Monday, December 29, 2014

No Decision, the biggest enemy of progress

Case 1: It was a global RFP for a solution that had almost every solution provider pitching for the business. It was a large opportunity with the customer being one of the leaders by size in the industry. Everyone wanted to bid and put their best foot forward with local and global resources leaving no stone unturned. The business teams were excited too, to traverse the path they had not imagined possible. Evaluations progressed over almost 6 months until a couple were left to choose from. The shortlist was setup for negotiations aligned to financial period endings.

Case 2: The Company always followed best practices especially for their backend infrastructure and data center. Every 3 years they refreshed the hardware even if it had some juice remaining, thus staying with innovation; they procured all the equipment on operating lease which was good in a way. In the current landscape they were spoilt for choices with Public, Private, Hosted, Hybrid Clouds as well as engineered systems which promised leading edge technology. Spread over 9 months the evaluation led to shortlist that was a relief to everyone involved.

Case 3: Audits had demonstrated inherent weakness in the systems and the business was growing faster than the market. The management was being challenged to invest in better technology solutions which the rest of the industry had adopted many years back. Reluctantly they agreed and invited leading Management Consultants to review the landscape and recommend the best way forward. Many months and a fat bill later they had the answer they knew; the solution provider along with partners wooed the customer with enticement that was difficult to refuse.

All the cases above represent companies that are deemed successful by the external world on all the KPIs (primarily financial) that are used to define success in this world: CAGR, ROCE, ROE, market share, EBITDA, or market capitalization. They all had invested in IT building a foundation that sustained their business; they all had faltered through the journey and now become slow followers or laggards in the fast paced digitally disruptive world. The CIOs were operationally effective yet ineffective in the business partnership.

The need was neither lesser nor the urgency; participation from all quarters was enthusiastic with clear benefit from the investments. The companies were doing well with whatever they had, acknowledging the fact that competition had an edge with some of their new IT investments. Loads of clarifications, comparisons, and references later, they had everything required to take a decision. Thus armed with data the teams presented their conclusions to their respective management teams anxious to close the deal and start reaping the benefits.

At the opportune time, the case was presented to the senior management. As is with most management teams they want to add value to whatever they see irrespective of the domain, subject or context. The collective wisdom could not prevent their desire to help the team take the best decision; so they complimented the team and asked them for related and irrelevant data points and moved on to the next agenda item. Uneasy at the new request the team promised to get the desired information quickly to force a decision.

Weeks and months passed in the quest for the anticipated and unanticipated information needs of the senior management. Getting on their agenda again took some effort and lobbying; the team presented in all completeness the requested information and then some more. The CFO put a new twist to the story challenging the foundation on which the evaluation was conducted. A sense of despair floated in the room, the team unable to effectively protest the direction into which they were being hurtled. The situation appeared to be a losing one !

Analysis paralysis driven by the need to value add is not a random occurrence; it’s a tactical move honed by practice to avoid or delay a decision. When in doubt, ask for more information; when you don’t understand something, create a lateral stream; when you don’t want to say no directly, expand the scope or change the business assumptions. The list is endless, result the same, no decision. It is not procrastination, it is a savior for those who like to maintain status quo or are uncomfortable with change. For some it is a way to get even !

No decision is the biggest enemy of progress, are you addressing it ? Wait until next year for some answers !

Monday, December 22, 2014

If you sue your vendor, who loses ?

The project had all the trappings of success beyond belief; everyone was of the opinion that this would be the project that will change the way the industry uses IT, at least for this specific use case. The vendor proclaimed success in the global markets with large companies and leaders in the industry. Published case studies were flourished and accepted on face value. The CEO claimed to know a member of the board which added to the halo around the company and derived credibility; and thus the high cost project got off to a ceremonial start.

A team of business users were dedicated to the project along with IT; the vendor CEO himself ran the workshops and requirement gathering. He almost knew the subject and talked the language of the business; any shortfalls were disguised under the barb of the users’ ignorance of global trends. He churned out voluminous and complex documents that did not really say a lot and thus remained under discussion and clarification for a long time. Timelines started slipping as he rebuked the users for lack of participation.

Soon everyone wanted to get busy with other work and not be part of the project that had serious communication challenges. Team members wanted to get off and pleaded to their managers to get back to their previous roles. With withering participation evidence continued to stack up against the business with no sign-offs while payments to the vendor continued as per milestones which according to him were achieved. No one challenged the situation afraid to upset the board member with whom the CEO claimed be chummy.

The board member was involved in the project during inception but had gotten off the team somewhere in the middle of the journey after he saw the flamboyant display of expertise. He believed the project was in safe hands and functionality appeared transformative. By the time the noise filtered through to him it was crisis time. He reviewed the situation and was aghast by what he saw; the project appeared irrecoverable and the blame game pointed fingers everywhere. The vendor threatened to stop work and sue for recovery of dues.

A senior member was appointed to review and assess the situation; his maturity and balance were the strengths which were the hallmark of a seasoned professional. He reviewed past credentials of the vendor, current team members from both sides, process of engagement, documentation, project plan, communication, minutes of meetings, allegations on both sides, and deliverables received thus far. He engaged an independent technology consultant to review the efficacy of technology architecture, and solution delivered thus far.

The vendor’s company really had no past or for that matter employees in any number to talk about. It was almost a one man team and his Secretary who had worked on the projects which he had claimed against his name, though only as an external consultant to another company. Effectively there was no depth in the company that made lofty claims on global case studies. The relationship with the board member was barely an acquaintance; no one had really asked the board member about the level of camaraderie and assumed rather than risk asking.

The documentation was sketchy and inadequate, technology framework in line with generally accepted industry trends, the solutions delivered partially useable specific use cases. Users had not read through the volumes that described the process automation and functionality; their ignorance evident in the remarks and clarifications. Compliance to schedule of meetings and reverts was far from satisfactory thereby leaving gaps which were exploited by the vendor to his advantage. The absence of business leadership in the project was glaring.

The vendor sued for un-cleared dues and the company sued for non-delivery; compromise was ruled out. They decided to go into arbitration lasting over 3 years; in the interim neither could use the limited solutions created. Business continued to use their legacy solution while the vendor CEO had collected many times the value of the deliveries made. The industry continued to evolve with newer solutions whereas the leadership step taken by the company failed to bring any benefit because of lack of due diligence, ownership and perceptions of team members.

The above case is based on reality though has been exaggerated for impact. Suing each other kept everyone with a bad taste and frustrated experience. With passing time the relevance faded away and it appeared to be a futile exercise. A collective failure that could have been averted easily ! When customers sue their vendors or vice versa, what is the cost of a win to either ? Time, effort and opportunity loss cannot be easily quantified especially when the industry is evolving at a rapid pace. It is better to break free and move on !

Monday, December 15, 2014

Two paths at crossroads, which one did you take ?

They were deemed a reference customer for the industry and one of the favorites of the big name vendor and solution provider. Over a long period of the relationship they had acquired almost every solution from the same vendor for any business problem. At times the price was quite attractive to turn down the offer, and at times the perceived time taken, complexity of evaluating and then implementing another solution appeared to be too big a task. So the CIO and her team continued to invest with their preferred IT partner.

Life would have continued for them with incremental innovation and harmonious coexistence with their vendor ecosystem had not events overtaken them. The company was caught up in an industry turmoil which required information agility they had never experienced before. Their strategy to stay with one solution provider had given them a basket of solutions for every stated need; the implementations technically successful and were declared live. The business use found them lacking in the new paradigm when efficiency mattered.

Earlier business had continued to use parallel systems and created business critical spreadsheets that became the lifeline for the enterprise. The level of (in)efficiency was deemed acceptable as change required them to actively participate in the definition and building of the solutions. It appeared easier to let the IT organization manage the complexity of IT’s favored solution which ended up becoming a system of records while business users added headcount to solve problems. Now the murmur of disenchantment grew louder.

The CIO was in a fix and wondered why her winning strategy was no longer deemed effective ? They had bought from one of the largest providers in the world and the vendor had in many meetings acknowledged the leadership in implementation of some of the solutions. Business had participated in the selection of the solutions in almost all cases and signed off the choice. Now how could they be pointing fingers and distancing themselves ? Okay, there were some disagreements on the solutions and partners, but …

The applications lead had grown within the ranks and his first implementation of any major system was from this big solution provider. The success of the first big step gave him sense of invincibility if he continued to bet on the same provider. Guess what, it actually worked for a while and the resultant growing arrogance made him deaf to the occasional issue and limitation. After all not every wish list can be fulfilled by the solutions; why did they not admire the brilliance of simplicity of integration of parts from the same vendor ?

The CEO instructed the CIO to benchmark with specific companies to find out how they stacked up in comparison and what they can learn from some of the finest companies. Initially skeptical and full of themselves, the CIO and the team ventured out to explore the world and how others lived. The chosen benchmark had a much awarded CIO who was seen as an early adopter and trend setter. He was always happy to share his success with others and welcomed the team to spend time with him and his IT and business teams.

There were many common solutions deployed between the two companies; they had the same big name vendor as their primary provider and that is where the similarity ended. The CIO had given the freedom of choice to his team to seek solutions beyond the initial investment. In fact he challenged his team to find alternatives just to be sure that they had covered all options before making a choice. They were cautious of the fact that they did not want compromise solutions and were willing to stretch to get the best.

Both companies having started their IT journey had taken different paths at the crossroads; one had gone down the well-trodden path of low risk and reaped the fruits that came along the journey. The other created their own path and enjoyed the journey and the new experiences that it brought. The first was finding her achievements pale in comparison to the risk taker who had the business totally in sync with the decisions, the pains and the success. Two different paths enabling business, two different outcomes, two tales of success.

Which path have you taken and what is your story ?

Monday, December 08, 2014

Scaling IT with the business

It appeared like a losing battle for the CIO; he was struggling to keep momentum going with new initiatives as well as running the business as usual. Most function heads had begun raising voices in review meetings; the CIO had been unable to find time to attend the last two management meetings trying to solve one crisis while other fires burnt bright. He was running faster than ever before to stay in the same place but was unable to; despite best of intentions and good past performance, the CIO was facing a credibility crisis now.

It was a traditional company with nondescript existence for a long time with unimpressive growth and undifferentiated products. They hired people below market median who worked with them until they retired; you could find employees with impressively long careers in doing the same thing for decades. They had invested in IT along with everyone and like everyone they had stuck to automation basics. Everything worked but never reached a wow ! Parallel systems continued thereby rendering the entire framework a passive failure.

Then something explicable happened, no one knows what changed but the company found its mojo after a long time; the business started beating market growth and acquisitions added to the excitement. It brought lot of expectations and the demand on IT suddenly multiplied. New opportunities required new skills and way of working for which the CIO and his team were unprepared. They toiled longer and harder in a quest to meet the demand; they did deliver more than they had done earlier but somehow it did not seem enough.

The CIO had hired based on need and the team was happy to find stability which they valued; they were good in a passive way and executed the orders they were handed. They never had the opportunity nor the need to collaborate or take first steps; the company was satisfied with what they had. Over the past year the CIO attempted to change team behavior and found capability improvement had limitations. Training, coaching and mentoring got acknowledgement of lessons and then they would be back to normal as soon as they went back to their workplace.

Pressure on the CIO and IT team increased manifold creating a cycle of underperformance and frustration on both sides. Adverse impact to process and efficiency due to lack of IT solutions began affecting the business. Not seeing any visible change, Human Resources was confidentially tasked to build a parallel team including finding a new CIO ! The news trickled back to within the company after some time leaving the IT team scurrying for survival. Shaken the CIO conferred with the team to explore avenues to bring themselves back into relevance.

Variations of this situation repeats itself in many enterprises where IT teams fail to keep up with changing expectations. As a C-level executive, the CIO is expected to anticipate change and plan for it rather than been told what to do; inability to demonstrate leadership results in change of CIO who pays the price for failing to scale and change with the times. Sometimes the IT team sees forced attrition and collateral casualties which leaves the team either weakened with the exits or strong with infusion of fresh talent.

It is imperative for CIOs and IT teams to anticipate change to stay relevant in the new business; they are expected to be equal partners and work across layers to institutionalize new technology enabled processes. Failing to stay relevant (see Stay Hungry, Stay Relevant) will create situations described above. The problem is a lot more widely prevalent than acknowledged; the real CIOs are able to thrive in this uncertain world, the wannabe CIOs and IT Managers sporting the title give away their lack of maturity and ability.

The CIO rose to the challenge; seeking help from industry peers, he worked with HR to segment the team into groups based on competency and capability. The group low on competency and capability was outplaced with help of IT partners; competent team moved into operations while the capable teams were happy to move into other functions. The last group which had competency and capability scaled into business facing IT roles. Fresh blood inducted into the team strengthened the organization ability to move with the times.

The CIO earned his position onto the Management table where he was welcomed as an equal.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cost of inefficiency – Penny wise and Pound foolish !

The CIO was doing quite well; he had good credibility within the company as well as outside with peers in the industry. He wasn’t the flamboyant type, neither was he a pushover; he participated in industry discussions and was seen as the strong, silent and effective leader. His company had invested well in IT; they were not early adopters, neither laggards, a balanced view of technology investments and business was happy with what they had. The company was growing faster than the market and placed well in the industry.

Working with business leaders and the CEO who understood the value of IT, he managed the budgets pragmatically. The CEO gave him enough latitude to work independently and he kept abreast with the technology curve to field any challenge thrown at him. IT vendors were happy to work with him as he was straight and forthright in his approach telling it as it was. His team was made up of business focused professionals who had invested their careers in the company. The turning point for him was when the CEO moved off to greener pastures.

The new CEO had grown through the ranks; he restructured the organization and the CIO found himself under the tutelage of the CFO. An ostentatious man, the CFO never lost an opportunity in the game of one-upmanship. He met the IT team and vendors with visible disdain with a clear message that the golden era of IT spends was over. The mantra set by the new CEO was to deliver a better bottom-line and he, the CFO was going to leave no stone unturned in his quest. The budget shall be cut by 20% with immediate effect.

The CIO a logical man attempted to discuss the irrationality of the step as it would impact operational efficiency. IT budgets did not have any buffers, the CIO never needed to pad his budgets with the trust he had from the earlier CEO. Support charges for ERP, CRM, and office automation licenses apart, the network links to global offices and sustenance of support services for users and data center took up the larger part of the operating budget. He had limited choices and began the process of rediscovery for cost control.

Negotiations and calling in favors he was able to bring down operational cost by 10%. The balance appeared unachievable and he sought help from the CFO to evaluate options. Why does everyone need an expensive license ? Why do we pay so much on software maintenance contracts ? We should move to cheaper solutions, embrace open source, bring in garage mentality into our team. Move to lower cost options on email, start using common ids at remote locations, move to cheaper hardware; and make sure the “management” does not get inconvenienced. Thus the CFO spoke !

His protests on operational impact being overruled, the CIO got down to execution; mail was migrated to a lower cost option of a popular personal public free mail services’ corporate offering. Onsite engineers were reduced at locations, development work brought in. The change was seen as a retrograde step across the enterprise. The trickle of problems from the alternative solution slowly became a barrage which had every function head tearing their hair in frustration on lost functionality and team efficiency.

Slowly and steadily the noise ebbed when people realized the change was driven by the new CFO; citing business impact some teams sought and received approvals to move back to the older system. Soon enough everyone was attempting to go back to the past, though not very successfully. People learned to live with the new, factoring in the inefficiency into their work schedules, discussing and debating the gap in communication. It was fairly evident that the resultant reduction in performance cost the company a multiple of the savings.

Do organizations measure such a consequence where deployment of a new tool or process has an adverse impact on the outcomes ? Consultants tout their new success when the change is even slightly positive; I haven’t seen instances of the adverse impact or degraded efficiency being elevated or discussed openly. I believe that this costs enterprises significantly almost to the tune of 20% reduction in productive time. Change is rarely sanctioned due to costs involved which is typically a fraction of the lost hours. How long will pennywise and pound foolish continue ?

It’s an opportunity for the CIOs to take a stand and lead the way !

Monday, November 17, 2014

DevOps, solving the non-existent problem for good IT

I have been flooded with articles, case studies, and the benefits of DevOps; every newsletter that I subscribe to (over a dozen that arrive in my inbox every day) has at least one link that headlines DevOps. In the initial days I read a few of them with curiosity and forwarded some of the articles to friends and peers in the industry. The flood of discussions and seminars raised my anxiety if I had missed any salient point in my analysis and understanding. So I dug deeper to understand the subject and its relevance to good IT departments.

What is interesting is that many vendors are now offering tools and consultants providing frameworks and expertise on helping organizations create DevOps centers of excellence. It’s the new buzzword that promises to fix the issues faced by enterprises when they deploy new custom solutions. The most interesting and highly impressive manifestation appears as “a cross-disciplinary community of practice dedicated to the study of building, evolving and operating rapidly-changing resilient systems at scale”. Do you get what it says ? I don’t !

If you search for the term online, the definition on Wikipedia is as follows: “DevOps (a portmanteau of "development" and "operations") is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and Information Technology (IT) professionals. DevOps is a response to the interdependence of software development and IT operations.” Note the keywords that stand out, communication, collaboration and integration between IT and developers !

Over the decades there were many methodologies that evolved since we needed to develop “for purpose” software. I am not discussing one over the other or their pros and cons; there are proponents and opponents to each depending on what has worked for them. The point is that whether you followed one or the other, all of them required communication to flow between the stakeholders (Business, IT teams and developers). Else how do you ensure that everyone understands the problem or the opportunity and what is needed ?

When in a group people collectively work together towards a common objective, I would safely assume that they are collaborating. There are instances when differences of opinion or point of view may result in conflict or disagreements; that does not imply that they are not collaborating. The level of integration is determined by the crisp and clear communication from the top as well as within, and a shared vision and objective of their goal. That is how I have seen almost all projects, IT or otherwise, – big or small – getting off the ground.

What changed in recent times that gave birth to this new term and the wave that is following ? The underlying assumption is that development teams and operations teams are independent (which they are in many cases though not a universal truth) and that they don’t talk to each other; that is an interesting hypothesis and rare occurrence when both teams are collocated. Companies who outsourced support operations of applications or moved them away from core teams did suffer often requiring rework and occasional disruption.

So should CIOs be bothered or worried about DevOps ? The starting point would be to diagnose if there is a gap, perceived or real. Once deployed, are applications able to scale and sustain themselves ? Or they slowly wither away into the IT Orphanage (where applications who no one wants rest until they find a benefactor). Are business users happy with the solution provided and the support rendered ? Some of these questions would probably point you into the right direction on what needs to change to the desired state.

Simplistically many solutions may endeavor to push for additional investments in tools, technology and consulting; my belief is that tools and technology do not solve a problem if the underlying process and culture don’t support it. As the CIO or for that matter the CEO, it is necessary and essential to look at the facts and data before beginning to get paranoid about competition or next door neighbor doing it. Even if you have your support teams sitting across the seas, if the development team has thought about support, you are already there !

Monday, November 10, 2014

Does BI require Business to be Intelligent ?

“This is awesome, I love it ! Let’s make this live next week; and don’t tell me that it cannot be done in that timeframe ! After that we will work upon models for the other parts of the business and zap them with data that they have never seen before”. So said the CXO who had just been given a demonstration of the Proof of Concept that the vendor and the IT team had developed to highlight the capabilities of the tool. The Business Intelligence lead tried to get in a few words sideways and was brushed aside brusquely with a wave of the hand.

The company had history of failed projects and challenged BI implementations with business users running berserk. A new CIO had brought some semblance of order to the chaos with an IT governance framework. With some fresh talent as the journey progressed, the information needs started getting addressed which in turn raised the expectations bar. Earlier attempts at BI had faced multiple challenges which resulted in their being shelved. The new resources the CIO brought in had a pedigree of success and the result was visible.

In the initial stages of education the primary requirements revolved around reporting; can fragmented systems deliver consolidated reports from the data warehouse ? Any amount of persuasion would not deter them from their resolve for reports; so the first set of milestones did reports that did not require large investments in tools or great amount of intelligence. Some of the newer business users who had experienced a different reality in the world outside craved for dashboards and analytics. They were heard but not prioritized by the powers that be.

Seeing an opportunity the BI Subject Matter Expert worked with the business members to define the landscape and put in the extra effort post work hours to build the cubes and models. He sought new tools which were granted and with renewed vigor he created working prototypes that excited him and the business users who helped him. Tentatively they approached the self-professed technophile CXO who they felt would be excited with the new way of looking at information. They were however not prepared for the reception they received !

The CXO in his inimitable way was seen as the person who exuded overdoses of confidence and threw technology jargon liberally in every meeting. Know it all, been there done that was what he wanted everyone to believe; for the knowledgeable it was massacre with unrelated keywords interspersed with unverifiable anecdotes and visions of peaks achieved in the past. He was closed to ideas from others, derogatorily critiquing the world at large for not believing in him. The team feared his acidic behavior and kept away to whatever extent they could.

Recovering from the ridiculous, the BI SME stood firm that Proof of Concepts are exactly that and they cannot be deployed or scaled. He explained that for analytics to work effectively, he needed to build the model, test all data sources for efficacy, check for exception conditions and stress test for load. Almost all – barring the sycophants and the ignorant – agreed with him silently, putting the CXO in a spot. Taken aback not used to being challenged, he directed one of the minnows to ensure that his wish and command be done and huffed away.

Put in a spot the team member frantically looked around for a solution to his predicament. Gathering information from multiple sources to create a strong argument, she was able to enroll the business champions into her cause; they too wanted the new BI solution. It took some time and effort by the business champions to educate the CXO who reluctantly agreed to let go of his tantrum. Back on track the team worked together to build the solution which promised to open up new possibilities for the business.

The generally accepted new belief is that business knows what they want; the level of awareness and understanding has improved. Decisions are now information and data driven; BI solutions deliver this and more. Change management is a critical success factor towards adoption and the journey on the evolution curve. The data deluge and associated tools to manage them has created new challenges and opportunities; the ability of enterprises to leverage these will be determined by their maturity towards analytics.

The BI solution was a great success; everyone loved it. The CXO was last seen ranting about why the team did not use Big Data !

Monday, November 03, 2014

Value Destruction

When I came across my CIO friend who looked like he had been trampled multiple times by a runaway cattle herd, I was anxious to find out more about the cause of his pitiable condition. His demeanor suggested that he was on the brink of giving up, ready to throw the towel, just run away and retire into the Himalayas, to hell with the fabled Ferrari and take up the way of the monks. For someone always willing to help with a ready smile, it was a sight that concerned many of us to do a root cause analysis and help the poor soul.

He was not a recluse or introvert but in recent times conferences and seminars had been prominent with his absence. He was a busy man, everyone knew it; he was also known to be a master in time management rarely forgetting an appointment or being late or making anyone wait. So his growing hermetic avatar was a surprise to many of us who surrounded him to hear the cause of the rainy clouds replacing sunshine. Hesitant at first, after a few drinks he decided to share his predicament to lighten his heavy heart and seek a solution from collective wisdom.

His mega project that was on the watch list of many vendors, partners and the industry had run into some minor challenges. He engaged a specialist consulting company to review the situation and suggest the way forward. They had suggested shift in approach for the issue and resource augmentation with specialist skills which appeared to be a rational approach. Some internal stakeholders taking advantage of the situation wanted to take control with infusion of their coterie. Despite no skill match, they had prevailed to further damage of the project.

Like termites the project was soon crawling with unskilled people ignorant of business or ability to manage complexity and were projected as God’s gift to mankind and specialists. Despite the situation deteriorating, status reports were altered to reflect progress. This continued for some time with the CIO being asked to back off. Protests and discussions with key stakeholders and management changed nothing. The project in a tailspin now, the CIO could only watch from the sidelines; he was hurting from the damage to his toil and blood.

The large business and IT project team disillusioned by the downward spiral were of broken spirit indifferent to the outcome. Unable to bear the incompetence some quit the project and the company weakening the now shaking foundation and structure. Timelines slipping further and expert opinions overruled, there was little hope for the transformational project that was to be the savior and enabler for the business and enterprise. Unable to bear the hurt to his passion child and with no recourse, the CIO had decided to detach from the company.

We listened with stunned and angry silence absorbing the pain, empathizing with the CIO living his agony, everyone unanimously wanted to reach out and touch his wounds to heal them. No one disagreed with his decision, many wanted to help his recuperation; there was shock at enterprise apathy and silence by a large affected group to the value erosion. Lightening his burden the CIO managed a fleeting smile which lifted the gloom from the group. He joined the light banter that typically follows a serious discussion.

Time flew by, months passed away, the CIO moved on to newer ventures and greener pastures, happy and successful again with no visible scars of the past. It was as if he had buried the bitter experience never to be unearthed again, any discussion on it a taboo. But morbid curiosity never lets’ go especially when someone you know and respect has been wronged; you want the perpetrators to get their due punishment. Meetings with common industry peers and vendors does raise queries on progress and status.

A year into the intervention, the project had seen slippages on timelines consistently; some of the leadership team finally found a voice and challenged the continually sliding deadlines. Running out of excuses though unwilling to acknowledge their limitations they shifted the blame to the business folks for not defining the requirements, cooperating and providing accurate data; it seems there is no hope for redemption. Last heard there was pressure to shape up or ship out; a new date has been set to go live in whatever state, business disruption be damned !

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tale of 3 CIOs, people join companies, people leave their bosses

X had just completed 4 years in his role and grown to take on additional business responsibility. He had built a team which worked across business units and corporate IT on the forefront of some of the new technological innovations. Accolades came from peers and industry acknowledging his ability to take risks and succeed. Life appeared to be going well for him and he was enjoying his professional life. After a few quiet months or was it quarters, he was suddenly looking for a change with agitation that was alien to his happy go lucky nature.

Having spent almost a decade in the company, Y had seen career growth that would be the envy of many; his profile encompassed local and global responsibility. Staying with one industry through his career made him a specialist of sorts and he became a star. His efforts outside of work also made him quite popular in his chosen field. His company had maintained leadership in a competitive industry locally and globally carving a niche with their products. Out of the blue one fine day he called seeking greener pastures.

He was a jolly good fellow and so said all of us ! The life of any gathering, ready with a joke (sometimes too quick), Z had steadily risen through the ranks with some help from his Mentor. Through the 5 years in his company, he had strengthened the foundation and completed seemingly impossibly difficult projects that his predecessors could not. Promoted every alternate year, he had taken new challenges as they came and successfully dealt with them. Over a drink he broke down seeking to leave the company that launched him.

The 3 incidents above spanning 3 different companies and 3 different industries had the 3 CIOs reaching out to me within a span of few months. Maybe it was coincidence, but it was almost as if there was concerted action against my former team mates. All of them had high levels of anxiety and all of them wanted to get out as quickly as possible. Their stories were quite different and then they had many common elements too. They were victims of the same malaise which appeared to be more widespread than reported.

Take the first case, the company management reins passed from founder to the next generation. X found joy working with him as his new manager with an Ivy League pedigree used technology as a native. He drove the company fast and furious, recklessly at times as seen by the old school, he wanted to get somewhere in a hurry. X attempted to run with him and soon found himself at the receiving end frequently irrespective of root cause. He soon realized his non Ivy League or named Institute stature made him an outcast in the inner circle.

Y had done well through the years growing from mid-level to heading the function eventually. His sharp and quick eye for detail made him a popular choice to be included in any team struggling with a tricky problem. The company saw CEOs change thrice over his tenure; all of them nudged him to greater heights. Law of averages caught up with him; the latest CEO hired across layers from his previous company sidelining most old-timers. Y used the last resort calling global compliance which saved his position but killed his career.

Z had a new manager who was task oriented; the resultant change in workload gave Z a high. He rose to every occasion and delivered to promise. Some of the initiatives were industry firsts giving the company a competitive talking point. He was outspoken which was not a negative, his quick wit and mannerism portrayed him of lesser maturity. His work was commended but his manager thought he needed to grow up. Thus despite the success a search for a senior leader above him was launched forcing him to introspect and seek options outside.

Success is no longer a guarantee for continuity; political hues and cronyism seem to be the new mantras required in large doses. Managers are looking for comfort within their teams in new environments thereby throwing enterprise culture and values out of the window. In the quest to succeed, tolerance to such behavior is accepted as part of the game. Collateral damage with some exits does not appear to perturb owners and Boards. By the time the realization hits the company, the damage is already done which takes a long time to recover.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lunch-time networking causes indigestion

The new email is a retrograde step and not an upgrade; life was so good with the older system. What is happening with our IT ? The world is moving ahead and we are going backwards. How do you expect us to be effective when we cannot even communicate with our customers ? I don’t know what to do, probably this year again thanks to IT we will have some unhappy customers !

I had approved the investment almost 2 months back and you are telling me that we still have not placed orders ? How do you expect us to work ? What is the problem ? As the Business Head when I have given the go ahead who can challenge the decision ? Why are you trying to save a few thousand dollars ? Do you know that the loss to business due to this delay is in hundreds of thousands ?

These are a sampling of lunch time ranting as described by CIO friends. One of them was a good guy, dedicated, focused, always ready to please; his team imbibed the same ethos and worked hard, always available to the business. He was successful in a typical way with conscious budgets and a fair set of initiatives that kept the engine humming. Inorganic growth and lateral expansion caught him capacity constrained which was beginning to hurt. He did not like the lunch time discussions anymore which ended up embarrassing him most of the time.

A long time back one of my managers gave me an interesting insight; we all typically have our office lunch with our teams. If you look around in the lunch room you will see a finance table, legal table, an IT group, and so on. These groups get together automatically and enjoy shop talk and extended work discussions over the rice, curry and bread. In open organizations there is a reserved table for the Managers where you will find the CXOs quietly having a meal with small talk. Most employees stay away from this table and likewise the CXOs.

My manager who became and stayed a friend believed that the world should not be polarized this way. He too ate at the staff canteen whatever food was served and consciously sought new groups every day to share a meal with. Likewise he expected all of us at C-level to break our comfort zones and network with staff across levels and functions. The discussions though initially polite became a tool to measure the pulse of the company. Employees warmed up to the idea and based on their ease opened up with some of us.

Observing this through the years I realized that the behavior is universal; birds of feather flock together. People gravitate into groups with familiar faces and shun the relatively unknown; if they find no seat within their groups they rather sit alone and not with another group; they did what they did, it was automatic. I saw similar behavior in social gatherings, networking dinners and wherever people got together. Off course there are exceptions who love to meet new people and merge into any group easily.

Practicing what I learned whenever possible, the initially forced experience soon made me welcome into any group. No walls went up or conversations died when I joined a group for lunch. The connect with people created empathy that I could use in various discussions around problems and opportunities as well as driving change which came along with the interventions IT created. We connected beyond work related transactions and built many friends who light up when we meet even in a casual encounter on the streets or a mall.

One of the answers would be that it is all about anticipating requirements, partnering the business and being proactive in your discussions. If you are a good CIO who is aligned to the business, and connected to the customer, blah, blah … lunches can be fun. Your customers’ perceptions are your reality; any change takes a lot of effort and consistency. Another view is that some people will never be satisfied whatever you do; so don’t get impacted by all these ramblings, manage them separately and keep going. Go and sit on another table rather than get indigestion.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Corporate ADHD and Time Management

Once upon a time there was a disruptive technology that took the corporate world by storm. Every executive aspired to own it and badgered their respective managers and IT to provide it across the ranks. The investment was quite high and thus it was rationed off down the hierarchy incrementally. The haves strutted it proudly and for the wannabes it was a classic case of owners envy, neighbors pride. It took a while to become a commodity and then the paradigm changed again. I am referring to mail on the mobile that every executive wanted.

It was fashionable to have a message footer which indicated which device you used to send a message especially if it was not a PC or laptop. Notifications and alerts from these devices ensured that you knew 24X7 whenever a message arrived. Initially due to enthusiasm and then by habit replies were almost instant. Whether in meeting, at a social event, getting the nightly beauty sleep, or traveling including driving; there was an intrinsic urge to respond. The resultant impact to mind and body created rifts in relations, disease forms and cures.

Multitude of newer devices and smartphones eliminated the divide between the privileged and the bourgeois. Consumerization of IT created newer possibilities which the CIOs struggled with; added to this social media addiction completed the digitization of the populace. Armed with multiple devices to separate personal from corporate, the demands on the individual from peers, friends, acquaintances, and the illuminati made everyone a slave in the connected world with pings and vibrations of all kinds vying for attention.

We want to achieve more in lesser time and thus multi-task in a hope that within the same time more will get done. Thus people flit from moment to moment with their attention darting from one thought to another; the flurry of activity divided between competing tasks and priorities. Interruptions now enter less in physical form and more on multiple connected devices attached or surrounding us. The result is that everything ends up taking longer and little gets done which pushes us to do more of the same entrenching us deeper into the quicksand of inefficiency.

Empirical data from numerous studies has proven that attention span stands reduced by 3X over the last few decades and continues its downward spiral. We don’t have time is the pet peeve of busy corporate executives buried under the mountain of unfulfilled tasks and missed deadlines. Numerous apps, email alerts, and push notifications keep us bound to the devices and habitually pressurizes us to take notice and demands action. Unable to comprehend the nemesis they struggle to stay afloat with no evident way out.

Everyone is working harder in their quest to get much done; longer hours has become the norm. Work life balance anyone ? Shun the thought and take some work home; get it done while you travel and the rest when you get there. There are no options for the individual; enterprises now have choices from the downsized, unwanted and freelancers; there is always someone who will do it cheaper, faster, probably in the neighborhood or oceans apart. Technology also makes it possible to automate many processes and eliminate the inefficient.

Effectiveness of meetings dwindle and urgency overrides the important with perceived time value of information becoming a key measure even when it influences no change in outcomes. Time is getting filled with activity leaving no discretionary activity possible. People attending “Time Management” seminars find that it sets them back with the time spent. The urgent has overtaken our lives and the important is neglected.

A generation of digital slaves emerges from the shadows; they walk with bowed heads with their hands at diaphragm level holding their (master) devices, attentive eyes glued to glowing screens beckoning them to the inane and unimportant. Some devices strapped to different body parts communicate with other things which in turn influences the slave’s behavior. The promise of a better future keeps the addicts hopeful and asking for more. It is scary that we are beginning to forget what life used to be and what it can be.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Chief Interrupted Officer

Times are getting better for most CIOs with economy looking up, growth back on the agenda, business wanting to create a digital enterprise, the hype around various technologies like Cloud, Social Media and what have you dying away. CMOs and CIOs have figured out a way to work together while CFOs have set the governance on budget management and are not obsessed with Return on Investment as the only measure. IT budgets are beginning to show signs of revival and so are expectations on the new projects and possibilities.

Some mature companies used the lean period to reinvent themselves and reengineer processes; they invested in refresh of not just the servers and other hardware which could be had for a steal with piled up inventories with vendors, they also used the spare capacity with people to upgrade their ERPs and build new systems. Many CIOs were busier in the last few years than they had been when business was booming. They also started seeing attrition in the team with the job market opening up which added to the challenge.

Good times bring a lot of events, seminars, offsite meetings, and invitations to all kinds of gatherings which have great headlines to attract all and sundry. One of the CIOs whose spouse was traveling mentioned that she hadn’t cooked for a week by just accepting these. Except that they rarely offer any major learning or insight; after a while even the networking turns stale with the same people ending up in every event. It is another matter that the structure of events has remained the same over the years defying logic and evolution.

I was thus surprised to hear about a CIO who never attended any events or seminars or exotic trips that are organized by the friendly vendors. No one had ever seen her in any of the events despite the long years she had put in into the industry. She never responded to any phone calls, messages or emails or any attempts to reach her. It did not matter who was inviting her, Chairman, CEO, Account Manager, she remained a hermit. Her reclusive ways created many stories and not all of them were flattering or positive.

Her team did not know how to react to such a situation; they wanted to network and socialize and get exposure to what was happening in the world outside. They were reluctant to ask as they never saw their Boss ever accept any or go to such gatherings; her demeanor did not invite anyone to venture to ask. New team members who came from different environments found this quite unusual. A few who were bold enough to participate on their own enjoyed the benefits; their rationale, it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

So when I met with one of her brave team members I thought I would attempt to unravel the mystery. I was perplexed by what I heard. Her calendar was double booked many times with internal meetings; she was always flitting between meetings without spending enough time to get to the bottom of the issue or to understand the impact or action items. She almost always turned up late for the appointment and would be out of the room no sooner the meeting started with a phone call interrupting her transient presence within the first five minutes.

She spent a lot of time on the phone, but then she never took calls from the vendors and most people internally found her phone busy. Few who had spent long years with her knew it was not her partner. The interruptions had become part of her persona that people no longer saw that as abnormal behavior. Within her company they had gotten used to meetings without her even when she accepted them. Someone dared ask her about the calls; if looks could kill, the poor inquisitive lady would have died on the spot.

Everyone speculated about her leadership, effectiveness, longevity and survival; difficult to comprehend unless your family owns the business or there was a relationship of another kind (neither was the case). Her team was at the receiving end of rebukes while she remained immune to the environment. Her team was adequately effective and the business had limited expectations from her. Working at her lowest level of inefficiency she had rarely been challenged for innovation or transformational leadership.

I wonder what would happen to her should she join another company ?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Survival of the Paranoid

She received an alert from credit card Company of a debit of $50 from the neighborhood grocery store. She panicked and then remembered that it was probably the refrigerator ordering replenishments (My refrigerator has gone shopping). She was however worried about what did it end up ordering. Having finished the orange juice from the last purchase and not wanting anymore, nor the horrible cake that came as an offer last time (She was anyway trying to lose weight). She then received the e-bill on mail and was shocked to see sausages and beef steak ! These did not exist in the master list and decided to visit the store on the way back to find out what had gone wrong.

Recently I was at a cybersecurity conference in the country which boasts of the maximum number of IT security startups and companies. They continue to redefine information and cyber security in ways that most of us would find hard to imagine. The new and old are not focusing just to make better antivirus or firewalls or mobile device management solutions; their R&D has transcended conventional boundaries. With Internet of (Every)Things and all kinds of devices communicating with again all kind of devices, the channels need to be secured.

The use cases discussed sounded straight out of science fiction or futuristic movies except that all were stark reality which we are rarely exposed to. The innocuous IP audio-conferencing phone in the meeting room as a listening device or the video conferencing equipment transmitting images or streaming live unknown to everyone. Directional antenna sniffing the airwaves and breaking wireless networks or RFID tags or readers in a manufacturing facility misbehaving and making a mess of the inventory and production plan.

At our homes the number of connected devices is increasing; for me it started with my streaming media box, then the television followed by the gaming console which was fighting with multiple tablet and laptop computers. My new car wants to send messages to the service station when it felt sick and my GPS has a mind of its own routing me through lesser known roads in a quest to get me to my destination faster and screwing up. When I have not finished my daily dose of walking my fitness ban posts on social media embarrassing me.

It is not a stretch of imagination to believe that these devices can be infected with malicious code which may change behavior or purpose. Individuals unknowingly changing their daily pattern or nudged in an alternate direction by compromised devices can impact their professional actions and outcomes. Why do you need to break into a trading system, break the trader, it’s easier ! Shutting down an electrical grid is big effort, shut down people or change them; use sensors to hack into the system. I was stunned by the possibilities.

In the future with every device connected and transmitting or receiving information, intelligence is corruptible and creates new scenarios of what can go wrong. Recent demonstrations though not malicious in intent of some highly computerized cars being hijacked predict an unstable future. The ability to patch or secure the large number of devices (estimated at 20 billion plus), company provided or individual owned BYOD enabled will be a veritable nightmare for the enterprise security managers and CIOs.

Enterprises are pushing to create new opportunities that become possible with IoT; some of these maybe seeded with hare brained ideas though I believe many will survive and become the next big thing of tomorrow. I believe that everyone needs to be cognizant of the fact that IoT is here to stay; how we leverage it within our ecosystem will give a differentiated advantage that success stories are made of. Every new hyped technology falls through the trough of disillusionment before becoming mainstream. Stay invested.

She reached the store and challenged them demanding a refund and the fact that they had goofed up majorly. In return they showed her the order which did contain specific brand of sausages and steak. She called the refrigerator company who informed her that the last software upgrade had added social media features and her refrigerator had accepted a request from the specified company to receive promotions. The conversion of the promotion to order was probably a bug which they will investigate and patch the firmware.

I wonder if a virus were to infect the refrigerator, what would it do ?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Big Brother is watching you !

“We are sorry Sir, we are unable to accept your order; thank you for calling your favorite dining place”. I am sure you have also received or read some of the messages floating around on social media where the protagonist is unable to order his favorite pizza or pasta or whatever dish you may want to imagine. He is repeatedly denied his request to quench his craving with inferences about his cholesterol or past illness or health insurance coverage; you can imagine the rest as it would probably pan out for the majority of us.

The situation is not too far in the future ! In an interconnected world, combination of personal, medical, social, financial and professional data creates new possibilities of analytical correlations that can be used or misused depending on how you look at the situation. Connected netizens fill in void hours in their lives on multiple devices through the day with status updates, browsing for information or clarifications on something that they are unable to comprehend. They leave behind a trail that can be picked up.

We already see this happening with targeted advertisements across various sites depending on our browsing behavior. Would you turn off cookies or stop accessing popular search engines from your mobile ? What about all the apps on the smartphone ? Some nifty utilities that make life so much easier; finding great restaurants, booking tables, looking up flight schedule or delay. Can these apps pry at other data on your smartphones or the remnants of bread crumbs and widgets start snooping around your laptop or tablet ?

I get this weird feeling when advertisements remind me of my visits to some websites like someone has been looking over my shoulder spying on me all along in my public and private moments. So I decided to confuse the intruders by randomly checking for exotic locations which I would never visit or check out merchandise that most sane people would shudder to buy. The trail it created led the crawlies on a red herring trail. I felt elated as if I had won a major war by thwarting the evil shenanigans in their quest to hound me.

Our dependence on technology is slowly and steadily shifting our thought patterns and the way we think. Intuitively we reach out to query a term or gather additional information adding to the vast amount of data we assimilate. We also seek help for simple and complex problems or situations rarely exerting our thinking prowess. I am not sure if this is good or bad, healthy or not, this has become a way of life. The extreme dependence of the newer generation also known as Digital Natives on technology is exciting and scary.

CIOs have struggled with BYOD getting entrenched across their enterprises and made half-hearted attempts to rope in the rogues with Mobile Device Management and other tools. But that is only part of the story; our incessant need to be online across all our devices adds to the trail we leave behind. Most of the providers have become our shadow with embedded trackers hiding their intent in fine print over 30 pages of agreements which no one reads and clicks “I Agree”. And guess what ? In most cases we don’t really care.

Every day we are flooded with huge amounts of quotes, stories, posts, pictures, videos sent to us by people we know. No one knows the origin or validity of the content we receive. Are we at the cusp of incremental revolution nudged by technology that is controlled by few who are playing with our decisions ? Are our cognitive behaviors are being shaped by some manipulative story teller who is pulling at our heartstrings in ways unknown to us ? Are we really in control of our actions and destiny anymore ?

The digitization of the world is an eventuality that cannot be wished away. It is gaining momentum every day and encompassing every aspect of our lives slowly and steadily. We are given choices on how we would like to engage with technology but peer pressure breaks down resistance quickly. I wonder if I have a mind of my own as I keep going back to technology to assist me with every step I take. As a kid I read the Orwellian tale about Big Brother watching me; I think the future has arrived stealthily without telling us !

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Refrigerator has gone shopping !

I was at this conference where one of the streams focused on Internet of Things or as some speakers preferred to call it Internet of Everything. Every speaker had statistics on the number of “things” that will connect to the Internet and communicate with other devices or the Cloud; the number range varied from 25-50 billion depending on who you would like to believe. The “things” with intelligence could be for specific tasks or multi-faceted to do a range of activities like personal health monitoring, cooking, cleaning, etc.

Every speaker without exception talked about smart refrigerators which will connect to the nearby or your favorite grocery store and proactively order provisions you consume and debit your credit card/bank. One of the speakers dramatized the situation with driverless cars going to the store getting filled by a human. The collective hypothesis was that this is no longer science fiction but reality as it will pan out by 2020, the year by which the number of 25-50 billion devices would be reached; cars, fitness bands, microwaves, light bulbs, interesting thoughts !

As I thought about it I wondered about the situations in my life. For one I like variety in my food and cannot imagine eating the same stuff every day or week. Probably the refrigerator can be taught to have variety. I also don’t want stuff ordered when I plan to eat out go on vacation or call friends over for a dinner; maybe calendar integration will solve the problem to some extent. I hope that leftovers management, use of partially used open packs and managing short expiry products is part of the functionality.

Let us assume that the refrigerator is intelligent enough to not order one item at a time and creates a list of item taking care of minimum order quantity or bill value to avoid unnecessary shipping charges. What happens when the store does not have the items or in the pack size that I prefer ? Will the store substitute another item ? What if I don’t like to substitute ? The store supply chain is probably connected to suppliers’ warehouse system which through predictive analytics understands demand forecasts generated by connected refrigerators.

I am a shopaholic and love to spend time in the stores. My young daughter who grew up traveling in the shopping carts still wants to go back occasionally to now push the cart that was her vehicle. In most of these trips we end up buying a lot more than what we had planned. The visual merchandising appeals to the senses and impulsive buys are triggered by material and inane offers that scream at you while you walk the aisles. So what about cross-sell and upsell that is the hallmark of a good store which entices you to fill up ?

If the above were to translate to reality all the high street and neighborhood stores would struggle to survive and probably turn themselves into warehouse type stores which don’t need a storefront. It would significantly change the way we shop and ruminate over products on the shelves where we can compare not just the price but other attributes. Packaging could be dumbed down to basic, no need for creative colored eye catching wrappers. How will marketers of new products reach out to me on TV or print when I rarely walk the lanes in a store ?

Maybe big data analytics would churn offers to me on the screen of my choice from which I could put it into the refrigerator’s shopping list. I hope that the cold creature (refrigerator) will know its capacity to order only as much as it can store adjusted to my variable consumption pattern. I wonder if my Robot can take out the right quantity of ingredients and cook a meal that I browse and drop it into the task list for the mechanical cook and keep it hot for me when I arrive home. Maybe I am getting a bit ambitious now in my expectations.

The one thing I could not fathom through all the presentations; the bright and intelligent refrigerator knows what to order; the store knows who the order comes from, the car knows where to go to pick up the groceries and brings them back home. I stay on the fourth level of an apartment complex. How do the packages get to my apartment and inside of the refrigerator ? Now don’t tell me that the Robot will do the job, as it would end up compromising the security of the house ! Even a dumb crook will see the pattern and break the system.

I hope you can fill in the missing link for me.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Value Destruction

For every organization that invests in IT there is an expectation that IT will contribute to one of the outcomes from topline or bottom line improvement, customer or employee satisfaction which in turn impacts profits or revenue, operational efficiency or regulatory compliance or a new capability that creates a differentiation in the competitive market. After all if none of these will be impacted then why invest? Many times there are IT investments labelled “strategic” normally endorsed by named consultants specializing in business transformation or strategy, or the Board.

The company hired one of the premier consulting firms to help them with an IT strategy that would align to their growth objectives. They did not have success retaining talent at the top and had a string of CIOs who took up the challenge and left within 2-3 years unable to create sustainable change. Every CIO to his/her credit tried to approach change in a holistic way and when they realized that the inertia from people was strong, processes rigid and everything required measurement, they were unable to sustain the rigor.

The company had always measured every investment using financial metrics and did not believe that IT should be any different. The owners and management acceded to all new technology solutions and investments but many times changed CIO decisions to select the most cost effective solution which offered the highest ROI. Lumped with at times unaligned solutions or vendors who had been squeezed so badly that they ended up cutting corners, the CIOs had not been able to recoup the situation to create visible success.

After quick succession of CIOs they determined that consultants would be able to help them solve the enigma of unsuccessful IT driven projects. After all they had been diligent in their choices, the loyal CFO had worked hard to create models for measurement of success. Their prudent financial decisions had paid off in many functions which is why they wondered why it is not working in IT. The consultants conducted their diagnostics rummaging through history, talking to business, some of the old timers and the IT staff on the journey.

Their report was presented after a few months; there was a lot of anticipation especially within the IT team who saw a ray of hope in the study. The management had a heated discussion with the consultant refusing to believe what was presented. They debated and defended their past actions and labelled the report biased and the consultant ineffective. They still needed a silver bullet and thus decided to hire another competing consulting firm to repeat the exercise. The consulting firm agreed; they were the best and the most expensive.

One of the beliefs that I have inculcated with my teams and others who I have had the opportunity to work with and mentor, is that everything can be measured. Maybe not always using the conventional measurement criteria of Return on Investment or Return on Capital Employed. There is also a category called soft benefits or non-quantifiable returns which has fuzzy terms like better awareness or connect to people with no defined baseline or clear benchmark against which it can be compared. Even these could have been measured with proper definitions.

D-day arrived and the senior partner from the firm was solemnly ready to present the report. They had also reviewed their competitors report. They had insisted that the entire management team be present. There was suspense in the room and a hush as the presentation began. Through the hour everyone listened with rapt attention as their story unfolded in front of their eyes. When the senior partner completed with an air of authority, there were no questions; the data and evidence presented with benchmarks did not require any clarifications.

The company suffered from wanting to get everything at rock bottom prices; for them L1 pricing was the only way to do business. That is how ROI was always best ! The CFO being in a position that he was everyone was terrified to do it any other way. In the quest for value they took irrational decisions and displayed the fabled “penny wise and pound foolish” behavior. No one dared point this out and the realization came ironically from the most expensive no nonsense consultants. A lesson learned the eminently avoidable hard way.

Value can be created even from high cost investments while value can be destroyed even when you pay less. Value is a perception of price paid and has nothing to do with the price.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Learning Crisis

I was introduced to the world of books by my father and nurtured by my English teacher, both kept me supplied with enough books big and small, modern and classics. Drowning in their fictional world, late night sojourns with super heroes and supernatural beings completed my days. Growing up surrounded by virtual friends, as I started working they transformed into management and self-help books in the quest to stay ahead in the rat race. Books were interspersed with other trade publications and in recent times by electronic newsletters.

At the turn of the century and thereafter there has been overabundance of management books on colored oceans, climbing mountains, being different and creating strategic differentiators; I remember meeting many luminary authors in conferences which had a mandatory fixture with one such thought leader. As a young professional I enjoyed these interactions and managed to get autographed versions of their publications. Reading voraciously my collection of knowledge started outgrowing the space in my office.

The story tellers and theorists with their postulations evoked interest in some; rest found good slumber value in the books distributed in the conference. Having read some of their books before meeting them I had a few questions; at times to validate my assumptions and many times to clarify a point or two. There were also occasions where my frame of reference did not agree with the writings resulting in good discussions over drinks. Those with good oratory skills enthralled us, for the rest their message was lost in articulation.

Everyone loves to go on company offsite meetings and sponsored conferences, especially to exotic locations with no agenda, devoid of presentations they have to attend or make. Most people love the fun elements, skits, karaoke, and when alcohol is involved. As a good manager, I too indulged my teams which required everyone to attend with only medical emergencies being accepted and excused. There was always excitement about the event and the agenda; there was also trepidation in equal measure with majority of the team members.

Talking to friends and peers I realized that my situation was unique and none of the others had found such behavior. We compared notes, went through respective agendas and offsites structures; there was no evident difference in what they did to what I did. We discussed locations, team profiles, traveling arrangements, accommodation, and day end activities; there was no material difference that could have pointed to my teams’ variant behavior. I sensed it was not the obvious so I popped the question to my team.

I did not know how to react to the revelation, to me it was unimaginable, but it was their reality. They loved everything that we did starting with preparation, planning, fun and games, what have you; the part they hated is when prior to the offsite a book was given to every team member to read which would be the theme of the outing. They were okay with the books being given post the offsite as giveaways as most of them did not read them, but when they were expected to read before the journey, it gave them sleepless nights.

I discovered that even my CIO friends wondered why I insisted that my team spend precious time in reading these “management” books. Do they serve a purpose beyond the hours being occupied ? How does it help understand new technology trends or implement the next system ? As it is, there is paucity of time, where do we fit it in our priorities and urgencies which keep everyone busy ? Their ignorance was appalling and comparable to kids in my team. I also realized that the few who loved books stood out in their ability to engage their enterprises.

With information overload and explosion of news, views and innovative ideas, unfortunately many professionals have deprioritized reading as an investment over other pursuits. The resultant learning crisis is scary to say the least creating educated but ignorant people whose ability to connect across paradigms is challenged. The electronic media pushes information at our faces, we need to embrace it to survive. If you did not change with online retailing of books and then their electronic versions, it is time now before you are made irrelevant in the new digital world.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Recovery from the brink of ignominy

It was the first day at work for the CIO in his new company and he was excited about the prospects; the enterprise was one of the early adopters of technology and the business was growing faster than the market. The CIO having gone through multiple rounds of interviews and battery of psychological tests had made it. The first meeting was with one of the CEOs of a business; he arrived early and waited for the CEO. Arriving on time the CEO shook hands and sat opposite the CIO and opened the meeting with the remark, “I hate IT !

Not knowing how to react, the CIO smiled and commented “Thank you, now that is a starting point”. The meeting went on for the allotted hour after with the CIO emerged with a list of things to fix, projects that the business CEO wanted to execute yesterday, meetings that he had to schedule over the next few weeks with other business leaders and he had yet to meet his team. Wondering about his decision, he walked across to the adjacent building where the next meeting was with his reporting boss and the Managing Director.

As he settled in he discovered the root cause of the bitterness with IT; there were many anecdotes and tales of his predecessor, his interactions with the business, his approach to any new solution and the way he managed the team. He (the predecessor) was the first CIO the company had hired when they needed to leverage the next wave of IT and moving from a local benchmark to being a global benchmark in the industry. Technically competent and extremely articulate, the ex-CIO had everyone eating out of his hands.

No one could have faulted the best of breed technology decisions, validated with more than adequate research from global consultants and industry reports. For his team and the business, he always had answers for any technical problem; his team supported him though they hated his micro-managing style of operation. The resultant rift continued to grow until one fine day the CIO fell into the chasm. Business leaders heaved a sigh of relief and hoped that the new CIO would put in better efforts to understand their viewpoints too.

The newbie met everyone across layers, from shop floor to Boardroom, warehouse to suppliers; he worked with the feet on the ground understanding their pain, met customers gaining insights on drivers of top line. Expectations were set with the teams on key deliverables and measurements with checkpoints on what to report and when. Meeting with key vendors determined traction and connect that he could leverage to move into the next gear. The biggest change was in the attitude of his team and how they approached the business.

Soon he was part of the business teams networking with executive assistants and chiefs with equal ease getting around with a conviction that people accepted at face value. His team liked the empowerment and the freedom; they knew help was at hand whenever they needed it, so was a good word and encouragement. They worked in sync and turned around some of the faltering projects excited by the prospects of growth, visibility and glory; perceptions of IT started its uphill journey towards collective credibility.

The team that was written off by the business shed their reserve coming out into the open with new found confidence built on the foundation of success and the strong shoulders of their leader. They saw a change in behaviour from their customers and reciprocated fuelling the fire of performance taking it to new heights. Internal and external appreciation poured in acknowledging the return to leadership position in an industry. The turnaround was complete, the new CIO had once again been able to bring the function back to relevance.

It was an industry conference on a global stage where the CEO was presenting on the business success and differentiation with help from IT. There was applause in the room after the keynote was delivered; the CEO bowed as his colleague the CIO joined him on stage. As they got off stage they were hounded to discover the secret sauce of the CEO-CIO relationship. The CEO said, “I hated IT a few years back until this guy came on board and changed everything. Today IT contributes to our growth and I love IT”. Both grinned cheerfully and with hands on other’s shoulders walked away.

Footnote: When I wrote about “Living with Bad Hires” many readers wanted to know what happened after the CIO was fired. This is the story of what happened.