Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Get on with IT

The other day I was in a gathering of CIOs being addressed by an eminent editor of an IT publication who was unraveling research conducted by his publication. The research surveyed a large number of CIOs who provided their priorities, challenges, opportunities for the year ahead and some numbers (budgets, compensation, and longevity in a role). Based on their frame of reference the audience agreed and disagreed with the data points. This was followed by a discussion on some of the inferences and the qualitative feedback. Then all hell broke loose.

The discussion like always touched upon some favorites like Business IT Alignment, measurement of effectiveness of leaders and the most debated one, TCO/ROI. Everyone had an opinion on everything and rarely did opinions converge. Some felt that BITA is a non-issue while others still struggle with it; it was opined that the CIO by virtue of taking on additional business responsibilities and participation in business discussions has already demonstrated leadership, and TCO/ROI matter to almost everyone except when under the guise of “strategic projects” the issue is sidelined.

The role of the CIO and its evolution from technology to business was justified with the fact that technology evolution and usage patterns within the enterprise have driven newer expectations and thereby the change encountered by the CIO. Alignment need, lack or existence was challenged and treated IT on par with Finance and HR or Marketing. Contextually depending on the incumbent CIO and the industry, these are real trends.

Who justifies ROI and who should be tasked with the calculations ? Is Post Implementation Review still in vogue ? No one had done any and neither did any enterprise go back to review the expectations with the reality. Those who did create business cases with ROI agreed that ROI is now passé. Interestingly a few promulgated that they use the cost of not doing a project and losing on growth, customers or position in the industry. The learning from the discussions could be summed up as follows:
  1. BITA is largely dead; it is not about alignment anymore but about working together and solving real business problems. Gap if any is perceptions that vendors and consultants want to fuel.
  2. In the same spirit ROI or any financial metrics is co-created by the CIO along with the function or business impacted. The justifications focus on incremental revenue or cost savings and are shared between the CIO and the business head
  3. Projects are also being sanctioned with strategic intent focusing on not just the new capability and its impact, but also on the potential disadvantage faced when the capability is missing
  4. The discussion around the table is no longer on the technology, but the impact and outcomes which have to be enumerated using the positive or adverse impact to customers and employees
  5. There will be enterprises that get it and some who don’t. CIOs will jump ship where they remain challenged for too long.
I wonder what is the need to continue berating the role in which we are, the CIO ? Can we stop talking about it and get on with IT ? Are we creating self-fulfilling prophecies propounding the need for alignment, or the evolution of the CIO role, or at the basic level pondering on how to justify budgets ?


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Surviving layoffs

We live in uncertain times with global economies tumbling randomly impacting everyone within as well as across borders. Citizens and corporates alike are living with FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) as the world watches the unfolding of one crisis after another. With survival at stake, individuals as well as enterprises are taking steps to tide over the current quagmire. In our connected world, the impact is felt even in otherwise stable or developing economies.

Are there learning from past economic events that have left many economies struggling. Recession and slowdown driven new normal had everyone focusing on cost and then incremental growth. Successive events have taken away much of the impact once again driving enterprises and individuals up the wall. Once again there is talk of deep cost cutting which now chips at the bones with no flesh remaining.

Not too long ago interacting with such a CIO who was asked to find alternative opportunities, I learnt about the trials and tribulations of such a situation, especially when there is a gap between two jobs. The person was a great performer and excelled in creating new technology solutions. In recessionary times discretionary spending was cut, no new projects and thus the pink slip.

In good times every enterprise leader will cite the often repeated cliché “people are our best assets”. In difficult times after everything else has been tried, companies lay off assets that can no longer be deemed useful. Normalization has a way of sometimes impacting productive assets too with resultant attrition hitting operating efficiencies. Layoffs are reality and so is the adverse impact it creates.

The ecosystem of friends, peers and close family can help overcome the negative sentiment. Seek a coach or mentor who can keep the sanity levels normalized. Even if you are lucky it takes time to find what works for you and the new company wanting to hire your services. A non-CIO friend took almost 2 years to get his rightful position while his kids and family supported him emotionally. The CIO was lucky to find a fresh beginning within 6 months.

What could I have done to prevent this from happening ? The mind tries to justify and find causes related to personal behavior, performance or shortfall that created the situation. It refuses to recognize external forces instead attempting to rationalize self-existence. It takes a while for reality to sink in and start afresh. The self-denial phase can last from a few hours to years. This self-pity mode becomes the most unproductive time. It is important to leave behind the baggage and move on with a fresh start.

What does this mean ? Be prepared as Black Swans are becoming more prevalent than NNT (Nassim Nicholas Taleb) postulated. Do not feel disheartened when someone close gets impacted. Support the person any way that you can. When I faced this situation a long time back, my friends and the IT industry leaders provided adequate cushioning to sustain self-pride. I was fortunate to maintain continuity in my transition and thankfully overcame emotional distress quickly. That’s when I realized the importance of networking and reputation.

We live in uncertain times.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Becoming an Entrepreneur

Recent times have been interesting to say the least; according to industry news angel investors, venture capital and seed funding has been relatively easy to get by. Every business magazine and newspaper is talking about the young generation choosing the path less trodden. New business ideas appear out of nowhere and once executed makes one wonder, it was so obvious, why did I not think about it ? These are however the ones that succeed which I am sure are statistically very small compared to the ones that died prematurely.

The spirit of entrepreneurship seems to be in the air. Faced with mid-life crisis on unmet aspirations or growth, many are pursuing their dreams of being their own boss. So I decided to track down a few CIOs who ventured to find out what triggered their steps towards being an entrepreneur. Some ventured in related industries to where they were employed, while a few were totally unrelated to their past employers domain or for that matter IT. What came out was an interesting set of revelations.

A CIO with many years in the pharmaceutical industry decided to venture into healthcare, and so did another who was in the banking industry. For the former it was leveraging his business knowledge of the lacunae in the marketplace while the latter saw an unmet need to address based on his personal experience.

Both were driven by different stimulus, the common theme was however to get off the rat race. Both were good IT professionals and one would have assumed a journey from mid-sized company to larger enterprises was logical progression. So when a CIO approached me for advice on when to get started on an entrepreneurial journey, it was an interesting discussion.

We started with his current position, industry and economic impact, personal growth; all appeared positively stacked in his favor. Then we reviewed his quandary. His role had grown as a CIO, he was respected within his company, and everyone acknowledged his expertise. He knew it would be a difficult task to rise beyond IT even though he knew the business well. He dreamed of being a CEO and starting up on his own seemed to be an easy way to get there.

Risks were the economic uncertainty, funding required, and the financial safety that the family needed. Key requirements of an entrepreneur namely the vision, management skills, financial acumen, and marketing abilities were all present. The doubt was about timing, now or later. My advice to him was to take the plunge. There is never a good time like now, analysis will lead to paralysis.

Even in a job, every new venture has a risk element to it. Sometimes we embrace it and sometimes we dither. We call it change management. So why is change difficult ? Because we are the cause and the effect; we are responsible for the journey and the outcome. We compete with ourselves and have no other benchmark.

I guess it requires thinking in a different mindset to get off the ground. The chains of comfort will always hold back. The debate about when is the need for internal self-reflection and the answer is now. Do you want to be an entrepreneur ? As Charles Kettering the famous inventor said “I have never heard of anyone stumbling over anything while he was sitting down”.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Predictions for 2012

Like the sun goes down in the west every day, the earth goes round the sun, people make New Year resolutions and the IT industry makes predictions for the coming year. These lists offer hot technologies, CIO priorities, business priorities, technologies that will not last the year, ad infinitum. So what kind of list am I going to create?

Every CIO already knows his/her current priorities, for the next year, and over the next 3 years (broadly) that fits in somewhere in the organization long-term strategy. These are dependent on many factors, some are (though not limited to) industry, size of the organization, geopolitical situation, global market dynamics, consumer sentiment, organization dynamics, profitability of the company … The broad collation of priorities through research conducted is generic enough to statistically fit over 80% of the CIOs globally and is available free or paid depending on whose list it is. So I will not pursue this line.

Different matrixes once again based on widespread research and opinions will tout waves, quadrants, hype curves, scatter charts, bubble charts and so on about disruptive technologies that would matter in the future. Stay with the bleeding edge or lose competitive advantage is the mantra. Some remain emerging technologies for decades like a solution searching for a problem to solve, while many remain niche or never get out of the lab to be adopted in mainstream business. I do not believe I understand enough about these esoteric technologies to offer predictions.

Having been a CIO or equivalent for more than decade and half across 7 different industries, I think I do understand the CIO travails and tribulations. To me every industry brought new opportunities for learning as well as new paradigms on how existing or new technology can be used. Every slowdown or black swan provided a platform to introspect on successes and lack of some. The next decade and half will bring disruptions unimaginable today. So here is my list for 2012 and beyond; can’t predict that all of these will be applicable to everyone, but statistically over the year you will find some connect.
  1. CIOs globally will continue to be challenged on operating budgets. Capital investments will become relatively easier; operating expenses will need to be controlled very tightly.
  2. BITA (Business IT Alignment) will fall off the priority list for many as it will no longer be an issue. Business will acknowledge IT contribution and will work with IT to plan business goals. There will be no separate IT goals.
  3. Attrition will not be the problem, retention will be; with economic and political uncertainty, staff will hang on to their respective jobs. CIOs will have to take some hard decisions.
  4. Clouds will be the first choice for deploying apps for the mobile workforce. The rest will continue to access applications behind the firewall. Hybrid clouds will remain experimental as CIOs figure out that it really does not save money. CIOs will no longer build data centers.
  5. Lead by Consumerization, mobile devices will be out of IT control (for good) and the personal device will find a way to get inside; resisting CIOs will have to provide equivalent additional device, which eventually the Business will turn down. Managing multiple screens will become a pain for the Executive who will challenge IT to make it simpler. The phone as a corporate device will thus be replaced by the tablet over the next 2 years.
  6. CIOs will or be forced to challenge the cost of sustaining big ERP (licenses, support, etc.) as it keeps growing; alternate support vendors will gain market share. Usage will shift out from the office to using marketplace supplied micro-apps thereby challenging the existence of big ERP in 5 years.
  7. Social media fatigue will set in and even marketing teams will be asked to create ROI for expenses and investments on such initiatives. CIOs will need to manage expectations around social analytics while Consultants will thrive with maturity models and make loads of money.
  8. The CIO will continue to be tasked with managing information security with the CISO reporting into him/her. A few cloud bursts (cloud security breaches) will make matters worse before things settle down over 2013 and beyond.
  9. Big Data will remain high on hype with vendors pushing and CIOs scratching their heads if it really gives the benefits promised.
  10. Custom development of solutions will wane with ocean of micro-apps promising to enable business processes as effectively. At the same time appliances will replace generic hardware.
  11. Many CIOs and research analysts will not agree many with the above points.
I could have gone on and on but will stop now. I thought 11 is good for now; why 11 and not 10 ? According to Hindu scriptures it is an auspicious number and if you don’t believe in such things, then I would ask why 10 ? I know Moses had something to do with it !