Monday, February 23, 2015

You have become a Business CIO, but where is your team ?

The IT team was pleased with the effort and congratulated each other for the delivery. The team had worked hard with the development partner to meet aggressive timelines and delivered for UAT a few days early. But that is when the problem started; the team working on the UAT came up with many exceptions that poked holes in the solution; a process not captured well, some processes missing and absent data elements. It was like IT was from Mars and the business was from Venus and they blamed each other.

The CIO was peeved off by the disconnect; the vendor with high pedigree and domain expertise had been carefully and jointly chosen; the business had offered domain experts with good standing, and the IT team understood the technology well enough. So the CIO did some quick checks on the delivery versus expectations and discovered that the IT team knew the business though the understanding was not as deep as it appeared to be. There were translation losses with implicit assumptions by the business and IT.

I think the drums started beating almost a decade back on the need for the CIO to become business savvy. It was about understanding business operations so that the written and articulated processes are translated it into a solution that meets business expectations. The origin of this was the nemesis of what everyone called scope creep and resultant change requests that escalated cost and created time overruns such that the end solution at times became irrelevant to the business; bridging the gap was necessary and critical.

The CIO also had aspirations to get a seat on the Management Committee or the Operating Board or equivalent leadership team. Discussions in these meetings largely did and continue to focus on topline, operating efficiency, bottom line; essentially discuss monthly performance and numbers. Some teams had graduated to reviewing competitive activities and customer engagement while the more evolved ones discussed strategies and more openly. For the CIO to get there it was imperative that s/he understand, participate and contribute.

It took some effort and humility to make the grade, while some for whatever reason did/could not; the fruits of the effort were worth the struggle and more. As a business partner the CIO enjoyed the perks of being in the team and on the table working lockstep with other CXOs. Having a bird’s eye view of the business and a pulse of operations, the CIO stitched together the missing pieces of the jigsaw that made up the business. The transition to a business leader brought new aspirations which resulted in lateral or upward movement for a few.

The IT team reveled in the success and leadership position taken by the CIO; the adulation apart some of them attempted to follow the CIO’s footsteps that led to the transformation. The CIO was happy in his/her new found position and willingly coached anyone who wanted to follow the path. Key lessons revolved around the not so obvious soft skills which help in building relationships; s/he also stressed the need to know the chosen function or domain as well to be seen as a subject matter expert internally as well as externally.

Attempting to get to the bottom of the imbroglio, the CIO realized that the IT team involved in the project had not fully imbibed the learning citing paucity of time and work pressures. They had sidestepped some meetings and relied on their knowledge and focused on technology. The vendor to his credit had attempted to engage with the business and had suggested field trips which were deemed unnecessary by the IT team. Thus the partial understanding created a solution that evidently did not meet expectations and resulted in frustration on both sides.

It is the CIOs responsibility to push his/her team to leave their comfort zones and make the cut; business in most cases is willing to help the learning. A planned approach to engage from both sides works best; the CIO must measure the engagement levels and continuously create opportunities on both sides to appreciate each other’s expertise. Project success is an important milestone but to move to a trusted partner and advisor takes a lot more. In this case walking the talk is a difficult journey which the IT team had failed to do.

Prepare your teams the way you plan your learning, after all your success depends on them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Give up inertia and take the first step !

A long time back I wanted to write a book on Organizational Inertia; it was to be an expression of angst from stories captured from many IT teams on theirs and my experiences in large enterprises. The funny thing is that large enterprises have a peculiar life of their own which makes interesting case studies. They rarely surface and get buried in the stifled cries and whimpers of the frustrated who try to find solace in greener pastures. When I wrote No decision, the biggest enemy to progress, it appeared to have stories of many encapsulated into the anecdotes.
Organizational inertia manifests itself in many ways; pushback to innovation, new ideas and change, is the norm with justification that is final in its utterance. If that does not work, Committees are setup to review feasibility, or research commissioned to validate the assumptions, or a Consultant hired to benchmark and recommend best practice, or just keep asking for more data; anything to maintain status quo almost as if life depended on it. Let me give you a few examples of how they manifest themselves, I am sure you can add to the list:
1.    That’s the way it is done here
2.    Current process was written/endorsed by the Chairman/Founder/CEO, how can we change it ?
3.    It was tried earlier and it did not work
4.    There is no budget allotted
5.    How can you even think about … you don’t understand this company !
6.    This requires approvals from global headquarters … and you know how it works …
7.    It is not relevant to our industry/company …

Almost two decades back as I remember some bright consultants created a practice around “Change Management” to address these issues which plagued the industry. How to manage change, how to get people to embrace new ideas, and how to institutionalize change. Every large enterprise went through some kind of workshops, management consultants adding value, and attempting to coerce people to look at things differently. The inherent pushback from the change averse (that’s what they were called) was WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) ?

Fair amount of the change was created by automation and force fitment of processes into technology solutions that integrated processes and functions (ERP). The next layer of function specific solutions like CRM or SCM and then broad based solutions like BPM added to the change which started accelerating. Post the initial chaos emerged clarity on the benefits and the ease of use with early adopters enjoying market leadership or an agile advantage. Things were beginning to settle down and enterprises were at peace with themselves.

Change being the only constant, the next level of disruption was thrust upon enterprises from outside with the changing dynamics of employees, contractors and customers embracing technology in their personal lives. The now ubiquitous smartphone in the hands of the masses catalysed by exploding plethora of applications forced enterprises to accept this force multiplier. CIOs and others were challenged to accept the new wave which required not just adaptation to the technology but also a change in process.

From the internet led disruption to mobility to Clouds to now the Digital hype, IoT, and wearables to name a few, enterprises and CIOs have never had a dull moment. Doomsday did happen for some though not because they did not embrace the hype, but because they did not change when they should have or when they could have. Stories of such companies shall remain case studies in organizational inertia. In the new world of digitally defined success measured by valuations among other things, everyone wants a share of the pie.

This is an opportunity for every company and leader to introspect and take some uncomfortable decisions to give up the good old ways of working and explore how the hype can be tamed and applied within. The CIO more than other CXOs is well placed to take steps towards creating a dialogue that puts the elephant in the room and test hypotheses on impact to customer, employees, partners and stakeholders. In the new age some of the fundamentals cannot be forgotten; finally for every company it is about creating value for the ecosystem.

"A year from now, you may wish you had started today." - Karen Lamb

Monday, February 09, 2015

Insecurity about Cloud Security and Value versus Return

I was at this conference of small and mid-sized Cloud service providers who were discussing the current state of the market and evolution with everyone talking digital. They were hoping to collectively brainstorm and learn from each other’s experience. They discussed the evaluation criteria they were subjected to, problem statements they had to answer, and the two biggest stumbling blocks that would not go away even with the maturity of the cloud solutions and growing customer base; they are ROI and Security.

Some large enterprises have adopted a cloud first approach to their new initiatives while they seriously evaluate movement to the cloud whenever faced with any upgrade or refresh decision. These early adopters and fast followers now are more or less convinced that it does not make sense to continue investing in conventional hardware solutions. Data centers and servers are best left to the experts to manage while application management was outsourced a decade back. DevOps is the way to go and Cloud is where everything should reside.

Off course there are industries which have seen exceptions for some types of solutions which are still not amenable to be on the cloud. Even the providers acknowledge this and keep away from pitching for such use cases. Big monolithic solutions are facing the agility challenge and the paradigm has shifted to accommodate multiple for purpose apps on the cloud that are making some parts of the big solutions redundant or enhancing productivity by reducing the effort to complete a workflow or task in the conventional solutions.

Consumer and personal apps reside on the same devices that are used at work; this transgression managed or otherwise is here to stay. CIOs and CISOs have learnt that pushbacks are no longer accepted and they have to find a way to make peace and find solutions that allow coexistence. MDM has evolved to provide some level of containerization to separate the official from personal and the ability to brick a device should it be lost or fail to return on exit. So where is the unfulfilled promise of security and ROI or is it just a favorite flogging horse ?

How secure is your cloud solution ? Have you had any security certification done for your software ? When was the last time penetration test was conducted ? What is the uptime offered on your cloud ? Clouds are expected to save money; what is the ROI of your solution ? The service providers’ reality was that they had to field these questions every day with every customer with every opportunity with everyone they met. It was as if repeating the message would strengthen its value and make it work for the customer and stakeholders.

After all the due diligence and certifications, customers then go on and deploy the solution with limited security governance and vulnerable practices that expose the data. Eventually if and when data leakage does occur, the cloud and/or the solution is deemed immature and not upto the mark. Attempting to create idiot proof solutions with all the checks and balances to protect against human stupidity is the final and ultimate step in ensuring that the solution is secure; and this has remained the goal of every enterprise and the challenge for every provider.

Return on Investment is a different ballgame; value is a function of the frame of reference of the perceiver and nothing to do with reality. For someone a dollar a month per user may be value and for another $10 is not expensive. Can service providers do justice to the wide spectrum of expectations ? I am not sure that kind of elasticity exists; volume driven discounts or market entry strategies may offer initially low pricing which is rarely sustainable in the long-term unless the end game is market valuation and not profitability.

At the end of the discussions collective wisdom indicated that alleviating the fear factor will take its time with evolution not being consistent and everyone wanting to reassure themselves of the risk factors. It does not matter how many have taken the leap of faith or how long the solution has been around. Even today there are buyers apprehensive of every decision lest it not work in their unique environment or their inability to leverage the value. I think that the discussion will keep popping up and we will have to reassure a zillion times over.

Monday, February 02, 2015

How not to do M&A Integration

Why does the team need to travel and spend money ? You know well enough that there is pressure on costs and it is imperative that everyone contribute and IT is no exception. I don’t want to hear excuses on why it will not work effectively. Get on to a video-conference to understand more about what they have and what they do. Use a bit of technology to get requirements from these markets; there has already been too much travel from other functions. I just came back from a review and we have busted the travel budget.

With this spiel to the CIO and the IT team, the CFO proceeded to travel to four countries to give the message on cutting cost to the country heads. It was not important that he always made up his trips last minute and traveled First Class. It was also not of relevance that just his personal travel budget was higher than the total IT budget for travel. It did not matter if sub-optimal solutions were being used by some of the acquired companies and the integration effort had faltered in the absence of travel authorizations to IT.

The company had leapfrogged into the big league with acquisitions in quick succession; after an era of organic growth, the change in pace was exciting. There was a palpable sense of aggression and pride that prevailed internally and also made news thrusting the company to the pages of business magazines and newspapers. At the same time there was a bit of uncertainty on how to work the mechanics of integrating multiple companies simultaneously. As normal, Consultants were hired and teams created to oversee the process.

Business teams created groups of domain experts who traveled to the acquired companies globally to meet their counterparts, understand culture, process and systems used. Teams were mapped and processes reviewed for compliance to standards and regulatory requirements. All this was fed into a structure which captured each and every component of the new company beyond the pre-acquisition due diligence. They followed the best practices laid down by the Big Consulting Company assisting in the integration.

Weeks became months and progress was good though with one glaring gap; IT was nowhere to be seen in the picture. The business teams reached out to the CIO seeking a timeline and calendar that IT would follow in the integration process. The CIO advised them of the incremental data required and promised to have his team reach out to the far side. Quickly it was evident that the gap cannot not be bridged with conference calls and email exchanges. Having executed a couple of integrations, the CIO realized that he was being setup for failure.

The CIO reached out to the business teams with his constrains and sought help which was promptly offered since everyone was now feeling the pinch of unintegrated email systems which bounced messages, lack of information flow and integration between various systems including financial reporting. Some of the functions whose success depended on harmonized IT were happy to sponsor. Despite the urgency, need and demand, ego prevailed and the CFO was unwilling to accede leaving everyone frustrated and wondering.

It was evident that the deadlock would be difficult to break; in the absence of an integrated approach taking off, business leaders attempted to use local solutions. They had to deliver results with synergies and process improvements, and their dependence on IT was critical. Using personal rapport with the CIO they validated some of the local solutions that could be deployed in the short term. Scrounging for budgets they attempted to get these off the ground; talent crunch and missing strong leadership failed to get them going.

Integration review meetings became a war of words with the CFO finding excuses and then blaming the CIO for not effectively managing the effort. Business knew the reality to be otherwise and had reached a situation that they had no recourse but to accept the fact that the new company will remain technology challenged for some time to come. The acquired company’s leadership team too accepted the power play and silently lived in their acceptable level of inefficiency hoping that someday in the future things would change.

What happened to the CIO and the IT Team ? Well in quick succession many of them found greener pastures leaving the CFO to find other scapegoats for his ego while business struggled to stay afloat.