked like a dream and which created nightmares.

Business as usual is easily outsourced. Go out and sow the seeds of innovation.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Change Management

I recently took up a new assignment with a global major and market leader in the segment in which they operate. A fairly efficiently run operation with a legacy ERP that has served well for a decade. The ERP today does not resemble the original having gone through a number of customizations to adapt to the ever changing business and competitive environment. Quite a few have been imposed by regulatory changes which are a necessity to do business in the country. Many satellite systems have been developed using multiple technologies over the decade to overcome some of the inflexibilities of the system. 50% of the IT staff is devoted to supporting this application and continuous development in some cases assisted by external service providers.

The global parent moved to a newer ERP system a couple of years back and over a period of time have transitioned the many country operations into a consolidated instance. This enterprise has resisted moving onto the global system over the last year or so citing many a reasons, some rational and a few which stretch the imagination. Everyone however realizes that its a matter of time before the transition will have to be done, but are trying to prolong this as much as they can. The country management team is frustrated attempting to balance expectations between the global parent and the local business heads. One of my defined objectives is to align to the global system and retire the current ERP.

A quick survey of the senior management team members reveals that they do not see any benefit in moving to the new system since the current one has served well for many years and is adapted to their modus operandi. The new ERP will enforce global policies and probably also take away the flexibility that is currently exercised by the local management in how they run the business.

It appears to be a scenario wherein the basic principles of change management will have to be reinforced to ensure some momentum and progress. The questions that we are beginning to ask are:

1) What will change when we move to the new system ?
2) What will become possible that we cannot do today ?
3) What will NOT be possible once we transition to the new system ?

To bring about change, you have to believe in the change with passion to create the same within. Mandates can create inefficient transitions but will not change mindsets and people. Successful change is always brought about by people who believe in the new world. The WIIFM question needs to be answered everytime. If your future appears brighter than today, it's due to the promise of tomorrow. If it was darker, you would resist the movement or attempt to go out and create the vehicle that will drive the darkness away.

WIIFM : What's In It For Me !!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Digital Divide

I had a very interesting experience a few weeks back in a CIO conference organized by one of the leading IT publishing house which had a congregation of about 100 CIOs and 15 CXO (business and head of enterprise). The theme of the conference revolved around the challenges faced by the CXO and the CXO (IT) in leading through technology driven innovation. The experience was interesting as my Sales & Marketing Head was invited as a subject matter expert and held 2 sessions that were well attended.

Since this was a first for him to be called to speak in an IT conference, he was spellbound by many a facets of a typical CIO who debated, discussed, challenged and learned through aggressive interaction within the group as well as the invited CXOs. The breadth of technology solutions on display by the sponsoring IT companies gave him a perspective of cutting edge possibilities and application to business.

All our interactions in the Management Team meetings and recommendations that were endlessly debated and a few that never got off the ground created a great flashback. To him it was a revelation of sorts to see industry peers seek advice on challenges and possibilities within their organizations.

What is the point I am trying to put across ? Well, for our CXOs to get a real perspective of the talent that they possess and for them to respect you as a CIO and your views, it is important for them to be exposed to your peers and the industry at large. IT conferences offer one such opportunity that you should effectively use to your advantage. You don't want them to realize your true potential after you have decided to seek greener pastures either out of frustration or because its kind of end of the road where you currently are.

Have you attempted to get your CXOs to participate in any IT event ? Give it an earnest attempt and once you succeed, success will follow internally too. Go ahead, what are you waiting for !!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

CIO Expectations from Vendors

The New Year brings much joy. Many a resolutions made as the year turns over fall by the wayside by this time.

A global software major famous for its blue sky invited me to speak in their sales conference recently. They wanted their corporate sales team to get first hand feedback on what a CIO expects from them and a large software vendor.

In an interaction that lasted twice as long as anticipated, there were many a questions on how a typical CIO decides on which vendor to do business with and which ones to discard. The discussion veered into Corporate buying realities and how decisions are made on which system, which technology and what budgets. But the big question was the CIO's mindset. That set me thinking and attempted an analysis of what mindset does a CIO have today and how does one influence it ?

Every CIO gets calls from plethora of vendors attempting to sell media, consumables, packaged solutions, hardware devices and trinkets, customized solutions, ERP systems and many more. In this flood, the challenge is to separate the cheese from chalk. Few are brand conscious and thus limit their interactions to the larger brands across this variety and a few are value (read cost) conscious which results in focus on the lower end of the pyramid with vendors who may not differentiate from one another but offer acceptable service at low investments.

So what do they expect the vendors to do ?

1. Understand the business problems faced by their companies and industry
2. Address real life problems with their solutions
3. Deliver their promises (time, cost, value)
4. Educate on future trends and experience from other engagements
5. Communicate the bad news in the same way as they do with good news

Coming back to the interaction with the vendor's team, one question raised was "How does a CIO decide which vendor to do business with ?". My answer revolved around the 5-point agenda illustrated above and whether the Account Manager has been following these principles.

How do you decide on which vendor you want to do business with ?

In the following days I escalated an issue with the same vendor to their senior management (who were present during the event). The learning did not seem to translate into action and it took some effort and follow-up to ensure resolution. I guess we have a long way to go !!