Friday, August 29, 2008


Business Intelligence has been on the CIO radar for over 3 years now as per research reports from the major and respected IT research companies. Billions have been spent by companies and as a category, BI projects have seen the least success across almost all IT enabled initiatives. BI consultants will go about advising you that they "know" how to make it work for your enterprise and if and when things start faltering, it's always you and your users who are responsible. I happened to ask a VP turned consultant from a large bank, "How is it that consultants have all the answers, but employees do not ?" and got no answer.

Every organization aspires to create intelligent insights from transactional data and act upon them to increase revenue, optimize profits, retain customers or create efficiencies. In most cases, users are unable to think or visualize what they want to achieve any of the above objectives and thus end up defining extremely complex scenarios and reports with a hope that they will provide some kind of "Eureka" brainwave and they will be heroes. IT organizations takes limited steps to dispell such myths and takes on the task of creating models that enable the complex reports. Maybe because they are not in the bath tub !

Typically such operational data based reports provide limited insight since the insight is driven by humans and not systems. A report viewed by different people creates different inferences and that a technology cannot provide. Technology works on models created by us and is thus limited by the information gathered and understood by the developer. This indeed is the key to actionable insight and the experience and frame of reference of the person which makes the difference.

This is not a great insight, but it is based on the experience of seeing many business leaders responding with differing insights to the same analytical report presented. It comes out of a deep domain expertise and lateral thinking. Such individuals if enrolled into the program can make the difference between a successful and not so successful BI project.

Left to IT organizations, which is the typical case with BI projects, the end result is multi-dimensional reporting which is finally used to review business but with limited insights. It is evident and obvious that right people make the difference, but the right people are normally too busy to spend long periods of time to understand the possibilities and list them down. If by chance that were to happen, the adoption by the rest of the organization suffers and gets blamed on bad "change management".

So what is the conclusion ? A few "actionable insights" based on 3 BI projects.

1. Find the "right" person within the company who can help create insights. It may be your CEO ! If you cannot find such a person, don't start the project

2. Start small and scale up as you taste success; before you attempt to build the Taj Mahal, practice some smaller buildings

3. Tools and technology matter, but in the end, the data quality makes the difference

4. Do not be averse to restarting from scratch in case the first model or the second model does not deliver. It's quicker to recreate than attempting to patch a bad one

5. Keep on asking questions at every stage, "Why do you want this ?", "How will it help you or the company ?", "Who else can benefit from this ?", you get the picture .....

6. Whatever you do in stage 1 may need to be discarded by the time you are in stage 3 and that's okay.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Where to draw a line ?

A recent conversation with another CXO, I came across an unusual observation from the lady, which lead to me rethink the question, what is indeed the role of a CIO in a company. Should it be limited to creatng technology projects based on business priorities and strategy or it should go beyond the "normal" definition towards being the "Change Agent" beyond IT.

The CIO drives change that is created with the creation and implementation of IT systems or lead by some technology deployment. Successful execution creates positive value for the company, whereas change when not managed effectively may result in technology lead expensive inefficient processes. The good CIOs do not wait for business to spell out the next system change or new initiatives, they create the need based on their appreciation of how the new solution may create value for the enterprise.

Some CIOs with dual roles, i.e. IT and another business function have lattitude in what they do and also the span of influence is larger. These individuals tend to have higher success with change as compared to technology only CIOs (with a few exceptions). As CIOs move up and sideways in the enterprise, their well rounded view of the functioning of each department and function creates many opportunities for being the "Change Agent".

During my discussion with the lady, I spelt out a few initiatives taken up by the IT organization towards creating efficiencies and adding to the bottom line (most of the initiatives had no technology), I was advised that in many companies other CXOs (respective function heads) would typically take up such initiatives and not leave it to the CIO. She also advised me that such initiatives will typically fail because of lack of ownership towards change by respective business units.

While some of the comments resonate with the past, I believe that the new age CIOs do not wait for such initiatives to be thrust upon them, but take on challenges and opportunities even if they may be disruptive to some. The success of such initiatives will ultimately depend on the CEO or the Management Board endorsing the actions of the CIO.

The future does promise to get exciting for an enterprise where empowerment is the norm and CXOs are free to constructively challenge each others domain to take performance to the next level. Afterall as Jim Collins says "Good is the enemy of Great".

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Are you creating IT leaders

I get asked the question many times by different people, what has been your contribution to your company or the IT industry at large ! Earlier the focus was on answering the question based on the projects executed by self or the team, then it shifted to measurable value to the business and the wonderful "IT-Business Alignment". Somewhere down the line when that came with ease and almost became routine (with some notable exceptions), I began to think about how have I and how can I contributed to the IT industry.

Thinking through my journey over the last 25 odd years, I am able to create 2 distinctive stages. The first was when I was learning and following instructions of other business and IT leaders. While I did contribute to the discussion and influence the direction, my contributions were in the realm of project management, technical disciplines, and execution.

The second stage in which I continue today and been in this role for the last decade or so is when I was driving the direction, creating influence across the IT organization and business adoption of IT. But that was only part of the role I played. The realization that teams can be effective irrespective of the mix of people and skills, with some mentoring and coaching, there was a subtle shift towards encouraging people to start working independently.

Over the years, this nurturing became a habit and the bright team mates started blossoming on their own. All they needed was the impetus and encouragement that they have the potential which can be tapped into to develop into leaders in their own right. A few took on the opportunity and a few viewed it as a challenge; most of them however dived in with some conviction created out of their self-esteem stoked with a mix of mentoring and some pushing.

The result after a decade is that almost a dozen have achieved success and become CIOs in their own right contributing well to their organizations. For most of these talented individuals, some of the influence of thought stayed. They have become business IT champions and not technology professionals attempting to get budgets sanctioned for every small project.

What have you as a CIO been doing ? Are you creating followers or leaders ? Do you acknowledge talent by providing them the platform to grow or like some hire people who will not threaten your existence or position. I do know of a few such individuals (not necessarily CIOs only, but even CEOs and other CXOs) who will by design hire mediocre staff so that they can be at their beck and call, and not challenge them.

It's an elongated period (rather than a moment) of pride to see them grow and take on leadership positions; some of them humble me by mentioning that I played some role in their ascent. I wonder where do I go from here ?