Monday, December 21, 2009
Recently, I was asked to present to a group of CIOs on “How to make your CFO your best friend”. Such a subject can be a hair-raising experience for most seasoned players, as it requires a strong financial background and understanding of the business to put across acceptable metrics and KPIs for the management team. This is where a skilled CIO can get budgets approved without the proverbial scissor’s side effects — it’s possible to avoid typical across the board budget slashes (of, say 20%), especially on the operational side of things.
Long time back, I decided to separate the operational budget and the investment (read capital expense) budget. My intention was to let the business decide the projects that they wanted to invest in. This ensured that business created the P&L for their projects.
Obviously, IT had to help the business with the figures and merits of each solution. In most cases, business would choose the best possible solution and succeed in justifying them to the CFO and CEO. This shift signifies that we will help implement and execute the project from an IT perspective, but you (business) own it. Many cases required the creation of innovative KPIs rather than the conventional ROI or IRR models to help the business justify its investments.
While setting the operational budget is relatively easy, the expectation to reduce budgets year on year remains an interesting discussion. In one of the cases, I took a menu card approach to operating expenses. If you want good speed of response from your network, you have to pay higher, like a toll paid to travel faster. Hardware refresh can be analogous to replacing cars every five years, a common corporate practice. Why? Mainly since the cost of maintenance goes up, and availability of spare parts is also an issue.
It’s possible to have the CFO as an ally, if the CIO understands the compulsions and metrics that the CFO has to manage. After all, CIOs are also responsible for managing the cash flow and acting as conscience keepers for the company.
Monday, December 14, 2009
I was taken aback, aghast, and speechless for a few moments. Seeing my face, she quickly added, “Sorry, I have not come across CIOs in the past.”
And they talk about CIOs driving their companies’ Green agenda!
So I tried to give her some answers based on commonly accepted definitions and job descriptions loved by CIOs and executive search companies. She listened attentively as I started my discourse on the strategic nature of a CIO’s position and how the role has evolved over a period of time to now being recognized as an integral part of the C-suite. However, it was obvious after a few minutes that she was just being polite. She had no interest in the wonderful stuff that CIOs do — at least, not in what CIOs believe is wonderful.
The fundamental question nagged me for a few days after this fateful meeting. So I started asking a few peers that question —without exception, everyone wondered if I needed to visit a Psychiatrist. The more I thought about it, the more it haunted me. My Eureka moment arrived, by chance, while reading “The Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink.
CIOs are left-brained people pushed towards right-brained activities and they face a constant struggle. The CIO’s role involves a transformation from being the glass-house’s keeper. He has to mold himself to becoming worthy of the oak desk corner office and a seat on the management table. For most CIOs, this has been made possible by successfully traversing the path from being a technology person to a well-rounded professional. He has to be the person who is equally at ease with techie stuff, as well as balance sheets and customer engagements. The CIO is unique in his ability to contribute to all segments of the enterprise.
Now, that’s an unusual way to describe a CIO. But to me, it’s a very satisfying definition of a continuously evolving role.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Every so often the question comes up which IT and business is expected to answer. “How much of the features of the ERP/CRM/SCM/… do we use ?” How do we increase this to gain the most of from the investment made ! And everyone gets down to analyzing the feature set once again, painstakingly attempting to move beyond the standard 30% number in the good implementations. Many CIOs struggled in the last year or so to provide a rationale or undertook the task to improve the usage. The expectation needs some careful analysis to understand why this question comes up periodically and specially in difficult times when other investments are scarce.
When organizations invest large budgets into any commercially available standard software solutions, the expectations set by vendors, IT team and occasionally the business project lead tend to indicate that upon implementation, the enterprise will transform itself from current state to a highly optimized state giving it a significant advantage in the industry. This overselling of benefits continues even today many decades after the 3-letter solutions entered the IT arena.
Any large generic solution coupled with industry specific templates or add-on modules will be feature rich in its endeavor to address all types of scenarios irrespective of whether they occur with your specific organization or not. Based on the specifics of every company, some of these are executed, while others are deemed not relevant. Thus starts the journey of partial usage, which is accepted during the project. Over time, the vendor continues to evolve the solution based on customer feedback and industry evolution, and companies may adopt incremental functionality or not.
I believe that CIOs should draw parallels from other commercial products to educate the business on why usage will always remain sub-optimal when measured as a percentage of total available features. An example could be the humble cell phone which people buy based on new features that are added faster than most of us can comprehend. 90% of the users including the same corporate teams, who berate the IT solutions inadequate usage, do the same with these devices. Or move the lens towards television sets, which we all buy after careful evaluation to only use the most basic features.
We keep on upgrading office productivity solutions like word processors, spreadsheets and presentation tools, but rarely evolve beyond the earlier feature usage. Why do we then run after every new version ? To remain current and compatible off course; can the same apply to our ERP/CRM/… solutions ?
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Manic Monday was a song for me from the music band Bangles, until I entered the corporate world. In the world of IT, I was told that every day is a Monday, the IT organization is always running to stay at the same place. In the initial years I thought I was missing something and maybe as I move up the ladder, the realization will happen on how bad Monday can be. I used to see many wrinkled faces with worry written all over. I was told stress causes that.
IT was required to ensure that systems worked round the clock, week, month, year, millennium and IT did. Monday was weekly review meetings, MIS reports, higher load on the system, IT under pressure ! Most CIOs bend backwards and some forward to meet the challenge. Innovation became a basic expectation, change management, know the business, the list is endless. Start running faster ?
Why should Monday be any different ? Because it comes after a weekend of relaxation ?
If so, then people who work 6 days a week (there are still some enterprises who work 6 days a week, at least every fortnight) should be less stressed over Monday, but that is not the case. Or that stuff piles up over the weekend which requires quick attention on the first day ? If this indeed is the case, in today’s smart phone, wireless laptops and many other ways to remain connected, typically events do not wait until Monday to seek attention.
So what causes Monday days ?
As I moved companies and up the ladder, the Monday phenomena remained elusive until I attended a training course that helped me understand human behavior and how people react to different situations. Slowly I began to realize that the Monday Blues are a self-inflicted disease by the corporate world which comes out of need for action, activity and attention. Work pressure is here to stay, Stress is purely optional, and that applies to the Monday phenomena too.
Whenever I fixed external meetings on Monday mornings, people wondered whether I had nothing to do or how I manage to “manage” Mondays. My comment to them was and continues to be that: When process is set, and the team knows their roles and dependencies, the Monday chaos is minimized to a large extent. Do not focus on the activity, focus on the outcome, delegate the task, do not abdicate, or else pressure only rises. There is no magic formula or Holy Grail, but planning and discipline that helps you overcome the flurry of activity demanding your attention.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Knowing a bit about IT, I would label this as a business failure to capitalize on the potential that IT could have offered to them. Why does every initiative have to result in painful change management that the IT organization has to drive ? What prevents the business users from embracing new technology solutions despite their vocalization of the requirements in some form or other ? Lots of questions, are there any answers that provide the holy grail to impact the crazy figures out there ?
My Oh I See moment happened many years back when my obstinacy to not start a project without a signature from the business leader delayed the project commencement by 11 months. And when we did complete the project within the stipulated time of 6 months, it was like water to the desert weary traveler who has even stopped believing in mirages. So don’t push hard to implement the next SCM, CRM, or whatever TLA (Three Letter Acronym) technology you believe will make the difference, because it will not if no one uses it.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
It is amazing to see that IT heads in their enthusiasm to push ahead ignore the signs of discomfort or lack of interest, rarely pause to reflect upon the message coming across quite clearly that “No !”, we are not interested in this wonderful project. In some cases, it could be due to the inability of the CIO to articulate the project clearly enough for everyone to understand and be on the same page. Thus the business case is not compelling enough or the benefit statement is not a true reflection of the real case.
It could also be that there are other priorities that consume the business users and thus they would rather have the CIO focus on them as compared to the latest trend or new fad which the IT vendor may be interested in selling. In a few rare cases, the digital divide between the CIO and the CXO may be the raison-d’être for the disinterest in moving ahead.
The basic principle in all cases is listening first, and then talk. Communication is not about your ability to use your linguistic skills such that the other needs a dictionary to decipher, but to ensure that you understand the frame of reference of the listener. Effective communication always happens when the involved stakeholders share a common interest and are willing to listen to each other.
Finally, if you are still facing the same question, then stop pursuing it. After all you do not want a scenario where the system is developed to specifications that were sketchy and no one uses it. Why are you interested in the project when your customer is not ? Sometimes the answer can be no too.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
In the early part of the century after the recession brought about by dot-burst and 9/11, the IT industry had a lot going well for them. Many traditional industries started outsourcing and offshoring, and in one case, an inadvertent mention of a client name in a small newspaper column resulted in a written apology from the vendor CEO to the client PMO and VMO. It also resulted in a reduction in future business prospects.
Fast forward to the present, where vendors do not put in the customer name in presentations, but the words and context gives away the customer to anyone who can use a bit of market intelligence. This is obviously to protect the customer identity. So you may get referred to as “Top 3 FMCG company in India”, “Global 5 retailer” or “Large merchant banker in UK”. The case study that follows almost gives away the name, but still leaves a little room for guess work.
Going back to the incident, all the above mentioned safeguards were present, and guess what! Without exception, each presenter mentioned the customer names, stating that it was confidential. Talk about various non disclosure agreements that lawyers may have spent months preparing! Or warnings given by the CIO, PM or the business head!
Are NDAs worth even the paper they are printed on ? And in India, they are indeed printed on non-judicial stamp paper. When I asked some of them on this “slip”, there were no convincing answers. I’m not sure if there are any measures that you can take to address this situation.
Have you seen similar behavior? How do you protect your and your company’s interest in such a scenario? I would be very skeptical in doing business with such vendors, especially if it was something that brings competitive advantage in the mid-term.
This post was written for TechTarget.In and can also be seen at http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/Oh-I-See/
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
It set into motion a thought process and I began to wonder. So here is the result of the wondering in a step by step how to. There could be many more questions in the list, but I restricted myself to the ones that matter the most.
- You have to want to become one
- Some one should be willing to hire you as one
- Ask yourself the questions below:
- Do you understand business activities well specific to your industry as well as generically ?
- Are you good at numbers, budgets, reconciliations, metrics ?
- Can you confidently present in a management group meeting without being tongue-tied ?
- Do people within your team and your users trust you ?
- Can you negotiate well with a vendor or a user ?
- Are you able to resolve conflict ?
- Are you able to hold your head high and have a disagreement with your boss without getting beaten up ?
- Can you talk in a language that non-IT folks can understand ?
- Are you able to deliver results as promised ?
If the answer to any of the questions above is NO, then work upon making it a yes. If you get more than 2 NO, then you are not yet ready.
If you got all YES and are not yet a CIO, then go to point 1 and 2. The only other reason can be you are a consultant.
Update: After being asked the question umpteen times by readers, I wrote the sequel to this piece, How to become a CIO - Part 2
A well run technology outfit is no more important (or less) than a Marketing, HR or a Finance department, in supporting the organization to do business efficiently. It has to contribute equally (if not more) in all the important aspects of running the organization, be it Profitability, Growth, Customer Delight or Cash Generation.
In the constantly changing business environment, it is not only imperative for the IT shops to embrace and work along with the changes but it is now extremely critical for them to be able to excel incessantly and innovatively in helping the organization to meet its goals of Profitability, Growth, Customer Delight etc.
What can a CIO do to put the IT shop into the path of Innovation? Is there a success formula? Probably there is no single formula which can work well across all IT teams, but CIOs can certainly follow a few of the below well known and easy to implement practices to encourage innovation with in their teams.
Keep your Eyes, Ears and Mind open – The first advice given to a fresh MBA class by a senior professor. The Mind part is specifically significant because what one sees, reads and listens could be very different when done attentively with an open mind, without any bias or stereotyping. Many organizations have practiced idea generation as an exercise and some follow it continuously. They have a dedicated email address where one can mail their ideas to. Some organizations also encourage anonymous submissions over a portal. CIOs can help their teams by being open to ideas from their team as well as others. By being open to ideas and by seeking fresh ideas from the team, CIOs can create an innovation friendly environment.
Shut your monitor off every day for half an hour – Take a trip to the shop floor. Meet the Sales and Marketing folks. Key people in the IT team (more the merrier) can be in touch with reality by interacting regularly with colleagues from other functions. One can learn what co-workers in other areas do on a normal business day with or with out any help from technology. It would be more effective if these interactions happen on the shop floor rather than in a meeting room or their own chambers. Knowledge / Learning from these interactions can be recorded and shared with the IT group over the team portal. If there is no portal, share the key learning during the regular team meetings.
Mohammed goes to the Mountain – Inviting senior business leaders to address technology teams during the regular IT team meetings can help too. Apart from being motivational during these meetings, the CIO can appeal to the business leaders to have a candid interaction with the team and also share their business challenges and how they intend to tackle them. Perspectives from such open discussions will help the team to come up with innovative solutions at the right time.
Private Practice – A few highly successful organizations, such as 3M and Google, follow the practice of encouraging their employees to work and develop up on any product that interests them for a certain percentage of their weekly work time. The results surely are encouraging if the innovative success of these companies is any barometer. Similarly, some companies, like UnitedHealth Group, encourage their employees to operationally excel thereby continuously improving the processes and benefiting the customer as well as the organization. CIOs can encourage the IT folks to come up with their own search for technology improvements in different areas of the organization and then support them to implement those improvements in agreement with the concerned functions.
Gather and analyze information – There is always a lot of information which does not get captured. It could be information related to a particular process; about how a customer uses technology to generate a report; or a simple feedback of technology services from customers. Just like a business can benefit by taking business actions based on data analysis, CIOs could benefit if they can capture and analyze relevant data which could be important to run their shops. These data sets, like our universe, are expanding continuously. Thanks to the reducing storage costs, it is not that expensive anymore to become data-expansive.
Which of these practices should one adopt? Do I go through the list and try all or I choose one and then move to the other if it does not work? There is no single strategy that fits everyone like one size does not fit all. You may arrive at your own strategy based on an assessment of the challenges and opportunities that are present within your world. A combination of ideas across the few listed and some that you may have already attempted will show you the path you need to traverse towards successful innovation.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The term itself has become a kind of misnomer with vendors and consultants twisting it around to suit their reality and service/product offering. Based on various reports and anecdotal references across the web, it would appear that tapping the wonderful world of Cloud Computing is as simple as buying a subscription to a public cloud service and your computing woes will disappear before you could utter (what else) "Cloud Computing" ! Software vendors want you to believe that their SaaS offerings are an offering of cloud infrastructure. Almost all the big IT vendors, be it red, blue or any other color have announced investments into clouds. PE funds are asking startups to create services around clouds. Optimism over understanding and reality ?
In my context which is validated with many other peers in the industry, the reality for every enterprise is the heterogeneous nature of the current computing fabric comprising many operating environments, databases and middleware running across all types of hardware. Bandwidth is as yet pricey in the Indian context and not yet ubiquitous. Data privacy concerns as yet remain unaddressed. So the context of leveraging public clouds as yet remains challenged not to forget the paranoia about the data being hosted on shared infrastructure.
What does this mean for the CIO ? Simply put, listen to every view and opinion on how your enterprise can leverage the wonderful world of Cloud Computing. Look at your current reality and then set forth to leverage what you have with a mix of the standard and now maturing technologies like virtualization and clustering (or grid) to create your own "private cloud" which will definitely bring you efficiency within your existing investments.
As the marketplace matures and vendors begin to understand how enterprises consume computing power, the traction is likely to improve and we will start seeing real life scenarios of how this technology can start driving efficiencies within IT organizations as well as deliver better TCO and ROI.
Monday, August 03, 2009
The remaining CIOs looked at each other in amazement and wondered what happened to the good old adage of delegation and empowerment of teams. One also commented that he never believed the impacted person to be "Operational CIO" and everyone nodded their heads in unison. This makes one wonder the "Strategic CIO" tag that almost every CIO wants to attach against their names is reality or just an aspiration ?
A few hours into the meeting, another phone ran amongst the remaining CIOs and after a few minutes on the phone during which everyone was on pause, the CIO in question mentioned, that he had a situation which his team called to apprise him of and he was confident that they would overcome it. The meeting continued with his equal participation.
Two sides of the CIO within a span of a couple of hours. Is this personality driven or Organization dependent ?
I believe that both play a role in the making the CIO either Operational or Strategic. The CIO has to build a team that s/he can empower and is willing to trust to take the best and the most pragmatic approach in the case of a crisis. The Organization has to experience the ability of the IT team to manage adversity with or without the leader's direct presence. The CIO has to let go and manage expectations with the rest of the Organization. In most cases the team will live up to the confidence placed on them. If the general belief is that the team will not overcome, then they will wait for the CIO to take the decision; on the contrary, if the team is empowered, they will in almost all cases rise to the situation.
If the Organization has a cultural issue with every senior manager calling the CIO for even a small issue, then the sad reality is that the CIO will be seriously challenged to demonstrate strategic intent as the operational burden will ensure that there is no time to even think about anything remotely strategic. Such an enterprise becomes the death knell of a strategic CIO leader.
The insecure CIO tends to become operational and the spiral downwards happens too quickly thereafter. Overcoming the subsequent burden can sometimes take a lifetime (at least within that company for the CIO). One could also argue to say that the General elected to fight with the soldiers from the trenches. But what good is a dead General to the forces ?
Monday, June 15, 2009
It was indeed evident that outsourcing is being scrutinized carefully by every enterprise in current times of tight budgets. A minority had significant outsourcing initiatives while the rest had the tactical operational stuff being done by external agencies. Reality being that outsourcing does not provide the Indian CIO a cost benefit, but helps manage variable demand and induct skills that may be hard to come by.
TCO & ROI are a way of life with ROI still remaining elusive; and the model varies by company and industry. The favorite buzzwords of IT and the consultants are passe, everyone has already done the virtualization, consolidation, renegotiation, while SOA, Clouds and SaaS and its variants are of limited value.
So future of outsourcing in India remains tactical to a large extent, big deals will be far and few, it's about creating short-term value, compromising at some level on what you cannot foresee.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
No IT event is ever complete without discussing the evolving or changing role of the CIO. This has almost become a flogging horse; surprisingly the people engaged in discussions are consultants, academicians, vendors and also the CIOs. All of them have aired their views and opinions, all of which indicate that the CIO role is changing and the incumbent should not be a CIO, but move laterally within the enterprise. Not that other CXOs are discussing how to become CIOs !
The role of the CIO has come into existence for just about a decade now and most of the IT leaders worked hard to get to this position. The transition from EDP Manager to CIO has indeed been a dramatic change and revolution for many individuals as well as organizations. Moving from a support tag to a business enabler and now with stake on the board table, the CIO has indeed proved it beyond any doubt that s/he is a leader in her/his own right contributing in many cases a wider perspective than other CXOs with visibility and insights from the entire enterprise.
Is it that the IT leaders of today are not performing their role adequately or they are dissatisfied with the laurels bestowed upon them ? The CIO is expected to be in touch with almost every trend in technology including but not limited to hardware, networking, software applications, tools and devices, telephony and mobility, and along with all this, the business too. In business, they are expected to understand the products and services, sales and marketing, production and back office, finance and accounting, legal and administration, processes and measurement, dashboards and analytics, not to discount people management and negotiation skills. Are we somewhere expecting the CIOs to be a compendium of all the superhuman heroes rolled up into one ? I have yet to come across such expectations from any other CXO in the company, including the CEO.
So what is causing this ? It would appear that the CIOs are to a great extent fuelling this debate and my hypothesis is that having moved rapidly into a role of prominence, they now want more even though there may be no more to have in many cases. The success through the journey has created the taste of blood with no easing of the adrenalin rush. With the current level of expectations and performance, the possibility of a burnout is higher than any other outcome. Some may be able to move mountains or climb the peaks of the Himalayas, but these are and will continue to be exceptions.
If a CIO is asked the question “Are you satisfied with your current role ?”, the answer would surprise many. So what’s the predicament in being a good CIO ? Does it spell the proverbial end of the road for the IT leader ? It’s a question that cries for an answer and the CIO is expected to find the answer without consulting the wise men in the mountains. Everyone has some advice on what next thereby demeaning the role to being lower in ranking to other CXOs.
I believe that the CIO should credibly communicate the contributions towards the successful and smooth functioning of the organization. The scorecard should mention the improvements made possible with the help of IT, new customer segments served enabled by analytics, additional revenue generated through new capabilities or services, or earnings realized with efficiencies that were made possible.
So stop debating the role of the CIO and move on to consolidate the position of strength with pride that is unique to the role. Debates and views will continue to distract the IT leader towards perceivably greener pastures. Lateral movement is finally a matter of personal choice.
This blog was first published on the CIO Klub website (http://www.cioklub.in/cio_says.htm) on May 11, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Over the last few months with new projects hard to come by, the focus for many enterprises has been to improve decision making with the help of insights that can be delivered from existing data marts or data warehouses. This is off-course expected with no additional funding. Business Intelligence has also featured on CIO agendas researched by many marquee research entities.
Thus vendors have been getting quite aggressive in their sales pitch claiming to have all the magic formulae towards achieving the elusive ROI from BI as well as improving the usage of information towards making effective decisions. Many of these vendors have staff they have hired from the industry, who worked on in-house BI projects, successful or not, but now purportedly have the wisdom on how to make it work.
The question that baffles me is that in most cases the effectiveness same consultants was at best average with a few exceptions. What has changed that now gives then the insights from the outside to create exceptional performance for their customers ? Talking to them rarely gives one the comfort that they will be able to indeed drive through the change and create value irrespective of what their PowerPoints may depict.
The technology or tools do not appear to matter to this brood. The list appears like a menu card in an expensive restaurant which also includes esoteric dishes with fancy prices. And if it is not on the menu, don't worry, the chef will create what you want (custom solution).
Why is it that "wisdom" on how and what on business intelligence is with the consultants and vendors and rarely manifests itself within the enterprise ? I scratch my head and all I get is hair ! I am now losing it faster with the number of BI shops mushrooming everywhere. Maybe I should think of joining the herd rather than trying to beat them at their game.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
- Virtualization : everyone has done it to the extent possible and nothing new to talk about by any vendor; be it storage or servers, or even desktop. This is a no-brainer, so stop !
- Unified Communication : we have been tying ourselves into knots telling everyone that beyond the IP phones, IM, Chat, Video-conferencing, tele-presence, web-conferencing, audio-conferencing, white-boarding, and combining all of this into one device (if such a device exists and can be deployed across WIFI, CDMA, GSM, WIMAX, 3G at one go), is there a big business benefit ?
- Security : yeah ! we all have UTM, at least in theory, and yes, we patch our servers, desktops, laptops, mobile phones and take backups everyday. So what's new ?
- Green Computing : it's fashionable to talk green; a speaker asks "Do you have green clothing ?". In the past every generation of computers doubled the computing power; in the future every generation will reduce power consumed by 50%. Green is not only about saving power in the data center and your end-computing devices.
- SaaS and Cloud : everyone has an opinion and with the exception of sales force automation, no new offerings worth talking about. Waiting for the cloud to form and the rain, the IT organization cannot be like the Indian farmer. IT has to continue delivering every day as business does not wait.
Every vendor who sponsors an event for CIOs believes that they can continue to offer the same old stale product presentations and numbers that do not make sense to most of us. I believe that if this were to continue, the participation in such events will continue to decline to a level where the opportunity will dry up for the vendors.
Are there other technologies you want to add to the list ?