Monday, September 28, 2015

The anti-social social media in a Digital World

She was a teenaged student enamored by social media, trusting quickly, befriended what appeared to be similar minded youth. The emotional play slowly convinced her to take steps that would have been forbidden by her parents resulting in indescribable gory incident that left her wounded for life. Similar fate has courted many young lives globally; awareness and education being a partial cure, cutting off the connecting threads being a drastic step rarely enforceable. Peer pressure coupled with rebellious nature has not alleviated the situation significantly.

Sharing and social platforms have now been around for almost a decade, first among them took off in 2002, others followed; some are raising their heads even now. In the not too distant past everyone was going gaga over social media and its relevance to the enterprise and why it mattered to be on various social media platforms; quickly the problem morphed into an analytical one with social listening and unstructured data giving rise to a new paradigm – Big Data – that promised to provide insights hereto unknown and unthinkable.

The market segmented itself into personal social, professional networking, image sharing, chatting, and short messages with 140 characters to broadcast or send to individual subscribers (the origin being that the messaging service was built on top of the Short Message Service or popularly known SMS on mobile phones which had a limit of 160 characters). Then came convergence with each of them wanting to take mindshare from the other. Blurring lines and interconnect reduced the distinction to almost nothing for consumers and corporates.

Popularity was determined by the number of followers, connections, and shares by others of what a person or corporate account posted; which obviously gave rise to false accounts and commercial models to buy followers showing inflated numbers against a profile which was the measure of success. Slowly as the hype died down, investments were questioned and everyone scampered around to find financial models to justify their budgets. Stretch of imagination and leap of faith set aside, fear of not doing it kept depleting the coffers.

Unable to hold ground with ROI models, marketing justified brand building, customer engagement, pulse of the market, and put effort in managing negative vibes spread by dissatisfied customers. Smattering of success selectively by a few campaigns ensured that everyone kept trying as the dynamics continued to change. Individual customers made the most of the paranoia of corporates to decimate all evidence of their shortcomings until it reached a point where many just gave up or ignored the listening justifying their steps using statistics.

Success of the medium attracted unwanted elements who used social engineering methods to target the gullible; emboldened by their success, they gradually increased threat levels and expanded scope to target the young and innocent or holding naïve and unprepared corporates to ransom. Changing terms of engagement on the platforms kept everyone guessing on what next and how to keep themselves sane. In the melee emerged experts with a proficient air of confidence to part the fool from his money promising salvation.

Overloaded and fatigued by Digital flood, people sought vacations with no connectivity or rationing time to get some real work done while hundreds of messages filled with good intentions, emotional stories, knowledge snippets, motivational videos, tips and tricks, humorous anecdotes and more, all of them converging to occupy free and busy time until personally and professionally the impact begins to hurt. It also ends up overshadowing meaningful communication from those who matter while everyone runs faster to stay in touch.

How to unshackle and detox from this whirlpool of quicksand ? How to protect corporate reputation and assets ? How to keep the innocent youth shielded from nefarious elements ? How to keep customers happy and reduce negative mentions ? What can individuals and enterprises do with everyone pushing the Digital agenda as if survival depended on it ! Maybe for some it does but it is not the universal truth; Technology does not have all the answers, some of them require a different level of thinking discarding current beliefs.

I believe that we need to go back to basics and start challenging every demand on our sensibility and stop reacting to external stimulus that forces us to mimic others. Create a decision matrix that aligns to your company, industry, geography, and customer demographics. Keep a vigilant watch for the next hype with a responsive strategy; do not fear for survival, adapt to the situation. IT will play a significant role in your ability to execute, give some latitude to your CIO and IT teams, they hold some of the keys to the future.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Clouds hit by El-Nino, future of Clouds in Enterprise Infrastructure

In the not too distant future, Cloud computing will be celebrating its 10th birthday; yes, it has been that long since the term was coined and people started talking about clouds of all kinds. Subject of many barbs, humor, analysis, predictions, conferences, and angst, Cloud has had its share of good and bad with accompanying confusion for those who decide, create, deploy or manage it. Every vendor created their interpretation of what they wanted to offer to their customers, ASPs (Application Service Provider) rebranded themselves which added to the chaos.

It was not just about Public or Private, someone decided that why not create a heterogeneous cloud and called it Hybrid. Not to be left behind, fine tuning of the definition began with Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS); Storage as a Service (SaaS) confusing proponents of Software as a Service. These were followed by Community Cloud and Distributed Cloud which created new business opportunities and models. How to evaluate, differentiate, or create value for enterprise use.

The list of touted benefits from Cloud was long: agility, cost saving, multi-tenancy, reliability, scalability, elasticity, availability, manageability and finally security. Models mushroomed based on assumptions that did not hold water; CIOs and Infra Heads challenged them but they did experiment and explore in bits and pieces. Anecdotal references of swipe your card and solve problems with on-demand extension to enterprise compute/storage made many sit up and take notice. How did they pump TB of data on constrained corporate internet pipes ?

Pay-as-you-go the new mantra; pay for what you use, not peak capacity, differential rates, variable metering (happy hours ?), orchestration layers across different clouds and combinations made headlines invoking CXOs desire to challenge their IT setups. Every IT major, data center provider, telecom operator and pure play companies vied for attention with me too offerings. Cheaper, faster, better, innovators and startups challenged the bigger players only to be acquired or die in the muscle match, the dust is now beginning to settle.

In the decade that went by – with acceptance of different variations and stretched definitions – focus shifted to real life business use cases. SFA, communication and collaboration, on-demand infra for startups, and HR solutions have become mainstream. For purpose task oriented apps are gaining ground, while every legacy solution aspires to offer itself on the cloud. Mobility solutions leveraged the cloud offering new capability. Flexible models of deployment, scale up on demand (conditions apply for scale down).

Today a greenfield enterprise IT roadmap can be created without ownership of software licenses or data center hardware provisioning; almost everything can be bought on the cloud, from office automation, to ERP, CRM, SCM, WMS, BI, Helpdesk, SDIM, the list is comprehensive and deep. The challenge arises in two parts, integrating each of the cloud solutions with the other seamlessly (as compared to monolithic solutions from vendors) and orchestrating all the pieces; on the second part in managing multiple relationships and licensing terms.

The question that keeps popping up is the transition of current enterprise IT to the Cloud; when will it happen and what prevents mass adoption ? On the other hand the counter question is, if it is desirable or adds value or removes complexity ? Why does it have to be either or ? I would propagate coexistence is a fair strategy in comparison to extreme and absolute ends of the spectrum. Enterprise Data centers will lose their relevance and disappear in the coming years pronounced some analysts; sounds familiar to past doomsday predictions.

Clouds are ubiquitous and pervasive today; innovative solutions and business models are emerging by virtue of mass penetration of mobile access devices. The future shall be strongly influenced by these disruptive trends of today. With an open mind and agility, Enterprises and CIOs need to experiment and weave these into strategic business and IT initiatives lest they be caught napping. The future is coming sooner than we thought, be ready to face it, embrace it, challenge it, love it, hate it; ignore it at your own risk !

PS: Clouds fail too like enterprise infrastructure, latest news on AWS failure that impacts business. Can you prepare for them

Monday, September 14, 2015

Selling to CIOs is a difficult process and getting tougher

He reached out to the CIO with resolute frequency almost like clockwork; his connects were based on the timeline given by the CIO on when to reconnect for the decision on the solution. The CIO on his part never closed the loop, kept him lingering in the background with a hope that he will someday be successful in getting the order. This continued for almost a year with distractions in the form of small activity that he had to engage in with the IT team to validate a use case or elaborate on technology integration, scalability, etc.

His organization was running out of patience with the prolonged engagement which for most of the year continued to remain in the active pipeline but failing to convert. The management wondered on the investments made over the year with the lure of a referenceable customer with high value business. The story was beginning to look like a stretch of belief with a growing feeling that the CIO will not be able to convince internally. It was a tricky situation where reaching out to the CEO could potentially make or break the deal, the relationship with the CIO would have anyway broken.

On his part the CIO – a veteran of years – would keep finding new clarifications or actions in every meeting, each sounding logical and never really answering the question on what will result in closure. The vendor systematically addressing each and every query, his team finally signed off the pilot and put the ball back in the CIOs court. The CIO sought help to present the solution to the Management which was promptly provided as time continued to slide. The vendor CEO cracked the whip and demanded closure either way in a defined timeline.

Agreeing with the direction set forth, the salesperson confronted the CIO and pleaded for closure citing helplessness in offering the enviable deal beyond the timeline. He hoped against hope that the fish will bite and was seemingly rewarded with an opening that promised closure with a foot in the door and conditional commitment to scale up should the initial engagement deliver to promise. This was taken in the spirit of partnership but he was cautious in his pronouncements internally. The wait appeared to have been worth the efforts invested.

The ordained time came and went; the order continued to elude him, the message from the CIO was that the powers that be wanted further evaluation of options. It was quite evident that the business was not really coming to fruition in the near foreseeable future. The inability of the CIO to push internally was quite apparent, in hindsight his demeanor was always defensive, lacking assertiveness required to push through a decision. With lost credibility the salesperson had nowhere to go except to grin and bear it and keep the CIO humored.

Why do CIOs not come clean on the need, process, decision making hierarchy and metrics, timeline, urgency, and finally the budget upfront before engaging the partner ecosystem ? What keeps them opaque to the external world, at times even to their teams ? Is it power that they enjoy or they try to hide their insecurities behind the bravado and resultant activity with occasional outcomes ? Are their successes random occurrences of chance or the teams’ hard work that happens because or despite the CIOs interventions ? The broad brush that I paint applies to a large cross-section !

Why don’t vendors ask tough questions on the need, the timeline in which the decision will get taken and allocation of budgets ? I know some who do and some CIOs who give straight answers; in many cases the sales teams hear but don’t listen in their desperation to close a sale driven by period end pressures and targets indulging in wishful thinking, running towards a mirage. Then there are CIOs who are uncomfortable elucidating a clear and crisp no thereby resulting in long periods of courtship and eventual breakup.

For the vicious circle to break it requires change on both sides; the change begins from sales leadership who need to be ruthless in their pipeline management moving off when they don’t see traction. They push sales teams hard resulting in wasted efforts. Internal and external expert facilitated sales training and mentoring are required to imbibe and sustain the sales process using experiential training rather than templated workshops. Changing your customer is going to take a long time and then again it may not happen.

My sales pitch: Workshops on “Don’t sell – help your customers buy” available to the interested !

Monday, September 07, 2015

The fragile bridge of corporate relationships

The CIO had spent almost 5 years in the position thriving and surviving all the uncertainties of business and change in management. He had done well to build a reputation with business leaders with his can do attitude and ideas helped them win in their playing field. Technology vendors loved him for the fact that he was willing to experiment and deploy emerging solutions with calculated risks that brought them further business. He took on additional business responsibilities which added to his experience of a score of years. Then suddenly he quit !

Everyone wondered what happened, some guessed what had happened, confidantes knew the reason behind the presumably sudden move. It was cooking for a while within; his outwardly calm disposition did not raise any suspicion of the turmoil within. For a large part of the year prior to taking the drastic step, he continued to live with a façade which eventually impacted his persona. Something snapped inside, his professional pride hurt he found it difficult to continue. As soon as he had an option, he hastily exited inconsiderate of the adverse impact.

A difference of opinion, perceived gap in skills, and real lack of experience for a favorite project of a Board member left him in no man’s land despite industry experts willingness to back him. The project was thus separated from IT and a new peer position was on-boarded. As time passed by he found himself being marginalized in some of the discussions falling off the radar with attention largely focused on the favorite project. He continued to toil until the proposed change of reporting relationship (to his peer) became the proverbial last straw and he quit !

A post-mortem would throw up many advice on what he could have done to rescue the situation and bring himself back into relevance; that anyway belongs to lessons provided from the stands when the game is on. The cardinal mistake he made was to leave in a huff with scant regard to the impact his exit had on ongoing activities, tasks, and outcomes. Pleas to reconsider his decision and later to extend his notice period were ignored with ego prominently dictating the actions. With a small step the bridge built over the years was broken.

He took up the new assignment that had triggered his bold step only to find out that culturally he was unable to fit into the new organization; unable to accept the ethos, he left within weeks without notice. These steps did not go unnoticed in the industry and quietly seeped across through the network; while no one raised the question, peers were nice to him in a diffident way with warmth of the past missing. His requests for connects towards new openings and opportunities were accepted though none made any progress towards materialization.

Young professionals today tactically make career moves based on their need for gratification, personal gain and opportunities in the market. In the build phase of their foundations they flutter around before they find their bearings and settle down. In the mid-career stage relationships are built that help climb the corporate ladder and build credibility on the task and people axis. The persona thus created aids move to level of leadership from just managing people thereby connecting the dots and strengthening the bonds that can last a lifetime.

Courting period with an enterprise starts with best behavior; why does the exit need to be the worst ? If there is any bitterness towards the culture, environment, incident, team, people, anything that makes the blood pressure rise, let go as from the next day onwards they are not going to be part of daily life. It is unfortunate that some companies also behave like jilted lovers when someone senior decides to pursue alternative opportunities. The market quickly comes to terms and discounts reference checks with such companies.

The struggle of the protagonist with a few bad decisions impacted his ability to find an opportunity; when alternatives are plenty, prospective companies are not amenable to forego such indiscretions. What if he does not fit in here culturally ? What if there is really something wrong with him as a person ? Will he bad mouth us when he leaves ? There are many what-ifs that deter an opportunity. Bridges are expected to withstand a lot of stress and natural elements; bridges of relationships too require strength from within and resilience to survive incidents and external factors.

Take care !

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Why don’t employees attend training programs seriously ?

The HR manager announced a program on different people skills like: listening, reading body language, effective communication, business writing, negotiation skills, and many more. These were being conducted on every Saturday for interested participants. The enterprise had a 5-day work week and the rationale behind a weekend investment was to get the interested participants only. The curriculum was good and participation voluntary. There was no charge nor there was post course assessment or for that matter feedback on faculty.

The inaugural class had 15 participants to the surprise of those present; the expectation was that there would be at least 25-30 representing about 10% of the strength. The group was welcomed by the HR Manager for their quest to learn; the group remarked about their self-improvement focus and the journey started for the teacher and the students. The course, expected to run for 20 weekends, needed strong willpower and commitment; by week 4, the list was down to single digits and by the time the course ended, there were only 4.

Most training programs suffer from this phenomena even when the training program is not that long. On the penultimate day the trainees discover urgent work or cite exigencies to escape from the clutches of learning. The end of the program is typically seen by a few participants who were interested in learning, the totally disinterested who had nothing else to do, the HR representative to complete the loop and the trainer who has reached the end of patience and wants to get out lest s/he lose their poise and temper.

The situation is no different for even a full day learning curriculum; everyone arrives charged up for the day off from work, some look forward to enhancing their skills. As the day progresses, phone calls start interrupting the flow, an urgent mail that needs to go, and customer meetings that pop up or something fails that needs their personal attention, enough to disrupt the class. They all have genuine sounding reasons to go back to the same work that many wanted to avoid at the beginning of the day; learning takes a backseat.

Why is learning such a chore ? Are people not interested in their own advancement ? What makes them such shirkers when it comes to adding value to themselves ? Do they believe that they know everything they need for their success as well as movement in the corporate ladder ? If that was the case then everyone would excel in their roles and get promoted with regular periodicity. Learning & Development would be a dead function for most corporates (it is another matter that many play a subservient role with limited latitude to make a difference).

Training are mostly determined during the appraisal cycle based on the discussion between Manager and the staff member; there is a self-determined need based on career aspirations or skills that need to be acquired to fill a gap towards executing their work effectively. Enhancements to existing expertise to move up the ladder to a larger role or a lateral shift to another position also create the need. Soft skills and other seemingly non-essential training are scheduled with published training calendar which are then available for enrollment by everyone.

As an employee I always looked forward to training programs even if they were just to validate existing knowledge. Complementing these with aggressive reading helped me move across industries and roles with ease. As I climbed the ladder, I had the task of managing teams who needed to perform at their optimal best to keep raising the bar and enjoy associated fruits of success. The formula that worked for me mostly was to make the team responsible for their own training, not me, not HR, not the company, only themselves.

They were individually responsible for their career, growth within and outside; most found it contrary to conventional wisdom, after all isn’t the Manager expected to take care of the team ? Should HR be providing them all kinds of training including technical skills ? Isn’t the company responsible for taking care of the employees ? This worked quite well for me; for those who were unable to accept this responsibility, they found themselves floundering in their positions or out of place in the rapidly changing environment and facing forced attrition.

One of my Managers’ had summed it quite well: “We offer employment, we do not guarantee continued employability” !