Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chief Inaction Officer: I will do nothing until I am explicitly asked to

An audit finding raised the compliance flag which necessitated the CIO to take action; he acknowledged the limitation and was thus tasked to find a solution to be deployed before the next audit. The technical team was summoned and the task assigned between 2 of his deputies who controlled the applications and the infrastructure respectively. With healthy contempt for each other, they thrived in challenging each other, at times with detrimental effect to deliverables. Their professional strengths secured them in their positions.

The problem was not unsolved in the industry and there were standard offerings that collectively created the solution required. To the CIO thus the issue at hand appeared to be an easily resolvable one, the criticality defined by the compliance requirements within the stipulated time. The team went through the motions and presented the solution and budget to the CIO who was struck by a red herring; was it a decoy or reality ? It appeared to be a new player in the market, the solution quite elegant and better than the sum of parts that made other solutions.

So he probed further inviting the vendor to present their value proposition; his team willingly obliged sensing an opportunity to differentiate from the normal. Multiple meetings and presentations later the CIO requested a Proof of Concept which was diligently completed by the team and results submitted. In a normal scenario, vendors would push for closure post a successful PoC; the vendor did the same and was then updated on the decision making cycle; the CIO then proceeded to present the solution to the Board for approval.

Boards typically want a solution to a business problem or an opportunity; they are largely agnostic to the technology solution. True to form the board left the technology decision on the CIO’s best judgement citing that they were interested in compliance using the best possible technology at the lowest possible cost. Unwilling to take a risk with no clear technology mandate, the CIO did what he was good at; no decision while keeping the vendor at bay with meaningful and irrational questions and finally an unreasonable price.

The CIO sought to validate the solution with the Technology Advisory Committee who deferred the decision back to the CIO; referring to the Regulator, he asked for a guideline on the solution which was not forthcoming. The Regulator declined to specify the technology while impressing upon the Company to expedite the solution deployment within the timeline. The passing time had the CIO under pressure while his team stood divided on between the conventional and the innovative solutions giving no solace to the cornered CIO.

The vendor attempted to provide necessary documentation that was duly submitted to the Committee and the Regulator, both maintaining status quo. The vendor demonstration immense patience stayed engaged with the team through the imbroglio and parallel commercial negotiations as the deal appeared close but open through the elapsed time of over 6 months. The impatient CEO was counseled to provide a direction which he finally did in the interest of progress sensing that the CIO will continue to dither on the decision.

Technology teams under the CIO are expected to be the evaluators, evangelists, proponents and finally the educators of possible technology solutions to the business. Heightened awareness of possibilities from technology with business users does make them influencers and at times critics of technology, the decision finally rests with the technology teams and accountability with the CIO. The unwillingness or inability to take a decision does not reflect positively on the leadership of the CIO and adversely impacts the team’s credibility.

Observations from the industry do indicate a set of CIOs who are extremely risk averse and they rarely take decisions on new technologies satisfied with being followers. They are good operational managers and struggle in their ability to partner with the business to impact business performance indicators. In the changing business environment with technology agility a necessity and essential to stay meaningful with disruptive business models threatening the core and existence, it is imperative for CIOs to embrace the new and leave business as usual to their teams or outsourced partners.

A good decision now is worth a lot more than the best decision after delayed analysis paralysis !

Monday, October 19, 2015

What do you present to the Board ? A primer for CIOs

Before the turn of the millennium I made my first presentation to the Board; I had butterflies and wasps in my stomach, fluttering and biting. While I had multiple interactions with them – formal as well as informal – this was the big day when either I get the strategy and roadmap cleared, or I go into the shadows where IT had been. Coming in from the outside, the entrusted task was to ensure that IT delivered and my goal was to also get the IT team some respect for the work they did ensuring that business runs with minimal IT led disruptions.

Talking to many Board Members and CEOs it is evident that in the ensuing time, a lot has changed; for one, there is a heightened awareness of IT across the board. Technology has invaded our lives, homes, and Digital Natives are now getting into the workforce. Boards are being challenged to come up with Digital strategies – relevant or not – lest they be caught unawares. Startups have glamourized technology innovation with most Board Members individually investing in the euphoric and at times irrational models.

On the other hand CIOs have catapulted themselves to newer heights and positions by casting aside their technology vocabulary and embracing profitability, cost and process rationalization, discounted cash flow, NPV and IRR, along with customer satisfaction, supply chain agility and everything that was seen as foreign to IT folks. With a vengeance, IT arrived on the scene disrupting old models over and over again leaving no choice for CXOs but to acknowledge that they do need ample doses of what the CIO can bring to the business.

These are not exceptions any more, the laggards are indeed enterprises who still relegate CIOs to work under the CFO wings, starving themselves of the benefit that IT led efficiencies can bring. They have not been able to discard their antediluvian behavior and mindset but continue to expect miracles from the CIO while s/he has to win the sprint and the marathon with no support. Thus IT scrounges for budgets and business support which is reluctantly given treating IT as spenders of hard is earned revenues while the CFO keeps cutting IT budgets.

For the Board too this was the first time IT was presenting a plan; they were curious and allotted half an hour for the last item on the agenda. Walking into the room full of serious looking wizened grey haired audience, I wished I had never asked for the time. But now it was done and I had to get on with it. The Chairman peered over his glasses and asked me to begin. I started by describing the current state of business, growth aspirations, IT challenges (real and perceived) and waited for acceptance of reality as I saw it; nods assured me to continue.

Outlining the vision of a better tomorrow and the day after with some aggressive investments and moves from the business, I kept going while clouds descended outside and it started pouring. I reached the last slide and thanked the audience waiting for a response; silence greeted me and then an applause with an affirmation to the plan. I could have jumped in joy that I made it without getting beaten up for a non-technical presentation that defined new opportunities to expand market leadership. Only then I also realized that my allotted half an hour had extended to three !

What do you present to the Board ? Most of them don’t care about technology options, they want to know how IT will impact business growth, profitability, customer loyalty, retention and satisfaction, efficiency, market positioning or expansion, benchmark with the industry, enable business strategy, or enhance shareholder value. Effectively can IT help the enterprise and its leadership team win in a competitive and disruptive world ? On the flip side, the CFO shadowed IT is challenged to prove ROI on every investment.

The CIO requested a meeting with the CEO to present to the Management team and the Board on some of the path-breaking initiatives that would help the company tactically as well as in the long run. He was asked to vet the presentation and investments with the CFO (his reporting boss). Unfortunately the CFO did not give the attention requested despite repeated reminders; the presentation never happened and after trying all possible options, the CIO left in disgust. The company continues to struggle with their IT while competition has begun to nibble at their market share.

CIO or not, what is your reality ?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why do people rejoin their old companies ?

It was in the news that he is rejoining a large enterprise in a meaty role which would be the envy of those who read it; a company he had left sometime back. The company had been on the growth path though lagging in a few tenets of business. Not shy of investments, neither was the company known for lack of boldness in their wanting to change the future. On a rollercoaster ride through economic cycles, competition from international players, and disruptive new business models, the company had survived holding leadership position in some segments.

Talking to a few friends in the industry we conversed about common friends and colleagues, who were seen as successful in their professions. Most of them had spent reasonably long time in their current companies giving them credible accomplishments. It emerged that most of them were in their second innings in their respective companies having spent time earlier though in junior positions or in different roles when the company was also younger. Rejoining your old company was after all not an isolated incident with the person who made the news !

Researching the subject using popular professional social media sites, it was evident that a segment of people have indeed gone back to their previous companies. There were two visible patterns: the first where the person rejoined quite quickly (from a few days to about couple of years) and in most cases in the same or similar role. Presumably the “grass is greener on the other side” or a bigger professional challenge of a lifetime actually did not work out and thus they came back to the comfort zone or the familiar and known.

The second category of people went back to their earlier companies did so by taking on much larger roles in now significantly bigger companies than what they had left behind. The Promoters, CEO, or the Board picked back talent from (in most cases) competition to bring the same magic within their companies. Such individuals by virtue of their work ethics, professionalism, and results are able to perform wherever they go. A soft corner for their previous teams or the lure of a larger role coupled with a massaged ego does the trick ?

There are many individuals also who shudder to even think about going back to their previous companies ! Not that they had difficult or unmemorable tenures or they left in difficult circumstances, it is probably the queasy feeling that accompanies the thought of getting back into an environment which was relegated into the past. Nostalgia or memories tend to play in a different way for different people; for many the frame of reference changes based on recent experience even though the past may have been pleasant or forgettable.

Enterprise HR policies play an important role in this; many companies have a rehire policy which states the terms and conditions for a person to come back. There is also a group which is quite strict about not hiring back. Which one is a winner or loser ? Which company is better off in comparison ? What about the employee ? Does going back diminish extrinsic value of the individual in the company ? What about market perception ? Is the candidate seen as unadaptable to foreign territory or seeker of comfort zones ? Does or should this matter ?

Circumstantial evidence suggests no real difference between the two approaches (yes there are exceptions to every statement). Pros of rehiring: the candidate is known and thus there is a level of predictability in what to expect, factoring in evolution and maturity over the years, if the person is coming back after a reasonable gap. S/he knows and understands the corporate culture and way around the processes and policies, knows many people, so will fit in easily. They will try harder to cement their value and rebuild trust and relationships.

On the flip side looking at the negatives, s/he knows and understands the corporate culture and way around the processes and policies, knows many people, so will take things for granted and his/her right rather than earn back the trust. The person may elevate bitterness (if any) from the past and disrupt the equilibrium. Depending on the circumstances of exit and rehire, s/he presents a different persona to the world. Will the rehire be successful or not depends on the hiring manager and setting expectations unambiguously with clear communication across the enterprise.

Would you rehire someone who left your team or want to go back to an earlier company ?

Monday, October 05, 2015

Enterprise challenges in getting ready for Generation Z in the phygital world

The other day I was reading about a new generation of future customers/workers/citizens referred to as the Generation Z. According to this piece of analysis, it is a term used to collectively refer to people born in this millennium. They are different from generation Y which was the classification for Digital Natives – people who grew up with the Internet and computers during their school and college years – while generation X typically bunched together Digital Migrants (who were exposed to Personal Computers as they got into the workforce).

Generation Z is on the go with their computer in their pockets; they are the mobile generation equipped with smartphones, apps for almost everything they need or want, socially active, leaving a trail behind for anyone to leverage, fickle in their behavior with no perceivable loyalty to brand or product, ready to experiment and explore the world at large, impatient with the pace at which the rest of the world is moving, have a strong mind of their own; a generation that is going to be ready to get into the work force in the next 5+ years.

If we look inwards, enterprises today have embraced Cloud and Mobility working their way through the legacy systems which are not easily amenable. The journey has been full of challenges while the new generation systems have attempted to disrupt the monolithic systems of the past. Organizational inertia and fear of breaking a running system and process has prevented large scale deployments. App-ification of the world of IT has begun with new startups wanting to optimize every micro process by making it available in real-time.

Productivity on the move has rendered the laptop an unwieldy device which is losing ground to tablet computers as the primary consumption device. The tablet too has evolved bridging the gap and offering similar or better capabilities on the go; progressive early adopters have embraced this trend while conservatives continue to view the tablet as a consumer device under the ambit of BYOD. The sooner the transition happens, the faster the enterprise will be ready to move to the next level of engagement and productivity.

Focusing on the external world of direct and indirect consumers, some parts of the world are going mobile first with the web being an alternate channel; optimization of engagement and experience on the mobile is the Holy Grail that everyone is chasing. While Generation Y is adaptable across different channels, Generation Z will seek gratification primarily on the mobile channel and may not engage on other mediums. Organizations are thus building for current as well as the future which is creating discomfort for existing decision makers, the Generation X.

Generation Z presents new paradigms for enterprises internally as well as externally. The mobile first consumers of information are used to finding everything at their fingertips. Can they be tied down to a desk with a monitor, keyboard and mouse at their workplace and expect productivity at the same level that is delivered today ? Their restless will be challenged to stay subdued while they are corporatized to conform to existing norms of workplaces. The multi-tasking generation will seek avenues to vent their high energy existence.

At the same time, their social existence in the physical world is complemented by the mobile digital world with 4G and 5G speeds. They do not shun personal touch and immerse in the real world with equal élan leaving bread crumbs for marketers and analysts to microsegment personas. Can enterprises find a way to stay omnipresent in the new phygital world ? This was a much debated topic in a recent conference with thinking caps of all knowing consultants to enterprise captains and participants from all walks of life.

Conclusions were sparse with the world still evolving and no one wanting to put their bets on one direction or another; pace of change being what it is, attempting to hazard a guess was seen as epitome of foolishness. Everyone agreed that the future remains opaque with wearables bringing in a dimension as yet little understood in its impact. Work and Life are fungible today; in a boundary less world of the future, the focus will shift to outcomes rather than tasks; micro specialized skills will create new opportunities for enterprises and people.

Get ready for the phygital world, its coming sooner than you think !