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 !

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