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


November 10, 2014  8:34 AM

Does BI require business to be intelligent?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Business Intelligence, Change management

“This is awesome, I love it! Let’s make this live next week; and don’t tell me that it cannot be done in that timeframe! After that we will work upon models for the other parts of the business and zap them with data that they have never seen before.” So said the CXO who had just been given a demonstration of the Proof of Concept that the vendor and the IT team had developed to highlight the capabilities of the tool. The Business Intelligence lead tried to get in a few words sideways and was brushed aside brusquely with a wave of the hand.

The company had history of failed projects and challenged BI implementations with business users running berserk. A new CIO had brought some semblance of order to the chaos with an IT governance framework. With some fresh talent as the journey progressed, the information needs started getting addressed which in turn raised the expectations bar. Earlier attempts at BI had faced multiple challenges which resulted in their being shelved. The new resources the CIO brought in had a pedigree of success and the result was visible.

In the initial stages of education the primary requirements revolved around reporting; can fragmented systems deliver consolidated reports from the data warehouse? Any amount of persuasion would not deter them from their resolve for reports; so the first set of milestones did reports that did not require large investments in tools or great amount of intelligence. Some of the newer business users who had experienced a different reality in the world outside craved for dashboards and analytics. They were heard but not prioritized by the powers that be.

Seeing an opportunity the BI Subject Matter Expert worked with the business members to define the landscape and put in the extra effort post work hours to build the cubes and models. He sought new tools which were granted and with renewed vigor he created working prototypes that excited him and the business users who helped him. Tentatively they approached the self-professed technophile CXO who they felt would be excited with the new way of looking at information. They were however not prepared for the reception they received!

The CXO in his inimitable way was seen as the person who exuded overdoses of confidence and threw technology jargon liberally in every meeting. Know it all, been there done that was what he wanted everyone to believe; for the knowledgeable it was massacre with unrelated keywords interspersed with unverifiable anecdotes and visions of peaks achieved in the past. He was closed to ideas from others, derogatorily critiquing the world at large for not believing in him. The team feared his acidic behavior and kept away to whatever extent they could.

Recovering from the ridiculous, the BI SME stood firm that Proof of Concepts are exactly that and they cannot be deployed or scaled. He explained that for analytics to work effectively, he needed to build the model, test all data sources for efficacy, check for exception conditions and stress test for load. Almost all – barring the sycophants and the ignorant – agreed with him silently, putting the CXO in a spot. Taken aback not used to being challenged, he directed one of the minnows to ensure that his wish and command be done and huffed away.

Put in a spot the team member frantically looked around for a solution to his predicament. Gathering information from multiple sources to create a strong argument, she was able to enroll the business champions into her cause; they too wanted the new BI solution. It took some time and effort by the business champions to educate the CXO who reluctantly agreed to let go of his tantrum. Back on track the team worked together to build the solution which promised to open up new possibilities for the business.

The generally accepted new belief is that business knows what they want; the level of awareness and understanding has improved. Decisions are now information and data driven; BI solutions deliver this and more. Change management is a critical success factor towards adoption and the journey on the evolution curve. The data deluge and associated tools to manage them has created new challenges and opportunities; the ability of enterprises to leverage these will be determined by their maturity towards analytics.

The BI solution was a great success; everyone loved it. The CXO was last seen ranting about why the team did not use big data!

October 26, 2014  10:00 AM

Tale of 3 CIOs, people join companies, people leave their bosses

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
IT politics, Leadership

X had just completed 4 years in his role and grown to take on additional business responsibility. He had built a team which worked across business units and corporate IT on the forefront of some of the new technological innovations. Accolades came from peers and industry acknowledging his ability to take risks and succeed. Life appeared to be going well for him and he was enjoying his professional life. After a few quiet months or was it quarters, he was suddenly looking for a change with agitation that was alien to his happy go lucky nature.

Having spent almost a decade in the company, Y had seen career growth that would be the envy of many; his profile encompassed local and global responsibility. Staying with one industry through his career made him a specialist of sorts and he became a star. His efforts outside of work also made him quite popular in his chosen field. His company had maintained leadership in a competitive industry locally and globally carving a niche with their products. Out of the blue one fine day he called seeking greener pastures.

He was a jolly good fellow and so said all of us ! The life of any gathering, ready with a joke (sometimes too quick), Z had steadily risen through the ranks with some help from his Mentor. Through the 5 years in his company, he had strengthened the foundation and completed seemingly impossibly difficult projects that his predecessors could not. Promoted every alternate year, he had taken new challenges as they came and successfully dealt with them. Over a drink he broke down seeking to leave the company that launched him.

The 3 incidents above spanning 3 different companies and 3 different industries had the 3 CIOs reaching out to me within a span of few months. Maybe it was coincidence, but it was almost as if there was concerted action against my former team mates. All of them had high levels of anxiety and all of them wanted to get out as quickly as possible. Their stories were quite different and then they had many common elements too. They were victims of the same malaise which appeared to be more widespread than reported.

Take the first case, the company management reins passed from founder to the next generation. X found joy working with him as his new manager with an Ivy League pedigree used technology as a native. He drove the company fast and furious, recklessly at times as seen by the old school, he wanted to get somewhere in a hurry. X attempted to run with him and soon found himself at the receiving end frequently irrespective of root cause. He soon realized his non Ivy League or named Institute stature made him an outcast in the inner circle.

Y had done well through the years growing from mid-level to heading the function eventually. His sharp and quick eye for detail made him a popular choice to be included in any team struggling with a tricky problem. The company saw CEOs change thrice over his tenure; all of them nudged him to greater heights. Law of averages caught up with him; the latest CEO hired across layers from his previous company sidelining most old-timers. Y used the last resort calling global compliance which saved his position but killed his career.

Z had a new manager who was task oriented; the resultant change in workload gave Z a high. He rose to every occasion and delivered to promise. Some of the initiatives were industry firsts giving the company a competitive talking point. He was outspoken which was not a negative, his quick wit and mannerism portrayed him of lesser maturity. His work was commended but his manager thought he needed to grow up. Thus despite the success a search for a senior leader above him was launched forcing him to introspect and seek options outside.

Success is no longer a guarantee for continuity; political hues and cronyism seem to be the new mantras required in large doses. Managers are looking for comfort within their teams in new environments thereby throwing enterprise culture and values out of the window. In the quest to succeed, tolerance to such behavior is accepted as part of the game. Collateral damage with some exits does not appear to perturb owners and Boards. By the time the realization hits the company, the damage is already done which takes a long time to recover.


October 19, 2014  7:52 PM

Lunch time networking causes indigestion

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
CIO, IT expectations

The new email is a retrograde step and not an upgrade; life was so good with the older system. What is happening with our IT? The world is moving ahead and we are going backwards. How do you expect us to be effective when we cannot even communicate with our customers? I don’t know what to do, probably this year again thanks to IT we will have some unhappy customers!

I had approved the investment almost 2 months back and you are telling me that we still have not placed orders? How do you expect us to work? What is the problem? As the Business Head when I have given the go ahead who can challenge the decision? Why are you trying to save a few thousand dollars? Do you know that the loss to business due to this delay is in hundreds of thousands?

These are a sampling of lunch time ranting as described by CIO friends. One of them was a good guy, dedicated, focused, always ready to please; his team imbibed the same ethos and worked hard, always available to the business. He was successful in a typical way with conscious budgets and a fair set of initiatives that kept the engine humming. Inorganic growth and lateral expansion caught him capacity constrained which was beginning to hurt. He did not like the lunch time discussions anymore which ended up embarrassing him most of the time.

A long time back one of my managers gave me an interesting insight; we all typically have our office lunch with our teams. If you look around in the lunch room you will see a finance table, legal table, an IT group, and so on. These groups get together automatically and enjoy shop talk and extended work discussions over the rice, curry and bread. In open organizations there is a reserved table for the Managers where you will find the CXOs quietly having a meal with small talk. Most employees stay away from this table and likewise the CXOs.

My manager who became and stayed a friend believed that the world should not be polarized this way. He too ate at the staff canteen whatever food was served and consciously sought new groups every day to share a meal with. Likewise he expected all of us at C-level to break our comfort zones and network with staff across levels and functions. The discussions though initially polite became a tool to measure the pulse of the company. Employees warmed up to the idea and based on their ease opened up with some of us.

Observing this through the years I realized that the behavior is universal; birds of feather flock together. People gravitate into groups with familiar faces and shun the relatively unknown; if they find no seat within their groups they rather sit alone and not with another group; they did what they did, it was automatic. I saw similar behavior in social gatherings, networking dinners and wherever people got together. Off course there are exceptions who love to meet new people and merge into any group easily.

Practicing what I learned whenever possible, the initially forced experience soon made me welcome into any group. No walls went up or conversations died when I joined a group for lunch. The connect with people created empathy that I could use in various discussions around problems and opportunities as well as driving change which came along with the interventions IT created. We connected beyond work related transactions and built many friends who light up when we meet even in a casual encounter on the streets or a mall.

One of the answers would be that it is all about anticipating requirements, partnering the business and being proactive in your discussions. If you are a good CIO who is aligned to the business, blah, blah … lunches can be fun. Your customers’ perceptions are your reality; any change takes a lot of effort and consistency. Another view is that some people will never be satisfied whatever you do; so don’t get impacted by all these ramblings, manage them separately and keep going. Go and sit on another table rather than get indigestion.


October 13, 2014  7:37 AM

Corporate ADHD and time management

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Time Management

Once upon a time there was a disruptive technology that took the corporate world by storm. Every executive aspired to own it and badgered their respective managers and IT to provide it across the ranks. The investment was quite high and thus it was rationed off down the hierarchy incrementally. The haves strutted it proudly and for the wannabes it was a classic case of owners envy, neighbors pride. It took a while to become a commodity and then the paradigm changed again. I am referring to mail on the mobile that every executive wanted.

It was fashionable to have a message footer which indicated which device you used to send a message especially if it was not a PC or laptop. Notifications and alerts from these devices ensured that you knew 24X7 whenever a message arrived. Initially due to enthusiasm and then by habit replies were almost instant. Whether in meeting, at a social event, getting the nightly beauty sleep, or traveling including driving, there was an intrinsic urge to respond. The resultant impact to mind and body created rifts in relations, disease forms and cures.

Multitude of newer devices and smartphones eliminated the divide between the privileged and the bourgeois. Consumerization of IT created newer possibilities which the CIOs struggled with; added to this social media addiction completed the digitization of the populace. Armed with multiple devices to separate personal from corporate, the demands on the individual from peers, friends, acquaintances, and the illuminati made everyone a slave in the connected world with pings and vibrations of all kinds vying for attention.

We want to achieve more in lesser time and thus multi-task in a hope that within the same time more will get done. Thus people flit from moment to moment with their attention darting from one thought to another; the flurry of activity divided between competing tasks and priorities. Interruptions now enter less in physical form and more on multiple connected devices attached or surrounding us. The result is that everything ends up taking longer and little gets done which pushes us to do more of the same entrenching us deeper into the quicksand of inefficiency.

Empirical data from numerous studies has proven that attention span stands reduced by 3X over the last few decades and continues its downward spiral. We don’t have time is the pet peeve of busy corporate executives buried under the mountain of unfulfilled tasks and missed deadlines. Numerous apps, email alerts, and push notifications keep us bound to the devices and habitually pressurizes us to take notice and demands action. Unable to comprehend the nemesis they struggle to stay afloat with no evident way out.

Everyone is working harder in their quest to get much done; longer hours has become the norm. Work life balance anyone? Shun the thought and take some work home; get it done while you travel and the rest when you get there. There are no options for the individual; enterprises now have choices from the downsized, unwanted and freelancers; there is always someone who will do it cheaper, faster, probably in the neighborhood or oceans apart. Technology also makes it possible to automate many processes and eliminate the inefficient.

Effectiveness of meetings dwindle and urgency overrides the important with perceived time value of information becoming a key measure even when it influences no change in outcomes. Time is getting filled with activity leaving no discretionary activity possible. People attending “Time Management” seminars find that it sets them back with the time spent. The urgent has overtaken our lives and the important is neglected.

A generation of digital slaves emerges from the shadows; they walk with bowed heads with their hands at diaphragm level holding their (master) devices, attentive eyes glued to glowing screens beckoning them to the inane and unimportant. Some devices strapped to different body parts communicate with other things which in turn influences the slave’s behavior. The promise of a better future keeps the addicts hopeful and asking for more. It is scary that we are beginning to forget what life used to be and what it can be.


October 6, 2014  7:23 AM

Chief interrupted officer

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Chief Interrupted Office, Leadership

Times are getting better for most CIOs with economy looking up, growth back on the agenda, business wanting to create a digital enterprise, the hype around various technologies like Cloud, Social Media and what have you dying away. CMOs and CIOs have figured out a way to work together while CFOs have set the governance on budget management and are not obsessed with Return on Investment as the only measure. IT budgets are beginning to show signs of revival and so are expectations on the new projects and possibilities.

Some mature companies used the lean period to reinvent themselves and re-engineer processes; they invested in refresh of not just the servers and other hardware which could be had for a steal with piled up inventories with vendors, they also used the spare capacity with people to upgrade their ERPs and build new systems. Many CIOs were busier in the last few years than they had been when business was booming. They also started seeing attrition in the team with the job market opening up which added to the challenge.

Good times bring a lot of events, seminars, offsite meetings, and invitations to all kinds of gatherings which have great headlines to attract all and sundry. One of the CIOs whose spouse was traveling mentioned that she hadn’t cooked for a week by just accepting these. Except that they rarely offer any major learning or insight; after a while even the networking turns stale with the same people ending up in every event. It is another matter that the structure of events has remained the same over the years defying logic and evolution.

I was thus surprised to hear about a CIO who never attended any events or seminars or exotic trips that are organized by the friendly vendors. No one had ever seen her in any of the events despite the long years she had put in into the industry. She never responded to any phone calls, messages or emails or any attempts to reach her. It did not matter who was inviting her, Chairman, CEO, Account Manager, she remained a hermit. Her reclusive ways created many stories and not all of them were flattering or positive.

Her team did not know how to react to such a situation; they wanted to network and socialize and get exposure to what was happening in the world outside. They were reluctant to ask as they never saw their Boss ever accept any or go to such gatherings; her demeanor did not invite anyone to venture to ask. New team members who came from different environments found this quite unusual. A few who were bold enough to participate on their own enjoyed the benefits; their rationale, it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

So when I met with one of her brave team members I thought I would attempt to unravel the mystery. I was perplexed by what I heard. Her calendar was double booked many times with internal meetings; she was always flitting between meetings without spending enough time to get to the bottom of the issue or to understand the impact or action items. She almost always turned up late for the appointment and would be out of the room no sooner the meeting started with a phone call interrupting her transient presence within the first five minutes.

She spent a lot of time on the phone, but then she never took calls from the vendors and most people internally found her phone busy. Few who had spent long years with her knew it was not her partner. The interruptions had become part of her persona that people no longer saw that as abnormal behavior. Within her company they had gotten used to meetings without her even when she accepted them. Someone dared ask her about the calls; if looks could kill, the poor inquisitive lady would have died on the spot.

Everyone speculated about her leadership, effectiveness, longevity and survival; difficult to comprehend unless your family owns the business or there was a relationship of another kind (neither was the case). Her team was at the receiving end of rebukes while she remained immune to the environment. Her team was adequately effective and the business had limited expectations from her. Working at her lowest level of inefficiency she had rarely been challenged for innovation or transformational leadership.

I wonder what would happen to her should she join another company?


September 29, 2014  6:50 AM

Survival of the paranoid

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
BYOD, Internet of Things, Security

She received an alert from credit card Company of a debit of $50 from the neighborhood grocery store. She panicked and then remembered that it was probably the refrigerator ordering replenishments (My refrigerator has gone shopping). She was however worried about what did it end up ordering. Having finished the orange juice from the last purchase and not wanting anymore, nor the horrible cake that came as an offer last time (She was anyway trying to lose weight). She then received the e-bill on mail and was shocked to see sausages and beef steak! These did not exist in the master list and decided to visit the store on the way back to find out what had gone wrong.

Recently I was at a cybersecurity conference in the country which boasts of the maximum number of IT security startups and companies. They continue to redefine information and cyber security in ways that most of us would find hard to imagine. The new and old are not focusing just to make better antivirus or firewalls or mobile device management solutions; their R&D has transcended conventional boundaries. With Internet of (Every)Things and all kinds of devices communicating with again all kind of devices, the channels need to be secured.

The use cases discussed sounded straight out of science fiction or futuristic movies except that all were stark reality which we are rarely exposed to. The innocuous IP audio-conferencing phone in the meeting room as a listening device or the video conferencing equipment transmitting images or streaming live unknown to everyone. Directional antenna sniffing the airwaves and breaking wireless networks or RFID tags or readers in a manufacturing facility misbehaving and making a mess of the inventory and production plan.

At our homes the number of connected devices is increasing; for me it started with my streaming media box, then the television followed by the gaming console which was fighting with multiple tablet and laptop computers. My new car wants to send messages to the service station when it felt sick and my GPS has a mind of its own routing me through lesser known roads in a quest to get me to my destination faster and screwing up. When I have not finished my daily dose of walking my fitness ban posts on social media embarrassing me.

It is not a stretch of imagination to believe that these devices can be infected with malicious code which may change behavior or purpose. Individuals unknowingly changing their daily pattern or nudged in an alternate direction by compromised devices can impact their professional actions and outcomes. Why do you need to break into a trading system, break the trader, it’s easier! Shutting down an electrical grid is big effort, shut down people or change them; use sensors to hack into the system. I was stunned by the possibilities.

In the future with every device connected and transmitting or receiving information, intelligence is corruptible and creates new scenarios of what can go wrong. Recent demonstrations though not malicious in intent of some highly computerized cars being hijacked predict an unstable future. The ability to patch or secure the large number of devices (estimated at 20 billion plus), company provided or individual owned BYOD enabled will be a veritable nightmare for the enterprise security managers and CIOs.

Enterprises are pushing to create new opportunities that become possible with IoT; some of these maybe seeded with hare brained ideas though I believe many will survive and become the next big thing of tomorrow. I believe that everyone needs to be cognizant of the fact that IoT is here to stay; how we leverage it within our ecosystem will give a differentiated advantage that success stories are made of. Every new hyped technology falls through the trough of disillusionment before becoming mainstream. Stay invested.

She reached the store and challenged them demanding a refund and the fact that they had goofed up majorly. In return they showed her the order which did contain specific brand of sausages and steak. She called the refrigerator company who informed her that the last software upgrade had added social media features and her refrigerator had accepted a request from the specified company to receive promotions. The conversion of the promotion to order was probably a bug which they will investigate and patch the firmware.

I wonder if a virus were to infect the refrigerator, what would it do?


September 22, 2014  7:27 AM

I’ve lost my mind

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
BYOD, Internet of Things

“We are sorry sir, we are unable to accept your order; thank you for calling your favorite dining place.” I am sure you have also received or read some of the messages floating around on social media where the protagonist is unable to order his favorite pizza or pasta or whatever dish you may want to imagine. He is repeatedly denied his request to quench his craving with inferences about his cholesterol or past illness or health insurance coverage; you can imagine the rest as it would probably pan out for the majority of us.

The situation is not too far in the future! In an interconnected world, combination of personal, medical, social, financial and professional data creates new possibilities of analytical correlations that can be used or misused depending on how you look at the situation. Connected netizens fill in void hours in their lives on multiple devices through the day with status updates, browsing for information or clarifications on something that they are unable to comprehend. They leave behind a trail that can be picked up.

We already see this happening with targeted advertisements across various sites depending on our browsing behavior. Would you turn off cookies or stop accessing popular search engines from your mobile? What about all the apps on the smartphone? Some nifty utilities that make life so much easier; finding great restaurants, booking tables, looking up flight schedule or delay. Can these apps pry at other data on your smartphones or the remnants of bread crumbs and widgets start snooping around your laptop or tablet?

I get this weird feeling when advertisements remind me of my visits to some websites like someone has been looking over my shoulder spying on me all along in my public and private moments. So I decided to confuse the intruders by randomly checking for exotic locations which I would never visit or check out merchandise that most sane people would shudder to buy. The trail it created led the crawlies on a red herring trail. I felt elated as if I had won a major war by thwarting the evil shenanigans in their quest to hound me.

Our dependence on technology is slowly and steadily shifting our thought patterns and the way we think. Intuitively we reach out to query a term or gather additional information adding to the vast amount of data we assimilate. We also seek help for simple and complex problems or situations rarely exerting our thinking prowess. I am not sure if this is good or bad, healthy or not, this has become a way of life. The extreme dependence of the newer generation also known as Digital Natives on technology is exciting and scary.

CIOs have struggled with BYOD getting entrenched across their enterprises and made half-hearted attempts to rope in the rogues with Mobile Device Management and other tools. But that is only part of the story; our incessant need to be online across all our devices adds to the trail we leave behind. Most of the providers have become our shadow with embedded trackers hiding their intent in fine print over 30 pages of agreements which no one reads and clicks “I Agree.” And guess what? In most cases we don’t really care.

Every day we are flooded with huge amounts of quotes, stories, posts, pictures, videos sent to us by people we know. No one knows the origin or validity of the content we receive. Are we at the cusp of incremental revolution nudged by technology that is controlled by few who are playing with our decisions? Are our cognitive behaviors are being shaped by some manipulative story teller who is pulling at our heartstrings in ways unknown to us? Are we really in control of our actions and destiny anymore?

The digitization of the world is an eventuality that cannot be wished away. It is gaining momentum every day and encompassing every aspect of our lives slowly and steadily. We are given choices on how we would like to engage with technology but peer pressure breaks down resistance quickly. I wonder if I have a mind of my own as I keep going back to technology to assist me with every step I take. As a kid I read the Orwellian tale about Big Brother watching me; I think the future has arrived stealthily without telling us!


September 15, 2014  7:11 AM

My refrigerator has gone shopping

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Big Data, Internet of Things

I was at this conference where one of the streams focused on Internet of Things or as some speakers preferred to call it Internet of Everything. Every speaker had statistics on the number of “things” that will connect to the Internet and communicate with other devices or the Cloud; the number range varied from 25-50 billion depending on who you would like to believe. The “things” with intelligence could be for specific tasks or multi-faceted to do a range of activities like personal health monitoring, cooking, cleaning, etc.

Every speaker without exception talked about smart refrigerators which will connect to the nearby or your favorite grocery store and proactively order provisions you consume and debit your credit card/bank. One of the speakers dramatized the situation with driverless cars going to the store getting filled by a human. The collective hypothesis was that this is no longer science fiction but reality as it will pan out by 2020, the year by which the number of 25-50 billion devices would be reached; cars, fitness bands, microwaves, light bulbs, interesting thoughts!

As I thought about it I wondered about the situations in my life. For one I like variety in my food and cannot imagine eating the same stuff every day or week. Probably the refrigerator can be taught to have variety. I also don’t want stuff ordered when I plan to eat out go on vacation or call friends over for a dinner; maybe calendar integration will solve the problem to some extent. I hope that leftovers management, use of partially used open packs and managing short expiry products is part of the functionality.

Let us assume that the refrigerator is intelligent enough to not order one item at a time and creates a list of item taking care of minimum order quantity or bill value to avoid unnecessary shipping charges. What happens when the store does not have the items or in the pack size that I prefer? Will the store substitute another item ? What if I don’t like to substitute? The store supply chain is probably connected to suppliers’ warehouse system which through predictive analytics understands demand forecasts generated by connected refrigerators.

I am a shopaholic and love to spend time in the stores. My young daughter who grew up traveling in the shopping carts still wants to go back occasionally to now push the cart that was her vehicle. In most of these trips we end up buying a lot more than what we had planned. The visual merchandising appeals to the senses and impulsive buys are triggered by material and inane offers that scream at you while you walk the aisles. So what about cross-sell and upsell that is the hallmark of a good store which entices you to fill up?

If the above were to translate to reality all the high street and neighborhood stores would struggle to survive and probably turn themselves into warehouse type stores which don’t need a storefront. It would significantly change the way we shop and ruminate over products on the shelves where we can compare not just the price but other attributes. Packaging could be dumbed down to basic, no need for creative colored eye catching wrappers. How will marketers of new products reach out to me on TV or print when I rarely walk the lanes in a store?

Maybe big data analytics would churn offers to me on the screen of my choice from which I could put it into the refrigerator’s shopping list. I hope that the cold creature (refrigerator) will know its capacity to order only as much as it can store adjusted to my variable consumption pattern. I wonder if my Robot can take out the right quantity of ingredients and cook a meal that I browse and drop it into the task list for the mechanical cook and keep it hot for me when I arrive home. Maybe I am getting a bit ambitious now in my expectations.

The one thing I could not fathom through all the presentations; the bright and intelligent refrigerator knows what to order; the store knows who the order comes from, the car knows where to go to pick up the groceries and brings them back home. I stay on the fourth level of an apartment complex. How do the packages get to my apartment and inside of the refrigerator? Now don’t tell me that the Robot will do the job, as it would end up compromising the security of the house! Even a dumb crook will see the pattern and break the system.

I hope you can fill in the missing link for me.


September 8, 2014  7:18 AM

Value destruction

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Metrics, ROI

For every organization that invests in IT there is an expectation that IT will contribute to one of the outcomes from topline or bottom line improvement, customer or employee satisfaction which in turn impacts profits or revenue, operational efficiency or regulatory compliance or a new capability that creates a differentiation in the competitive market. After all if none of these will be impacted then why invest? Many times there are IT investments labelled “strategic” normally endorsed by named consultants specializing in business transformation or strategy, or the Board.

The company hired one of the premier consulting firms to help them with an IT strategy that would align to their growth objectives. They did not have success retaining talent at the top and had a string of CIOs who took up the challenge and left within 2-3 years unable to create sustainable change. Every CIO to his/her credit tried to approach change in a holistic way and when they realized that the inertia from people was strong, processes rigid and everything required measurement, they were unable to sustain the rigor.

The company had always measured every investment using financial metrics and did not believe that IT should be any different. The owners and management acceded to all new technology solutions and investments but many times changed CIO decisions to select the most cost effective solution which offered the highest ROI. Lumped with at times unaligned solutions or vendors who had been squeezed so badly that they ended up cutting corners, the CIOs had not been able to recoup the situation to create visible success.

After quick succession of CIOs they determined that consultants would be able to help them solve the enigma of unsuccessful IT driven projects. After all they had been diligent in their choices, the loyal CFO had worked hard to create models for measurement of success. Their prudent financial decisions had paid off in many functions which is why they wondered why it is not working in IT. The consultants conducted their diagnostics rummaging through history, talking to business, some of the old timers and the IT staff on the journey.

Their report was presented after a few months; there was a lot of anticipation especially within the IT team who saw a ray of hope in the study. The management had a heated discussion with the consultant refusing to believe what was presented. They debated and defended their past actions and labelled the report biased and the consultant ineffective. They still needed a silver bullet and thus decided to hire another competing consulting firm to repeat the exercise. The consulting firm agreed; they were the best and the most expensive.

One of the beliefs that I have inculcated with my teams and others who I have had the opportunity to work with and mentor, is that everything can be measured. Maybe not always using the conventional measurement criteria of Return on Investment or Return on Capital Employed. There is also a category called soft benefits or non-quantifiable returns which has fuzzy terms like better awareness or connect to people with no defined baseline or clear benchmark against which it can be compared. Even these could have been measured with proper definitions.

D-day arrived and the senior partner from the firm was solemnly ready to present the report. They had also reviewed their competitors report. They had insisted that the entire management team be present. There was suspense in the room and a hush as the presentation began. Through the hour everyone listened with rapt attention as their story unfolded in front of their eyes. When the senior partner completed with an air of authority, there were no questions; the data and evidence presented with benchmarks did not require any clarifications.

The company suffered from wanting to get everything at rock bottom prices; for them L1 pricing was the only way to do business. That is how ROI was always best! The CFO being in a position that he was everyone was terrified to do it any other way. In the quest for value they took irrational decisions and displayed the fabled “penny wise and pound foolish” behavior. No one dared point this out and the realization came ironically from the most expensive no nonsense consultants. A lesson learned the eminently avoidable hard way.

Value can be created even from high cost investments while value can be destroyed even when you pay less. Value is a perception of price paid and has nothing to do with the price.


September 1, 2014  8:58 AM

The learning crisis

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta
Education, learning

I was introduced to the world of books by my father and nurtured by my English teacher, both kept me supplied with enough books big and small, modern and classics. Drowning in their fictional world, late night sojourns with super heroes and supernatural beings completed my days. Growing up surrounded by virtual friends, as I started working they transformed into management and self-help books in the quest to stay ahead in the rat race. Books were interspersed with other trade publications and in recent times by electronic newsletters.

At the turn of the century and thereafter there has been overabundance of management books on colored oceans, climbing mountains, being different and creating strategic differentiators; I remember meeting many luminary authors in conferences which had a mandatory fixture with one such thought leader. As a young professional I enjoyed these interactions and managed to get autographed versions of their publications. Reading voraciously my collection of knowledge started outgrowing the space in my office.

The story tellers and theorists with their postulations evoked interest in some; rest found good slumber value in the books distributed in the conference. Having read some of their books before meeting them I had a few questions; at times to validate my assumptions and many times to clarify a point or two. There were also occasions where my frame of reference did not agree with the writings resulting in good discussions over drinks. Those with good oratory skills enthralled us, for the rest their message was lost in articulation.

Everyone loves to go on company offsite meetings and sponsored conferences, especially to exotic locations with no agenda, devoid of presentations they have to attend or make. Most people love the fun elements, skits, karaoke, and when alcohol is involved. As a good manager, I too indulged my teams which required everyone to attend with only medical emergencies being accepted and excused. There was always excitement about the event and the agenda; there was also trepidation in equal measure with majority of the team members.

Talking to friends and peers I realized that my situation was unique and none of the others had found such behavior. We compared notes, went through respective agendas and offsites structures; there was no evident difference in what they did to what I did. We discussed locations, team profiles, traveling arrangements, accommodation, and day end activities; there was no material difference that could have pointed to my teams’ variant behavior. I sensed it was not the obvious so I popped the question to my team.

I did not know how to react to the revelation, to me it was unimaginable, but it was their reality. They loved everything that we did starting with preparation, planning, fun and games, what have you; the part they hated is when prior to the offsite a book was given to every team member to read which would be the theme of the outing. They were okay with the books being given post the offsite as giveaways as most of them did not read them, but when they were expected to read before the journey, it gave them sleepless nights.

I discovered that even my CIO friends wondered why I insisted that my team spend precious time in reading these “management” books. Do they serve a purpose beyond the hours being occupied? How does it help understand new technology trends or implement the next system? As it is, there is paucity of time, where do we fit it in our priorities and urgencies which keep everyone busy? Their ignorance was appalling and comparable to kids in my team. I also realized that the few who loved books stood out in their ability to engage their enterprises.

With information overload and explosion of news, views and innovative ideas, unfortunately many professionals have deprioritized reading as an investment over other pursuits. The resultant learning crisis is scary to say the least creating educated but ignorant people whose ability to connect across paradigms is challenged. The electronic media pushes information at our faces, we need to embrace it to survive. If you did not change with online retailing of books and then their electronic versions, it is time now before you are made irrelevant in the new digital world.


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