Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sins of the past haunt the present, impacting your future too, what to do ?

The new CXO (John) had no handover or parallel working with his predecessor; there was no handover document or any evidence of work done and in progress. The incumbent (Bob) did not know that he was going until the end of the day on a weekend when he was told not to come from next Monday. It was a first time experience for the newcomer who had a few changes in his career. Not that the company had precedence of taking such action against senior people, the circumstances were material enough to precipitate such an action.

But let’s set the context first: It was a top 10 company in its industry, visible and perceived market leader in some segments; proud of its legacy and people, they had set some benchmarks. Calculated risks was a part of the DNA to maintain leadership in the market, the company had hired Bob to take the innovation agenda forward; on his part, he was a veteran and subject matter expert having spent many decades in his chosen industry and field of specialization and acknowledged as a steady dependable performer.

Under his charge the company took on a few innovative projects that on success would leapfrog them in the industry; while the element of risk was low to moderate, the management accepted the same and pushed ahead with endorsing the effort. Bob welcomed the opportunity and set forth to execute with the cross-functional team, the vendor a past acquaintance with reasonable credibility. A few months delayed, the project went live with much fanfare and received mixed reviews from the sales team – the primary users.

Cracks began appearing quickly which led to tactical fixes and then the blame game started; the users blamed Bob’s team that they did not understand the ground reality and build castles in the air; they in turn blamed the developer for making assumptions with no domain expertise to back it up. The developers blamed the customer for changing the brief in every meeting and the cycle repeated itself with every iteration. The matter was escalated to respective CEOs who met but disagreed on every aspect unwilling to take the blame.

Heat turned high on Bob who had chosen the vendor while he fruitlessly attempted to mediate to find an amicable solution. Lawyers on both sides fine combed the contract to find an upper hand; both ended up litigating unwilling to step down from high moral ground. The size and proportion of the project and its failure had an adverse impact on company performance; the CEO was chastised for allowing such an event to occur. The company needed to set an example for the imbroglio, and the fall guy ended up being Bob.

John was handed the project as his key task to recover lost ground and ensure that the deliverables are aligned to the requirements of the sales team. Past success with sales projects gave confidence to John in getting started on the right note. He met the sales teams, created empathy, won them over and created a democratic governance process for vendor selection. It was important to John to keep all stakeholders engaged and feeling wanted in the new avatar of the much maligned project which had taken Bob as collateral damage.

During his interactions, John unearthed and unraveled the story slowly putting the pieces together with surprise, trepidation and decided to keep circling back with his team and the CEO to ensure that he hears alarm bells early enough to take corrective action. Not that the project had a smooth run, it did see its share of bickering and debate, John needed a lot of patience and assertiveness to keep everyone on track. The cautious approach worked well and the project unfurled successfully with bouquets following for John and the team.

John did not allow the ghosts of the past haunt him beyond the cautionary approach for this project; he was also pushed into closing the litigation and creating a settlement with the antagonist of the past. The intellectual property thus created was important to the company and the vendor very well knew this and leveraged it in their favor. The good news was that the vendor gave up all rights to the IP, the bad news was that it cost the company a lot more than the total cost of the old and the new projects combined to close the case.

What options did John have in such a situation ? He was tasked to resolve a conflict, he did reach resolution at a cost. He completed the project satisfactorily which was expected in the second attempt. The price paid rankled the company for a long time and the CEO did not let the dead stay buried with references to history. John would smile at these references and move the agenda to another subject. While he was not directly responsible for the failure and its consequences, it hurt that his profession was tainted.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Is it ethical to take credit for good work done by your predecessor or your team ?

A: When he took on the new role in the highly visible company, he knew that he will have to put in some effort to fill in the gap left by his predecessor; the company was one of the pioneers in their industry and had taken good steps towards retaining their leadership position. The new CIO with impeccable pedigree was excited to take on the new assignment that was expected to bring great opportunities to excel. He launched into the new company full of enthusiasm and quickly aligned the team to his ethos and way of working.

As he settled into the position, work done over the last year began to show signs of fruition; the industry wanted to write about the success, publish case studies, requests for which were redirected to project owners to engage and provide the requisite details. At the same time he pushed the pace of innovation and work thus propelling the enterprise into newer waters, claiming success often. Skillfully he continued to sidestep requests for sound bites, media coverage and interviews where his contributions were limited to shepherding.

In management meetings he requested his colleagues to help in maintaining continuity and present along with him; he also brought along teammates to provide on-the-ground view of reality. The latter he practiced for new projects too with the rationale that the team best presented practical challenges and real life issues while he fully owned the project and was responsible and accountable for challenges if any. He wanted to instill a sense of pride to the team members as they presented to the powers that be.

Z: She came on board as the incumbent left to pursue entrepreneurial interests; she did not know the industry, a reality not different from the one faced by the CIO in A. Her new company too had a large number of initiatives that had progressed well and were in various stages of completion. The team aligned to her way of working – quite different from their earlier experiences. Coming from an unrelated industry where she had spent her entire professional life, her uncommunicative stance evoked paparazzi curiosity.

She shunned the external media and also cast an unfriendly eye on her team almost putting to stop completely any connect with the world outside – a diagrammatically opposite of the recent past. She was unable to make significant headway with new initiatives with her team with her demeanor and ability to gain the trust of her team. Reciprocally she trusted no one and played the lone ranger, preferring to attend meetings alone, which initially surprised the team until they realized the reason for the behavior.

In her desire to prove her mettle and look good in the eyes of the management, she purposely painted a bleak picture of the past casting aspersions on the team ability as well as the departed leader whose position she now occupied. Positioning herself as the manna from heaven to the rescue of the enterprise, she almost convinced her audience that the situation was grim and she will overcome the challenges with grim determination and hard work and a bit of help from the team who let this happen in the first place.

She created a false sense of urgency and fear to paint a picture au contraire and then step by step proceeded to take credit for remediating the situation. Wherever her team completed a task or achieved a milestone, she dramatized the event and presented to the management projecting herself as indispensable and critical. As a result she alienated a large part of her team in her own insecurities who slowly started departing for greener pastures. Remember the maxim ? People join companies, they leave their bosses !

Between A and Z, they represent two ends of the spectrum: one focused on team and works to empower them and help their confidence; the other self-centered, stifling the team, their work and achievements. Most will choose to be on the side of A and profess that the behaviors outlined are what they practice with their teams. At the other end Z by virtue of the inability to lead has taken the extreme step of isolating herself and living a self-created bubble which can burst anytime leaving her pantomime exposed.

Success is rarely illegitimate, it has many fathers; people do see through facades eventually, be prepared to face the consequences when it happens.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Future trends in Hardware for the Enterprise and the Consumer

When I wrote about the un-happenings for 2017 – technologies that will not live up to expectations, it triggered a chain of messages to create a list for hardware trends; many dig hardware, beautiful to look at, touch, feel, status symbol for some and necessity for many. Consumer hardware is evolving rapidly with quick replacements annually or at least every two years, a vicious cycle. On the enterprise front, the detachment from hardware has been slow and steady since the advent of Cloud Computing and literally Everything as a Service.

At the turn of the century what started as Application Service Providers (ASP) transformed and spawned multiple avatars: Infrastructure, Platform, Applications, and Storage as a Service followed by the Network. Not satisfied, then came Software Defined Storage, Network, Data Center and as a combo they became Software Defined Everything ! Enterprise Hardware has thus been disrupted time and again taking advantage of refresh cycles – a trend that started with desktop/laptop refresh with desktop virtualization, now creating an Infrastructure Identity crisis.

Every road warrior’s primary device has been shrinking from the laptop to the tablet to smartphone to phablets and now hybrid devices – the tablet and laptop rolled into one. The future may probably do away this need too with smartphones packing in increasing power rivalling mid-range portable computers; connect the phone to a large screen and keyboard/mouse combo via Bluetooth and you are ready to roll. Foldable keyboards have been around for a while, the advent of foldable screens will bring the next disruption.

Public WIFI services are expanding footprint globally almost to the extent of becoming ubiquitously present; security solutions are evolving to protect the nomads from being attacked as long as they follow some basic discipline. Virtual private networks across the public infrastructure and hotspots is not too far behind; some providers already offer the ability to create a segmented private secure network on their services. It is a matter of time that enterprises will no longer need to deploy WIFI solutions on campus.

Bigger trends can be seen in the immersive solutions with hardware in our lives enabled by startups and large enterprise offerings. VR is already getting embedded into smartphones, number of sensors increasing and making their presence felt on personal devices (apart from the phone the fitness band, shoes, clothing, personal accessories like rings and more to come) and surroundings – doors, restaurant tables, chairs, look around and you will find some more which are not top of the mind like air-conditioners.

Personal Digital Assistants are no longer quaint devices (remember Casio and HP ?), they are AI powered voice interactive devices and now taking the shape of Personal Robots. Notwithstanding they ordering the entire store for you based on your wishes or sending the data to the provider’s cloud, the good part is their use in healthcare to provide critical care to infants and the infirm. The combination of sensors, big data, and Artificial Intelligence is the next big wave that will bring new opportunities and threats.

From banned and restricted deployment on commercial scale, the drone has bounced back as a personal companion satiating narcissist behaviors with selfies to guarding cattle and services in open air restaurants. Use cases for enterprises are still sketchy with experiments to explore how they can be integrated into the mainstream. Can they evolve into transformer (like in the movies by the same name) like capabilities to improve upon industrial robots or replace policemen in sensitive areas for surveillance or defense ?

That 3D printing is changing manufacturing would be presumptuous at this time; the promise to change is definitely on the horizon. It is freeing up manufacturing capacity from small batches of spares or customized merchandise thus allowing for improved utilization of capacity. Automobile companies are already beginning to bring this technology to the workshop, the healthcare industry is experimenting aggressively with various appendages and parts with higher precision thus bringing better outcomes to patients.

To round it off, finally with or without physical data centers – owned or outsourced, every enterprise will require massive amounts of storage and compute power to leverage all the sensors, social media, and transactional data. Big data is getting bigger and so is the ability to process it with innovations in analytics, and this requires significantly higher scale in comparison to what enterprises have experienced; I believe that the Cloud will offer succor to the needy who recognize this and want to leverage this opportunity.

Visible or not, hardware will drive opportunity that will be leveraged using software to disrupt the conventional ! Be prepared.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Can Small & Medium Enterprise leverage Digital to achieve their full potential ?

The SME segment globally is the vehicle for growth contributing as high as 90% of GDP in some developing economies; they are also the largest employment generators for countries. Impact of any macro-economic activities are felt quickly by this segment especially when negative while they take some time to see an upside. Digitalization of the world and every industry has created opportunities in plenty for scale and disruption, the small and medium enterprises have mostly struggled to take advantage.

Most SMEs aspire to scale and become big enterprises; they are constrained by many factors – some within their control, some that they don’t and some that can be addressed with help. The recent brouhaha about Digital has resulted in consultants mushrooming with all kinds of services and offers. Owners shying away from the large names and mostly technology agnostic and ignorant, based on their understanding engage the consultants with mixed results; this is where good news now appears on the horizon.

Last week the CEO of a global IT superpower – Google – visited India; much covered by the media and debated on social media. Government functionaries welcomed the announcements on launches that help the majority of SMEs in their quest to derive benefits in the Digital world. The assumption is that technology availability to the masses will help reduce the gap between the technology haves – the big enterprise and the have nots – largely the SMEs; thus this step is seen as positive stimulus for the industry.

Interestingly the technology announcement also included a training program with certifications from Google, an institute and industry body. The workshops thus planned should trigger trials which will require support for sustaining the effort to keep the momentum going. SME business are typically Digital migrants and thus a big opportunity; trust deficit has been the constraint in their adoption of technology solutions and the fact that they do not have internal resources who can lead the way in their digital journey.

As an extension of the "Google My Business", the "Digital Unlocked" from Google is a big step forward. I believe that for this initiative to succeed, there needs to be a significant push towards publicizing the availability of the curriculum and benefits to the adopters especially the segment that is still not connected. Proliferation of the initiative through various channels will help the cause of democratizing the Digital India initiative. Future promise of tools should aid overcoming the starters block with simplicity and ease of use.

Current estimates that less than ten percent of SMEs are digitally enabled thus leaving a huge opportunity; the potential impact can be significant with increase in numbers and the ability to serve newer markets and customers. A report by KPMG predicts a direct correlation such that democratization of the digital platform will increase SME contribution to the GDP. They can definitely provide much needed stimulus to the economy in the currently constrained sentiment driven consumption post demonetization.

I believe that the entrepreneurial spirit will also see the rise of service providers who will master these tools and provide services to the SME sector. Over time this should have a multiplier effect on the services market with the cascading to B, C, and D class cities and towns. Availability of internet connections is slowly and steadily improving beyond the 2G speeds with the proliferation of new service providers as well as upgrades undertaken by the incumbents; we are at the cusp of a new world, let’s all become the catalyst !

Monday, January 02, 2017

Predictions for 2017 – technology trends that will not live up to expectations

Every New Year brings in predictions of all kinds for every industry and then there are some brave ones who also publish a score card of their predictions – how many came true or missed the mark. I followed this trend randomly with results of predictions over a decade back and also attempted to predict some softer aspects of work life as I foresaw them with reasonable accuracy if I may add. For this year I decided to look take an antithetical view and take a shot at non-events, i.e. what may not happen or live up to hype !

Hot trends and technologies on everyone’s list: Artificial Intelligence or Intelligence Augmentation, Internet of Things (Industrial and Consumer), Autonomous Cars/transportation, Smart Cities/Homes, Chatbots, Blockchain, and Augmented/Virtual Reality. I am not counting the all-time favorites like Mobility, Consumer Engagement, Cybersecurity, and Cloud, all of which have become boring. Then there are other new emerging technologies which may be of interest to many; this list is based on my assessment.

Participating in a hackathon around AI, I realized that majority did not make the grade to be even classified as AI based solutions. Use of a technology does not differentiate the solution from other conventional alternatives like BI; the ability to leverage AI was demonstrated by just a handful leaving a lot to be desired. AI and for that matter IA shall not make a difference to majority of enterprise customers; there will be just a handful of outliers. The rest will struggle to attract attention of buyers who will learn quickly.

Internet of Things will find use cases in the industry but with limited commercial deployments; Industry 4.0 or automated sensors across the assembly line will create large volumes of data thus distracting the solution with focus on Big Data rather than the efficiency that can be created based on feedback loops and intelligent mining of the mass of data. On the consumer end, wearables will dominate the discussion with all others being good for experimental use, unable to create and sustain scale of any merit.

Any deployment or increase in autonomous vehicles will frustrate human drivers and thus see a pushback despite higher success rates. Theoretically in a world populated only by driverless vehicles, there are no accidents, efficient use of infrastructure, lower pollution, reduced traffic jams, all of them leading to lower production of cars which auto companies will resist tooth and nail. Customers will shy away from potential security threats in automated cars and the loss of thrill that driving real automobiles brings to the individual.

Cities are getting smarter with better management of traffic, power, water, sewage, and a lot more; the aspiration is to connect citizens in a digital fabric to monitor, influence, and empower, all at the same time. While the digital highways are getting ready, citizens around the world are wary of the loss of privacy and traceability of their digital footprints by governments and the dark world, both undesirable by many. Smarter homes appear to be harmless with easing of chores and tasks, the ill effects as yet unknown.

Chatbots are the new excitement for anyone engaging with customers in their attempt to reduce the cost of interaction. They are getting quite efficient with semantic analysis and learning capabilities that mimic human behavior; some chatbots got better of themselves with inflammatory messages and parliamentary language ! The ability to corrupt the chatbots is getting difficult, but these will be the new targets for increasing reputation risk. Another couple of years before they go mainstream and live to promise.

Big IT is getting behind Blockchain, announcements appear with increasing frequency; Blockchain is also getting faster with improved processing speeds. Newer alternative currencies have attempted to displace Bitcoin (now the de facto currency of the dark net) unsuccessfully, the interest is growing with Governments and that will be the trigger that will legalize the use of this technology. Until then it will continue to create higher valuations for startups who insert the word Blockchain in their technology stack and pitches to investors.

We are bored of reality that it needs augmentation, we want to experience virtual reality as the world we live in imposes restrictions on physical being and presence. The world of fantasy and alter identities resurfaces after almost a decade, now more immersive and experiential. Engaging consumers with VR sounds good, probably will work for millennials to assist buying, for the baby boomers and others in between, the uses will probably scare the prudes ! A while before enterprises get excited or find real use cases.

That’s all for now, add your lists to this one … comments, critique welcome !