Monday, May 25, 2015

Setting expectations is as necessary as manage them for everyone !

He was technically sound and had a proven track record creating and managing IT infrastructure in his chosen industry across multiple entities; recently he had moved into a position of power and influence in his new assignment and was enjoying flexing his muscles. Reaching out to vendors and others in the industry he announced his intentions engaging them in discussions that had most of them wanting to be part of future plans. After spending more than two decades in the industry he had aspirations of making it to the corner office.

The new company needed the fresh look he brought to the table; his hands-on approach is what was required to move them to the next level of efficiency. The company had consistently approached IT as a necessary evil to spend only when absolutely necessary resulting in decade old servers, geriatric laptops and desktops, and teenage neglected applications. The management took a penny pinching view of IT budgets always wanting to defer, delay or procrastinate on decisions after squeezing the proverbial last drop from vendors.

His demeanor driven by professional knowledge bordered on loud and brash, at times tended towards arrogance. To his credit he built relationships and trust quickly with the management getting their ear and then toeing the party line; with his ability to manage relationships and not being disruptive to the culture, he became part of the inner circle getting a view to the workings of the company though unable to change the decision making inertia. So he decided to enrol external help which he hoped would trigger positive change.

The hired external consultant provided a reality check and direction to take which he reviewed with his internal peers. Collectively they had a limited view which stalled progress; they knew what needed to be done but did not know how to get started with internal buy-in. Sliding timelines favored no one and the report finally elicited a view from the management chastising him for not delivering what was required. The absence of an articulated and documented expectation, it was like hitting a moving target in the dark !

He attempted to calm ruffled feathers on both sides though finally bowing to the management view with his subservient survival instinct prevailing over his professional pride. Capability and self-belief is a function of experience endorsed by past success. Professionals take a stand with conviction driven by confidence that is built on a foundation of deep expertise in a specific area; shallowness of bravado is quite evident when challenged. He backed off and tentatively offered to build a bridge which would save the situation.

Status quo dragged on for a while with silence and no action leaving the organization in suspension and users becoming restless after having seen a ray of hope. The company used to suboptimal process and technology solution continued to labour with obsolete and incomplete solutions while the industry was fast pacing ahead into a new world of digitally enabled customer engagements. For the newbie, it was a struggle for meaningful existence while wanting to change the outcomes he knew were possible with some of the recommendations.

Any strategy or plan with no resources, will, and buy-in to execute, is waste of time, effort, storage space and paper ! Contextually the difficulty was the management’s unwillingness to define what is required while expecting not just the necessary but the best of outcomes. There are many avenues to explore and break the deadlock, advice that coaches and consultants can offer to overcome the situation. Conventional wisdom will preach that the service provider to take a step backward and find a way to resolve the stalemate.

If you were the protagonist, what would you do ? Would you take a stand and risk losing your job ? If you were the management, would you give up your high chair and create a tripartite agreement on expected outcomes ? And if you were the consultant, how would you resolve the impasse with no access to the management and dependence on IT to find a solution ? If we analyse the situation, every stakeholder erred in the beginning by not defining the baseline or setting detailed explicit expectations. It’s a lose-lose scenario now !

Was the ending happy and satisfactory for everyone ? Coming soon …

Monday, May 18, 2015

BYOD is dead, long live device independence and proliferation

The advent of smartphones started a small experiment for senior management; it has now become mainstream. Explosion of smartphones in the enterprise driven by economical choices and increasing convenience has seen Progressive IT departments adopting a controlled and open attitude towards providing access to information on the go. Solutions have evolved with app-ification of many processes and business opportunities and Cloud based offerings. BYOD is no longer a 4 letter word, it’s reality for enterprises and CIOs.

Reluctant IT organizations are being pushed and forced into acceptance to define a framework on how to weave BYOD into the company fabric. Reality of yesterday which revolved around unmanaged devices, multiple platforms and form factors, and security of corporate data appear to be excuses now. While the starting point for most enterprises has been MDM or Mobile Device Management, additional solutions are equipping enterprises to create a secure and managed ecosystem for employees and partners.

The next few years will see a shift towards BYOD for most enterprises who are deploying mobility solutions of any kind. This is largely driven by the need to push information to stakeholders though newer use cases are emerging with sales force, distribution and approvals. There is also a pull exerted by various parts of the enterprise who are beginning to realize the time value of information. The challenge is not security anymore, it is managing the upsurge in expectations driven by the fact that someone has already done it somewhere in the world.

Is there a balance between complete freedom to totally restricted world ? There is no formula by size or industry type or even geography that provides a generic universally acceptable answer. Each enterprise will have to find its own equilibrium depending on need and benefit; my belief is that information enabled employees are likely to take better decisions or create newer opportunities in comparison to staff that live with enforced restrictive policies. Wearables open up new opportunities for the savvy technophiles.

The world is getting bipolar with mobility divided into 2 camps – Android and iOS. Stealthily a third alternative is emerging which offers comfort of the known and familiar to IT folks: Windows ! IT knows how to manage this platform while others intrusively came in from the consumer employee. I believe that this trend will be the saviour for IT giving them a platform that they know how to manage. Interestingly new innovation with dual boot devices with Windows and Android are just around the corner.

Some people may ask, what about the Blackberry as a device or platform ? Should we stop thinking about it ? There still are remnants of this in some enterprises. Should they stay in focus ? Predictions have a bad way of turning around and biting you; so if they do offer something critical that others don’t (which I am not sure of unless it is specific to your business), move them off. It is easier to manage one less technology than keeping it lingering around. In the near term I don’t see any merit in continuing with them.

The future belongs to an empowered enterprise where every person has information on demand available on his/her fingertips on a device of his/her choice. Ubiquitous and seamless access activated by secure channels that are MITM (Man In The Middle) and MOTB (Man On The Browser) attack proof; apps are obviating the need to create adaptive websites and compromises in user experience. Enterprises should explore a way to use Apps to provide secure transactional capabilities to employees while running off a public or private cloud.

New devices will continue to challenge IT; drive with policy which is adaptable and allows for induction of new environments. Put them to work in a lab before they start knocking on the door asking for permission to connect. Invest in tools and technology that allow you to manage the devices by exception and policy; that is easier to execute than creating an exception every time something new turns up. You will have limited time and capacity, use it wisely. Finally take a stand if it comes to a crunch; after all when things break only your neck is on the block !

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fitting into a startup culture is not for everyone !

It is probably the best of times for budding young entrepreneurs; they have ideas ranging from good to great, esoteric, far-fetched, imaginative, hair brained, stupid, and finally the ones that get you to “why did I not think of this” ! Funding seems to be chasing ideas across the board, valuations are going sky high; and then you meet someone who is struggling to get angel or series A funding. The grass is green but not across the new ventures field, there are many hidden brown and bald patches not visible from a distance.

Over the years I had the opportunity to work with many startup ventures though as a customer who believed in their story and vision. Some of them were into services, some wanted to build products, and there was a group that believed that they could change the world. Across all of them the excitement, enthusiasm and passion was palpable and infectious. They loved the fact that they had my attention and business, hoping to make it big someday; and some of them indeed did scale up giving me and my team a sense of joy.

Startups got a little more rope from me in comparison to larger players; at times they got second chances. I listened to their dreams and where possible gave them some insights from the journeys I had seen and my own. Almost all of them delivered to promise and some more, with quality of work and speed of execution that mostly the young are capable of. What they lacked in experience, they made up with a fail faster approach. I did not know of travails of their teams, internal culture, struggles, or their support ecosystem.

At a startup – the CEO and CTO – both approached me separately seeking advice on conflicts that had started increasing to the extent that a split was imminent. Each one believed the company’s success was because of his efforts and the other was not contributing; they resisted ideas from the other on selling and product roadmap respectively. Suddenly after the initial success, they found it difficult to live with each other. None was willing to bend, I suggested that they find an amicable way to settle their differences or go separate ways, which they did.

In the last year I have worked with multiple startups in various capacities from coaching, mentoring, product and/or technology advisor, go-to-market, writing product brochures, defining enterprise use cases, or rescuing them from the technology quicksand. Each startups had a different persona, culture, challenges and opportunities. Similar to large enterprises, the senior most person’s behaviour and mannerisms defined the company. For some of the older folks who had joined them, the generation gap was a challenge.

I met up with one senior industry leader who had given up a juicy MNC position to join a VC funded startup; he had a great track record in market expansion and acquiring customers. He brought maturity to the discussion which connected with customers, the CIOs. The going was good and that brought the company into prominence. Success plays differently with people; some change for good, some remain the same, and a few start believing that they are invincible. My friend’s exit was the trigger for our meeting.

Ipso facto analysis would reveal differing dimensions, the reality was that the conflict arose from success and divergent views of next steps. Achieving scale was necessary to take the company to the next level; the veteran knew what to do, had done it before, the CEO had other ideas and he thrust them on the team with obvious results. Observing the senseless and unaligned movement, employees urged the veteran to intervene. He attempted to rationally reason out to no avail; regretfully he quit leaving a trail of other exits.

I realize working with startups require lots of patience; they have a mind of their own and you may disagree with their views and direction. They will take your experience as an enabler or an anchor based on their frame of reference; you need to accept that they will not always do what you advised. Your success formula from the past and large enterprises are at times discarded for uncharted waters. They will listen to you and may end up doing something else. Allow them to make mistakes even if they are obvious to you; they learn that way.

The young and the restless are a different breed; most of them are born to a digital world and followers of Robert Frost !

Monday, May 04, 2015

Last on the list (of IT budget priorities)

I got a call from a frantic CIO, someone I had not spoken to for long; he was upset and I could visualize his agitated state, not that he was prone to such behavior. Listening to him I realized that his situation was indeed worry worthy; so cutting short his outpouring we decided to meet the same evening to help him find a solution. The timing was interesting considering that just a few days back this was a subject of discussion with someone senior from the software industry and how it was putting some customers in a difficult situation.

Almost every enterprise uses some off-the-shelf application to run their business; it could be financial accounting, sales and distribution, ERP, SCM, CRM, BI, or plain and simple office automation tools like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation. At the base level it also includes the operating system on their compute devices or database on servers. It is a rare case where everything is open source with no licensed software. Licensing norms vary by provider and can be simplistic per instance to complex revenue based.

If we go back in time to more than two decades back, equipment suppliers would freely provide these unscrupulously until software providers started tracking activation keys over the internet and made it difficult to deploy unlicensed software. Enterprise licenses for software were named or concurrent user based with IT being responsible to track use and buy licenses with growth in use. Server instances moved from CPU to core to Cloud and back to user base depending on which model maximized the revenue for the provider.

True-ups became the way to declare use and procure additional licenses for most with occasional audits to ascertain the gap if any. Licensors were willing to forgo minor aberrations in use if revenue continued to flow with increased numbers and annuity from maintenance contracts. Plateauing sales created an industry around rigorous audits by third party to aggressively seek non-compliant customers and corner them to sell at rack rates versus standard volume or relationship based discounts resulting in higher revenue but broken relationships.

Every 2-3 years, whenever there was a threat of legal action, they had bought limited licenses of the software which had now become business critical. He knew the company was living on the edge and could be in trouble should an audit be initiated. The management had tasked the CIO to “manage” the shortfall not willing to spend or allot budget to regularize the licenses. It is not that they could not afford to pay; the mindset was to keep it that way until a confrontation was unavoidable, so the gap just kept growing.

The CEO had called the CIO and handed him a letter instructing him to find a way out; it was a legal notice from the licensor to conduct an audit of all computing equipment across all premises and data centre, including subsidiaries. The CIOs protests and reflection of reality did not appear to make a difference to the CEO. The CIO illustrated similar incidents with much larger enterprises who had not been able to “manage” this situation. Unable to make headway he decided to seek counsel from friends and peers from the industry.

Listening to him, a clear case of wilful non-compliance, we realized it would be a difficult task for him to face the audit which his CEO also did not want; at the same time the vendor was unlikely to back out. His allies within the company were shy to stand up to the CEO; collectively his peers advocated that he take help from the legal function to delay the action on the ground while he talk to the vendor to negotiate a deal. The licensor was known to be amenable to a settlement and that appeared to be the best option.

Licensing complexity indeed puts CIOs and Purchase functions in a bind which has cropped up a new industry around Software Asset Management. That does not obviate the need to actively manage budgets for increasing licensing requirements of a growing business. I believe that it is upto the CIO to keep the business informed of license compliance at all times including new business planning, monthly review meetings, budgeting exercises, and finally in their own dashboards. Don’t wait for a calamity to start the discussion.

Finally, if IT budget is the only place where this is going to be discussed, it will always settle at the bottom of the priority list !