Monday, March 31, 2014

The King is dead, long live the king

I cannot believe that it has been almost two decades of the CIO role in the making; not the EDP manager which precedes the title by around another two decades or so; a score of years of making enterprise adopt, adapt and leverage IT; twenty years of educating CXOs on why they need to invest in IT for their own benefit if not survival; definitely a decade if not more of fending off ROI models for every initiative; a little less than a decade of helping the CMO get digital savvy and finally riding the waves of disruptive technology innovation.

With every changing paradigm or rather hype in some cases, starting with Client-Server to the most recent Internet of Things and everything in between (Internet, ERP, CRM, e-commerce, m-commerce, mobility, BYOD, Cloud, Social media, Big data to name a few) there were predictions of demise of the CIO. It was predicated that the CIO will lose relevance with power shifting to other parts of the enterprise, democratized decision making and budgets no longer under CIO control. Many joined the chorus, the technology king is dead.

A decade back, the article IT doesn't matter made a splash; it had many proponents and a collection of CIOs defending their position citing the author had lost it. Many CIO bashers interpreted the report to suit their hypothesis of why the CIO will soon be dead; clarifications from the author were brushed aside brusquely. Lectures were delivered by all and sundry proposing remedial steps for the CIO for his/her survival. Suddenly as it came, the brouhaha withered away and everyone moved on to the next issue, whatever it was.

CIOs need business skills, soft skills, technology skills, people skills, vendor management skills, project management skills, change management skills, financial skills, legal knowledge, customer management skills, and should be politically savvy at the same time. Probably any CXO job description may fit the above profile but they rarely get discussed in the open akin to washing dirty linen in full visibility of the world. Or maybe the IT media is obsessed with the role’s gaining prominence and thus attempts to find avenues to diminish it.

Recently when I read a few mainstream business publications headlining IT and the CIO, it revealed two things to me. The message that emerged is that IT effectiveness is diminishing with time and unable to keep pace with changing business expectations. Contrary to this is the fact that business pressures have led to risk averse attitude to investments in new technology; discussions on the management table however expect outcomes that can be achieved only when business works lockstep with IT rather than a customer-supplier relationship.

The world today is digital and connected in ways that were only imagined in the past; digital natives are consuming information very differently when compared to what makes enterprises run. Digital commerce has moved the power of choice to the consumer; however big enterprises are influencing choices using better tools and technologies to find patterns from unstructured data. Possibilities are opening up with large volumes of data being analyzed for patterns that can now predict events with higher probability breaking the choice mirage.

The future belongs to the enterprise which has mastered the art and science of consistently finding needles in the haystack of data. The individual who can make this happen shall be anointed the new high priest; only time will tell whether s/he will be the Chief Digital Officer or the Data Scientist or the CIO making a transition to becoming the orchestrator of such services. It is certain that sooner or later this will become commoditized and challenge the adopters to find new differentiators sooner than later.

I should also highlight the fact that there will continue to remain a need to manage the unseen parts of enterprise IT which are basic hygiene for business as usual, the network, the data center and cloud, the database and apps, information security, data warehouse, transactional manufacturing and supply chain systems or for a services organization the customer and related data. The CIO and the IT team have to keep this foundation strong for the digital enterprise to flourish and to that extent the role will not go away.

Individuals will make their choices on evolution; what is yours ?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Chief Inspirational Officer

Over the years I have faced this question umpteen times only to find that I have no answer; at times that has been embarrassing and sometimes feeling stupid for not being able to give a bright answer like others. Am I so different or unable to comprehend the influencers on the direction my life has taken over the years ? There were many who taught me as I stumbled through life ! Maybe I did not seek or connect to any beacons that stood out over others in a significant way which could be anointed as role models ?

Participating in a CIO conference with many vendors big and small jostling for attention over three days, the event threw up many surprises; the biggest among them was a lesson in humility, mixed feelings and emotions. A handful of CIOs who had earlier been in my teams now had become leaders in other companies; there were also many vendor CEOs who on open stage declared their role models. The compliments that followed sounded good, too good, I wished my family, my ex-Boss, and my parents could hear those wonderful words.

I felt a lump in my throat listening to my friend and senior compatriot from the industry who in the conference had been honored along with few other chosen ones for contributions to the industry. He stood out as an inspiration and role model to not just his team across the companies where he worked, but also to a large section of CIOs who looked up to him for guidance, leadership and coaching when they faced any sticky situation or had challenges to which they wanted experiential answers; he always obliged with a smile.

From an early age we all draw inspiration from someone or other: grandparents, parents, siblings, historical or mythical figures, teachers, managers, CEOs, global icons and leaders, or just someone we meet along the way in our professional and personal journey. In most cases it’s one or two who become the leading light, at times there are many more who individually and collectively contribute to what makes us who we are. There are also negative influences which we hasten to extinguish from our memories.

What contributes to positive strokes and influences people have on us and we have on others ? Why do some stand out whereas the larger group remains neutral in the impact they have on others ? Intrigued I started analyzing my friend who always appeared larger than life; he was the chosen one in almost every gathering; articulate and clear in his thought process, he gave a voice to the faceless CIO in every forum and publication airing the travails and evolution of the role through the decades which he personified with ease.

He was always approachable, a balance between people and task orientation, a good listener who gave attention to everyone, well read and knowledgeable on technology, knew the business and represented the industries in which he worked (he had worked in many). He met with vendor sales teams and their CEOs never refusing an audience or missing a reply to unsolicited mail from the world at large wanting to do business with him. Not that he gave business to everyone, but rarely did he chide anyone for reaching out.

He stretched his team, coached them to achieve, helped them face the business and worked with vendor partners challenging them to use technology differently. The teams enjoyed basking in the glory of achievement and learning through the journey. He shared his expertise and experience with everyone and coached many startups or SME companies of his chosen industries on how to leverage technology. He advised many IT companies big and small through participation in Advisory Boards or Customer Forums.

Inspiration comes from giving and sharing, not from domineering or manipulating behaviors; respect comes intrinsically when there is enough evidence of having helped not just yourselves, but everyone around you. No one can take away what you do or stand for, it is up to you to decide what you want to be. Some lack the words to put forth their ideas and learning; that does not make them any lesser, they just remain hidden treasures. Where are you in this ? Are you inspired by someone or you are a source of inspiration ?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Formula One IT

Congratulations for being the chosen one ! The business likes your solution and we are also fine with the technology, functionality and customer references. Now that we have an agreement on the price lets quickly get legalities and other formalities out of the way. The process for PO creation and other paper work will take another couple of weeks. The question is how quickly can you allot resources to our project ? I do not believe that we need 3 months to get the solution off the ground into a pilot or for that matter go-live.

Any objections to aggressive timeline expectations from the customer are brushed aside citing urgency in business need and the dynamic business environment. Software vendors sheepishly accept the modified forceful project plan which assumes turnaround of all documentation from users with no delay or for that matter existence of clean data. Idealistic as it may appear both sides approach the project with enthusiasm that is outward for the vendor who is happy to get the business. D-day arrives and the project kicks off with much fanfare.

This situation has occurred a lot more often than gets visibility; time to market expectations from commercial-off-the-shelf software implementations (leaving aside ERP type solutions) are getting shorter. Most of them offer standard process automation or functionality that is typical across companies. Thus with basic configuration and some integration the anticipation is that the solution will be up and running in no time. Reality however bites every time with outcomes that do not live up to such expectations exposing the fallacy in the approach.

Analyzing scores of such projects undertaken by many of my peers the discovery was not very surprising. The facts were largely consistent and created a picture which when played back to the CIOs made them cringe and accept it. There were reasons and there were reasons; they were not the usual that have been published by various groups who track challenged projects. In almost all cases these failed to achieve timelines as well as deliver the functionality expected and the CIO ended up with the short end of the stick.

To begin with the evaluation of available options extended to eternity with high business expectations wanting to select the perfect solution. Comparing apples with pineapples creates a situation where the end result morphs from being a custard apple to a jackfruit. Moving from one demo to another scope expands to encompass all exception conditions. Sanity prevails after some time with CIO or business CXO intervention to bring back expectations closer to reality. Elapsed time through evaluation now puts pressure to achieve results in impractical timelines.

What started as a city street drive has now converted into a formula one race ! We need to finish the journey in the fastest possible time; get your experts, put more people on the job, why does hardware delivery take so much time, put it on the cloud. Configurations cannot take that long, it should be possible to reuse expertise from other customer projects. We are not that different but we are different; what we meant is not what you have understood, you don’t know our business and we don’t have time to educate you.

Time keeps ticking with business participants unable to adhere to unworkable timelines resulting in missed milestones and angst on all sides. Reviews soon become infrequent with everyone wanting to just finish the project with redoubled effort. The cascading effect leaves everyone frustrated and wondering why they accepted the stretched targets or ever got into the project in the first place. The formula one race with no equipment, trained drivers and crew suddenly is back to being what it should have been, a street car race.

Accepting reality brings everyone back to what they should have done to begin with; plan with real assumptions, acknowledge dependencies and the need to follow a workable model with good project management practices. It is good to take time to find the right solution which needs to be given due time for deployment too. I believe that CIOs need to continuously educate business users not to apply consumer principles to enterprise software deployments. They need to push back even at the cost of being unpopular or appearing unaligned.

Sometimes they should also be ready to go to a formula one race !

Monday, March 10, 2014

Scaling Startups

He was talking about the next paradigm in cloud computing that will transform the way we look at IT infrastructure; it has received good traction with the initial set of early experiments. Another one was passionate about the new world of converged consumer and enterprise mobility; there will be a need for a different type of mobile device management. Security remains a favorite subject with all kinds of paranoia and sometimes reality demanding attention and budgets. And then there are many solutions vying for attention with no real differentiation.

Technology evolution creates opportunities for innovation limited only by imagination and passion. The number of startups is growing in leaps and bounds supported by family funds, angel investors, incubators constituted by academic institutes, and sometimes the rich and foolish. After the initial idea is germinated many of them struggle to move to the next level. While the consumer facing ideas find their moments of truth quickly, the enterprises focused tend to seek advice on how to pitch and connect with the CIO and business.

Call it coincidence or maybe the industry is changing in a definitive way, the recent past had some ex-CIOs and industry friends talking about getting involved in helping startups. There already exist many formal and informal groups who tend to the needy and also help them with funding. Most such groups want to look at the idea, business case, and background of promoters to determine if they should invest their time or bet their money. Opportunities appear to be ranging from some great ideas to harebrained downright ridiculous.

Mentoring startups seems to be the “in” thing to do and talk about in social circuits. The commitment ranges from using old contacts and industry connect to open doors or at least create an initial meeting and dialogue, to taking on formal roles with shared financial upside should any intervention result in an engagement and business. The rub-off credibility is indeed making some difference to young entrepreneurs and also giving them a dose of reality to what works and what does not. The partnership is increasing the possibility of survival and success for startups.

Some startups tend to thrive in a niche without getting distracted giving them higher propensity for survival. For the challenged ones one of the reasons has been the founders becoming a bottleneck by not building depth of management; their passion and emotional connect that brought them to a market position ends up stifling the company. They are unable to let go of micromanaging every person and activity thus rarely scale up to their true potential. This is largely true for individual owned companies; partnerships face other conflicts and challenges.

Serial entrepreneurs on the other hand have enjoyed fruits of success with their ability to detach themselves. Moving on to their next idea or wave of evolution gives them new opportunities. They know who to tap and what they need intuitively; their experience adds to their ability to find the right customer advocates and advisors. Knowing when to push and when to give up comes naturally. It is not that everyone can be a successful serial entrepreneur, the success or failure of the first one is the most difficult analogous to making the first million dollars.

CIOs can play an important role especially in the evolution of startups wanting to provide solutions to enterprises.  Their understanding of the business context coupled with their technology expertise gives them the ability to craft architectures that positively impact business outcomes. I believe that CIOs should adopt a few fledglings depending on their interest and inclination; shaping the future has merit that it is predictable and brings self-actualization. The other option is to read about success stories and wonder. 

Monday, March 03, 2014

Software Asset Management

You know it is a funny fact, we know where the hardware is (at least most of it) and what it is used for. It is tagged, classified, part of the asset register with clearly defined depreciation rules and possible refresh when it reaches end of life. The same does not always apply to software licenses; software is bought in varied forms, box packs, paper licenses, and enterprise agreements, downloads, handed over on a disk or thumb drive. It’s all over the place with most clueless of where, what, how much, and changing licensing conditions.

We help companies save license costs, manage their software inventory effectively towards compliance and ensure that there are no surprises during renewals or audits. Said so a representative from a large global IT advisory company to an audience of CIOs. He offered data and metrics to the disbelievers on how they helped many companies. Consulting companies have been pitching that everyone has a lot more licenses than they need; rarely anyone creates an inventory of all the software they buy, deploy and retire.

Software vendor representatives in the room nodded away through the sales pitch adding that most CIOs do not look at license compliance actively; it is an afterthought and enterprises need to deploy tools to manage the process of license management. Collectively they incited the CIOs to deploy SAM or software asset management. While a couple of CIOs from IT and software development companies talked about the benefits of SAM and how they were able to improve margins, rest of the CIO audience could not connect.

A FMCG CIO interrupted: when IT is your business and software the tools of the trade, they are managed as well as the machines that define the assembly line in a manufacturing organization.  We know where the finished products that move across the supply chain are the same way you know about your tools and services. We are users of IT to run our business; IT is not our business and we need simpler licensing when compared to the current complexity that makes it impossible to keep track of the ever changing environment and terms and conditions.

Life in the software industry started with the simplest of forms such as enterprise license for the entire company which gradually moved to concurrent users, named users, and then by server. Later arrived licenses by CPU which soon changed to Core based licensing. Advent of Virtualization created some confusion which was compounded by the Cloud. My software is licensed to run only on physical servers; if you want virtual servers you can only run it on my technology stack. Some innovative guy added memory based licenses.

Mergers and acquisitions in the software industry made life even more interesting with products morphing from one avatar to another, SKU changes, changes in terms and conditions, or licensing models. In many cases these were updated on respective websites and customers expected to periodically check ! Refer to clause on page 179, sub-clause … you signed that enterprise user licensing agreement agreeing to this. It would be good for you to also take cognizance of the inflation clause which raises annuity payments every year.

Unable to stop himself, a veteran CIO asked the audience: I am sure all of you have account managers from the software companies who meet with you frequently; has anyone of them ever engaged with you or offered help to stay compliant with the licenses ? Is there role only to sell more solutions or also to help you leverage what you have and work collaboratively to keep the relationship going ? Why do we CIOs have to face audits like criminals and then get cornered for small aberrations or use beyond the licenses ?

Acknowledging the gap the vendors and the consultants in the room mentioned the need for SAM and why it is important for companies to stay abreast of their licensing. I believe that depending on the size of the enterprise and the complexity of the architecture it would be worth getting hands dirty on SAM. Until the industry learns and decides to work with CIOs on managing licenses, the onus shall remain with the IT teams to stay compliant with process driven provisioning and frequent internal assessments that rationalize use.