Monday, January 25, 2016

When you leave does the company sustain or hurry to change your legacy ?

Step by step, brick by brick, one person at a time, year after year for four decades, the promoters built the business into a large force in the industry, becoming a dominant force in markets where they operated. They were not in the global top 20 but they were number one in their home ground garnering respect of partners and competitors. Their success was a result of investments in people, process and technology well ahead of the curve, and then retaining them; technology played an important role in their profitable scale up.

With the Promoters endorsing investments, they thrived through the transition of IT from monolithic mainframes to client-server, moving to web-based technologies as they evolved. At that stage they hired an experienced IT Manager who was brought into a specialist role to take charge of the future. He rallied the diverse investments across business units and brought in sanity to IT enterprise architecture. He created a technology team which build applications suited to business need and evolving customer expectations.

He was quick to understand the business and participate in discussions on business growth and how IT could help. As the solutions kept increasing in number and complexity, so did the IT team to service the growth in business and IT. At the turn of the century the advent of COTS (Commercial off the Shelf) solutions created a buzz that could not be ignored; so on behest of the business and the Promoters he started evaluating solutions. Vendors lined up to demonstrate their wares anticipating a high value, marquee, and referenceable customer.

Comparisons between handcrafted bespoke solutions which the business used and the evolving though comprehensive solutions from global players followed. Most COTS solutions fared badly on industry functionality out of the box, but scored on flexibility which was declared unimportant by the IT team citing better fit to processes which had withstood the test of time. References to challenged implementations in the market were enough to defend existing set of solutions which had started slowing down the business’ ability to deliver.

The quickening pace of technology change resulted in additional stress on the team that was unable to cope with keeping the lights on and innovation simultaneously; the well-entrenched CIO began feeling the pinch. In the absence of headcount addition being allowed, he partnered with external services vendors to build satellite systems barely sufficient to keep the business satisfied while competitors had started enjoying the benefit of simplicity and agility set on the foundation of evolving and now better COTS solutions.

Business continued to grow on the shoulders of high customer traction to the brand; uneasy calm had occasional ripples due to difference in outcomes that their complex IT enabled. Lead times to deliver new functionality crept north and noise came in random spurts subdued by the personality exuded by the CIO. The Promoters sensed trouble and hired a big name consultant to create a plan and roadmap for the new desired state in a world that had begun embracing Digital and the industry was facing disruption from new business models.

Consultants love situations where recommendations are fairly straightforward and easy to implement; even a fresh management graduate with exposure to technology would have come up with a solution – reaching for the proverbial low hanging fruits – which would have been marked improvement over existing legacy which had now become a weight to carry on with. They went through the song and dance, interviewing people, benchmarking against industry, talking to experts globally to prepare a strategy and lay out the solution to alleviate them from the current state of affairs and regain lost glory.

Coincidentally the superannuation of the CIO neared emboldening the CXOs to seek new ideas and fresh IT leadership. The consultants were tasked with finding a replacement and refresh/replace the technology solutions as appropriate; confidence in the IT team and their legacy had reached an all-time low. The writing was on the wall, it was no longer going to be incremental innovation, rip-and-replace would prevail to get rid of the legacy that may have served well in the past, and it was no longer relevant or useful.

As a CIO barring a few instances, I have always been careful to protect past investments to whatever extent feasible and build on top of whatever technology may have been deployed. At the same time I have also attempted to keep current the landscape in every enterprise to ensure that the company does not lose the innovation race and stays on par if not ahead. Emotional or insecurity led decisions can hurt growth and career aspirations. Stay relevant, keep your ear to the ground, be ready for the next disruption, better create it.

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