Oh I See! Getting CIOs to view their jobs from a different angle

September 8, 2015  1:04 PM

The fragile bridge of corporate relationships

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Leadership, Relationships

The CIO had spent almost 5 years in the position thriving and surviving all the uncertainties of business and change in management. He had done well to build a reputation with business leaders with his can do attitude and ideas helped them win in their playing field. Technology vendors loved him for the fact that he was willing to experiment and deploy emerging solutions with calculated risks that brought them further business. He took on additional business responsibilities which added to his experience of a score of years. Then suddenly he quit!

Everyone wondered what happened, some guessed what had happened, confidantes knew the reason behind the presumably sudden move. It was cooking for a while within; his outwardly calm disposition did not raise any suspicion of the turmoil within. For a large part of the year prior to taking the drastic step, he continued to live with a façade which eventually impacted his persona. Something snapped inside, his professional pride hurt he found it difficult to continue. As soon as he had an option, he hastily exited inconsiderate of the adverse impact.

A difference of opinion, perceived gap in skills, and real lack of experience for a favorite project of a Board member left him in no man’s land despite industry experts willingness to back him. The project was thus separated from IT and a new peer position was on-boarded. As time passed by he found himself being marginalized in some of the discussions falling off the radar with attention largely focused on the favorite project. He continued to toil until the proposed change of reporting relationship (to his peer) became the proverbial last straw and he quit!

A post-mortem would throw up many advice on what he could have done to rescue the situation and bring himself back into relevance; that anyway belongs to lessons provided from the stands when the game is on. The cardinal mistake he made was to leave in a huff with scant regard to the impact his exit had on ongoing activities, tasks, and outcomes. Pleas to reconsider his decision and later to extend his notice period were ignored with ego prominently dictating the actions. With a small step the bridge built over the years was broken.

He took up the new assignment that had triggered his bold step only to find out that culturally he was unable to fit into the new organization; unable to accept the ethos, he left within weeks without notice. These steps did not go unnoticed in the industry and quietly seeped across through the network; while no one raised the question, peers were nice to him in a diffident way with warmth of the past missing. His requests for connects towards new openings and opportunities were accepted though none made any progress towards materialization.

Young professionals today tactically make career moves based on their need for gratification, personal gain and opportunities in the market. In the build phase of their foundations they flutter around before they find their bearings and settle down. In the mid-career stage relationships are built that help climb the corporate ladder and build credibility on the task and people axis. The persona thus created aids move to level of leadership from just managing people thereby connecting the dots and strengthening the bonds that can last a lifetime.

Courting period with an enterprise starts with best behavior; why does the exit need to be the worst? If there is any bitterness towards the culture, environment, incident, team, people, anything that makes the blood pressure rise, let go as from the next day onwards they are not going to be part of daily life. It is unfortunate that some companies also behave like jilted lovers when someone senior decides to pursue alternative opportunities. The market quickly comes to terms and discounts reference checks with such companies.

The struggle of the protagonist with a few bad decisions impacted his ability to find an opportunity; when alternatives are plenty, prospective companies are not amenable to forego such indiscretions. What if he does not fit in here culturally? What if there is really something wrong with him as a person? Will he bad mouth us when he leaves? There are many what-ifs that deter an opportunity. Bridges are expected to withstand a lot of stress and natural elements; bridges of relationships too require strength from within and resilience to survive incidents and external factors.

Take care!

August 31, 2015  1:39 PM

Why don’t employees attend training programs seriously?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
IT training, Leadership, Soft skills

The HR manager announced a program on different people skills like: listening, reading body language, effective communication, business writing, negotiation skills, and many more. These were being conducted on every Saturday for interested participants. The enterprise had a 5-day work week and the rationale behind a weekend investment was to get the interested participants only. The curriculum was good and participation voluntary. There was no charge nor there was post course assessment or for that matter feedback on faculty.

The inaugural class had 15 participants to the surprise of those present; the expectation was that there would be at least 25-30 representing about 10% of the strength. The group was welcomed by the HR Manager for their quest to learn; the group remarked about their self-improvement focus and the journey started for the teacher and the students. The course, expected to run for 20 weekends, needed strong willpower and commitment; by week 4, the list was down to single digits and by the time the course ended, there were only 4.

Most training programs suffer from this phenomena even when the training program is not that long. On the penultimate day the trainees discover urgent work or cite exigencies to escape from the clutches of learning. The end of the program is typically seen by a few participants who were interested in learning, the totally disinterested who had nothing else to do, the HR representative to complete the loop and the trainer who has reached the end of patience and wants to get out lest s/he lose their poise and temper.

The situation is no different for even a full day learning curriculum; everyone arrives charged up for the day off from work, some look forward to enhancing their skills. As the day progresses, phone calls start interrupting the flow, an urgent mail that needs to go, and customer meetings that pop up or something fails that needs their personal attention, enough to disrupt the class. They all have genuine sounding reasons to go back to the same work that many wanted to avoid at the beginning of the day; learning takes a backseat.

Why is learning such a chore? Are people not interested in their own advancement? What makes them such shirkers when it comes to adding value to themselves? Do they believe that they know everything they need for their success as well as movement in the corporate ladder? If that was the case then everyone would excel in their roles and get promoted with regular periodicity. Learning & Development would be a dead function for most corporates (it is another matter that many play a subservient role with limited latitude to make a difference).

Training are mostly determined during the appraisal cycle based on the discussion between Manager and the staff member; there is a self-determined need based on career aspirations or skills that need to be acquired to fill a gap towards executing their work effectively. Enhancements to existing expertise to move up the ladder to a larger role or a lateral shift to another position also create the need. Soft skills and other seemingly non-essential training are scheduled with published training calendar which are then available for enrollment by everyone.

As an employee I always looked forward to training programs even if they were just to validate existing knowledge. Complementing these with aggressive reading helped me move across industries and roles with ease. As I climbed the ladder, I had the task of managing teams who needed to perform at their optimal best to keep raising the bar and enjoy associated fruits of success. The formula that worked for me mostly was to make the team responsible for their own training, not me, not HR, not the company, only themselves.

They were individually responsible for their career, growth within and outside; most found it contrary to conventional wisdom, after all isn’t the Manager expected to take care of the team? Should HR be providing them all kinds of training including technical skills? Isn’t the company responsible for taking care of the employees? This worked quite well for me; for those who were unable to accept this responsibility, they found themselves floundering in their positions or out of place in the rapidly changing environment and facing forced attrition.

One of my Managers’ had summed it quite well: “We offer employment, we do not guarantee continued employability!”

July 7, 2015  2:20 PM

CIOs need professional courtesy as a basic tenet

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
CIO, IT leadership, Soft skills

This one has been a long time coming though never made it to the top; and then an event triggered the compilation of thoughts which has experiences spread across multiple incidents collated over the not too distant past. It is an interesting observation made by minions as well as leaders on success and/or position (mostly latter, read hierarchy, corner room, and trappings of power) going to the head. Does this give a person the freedom and permission to be unprofessional, rude, disrespectful, insensitive, or simply put misbehave?

  1. It was a high power meeting if there was one; CEOs from various group companies, corporate heads had been brought together for a common cause and objective driven by a globally respected research and consulting company. They had all assembled to listen to thought leadership that potentially could help them be the disruptor rather than be disrupted with innovation and new business models. The partner had put significant time, money and effort to ensure that the session connects with business leaders and their expectations.
    Welcoming the arriving party, the CIO suddenly froze with disbelief seeing two senior ex-CIOs and now advisors to multiple entities as part of the group. Both had put in time in the industry – collectively almost 70 years – and were known to be the “go-to-persons” for any advice. Blurting out his surprise he turned to the organizing vendor CEO and made known his extreme displeasure on their presence wanting them bodily removed. Evidently he felt threatened and dispensed with civility in fear, not that he was known for good behavior.
  2. She was a CIO who had greatness thrust upon her by her mentor despite having no expertise nor experience; it worked well for her manager who she followed across companies as he could amplify his limited knowledge using her as a puppet to execute whatever took his fancy. Technology had given her a basic foundation on which she failed to capitalize instead focusing on managing her Godfather. Everyone speculated on her rise with oblique references to what she brought to the table and comparisons with stereotyped women of light colored hair. Vendors big and small who were unaware of the reality would attempt to reach her directly, or through current and past team mates, via all modes of communication. Unanswered emails and phone calls were the norm; she would confirm meetings scheduled by her team and then fail to turn up. It was as if there was nothing you could do to catch her attention or be part of the partner ecosystem; and if she did get there, she rarely participated beyond the first few minutes, always called away by (too often raising doubts about it being engineered?) phone call.

There was speculation and murmur that the positions these individuals (and many more whose behaviors are predictably similar) held were not gained by merit alone; in the years that ensued they had not gained enough depth to survive beyond using random buzzwords. The resultant insecurity and self-doubt made sure that they did not go into meetings alone and shied away from groups which would have exposed their ignorance and incompetence. The false bravado thus created personas that no one revered, the external connects were driven by business need.

Let’s take the first case of impertinent behavior; there was no perceivable threat from thought leaders who had taken the call to exit from employment to pursue entrepreneurial journey and give their collective experience to the industry at large. For a senior person (I desist from the word leader) who was well entrenched in his role and company, what compulsions resulted in what happened? None of the participants could fathom the root cause or deep insecurities that caused the incident; after all they had rubbed shoulders not too long ago.

The lady in question shied away from all human contact with the external world simply driven by her ineptitude. As the titular head she had to fend for herself in the big bad world; her Godfather could do nothing to shield her from the barrage of requests. Soon the inevitable happened with an aura of an ignoramus surrounding her; vendors and partners belittled her whenever they discussed business opportunities with her company. People started taking bets on how long she would last without the shadow of her protector!

My coach taught me, “Leadership is a contact sport”; he also professed, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I more than agree now!

June 7, 2015  7:26 PM

I need a digital vacation

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

A popular B2C eCommerce marketplace announced that it will shut down the website and engage customers only on the mobile phone; the news had everyone wondering about the wisdom behind such a move. Various views prevailed on the trigger towards this unusual step; speculations did not stop despite press releases that outlined the rationale behind the move. Everyone watched with abated breath when D-day arrived; a few days later a small dip in traffic and revenue was reported with an optimistic view that they will bounce back.

It is published statistics that number of smartphones is increasing globally; the personal device is also becoming the primary means to access Internet, browse, check email, communicate, socialize, and do some personal and official work. Phones are also getting smarter, larger, with higher compute capacity now beginning to rival computers of a not too distant past, offer reasonable mobile storage and increasingly better cameras. Conventional wisdom says that mobile is and will remain the primary device of choice.

Then the latest hype and hoopla is around wearable technology; it all started with glasses (the kind you wear on the eyes) mimicking some of the futuristic movies of the 90s depicting humanoids with special powers. Next came fitness bands which offered alternative ways to view limited information while they monitored body vital functions; these were followed by smart watches wanting to change the way you consume information. Seesawing between screen sizes, each device competed for attention by offering notifications of all types (see Divergence is …).

Did I forget tablets which now masquerade as mini-laptops or phablets that disguise themselves as big sized phones or handy sized tablets ? Crossovers of all types have attempted to bridge a perceived gap until they either became the standard or irrelevant. Case in point as an example, laptops with touchscreens or tablets with keyboards competing for bag space. Depending on need and at times driven by corporate policy, there are cases where both have won and coexist as personal and work device.

Are we obsessed about staying connected or is technology pressurizing us into compulsive behavior for the next notification or alert. Who benefits from connected devices and alarms that keep us on our toes? Is our life changing for the better or worse with guiding forces that we no longer control? From a closed society that valued privacy we have moved to an open world where almost everyone has access to life events that we decided to share and then exercise control on who can see them forgetting that it has been cataloged for data mining!

Coming back to the Thing that could/will be the primary information creation and consumption device(s), it is quite likely and highly probable that contextually there will be separation. We will have the choice on how we would like consume; willingly or inadvertently we will be broadcasting data into the servers of service providers, marketers, and feed analytical engines through the various Things that on or off us will monitor what we are up to in our lives and the feedback mechanism will to nudge our choices subconsciously.

Information consumption shall extend beyond visual interactions to encompass auditory as well as kinaesthetic experience. I think the phone as we know it today will probably retain a large share while other form factors (may be integrated into the phone or discrete) will complete the experience. Change contextually will be driven by where we are, what we are doing, who are we with, time of the day, at work or home or leisure, traveling or stationary, and finally personal choice based on peer influence and personal comfort.

There will also be forced or chosen moments of disconnected bliss (let’s call it Digital Vacation) until withdrawal symptoms give way to the craving or we time out the detached life. Extreme cases would undergo Digital detoxification camps and participate in support groups (not digitally but in person) and be monitored actively ironically by digital devices. Does this situation sound too dramatic, hypothetical or out of science fiction? Well I believe that the future is already here for some while others will catch up sooner than later.

Blessed would be a few who can at will detach themselves and have no impact on professional or personal life.

May 18, 2015  9:14 AM

BYOD is dead, long live device independence and proliferation

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
BYOD, Mobile Computing

The advent of smartphones started a small experiment for senior management; it has now become mainstream. Explosion of smartphones in the enterprise driven by economical choices and increasing convenience has seen Progressive IT departments adopting a controlled and open attitude towards providing access to information on the go. Solutions have evolved with app-ification of many processes and business opportunities and Cloud based offerings. BYOD is no longer a 4 letter word, it’s reality for enterprises and CIOs.

Reluctant IT organizations are being pushed and forced into acceptance to define a framework on how to weave BYOD into the company fabric. Reality of yesterday which revolved around unmanaged devices, multiple platforms and form factors, and security of corporate data appear to be excuses now. While the starting point for most enterprises has been MDM or Mobile Device Management, additional solutions are equipping enterprises to create a secure and managed ecosystem for employees and partners.

The next few years will see a shift towards BYOD for most enterprises who are deploying mobility solutions of any kind. This is largely driven by the need to push information to stakeholders though newer use cases are emerging with sales force, distribution and approvals. There is also a pull exerted by various parts of the enterprise who are beginning to realize the time value of information. The challenge is not security anymore, it is managing the upsurge in expectations driven by the fact that someone has already done it somewhere in the world.

Is there a balance between complete freedom to totally restricted world? There is no formula by size or industry type or even geography that provides a generic universally acceptable answer. Each enterprise will have to find its own equilibrium depending on need and benefit; my belief is that information enabled employees are likely to take better decisions or create newer opportunities in comparison to staff that live with enforced restrictive policies. Wearables open up new opportunities for the savvy technophiles.

The world is getting bipolar with mobility divided into 2 camps – Android and iOS. Stealthily a third alternative is emerging which offers comfort of the known and familiar to IT folks: Windows! IT knows how to manage this platform while others intrusively came in from the consumer employee. I believe that this trend will be the savior for IT giving them a platform that they know how to manage. Interestingly new innovation with dual boot devices with Windows and Android are just around the corner.

Some people may ask, what about the Blackberry as a device or platform? Should we stop thinking about it? There still are remnants of this in some enterprises. Should they stay in focus? Predictions have a bad way of turning around and biting you; so if they do offer something critical that others don’t (which I am not sure of unless it is specific to your business), move them off. It is easier to manage one less technology than keeping it lingering around. In the near term I don’t see any merit in continuing with them.

The future belongs to an empowered enterprise where every person has information on demand available on his/her fingertips on a device of his/her choice. Ubiquitous and seamless access activated by secure channels that are MITM (Man In The Middle) and MOTB (Man On The Browser) attack proof; apps are obviating the need to create adaptive websites and compromises in user experience. Enterprises should explore a way to use Apps to provide secure transactional capabilities to employees while running off a public or private cloud.

New devices will continue to challenge IT; drive with policy which is adaptable and allows for induction of new environments. Put them to work in a lab before they start knocking on the door asking for permission to connect. Invest in tools and technology that allow you to manage the devices by exception and policy; that is easier to execute than creating an exception every time something new turns up. You will have limited time and capacity, use it wisely. Finally take a stand if it comes to a crunch; after all when things break only your neck is on the block!

April 28, 2015  8:38 AM

Sliding IT security priorities put enterprises at risk

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Leadership, Security

I read somewhere about the government’s intent to increase budget allocation towards fighting and creating cybersecurity awareness. The link was hidden somewhere towards the bottom of the newsletter; quickly I clicked through to read word by word the good news and realized that it was indeed true! The chart showing CAGR was quite impressive with the trend line going north; then I looked again at the Y axis to find that the investment per annum was so low that the entire news was like actually too scary to be funny.

Not too long ago when I wrote about Creating Secure & Safe Enterprise, many CIOs and CISOs wrote back with their personal experiences; most of them agreed that their realities were reflected within. Some of the interesting facts that emerged is that budgets were a challenge, but then not really a challenge when an incident occurred. With corporate focus on short-term goals and measurement of tactical performance, the biggest challenge that everyone unanimously portrayed was that of sliding priorities with security settling close to the bottom.

Why is security investment such a drag when it comes to budgeting and spending? Why do enterprises and with that I imply the CXOs who collectively represent the Management believe that they don’t really need to invest in protecting their information assets which are family jewels in most cases? What creates such a lackadaisical attitude towards creating process, policy, and implementing tools that provide a secure framework to do business despite the fact that threats are increasing and businesses are losing customers, revenue and credibility!

Everyone agrees in principle that security is a must; they (the CXOs) espouse this in conferences and project themselves as the messiahs of information protection and security. When one such leader was asked pointed question on the budget allotted, he sidestepped the question deftly instead talking about how the industry needs to up the ante. The lip service that ignores the elephant in the room is beginning to hurt enterprises. The cause for such an attitude towards keeping the doors and windows open has to be deeper.

I am not that big and not an attractive target for anyone! Why would any hacker want to breach our security? Our customer data is locked up on one computer and only two people have access to it; they are both trustworthy. We don’t have anything worth stealing, so why would anyone compromise our systems? We know internal threats are higher than external, we have information distributed across multiple solutions, so no one can decipher the full picture; we have locked USB, installed anti-virus and firewall, isn’t that enough?

Is lack of awareness or education creating a false sense of security and complacency? Or is it a belief that such things happen to others and I am safe? Is CXO ignorance and indifference an acceptable proposition towards defining the security posture of an enterprise? When you live dangerously sooner or later an adverse incident does occur and that is when the scapegoat syndrome always ends up pointing fingers at the CIO or the CISO, and/or the service provider. Breaking this paradox is the need of the hour for enterprises.

No one wants to fall sick or die but everyone takes health and life insurance! Investments in security are like insurance to protect the business. Physical security has seen this paradigm shift with electronic tags and biometric solutions becoming the norm. With the number of threats increasing and new ones emerging, the education of CXOs is not just an imperative but an urgent need. CIOs, CISOs, Internal Audit, and Risk Committees have to own up the information protection agenda and drive it with their collective might.

Using ethical means to understand vulnerabilities and fixing them should be high in the corporate agenda towards creating a safer digital enterprise. Customers and consumers are becoming sensitive to this fact and the probability of them taking their business elsewhere is beginning to happen. A safe and secure ecosystem is required for the extended enterprise including suppliers, contractors, partners, and customers. The writing on the wall is that companies who emerge as secure digital enterprises will be winners of the future.

Where are you?

April 13, 2015  8:34 AM

Creating safe and secure enterprise

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Leadership, Security

Information and Cyber security is becoming a big topic of discussion extending beyond IT; in recent times it has definitely caught the attention of many country heads – Presidents and Prime Ministers alike. Conferences and Summits are being organized with discussions and debate around how to protect sovereign interests and secrets in many parts of the world. It is thus surprising that beyond a few industries like telecom and collectively the BFSI companies, there is very limited traction with CEOs and Boards.

Security breaches are increasingly creating adverse impact on enterprises; many high profile incidents have heightened awareness globally thereby removing the excuse of ignorance for decision makers. Thus manifestation of interest is easily discerned by the presence or absence of a security function, irrespective of whether it reports to IT or not. Recent survey by global consulting companies indicate improvement over the years though the gap is still quite large to give comfort. Why the indifference or inertia?

If we go back in time, systems were islands of information; information was exchanged between systems manually or through physical electronic media. Soon there was a way to connect multiple computers and they talked to each other within the computer room or data center. Improvements in telecom networks introduced the ability to connect distant locations though still within the enterprise. The advent of long distance data networks and the internet introduced new possibilities to connect with external stakeholders.

Standardization of data formats and published formats like EDI, XML, and integration using published APIs created new business models as well as collaboration opportunities with Extranets and Exchanges. The interconnected world also brought with it crooks, rogues, greedy and the disgruntled who wanted to disrupt business as usual and profit from enterprise loss. The industry responded with solutions to prevent intrusion, hacking, sniffing, direct and indirect attacks, attempting to create a shield around the end points and the transport layer.

IT was chastised for writing insecure programs that could be broken; they were never expected to write code that would be subject to threats from within or outside as their starting point was information islands. Remedial action demanded layers around the information while business upped the ante to demand information anywhere, anytime, for everyone. Moving from offline transactions to real-time information flow, programs were patched, retired, replaced and then left to run on uncontrolled machines thanks to BYOD.

Conventionally adopted protection technology solutions have been compromised; new vulnerabilities are being discovered every day. Patching remains the solace of the susceptible which lags the threats and their discovery. Evolution of defense strategies offers newer ways to safeguard the data but they come with a cost that is unpalatable to many enterprises. Challenge lies in non-existent to thin security budgets. Business expectation of quick and dirty solutions does not allow for adequate time to create secure solutions.

In conversation with a few CXOs, they expected regulators to enforce spends on security; according to one, spends will stay muted unless it is mandated. Another had instructed his CISO to find low cost or open source solutions; alternatively to selectively deploy security for specified endpoints or applications leaving the rest protected with basic anti-virus. To him no evidence of leakage implied that all systems are well protected; head in the ground appears a good way of declaring enterprise information assets secure.

It is contingent upon senior enterprise leaders, CXOs and Boards to take up the cause and demonstrate leadership starting with visible endorsement of security for all information assets. Risk Committees are at risk should a breach become high profile with loss of credibility and customers losing trust. Recovery from such incidents can be long and painful consuming higher budgets and efforts than planned interventions; and when something does go wrong, necks roll. There are many examples of breaches claiming CIOs and CEOs tainting their illustrious careers.

It is up to IT organizations to include security by design into every new system they plan to build or buy. New technologies do offer opportunities to create secure solutions and they do not necessarily come from current industry leaders in solutions or security. The world is connecting in a way never imagined before. Collaboration has extended beyond B2B, B2C, C2C, E2C, C2C, to M2M, and new paradigms are created every day. Reality is the innovation wheel is spinning faster and faster, where are you in the game?

Someone had quipped “You cannot do today’s job with yesterday’s tools and expect to be in business tomorrow.” And I agree, do you?

April 6, 2015  4:13 PM

A discussion with the CEO on server and storage sizing

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Leadership, Servers, Storage

It was time to refresh the data center with existing infrastructure completing its lifecycle; some of the equipment was end of life with no support available, the rest needed replacement to ensure that the company stays current with technology. The IT team gathered all the data and statistics on usage to arrive at new configurations that will serve them for the next 3-4 years. All interested vendors contributed to the technology evaluation with differentiated solutions promoting esoteric features that normally don’t matter.

The team assimilated the information overload with judicious sifting that created a clear picture aligning the need to the offerings. It was a fair comparison where technology took precedence over comfort with any specific vendor or technology. To be doubly sure, the team reached out to peers and seniors across the industry to validate the recommendation. After a few iterations, all of it came through as good to go. To conclude the exercise, a presentation was prepared for the CEO who would needed to approve the budget and bless the project.

The CEO was known to be a technophile who kept the CIO and the rest of IT on their toes; he was well read, well connected and at times deep dived into finer details that most techies would find hard to hold a conversation. He was the force behind the company adopting IT in the way they did, spending judiciously and yet remaining current with industry evolution; recent times had seen a slowdown in investments and it was time to play catch-up. D-day arrived and the CIO along with the team was ready to present.

Why have you chosen the configuration that you present? What are my options with engineered systems or for that matter Public Cloud? Why do I need to invest in 50 TB of storage upfront; how can I stagger the deployment? Why have you chosen 12 core processors over 16 core? Why not 1.2 TB disks or SATA drives which offer higher capacity? Why is the number of VMs so low per physical box? Where is your Cloud strategy? The discussion went on for an hour with the CEO throwing question after question at the team.

The team could field only some and ran out of answers after some time; they promised to rework the solution with clarifications sought and inputs given. They were not expecting the kind of questions asked, they had prepared the business case based on transaction volume, new systems underway and planned, business growth and new initiatives that the business had planned over the next few years. It was as if the tables had turned on them with the CEO going technical while they had focused on business outcomes.

Is this a reality for large number of CIOs or just an exception to the rule where CEOs and CXOs rarely get into technology discussions citing ignorance and the fact that they find technology unfathomable ? Scanning the horizon I find that this breed of techno savvy CXOs is beginning to grow; they may not be able to differentiate between SAS and NL-SAS drives or size storage based on IOPS, they do understand basics that matter and are able to hold their own based on reasonable understanding of technology; all thanks to tech going mainstream media.

This world is antonymous to the world I wrote about last week (My CFO thinks he knows technology). There are people who know technology and use their expertise where it matters and there is a breed who thinks who know and want to show off in various forums. The first engage and challenge you to find better solutions, the other group ends up being a pain with their pseudo expertise. It takes little effort to see through the façade of the latter who can derail the best of hard work by seeding random thoughts of doubt.

Having worked with both camps, I found that opportunities can be created with the technophiles to engage and innovate depending on your risk appetite and ability by staying updated with finer nuances of technology. This may sound contradictory to the well beaten drum that CIOs need to move away from technology to business; my view is that CIOs cannot leave their foundations for purportedly greener pastures; they need to stay grounded in their domain while learning the newer skills and moving forth.

After all if the CFO does not know about IRR, NPV or ROA (Return on Assets), s/he will become a liability to the organization!

March 31, 2015  8:10 AM

My CFO thinks he knows technology

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Leadership, Technology

After a weeklong discussion on the new business opportunity that clearly defined the process and the strategy, the CMO thanked the IT team and the CIO for their active participation. Then he said something that resulted in pin drop silence and uneasy calm: I think the solution should be ready within a week from now? You know in college we used to write code and release programs in a few days. The CIO decided to clarify different reality for enterprise solutions that require a bit longer for time measured in weeks and months.

The CIO had invited the CFO to the IT meeting to interact with the team; every month he used to call some of the business leaders to give the team differing perspectives of how they contributed to the business and made a difference. In an endeavor to show off his technical prowess, the CFO asked about the storage environment: why don’t you use the NAS for the ERP? SAN is expensive; you should know how to economize! I have been involved in many technology projects and want to help you to choose most optimum solutions!

I had the privilege of working with many CEOs who were tech savvy and challenged me to find new ways to use existing investments as well as keep scanning for new technologies which could be disruptive in the future. The joy of working with such CEOs multiplied the not just my enthusiasm but also kept my teams motivated to put in their best to keep us ahead of the curve. This obviously created a culture of tech adoption that infected the rest of the CXOs to create an enterprise that enjoyed the benefits that IT can bring to the business.

Life gets interesting when some of the CXOs think they know technology better than IT professionals just because they worked in a tech company or studied a programming language in their school. Above are just 2 samples of such dialogues which keep the CIOs challenged and humored at the same time. They would make a great compendium to keep the IT fraternity smiling for a long time; the question that keeps raising its head is how to address such “know IT all” and “been there, done that” situations without creating a scene.

In conversations with many CIOs sharing experiences a few strategies emerged which had worked for most of them. To begin with the general consensus was to humor them by letting them speak out their heart and then keep doing what is in best interest of the project, team and the company. They need a platform to voice their knowledge which makes them feel better about themselves; most are happy doing just that in a harmless way without realizing that their wisdom is no longer relevant to the current technology realities.

The balance select minority of self-professed and declared IT experts who really believe that they know, unaware of when to stop are a challenge that needs handling with care. In positions of influence or power, they can be seriously disruptive to progress. This elite group wants to stay involved, sit through review meetings, add value to discussions with vendors, and get into minute details of deep technology that is best left to the techies. The group had no silver bullet though everyone had faced and managed such individuals in their careers.

Some CIOs had escalated such incidents where possible to the CEO or the Board to get them off their backs. Another avenue appeared to be to get an external third party or consultant on board to provide an expert view to counter the often antiquated, incorrect or incomplete knowledge. For the rest it was about the adverse impact on their deliverables which they were unable to control. So they struggled with shifting goalposts and changing timelines driven by the inane and absurd; they just had to grin and bear it.

One CIO had decided to take on such a CXO head-on and not accept the nonsense; he corrected the CXO in meetings and gave alternative and at times contrary views which almost every time put the CXO in an embarrassing and compromised situation. Unable to withstand the humility of the situation, the CXO confronted the CIO: Why do you keep countering everything I say as if I know nothing? You make me feel like a chump! What makes you so right all the time as if you know everything? Stop doing this else…

The CIO moved on to newer pastures leaving the company to the mercy of half-baked buzzword laden CXO.

March 23, 2015  11:52 AM

CIO’s jobs is so easy!

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
CIO, Leadership

They had a new CIO and the IT team was wondering how he would be; the earlier CIO was a self-professed workaholic. A bachelor staying few blocks away, he would land up at the office during his morning jog. He would stay on until the morning review meeting with the team running over every activity of the previous day which they had to record in a time sheet. His need to know everything and micromanage every activity obsessively; the team feared his scrutiny. So when the new CIO was announced, everyone was apprehensive, can it get worse?

The new guy came on board with his reputation preceding him as a celebrated CIO with much published success. Many of the team members had heard him in a few events and seminars though did not know his personality or working style. His demeanor was friendly and approachable which portrayed a pleasant personality. IT vendors spoke highly of his professional expertise and no nonsense way of working; he was tough with them and yet appreciated their contribution. This confused the IT team especially his direct reports.

The team of seven who ran the IT organization were coincidentally all of the same experience levels though across domains and technologies. Some old and some new, they had a tolerable coexistence with occasional professional conflicts resulting from overlapping responsibilities and dependencies on their individual success. Respective teams ran an efficient shop which the organization was proud of, with early adoption of many technologies. Their only challenge was an unfriendly image of IT which was growing rapidly.

The CIO met with the team collectively and individually within the first week to note their challenges and opportunities, aspirations and setbacks, and to understand the organization and team culture. He looked at their modus operandi, reports they created for internal review, processes and practices they had imbibed; he was quite happy to see their diligence and dedication towards work. He also found that some negativity was attributable to the earlier leader’s high technology orientation and disconnect with the business which rubbed off onto the team.

Soon they settled down into a comfortable rhythm, back to the grind, except that they noticed a subtle shift in the way business interacted with them. It was as if suddenly the enterprise had discovered some of the good qualities of the team that got beaten up every so often for operational failures, some of which had nothing to do with IT. Enjoying their new found status, the team gave it back in kind with positive collaboration towards solving business problems or finding new opportunities to win in the cutthroat industry.

Few in the IT team who were hired by the earlier CIO missed the daily morning grilling and technology sessions; they craved the micromanagement, instructions on how to do, prioritization of their activities; for them the regimented way had comfort, it took away the pain of thinking. They associated the new hands-off approach and delegation with lack of technical prowess and acumen; they saw the CIO attend business meetings, seminars, events, and take lead as the spokesperson for the industry which was in conflict to their benchmark of what a CIO should be.

They seeded thoughts across the IT team on the frivolous nature of their new leader and his style of operation; grudgingly granting the fact that business had begun to love technology and investments had gone up, these were anyway expected. For them success was despite the CIOs interventions and not because of what he did. The majority disagreed though had stray thoughts on what is indeed the role of the CIO and the complexity of the job which seemed to change dramatically with the new person. He appeared to have so much of free time!

I recently met with one of the seven who had taken on the role of the CIO stepping into the shoes of his highly successful boss. He was one of the persons close to the earlier CIO though not critical of the new one; he acknowledged the complexity of the role and the balancing act that it demanded from internal stakeholders expectations, team dynamics and its management, vendor ecosystem that needed periodic attention and finally the orchestration of all the components to keep everyone together aligned to the vision of the company’s future.

Few months into the role, he was struggling with the balance tilting frequently, the bar raised high; he was enjoying the challenge. He had finally found the answer to the question, what is the role of the CIO!

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