Monday, January 26, 2015

Knowing buzzwords does not make you a Chief Digital Officer !

We are going digital and we will change the way the industry leverages digital ! You know these 20 year old bright B-school interns ? I am sure these kids who were born with technology know a lot about how their generation uses the Internet and devices and Internet of Things and wearables... They will help us take our company into the digital world. I am commissioning a research study on the industry and what is happening globally and how our customers are likely to behave. Everyone sighed and nodded their heads to the ravings of a man possessed.

This CXO had taken on the mantle of leading the digital transformation of the enterprise; no one had asked him nor did anyone suggest that going digital was a priority for the enterprise. He was good at spewing buzzwords and had a basic though carbon dated understanding of IT. His own function and team tolerated him for his loudmouth tactics that appeared to be getting him attention of those who mattered. One fine day he pronounced that he was going to be the Chief Digital Officer and drive the digital journey for the company.

The CMO who was well grounded and grown in the industry over two decades, heard about it from his team mate who was sitting in on his behalf that day. He felt amused that a rank outsider who had barely spent a year in the industry was willing to make tall promises and claims on how the business shall stand transformed with help of a few college kids ! He asked his team to provide full support to the CXO and keep him informed of progress. He had a business to run and numbers to deliver, the company can learn from someone else’s mistakes.

The industry was known to be conservative in adopting technology with no real pressures on growth or profitability especially in growing economies. The company had always attempted to stay in front of the game though not always able to push through the competitive advantage. Globally some early pilots on digital had early success and some of the larger multi-national companies had started investing for mature markets. It was too early to predict how digital will finally shape outcomes for the industry, companies and the consumer.

The CXO flew people around the world, organized videoconferences, and finally selected a bunch of students from a mid-tier global B-school. The selected team comprised 5 nationalities was seen as a good mix of perspectives and cultures. They were excited as the young can be, and looked up to the CXO to set the agenda for the project. Many meetings later there appeared to be a structure to what was required and the process to get it; a protégé of the CXO was entrusted the task of chaperoning the team around their field visits.

The CMO working with the CIO had many projects underway which were significant components towards the digitalization of the enterprise and connect with the ecosystem. These were kept as low key affairs to keep news from spreading and gaining a competitive advantage. The business knew these would help them get a big boost in the market and supported the CMO/CIO partnership. The CXO made multiple attempts to get a handle on these unsuccessfully and moved on to his globally envisioned digital strategy that will transform the industry.

Months passed away with the teams working across borders, engaging with customers, stakeholders, end consumers, influencers, and everyone who mattered. The collated volumes of quantitative and qualitative data which was put into the churner. The CXO took excerpts and published them as brilliance from the students while crooking a finger at the CMO and how the new strategy will … Everyone listened and nodded again allowing the CXO to present the findings in the upcoming meeting. The CMO and CIO remained unfazed and continued to toil.

D-day arrived and everyone was anxious to hear the new vision. Everyone listened attentively to the young lady who presented the groups findings based on data and inferences based on interviews globally. The picture that emerged was not too different from the direction chosen by the CMO and the CIO. The company was on the right track, they just needed to get some acceleration into the projects. A sense of relief settled around the room; the CXO changed colors through the presentation, ran out of the room with phone attached to his ear which no one remembered ringing !

The new generation will behave differently to stimulus, who better to validate with ?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dear Boss, you are fired !

Call it providence or just plain bad luck or for that matter the CIOs inability to get along with his newly appointed boss, things had just gone down over the last year. Every day was a new battle ground for him to conquer, every discussion was steeped in frustration, and every proposal an uphill task. The CIO gave it all his energy, patience, learning on how to manage difficult situations, advice received from peers and industry veterans to no avail. It did not matter what he did or did not, the relationship failed to bloom.

The CIO had been with the company for some time; he had seen his reporting changed multiple times with increasing dependency on IT creating success. Almost all his managers had taken a hands off approach with deference to his professional expertise. After all he had delivered in difficult times building credibility for his team. Business appreciated the calculated risks taken that brought value to the company operations and efficiency improvements. He was high on professional competency which made people listen to him.

The new boss was intrinsically insecure which made him a loud person always wanting to speak in every meeting, interrupting the flow of thought while attempting to make a point or two; he loved the sound of his own voice and even when none existed, created opportunities to talk about how great he was. His garish attire complimented his personality making him completely malfeasant. Without any qualms about collateral damage, he attempted to demean everyone around him, peers, subordinates and others.

The CIO and his new boss had a great start with the IT team wondering if the CHRO made a mistake or the CEO inadvertently or otherwise overlooked some basic principles while taking a decision to hire. Both were known to be well grounded high professionals; it appeared disturbing that they and the Board disregarded some of the obvious personality flaws while hiring for a senior management role ? It was really too much of a coincidence to believe that everyone missed out something so obvious !

The CIO had multiple projects underway with large investments with the best of technologies and partners who were selected with active participation from all stakeholders. As the days progressed everything that was working well and going in the right direction suddenly became a cause for concern. The new boss made mountains out of molehills and at times fabricated problems that were the one in a million exception to process. The screeching grew in crescendo drowning not just IT but even protests of the business owners.

It would appear that he was there to transform the entire business singlehandedly and fix the malaise that ailed the company of which there was plenty as he saw and fabricated in all directions. With Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) sown in the minds, the boss proclaimed that the company needed urgent transfusion of high talent and professionals to rescue the sinking ship. As the FUD factor took root, there was a general agreement that if the situation is indeed as bad, the saviors need to be expeditiously on boarded.

They came in droves and spread across the enterprise into every function; past nonexistent or minor accomplishments embellished with superlatives made the new team superheroes. They were showered with disparagingly high benefits to the chagrin of the existing teams who had no recourse having been labeled incompetent and responsible for the current situation. Soon the place was infested across layers with people that coincidentally worked in the boss’s previous companies, many of whom had been laid off.

It was evident that there was no reversal likely unless something broke colossally and even then it appeared that the team would get away with massacre. No one was sure of the source of protection they enjoyed, to brazenly get away with non-performance and break the culture that made the company successful. Wild rumors founded or otherwise floated the corridors crushing the already broken will of the people. The CIO after a huge internal struggle decided to let go and find peace of mind outside the jungle of hypocrites.

On another planet in a similar setting the end outcome was quite different; with sliding deliverables the Board woke up and realized that they had let the boss break some of the conventional rules and ethics that govern any company, like mass hiring from past employers. They challenged the boss and set a timeline to deliver to promise with obvious consequences for non-performance. Blaming the past did not hold any more water; he had adequate time and bandwidth to create the change which he had failed to.

Much damage later the inevitable happened: "Dear Boss, you are fired !" 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Don’t just survive, thrive in the changing world !

Last week when I wrote “CIO will survive …” I received lots of thank you notes and endorsements from CIOs and others, some with vested interests; I believe that this is the best time to be a CIO; technology has become pervasive, understanding of impact universal, democratization of information a gaining trend, and the economy finally looking up. The CIO will have to really do something dramatically stupid or put his/her head under the ground refusing to take any risk or decisions to fail disastrously. And then some had doubts too.

Enterprise dynamics have changed with upsurge in technology awareness that has had every CXO wanting a piece of the pie. It all started with the CFO wanting reports/analytics, then marketing attempting to push ahead in the social media and digital space, to supply chain, operations, sales, and even human resources wanting some attachment and visibility to the new world full of disruptive opportunities where success is not the only measure. Fail fast and fail often echoed in many discussions and meeting rooms.

Pressure also comes from within for few who want to keep their teams under their watch with clipped wings should they want to fly higher than their own flight. There is the aspiring and ready next in line: CISO, Head Applications, Head Infrastructure, Head Analytics, Head Innovation, and Head Customer Service, all wanting to displace the CIO from the mantle. What should the CIO do to stay ahead of this pack of technology professionals while running the race with peer CXOs without falling down and getting trampled ?

Lot has been said and written about behaviors, skills, expertise, knowledge, and temperament of the ideal CIO; in a perfect world s/he can balance business and technology while knowing as much about the domain as Sales & Marketing, Supply Chain, Finance & Accounts, Human Resources, and Customers as each function heads. At the same time s/he is expected to know about every new trend or technology that will disrupt the world today, tomorrow and a year down the line. Off course s/he should be a fluent communicator to explain all this in simple language.

How does the CIO thrive in such extreme conditions ? There is no magic potion, formula or wand, no Holy Grail or acquirable super power; no short cuts or fast track formulas. It is not a destination but a journey with milestones to achieve as you keep moving; a step by step process for most with concerted effort to stay relevant and ahead in the game. Many would want to create New Year resolutions; my recommendation after falling and getting up many times over in the last two decades is to get started and not link it to the calendar.

Here’s my view of the needs for not just survival but to thrive in an uncertain world:

1.      Hire your direct reports or for that matter others who are better than you and who will challenge you; given them enough freedom to move faster than you and help them find success internally. Coach them and learn from them; they will make up for skills that you don’t have and help you win.
2.      Seek feedback from your peers (internal CXO customers and externally other CIOs) who can amplify your success or make it look like a stupid expedition to nowhere. Don’t just have a transactional relationship with them; have coffee or drinks with them to understand their strengths and fears.
3.      Communicate success as well as qualified opinions about technology enabled disruptions which may impact your industry or company; communicate often and don’t wait for downtime, virus outbreaks, or plain simple bad news. Good news creates a favorable perception and energy
4.      Network across layers internally and externally; the more you network the better you are likely to get at connecting with people and that will help you create visibility for yourselves. Always respond to requests for meeting, information or business even if the answer is no.
5.      Build a brand, stand for something in the industry; don’t get lost in the crowd where no one knows you or wants to connect with you beyond the immediate business. Respect has to be earned for it to be sustainable; what comes with the position or title goes away with the position.

I could add a few more and I am sure so can you based on your frame of reference. This is just a beginning to a better tomorrow.

Monday, January 05, 2015

CIO will survive ! New Year Prediction or Resolution

With unnerving certainty as the year comes towards its end, everyone puts on their futurist hats and make profound pronouncements on what will happen. These predictions span an extremely wide range of topics which they run through; some are brave enough to review what they said at the end of every year to set a score for themselves which gives them bragging rights in social events or with the press. Every year people are also expected to also create New Year resolutions on how they want to change their lives.

The technology industry has its share of predictions from all kinds of industry bodies, research entities, observers, leaders, optimists and pessimists. Some of them are based on data while others are either based on experience or pulled out of thin air; the probability of getting it right is even. Trends on future technologies are always fraught with danger but catch the maximum attention and are thus popular. The rest and sundry are then divided into camps that prophesize about the rise or waning of the role of the CIO (

I will not delve into tech trends or predictions, they are kind of getting monotonous with many repeating over the years. Having been in the most criticized role of the industry – yes I am referring to the role of the CIO – for more than two decades, I love to read the forecasts about the future of the CIO ! It gave me immense pleasure to debate these and provide an alternate view of a practitioner especially to ones that gave negative connotations or implied diminishing importance or in the worst case the demise of the role !

The last few years predicted subservience to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) who were expected to take away significant chunks of the IT budget. The news spread like wildfire and had expert opinions and advice for the imminently vanishing tribe of the CIO. This is not foreign to the CIO who has been told in no uncertain terms for almost the last decade starting with IT not mattering, to every technology trend like Cloud Computing or Big Data & Analytics reducing the role to one of BAU or plain execution.

Almost all the CIOs read, discussed and then discarded the doomsday predictions and moved on with life. The moot point here is that I refer to peers, friends, acquaintances and professionals who are indeed CIOs in the true sense with a balance of business, technology and leadership skills, and not grown up or immature IT Managers masquerading as CIOs. Maybe in some distant part of the world the occurrence of such a phenomena threatened the immature or wannabe CIO; I know with reasonable certainty that globally there was no impact !

This year too I am certain that there will be perceived or real threats to the CIO; finding the needle in the Big Data haystack, or rain disrupting the hybrid cloud, or maybe outsourcing gone awry; I don’t know, my imagination isn’t able to postulate a probable yet unimaginable situation that will shake the foundation on which the CIO has built his/her career. There will be a big brouhaha with tons of advice by well-wishers on what to do and how to create a survival strategy; to the chagrin of few and surprise of many, this will pass.

CIOs on the other hand will be asked to create resolutions to stay aligned to business, get off their seats and spend time in the trenches, save the planet by adopting the cloud, buy the next best processor or flash disk which will transform the business, and follow the next buzzword, device or technology that will change the way the world functions. CIOs will be admonished and threatened by consultants, vendors, academicians, Tom, Dick … to pay attention to their verbalization to survive and stay relevant for the future.

I believe that this is the best time to be a CIO; technology has become pervasive, understanding of impact universal, democratization of information a gaining trend, and the economy finally looking up. The CIO will have to really do something dramatically stupid or put his/her head under the ground refusing to take any risk or decisions to fail disastrously. So go ahead and shun the convention, be yourself and take on the world; you don’t have to prove it to the world, only to yourself that you are a worthy CIO !

Last year I tried something different; took my predictions of a decade back and analyzed them. What I found ( ?