Monday, January 31, 2011

A CIO resume

I was reading an article on CIO resume for 2011 with some interest and a bit of cynicism when an email popped into my inbox asking for help. The sender was looking for opportunities as a CIO wanting to expand her role moving from an SME organization to a larger one. Her decade and half of experience across various companies had served her well and she felt that with the economic growth, there would be openings where she could try her skills and luck. Now whether this was providence or coincidence, I don’t know, but I started reviewing the lady’s resume against the principles in the article on my screen.

Everyone, well almost everyone has debated ad infinitum the changing role and expectations from a CIO. We all agree that in the current context, the CIO is a business technology leader driving business and efficiencies with help from technology. Contributions to top line as well as bottom line are now a rule rather than an exception. Any self-respecting CIO would vehemently defend his/ her position and seat at the management table; the discussions are no longer about what is the value, but how much.

So I was surprised to see the mail from this friend who was struggling to find an opening as a CIO. She was technically competent, had delivered most projects for her various companies, and had worked hard through the ranks and risen to head IT for a small business. All the ingredients existed that are required for movement to the next level. I reflected on the discussions with her during a few past meetings and could not find anything that would disqualify the person. So what was missing?

Opening the attachment that was the resume, I started reading. As I read through the first few lines, it was evident that she had achieved success in most of her endeavors be it setting up MPLS enterprise networks, implementing ERP, greening data centers, virtualization, and a host of technologies. Through the years across companies, she stayed with contemporary technologies and collected a bunch of certifications like PMP, ITIL, CCNE, and MSCE to name a few. Some projects brought fame in IT publications and they were reflected prominently in the document. Is something missing?

Then I put my business hat on and restarted reading. Looked impressive; but where is the value to the enterprise, colleagues, peers, and in general, the connect to benefit that was accrued to the company? The resume lacked mention of initiative, change management, teamwork, metrics or values around the impact of the projects. As a leader, how did she work the internal and external teams towards delivering what mattered! Suddenly I felt that the person had remained enveloped in the world of technology rarely visiting the outside world of business. Her portrayal did not reflect a CIO, but a tech professional.

So I communicated my appraisal of the document advising change to ‘sell’ business alignment and what matters to business; technology is the foundation and can also be outsourced, but domain skills are valuable. Months later, another document landed in my inbox with changes; I tore my hair wondering where I missed in my communication. Maybe she struggled to find the value statement; maybe she does not know how to articulate. Many thoughts wandered through my mind.

After another chance meeting with her, I recommended that she come over for a discussion to my office and hopefully we can together unearth the value and pin it down. It’s a meeting I am awaiting as anxiously as I hope she is.

Read CIO Resume Part II

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Murphy at work !

Any festive season brings with it a sense of joy, bonhomie and general feel good factor. After all, there is a planned celebration, friends getting together, family reunions, and if nothing else, some quality time with the family. We all look forward to such occasions to come. Different reasons across the world make for such gatherings, be it festivals, commemorations, faith; however, the world unites together to bring in the New Year.

Now, imagine this scenario:

New Years’ eve, and the day begins with an outage notice from the network team citing a company-wide network outage for causes unknown. The team gets down to figuring out the cause and fix, but the problem appears to be more than just a router failure. It is evident within a few hours that it’s going to be a really long day, maybe a night too, before the situation comes back to normal. So what do you do? It is evident that vendor support will be limited, and global support skeletal.

In a not too dissimilar scenario on a Saturday morning, I have seen the Operational CIO get off a meeting not to return. On another occasion, a balanced CIO keeps tabs periodically, and on the other extreme a “strategic” CIO continues with his life as usual, knowing that the team will finally resolve the situation.

Murphy strikes when everything appears to be nice and bright with the world at large. He has a way of unsettling the best of plans of good men. These are the times for which all the plans are created, the maintenance contracts signed, and the service levels (SLA) monitored. The machinery has to crank itself up on such moments to deliver. Everyone in the team has to know what they are expected to do, including communication within the enterprise, of the situation and plan remedial action. Beyond the explicit, on such occasions, relationships work their magic. Teams with passion, understanding of the impact and ownership will always rise to any occasion.

So in such an eventuality, what is the role of the CIO? It does not matter whether the CIO is operational, strategic or balanced. Should the CIO continue with preplanned celebrations while the team toils the midnight oil? Or lend a moral shoulder to lean upon? Just get out of the way lest he becomes a pain for the team trying to solve the problem? It is important for the CIO to understand the value he will bring to the situation and decide what works best. But one of the key actions required is to communicate the impact if any to business, what are the measures being taken to minimize the adverse impact, and keep information flowing periodically to keep shortening tempers at bay.

Post incident resolution, acknowledgement of the effort along with words of merit and appreciation are definitely worth engaging in. The message it sends will ensure that when Murphy strikes again, the team will be up to the task.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Buying IT, a financial decision ?

IT procurement has always been an activity that provides the CIO and IT staff with substantial power —that of a customer who defines the requirement, negotiates, and sweats the poor sales person through each interaction. There are horror stories of negotiations beginning post midnight, as well as of joyous ones with a handshake happening across the table in less than an hour. In a few cases, this negotiation is the role of a specialist IT buyer or purchase department.

The recent past has seen a lot of rigor in this process, with expectations of better deals and discounts driven by tightening budgets. In many cases, Finance teams were thrust upon the CIO to validate or take over the negotiation. The underlying assumption is that Finance has better negotiation skills, and they will fiscally protect the enterprise’s interests. It is another matter that these individuals (with best of interest) had little knowledge of the overall value propositions on the IT solutions. Another angle discussed is of governance, elimination of temptation driven by large value transactions, and keeping everything above board.

In the early days of my career, one of the executives charged irregularities in IT purchases. I welcomed the conducted audit, which validated the IT departments’ innocence and above board dealings. This set into motion a change in process with the induction of another coworker from Finance during the buying process. While she was in the initial stages an observer more than a contributor, over a period of time, she was able to start adding value. The cast aspersions were no longer a talking point, but collaboration was considering the perceived transparency that it brought to the process.

There have been not so pleasant experiences too for some CIOs facing “interference” from other functions, as they do not understand (nor make an effort to). Thus the strained relationships between IT, vendors, and largely the finance/purchase team leads to a lose-lose proposition for the enterprise—with delays, inefficient negotiations, and missing line items in the overall project charter or Bill of Material. Everyone finds this an ordeal, but is unable to change the outcome, as the value propositions are not understood.

If your organization is functioning well without involvement from other functions in IT procurement, periodically review the perception of how you are seen doing that same. It would help you address issues before they become a talking point. On the other hand, if your organization does require purchase decisions to involve a larger group, get them into the discussion from day 1. Else you may face frustrating moments in the future. Their involvement and participation will be a function of whether they are measured on this. Make sure that KRAs are aligned; else they have no reason to devote time beyond what makes them win and look good.

I also had the privilege in a company to have senior finance personnel sit through tech vendor presentations nodding knowledgeably for a while. Then they would start making excuses not to participate, or get off the meeting as some important call took them away. After a few months, they rarely turned up !

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Time Value of Information

Every now and then, there’s a flurry of activity, questions and debate around real time information, on inventory, sales, production, process approvals, financial metrics, and so on. The passionate appeals by vendors makes one wonder whether the business is really inefficient or missing out on a large opportunity by not disseminating information to the managers and CXOs in real time. Add to this the new dimension of “complex event processing”, and the picture depicts a Jurassic era of information enablement.

Real time information availability has been business’ aspiration for a long time. IT enablement of the processes and operations in an enterprise expedited availability, but batch processing still did not provide the information as the event happened. As the data mining tools matured and models appeared for predictive modeling, gaps of the present became very evident. SOA Integration and middle layer technology solutions reduced the time gap. Mobile computing removed the physical presence limitation, as trickles of information could be provided on the handheld.

Now cast an eye across industries and various processes that are fed with, or create information. We will observe that today information flows with every step, decision, and event, irrespective of the sector, size or geography, the paradigm is uniform. People create information, people consume information, and people transform information. Managers, supervisors, CXOs, and even customers, seek control with real time information availability. Is it necessary to provide real time information to all the stakeholders? How does it change their behavior, decision or end outcome, if at all?

Take the case of retail. For a customer shopping in a store, price information on nearby stores in real-time is valuable, as it helps her get the best price for a product. To the retailer, a product sold is information, as it indicates that a customer has chosen a product from the shelf, and the stock count is down by one. Based on the supply chain’s agility, the retailer can use this information to plan for replenishment. The information can also be shared with a supplier who may use this snippet for planning next delivery and the impact on production schedule.

All this looks good in a one-one relationship, but when you multiply the dimensions, the complexity renders the simplistic scenario unviable as the optimization across the value chain has multiple constraints that operate on each decision point. Even when the collation and decision points can be automated, “complex events” have a way of making decision making a really difficult task requiring human intervention. In the above scenario, if the retailer received hourly information, will it materially impact the quality of decisions or process triggers (like a replenishment)?

The ground reality is that real time information does matter to an enterprise, but the rule cannot be applied for every byte of information. For a nuclear reactor, there is no other way. In case of a manufacturing plant, PLC data is, inventory data is not. Similarly for a financial institution, risk positions can build up quickly unless near real time monitoring exists, but a trial balance can wait for end of day. The application of technology for real time information is a good tool to be judiciously applied, and not get carried away by the use cases presented by the seller of the technology. If you are not doing it, get started, but ask the question at every stage. What changes with real time information?

Paradoxically, this post is delayed due to travel !

Monday, January 03, 2011

My CFO is my best friend

The recent past has seen many discussions, debates, as well as advice from anyone and everyone who has an opinion and finally some pieces of alignment between the CIO and the CFO. All of them make interesting reading, depending on whether you are the CIO or the CFO. Last week, my CFO and I were approached by a media house to do a story on our relationship and the CFO called to ask  "Is this a story"?

Almost every CIO (and I will not debate the merits or lack of) passionately believes that he should be reporting to the CEO or the Board. This is a demonstration of IT’s strategic intent, as the CEO has direct overview of the direction taken by IT and the influence it has on the business. Reporting to the CFO is fraught with pitfalls, as the primary discussion is around cost. While I largely agree with this hypothesis, a lot of equations changed during the downturn, as the CFO grew in his span of influence.

IT was at the receiving end to some extent, with squeezed budgets, investments becoming difficult and overall sentiment prevailing around cost containment. Organizations with good governance processes as well as CIOs who were aligned to the enterprise realities adapted quickly, and worked with the CEO and CFO to create models that worked for everyone. Innovation slowed in some cases, but did not come to a halt. On the other hand, some CIOs had difficulty in adjusting to the new reality as the CFO dominated the decision making process.

Gigabytes of information were created around this new paradigm; CIOs hating it and CFOs wondering about what’s wrong with IT. The strain in an otherwise cordial coexistence or tolerance became a sore point for the CIO who could only vent his frustration at the inability to break the deadlock — unwilling to recognize that change begins from self. In the last 18-24 months, I had many interesting discussions with CIOs who struggled to get on with the IT agenda. Not that this was universal; many adapted to the new reality. In the new normal, the baseline has shifted and the new paradigm is a way of life. The CFO is an integral part of the decision making process, and signs off at least large value investments or costs.

Coming back to the interview between my CFO, myself and this senior correspondent, the discussion was around the relationship, alignment, issues and challenges. The bantering between us left the reporter surprised, until it was clarified that I am the CIO and my CFO is indeed the person who manages the money (amongst other things). The stereotype CFO too has changed as the CIO has evolved; thus to expect a Bean Counter in every CFO is like expecting every CIO to go fix the CEO’s laptop or the boardroom projector.

CIOs who have cultivated a relationship with other CXOs (including the CFO) would wonder if this hype is created by consultants wanting to sell models of alignment or governance. My quip would be that you should invest in relationships with all CXOs. If you do not help them win, why should they help you?