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 !