With unnerving certainty as the year comes towards its end, everyone puts on their futurist hats and make profound pronouncements on what will happen. These predictions span an extremely wide range of topics which they run through; some are brave enough to review what they said at the end of every year to set a score for themselves which gives them bragging rights in social events or with the press. Every year people are also expected to also create New Year resolutions on how they want to change their lives.
The technology industry has its share of predictions from all kinds of industry bodies, research entities, observers, leaders, optimists and pessimists. Some of them are based on data while others are either based on experience or pulled out of thin air; the probability of getting it right is even. Trends on future technologies are always fraught with danger but catch the maximum attention and are thus popular. The rest and sundry are then divided into camps that prophesize about the rise or waning of the role of the CIO.
I will not delve into tech trends or predictions, they are kind of getting monotonous with many repeating over the years. Having been in the most criticized role of the industry – yes I am referring to the role of the CIO – for more than two decades, I love to read the forecasts about the future of the CIO! It gave me immense pleasure to debate these and provide an alternate view of a practitioner especially to ones that gave negative connotations or implied diminishing importance or in the worst case the demise of the role!
The last few years predicted subservience to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) who were expected to take away significant chunks of the IT budget. The news spread like wildfire and had expert opinions and advice for the imminently vanishing tribe of the CIO. This is not foreign to the CIO who has been told in no uncertain terms for almost the last decade starting with IT not mattering, to every technology trend like Cloud Computing or Big Data & Analytics reducing the role to one of BAU or plain execution.
Almost all the CIOs read, discussed and then discarded the doomsday predictions and moved on with life. The moot point here is that I refer to peers, friends, acquaintances and professionals who are indeed CIOs in the true sense with a balance of business, technology and leadership skills, and not grown up or immature IT Managers masquerading as CIOs. Maybe in some distant part of the world the occurrence of such a phenomena threatened the immature or wannabe CIO; I know with reasonable certainty that globally there was no impact!
This year too I am certain that there will be perceived or real threats to the CIO; finding the needle in the Big Data haystack, or rain disrupting the hybrid cloud, or maybe outsourcing gone awry; I don’t know, my imagination isn’t able to postulate a probable yet unimaginable situation that will shake the foundation on which the CIO has built his/her career. There will be a big brouhaha with tons of advice by well-wishers on what to do and how to create a survival strategy; to the chagrin of few and surprise of many, this will pass.
CIOs on the other hand will be asked to create resolutions to stay aligned to business, get off their seats and spend time in the trenches, save the planet by adopting the cloud, buy the next best processor or flash disk which will transform the business, and follow the next buzzword, device or technology that will change the way the world functions. CIOs will be admonished and threatened by consultants, vendors, academicians, Tom, Dick … to pay attention to their verbalization to survive and stay relevant for the future.
I believe that this is the best time to be a CIO; technology has become pervasive, understanding of impact universal, democratization of information a gaining trend, and the economy finally looking up. The CIO will have to really do something dramatically stupid or put his/her head under the ground refusing to take any risk or decisions to fail disastrously. So go ahead and shun the convention, be yourself and take on the world; you don’t have to prove it to the world, only to yourself that you are a worthy CIO!
Last year I tried something different; took my predictions of a decade back and analyzed them. What I found?
Case 1: It was a global RFP for a solution that had almost every solution provider pitching for the business. It was a large opportunity with the customer being one of the leaders by size in the industry. Everyone wanted to bid and put their best foot forward with local and global resources leaving no stone unturned. The business teams were excited too, to traverse the path they had not imagined possible. Evaluations progressed over almost 6 months until a couple were left to choose from. The shortlist was setup for negotiations aligned to financial period endings.
Case 2: The Company always followed best practices especially for their backend infrastructure and data center. Every 3 years they refreshed the hardware even if it had some juice remaining, thus staying with innovation; they procured all the equipment on operating lease which was good in a way. In the current landscape they were spoiled for choices with Public, Private, Hosted, Hybrid Clouds as well as engineered systems which promised leading edge technology. Spread over 9 months the evaluation led to shortlist that was a relief to everyone involved.
Case 3: Audits had demonstrated inherent weakness in the systems and the business was growing faster than the market. The management was being challenged to invest in better technology solutions which the rest of the industry had adopted many years back. Reluctantly they agreed and invited leading Management Consultants to review the landscape and recommend the best way forward. Many months and a fat bill later they had the answer they knew; the solution provider along with partners wooed the customer with enticement that was difficult to refuse.
All the cases above represent companies that are deemed successful by the external world on all the KPIs (primarily financial) that are used to define success in this world: CAGR, ROCE, ROE, market share, EBITDA, or market capitalization. They all had invested in IT building a foundation that sustained their business; they all had faltered through the journey and now become slow followers or laggards in the fast paced digitally disruptive world. The CIOs were operationally effective yet ineffective in the business partnership.
The need was neither lesser nor the urgency; participation from all quarters was enthusiastic with clear benefit from the investments. The companies were doing well with whatever they had, acknowledging the fact that competition had an edge with some of their new IT investments. Loads of clarifications, comparisons, and references later, they had everything required to take a decision. Thus armed with data the teams presented their conclusions to their respective management teams anxious to close the deal and start reaping the benefits.
At the opportune time, the case was presented to the senior management. As is with most management teams they want to add value to whatever they see irrespective of the domain, subject or context. The collective wisdom could not prevent their desire to help the team take the best decision; so they complimented the team and asked them for related and irrelevant data points and moved on to the next agenda item. Uneasy at the new request the team promised to get the desired information quickly to force a decision.
Weeks and months passed in the quest for the anticipated and unanticipated information needs of the senior management. Getting on their agenda again took some effort and lobbying; the team presented in all completeness the requested information and then some more. The CFO put a new twist to the story challenging the foundation on which the evaluation was conducted. A sense of despair floated in the room, the team unable to effectively protest the direction into which they were being hurtled. The situation appeared to be a losing one!
Analysis paralysis driven by the need to value add is not a random occurrence; it’s a tactical move honed by practice to avoid or delay a decision. When in doubt, ask for more information; when you don’t understand something, create a lateral stream; when you don’t want to say no directly, expand the scope or change the business assumptions. The list is endless, result the same, no decision. It is not procrastination, it is a savior for those who like to maintain status quo or are uncomfortable with change. For some it is a way to get even!
No decision is the biggest enemy of progress, are you addressing it? Wait until next year for some answers!
The project had all the trappings of success beyond belief; everyone was of the opinion that this would be the project that will change the way the industry uses IT, at least for this specific use case. The vendor proclaimed success in the global markets with large companies and leaders in the industry. Published case studies were flourished and accepted on face value. The CEO claimed to know a member of the board which added to the halo around the company and derived credibility; and thus the high cost project got off to a ceremonial start.
A team of business users were dedicated to the project along with IT; the vendor CEO himself ran the workshops and requirement gathering. He almost knew the subject and talked the language of the business; any shortfalls were disguised under the barb of the users’ ignorance of global trends. He churned out voluminous and complex documents that did not really say a lot and thus remained under discussion and clarification for a long time. Timelines started slipping as he rebuked the users for lack of participation.
Soon everyone wanted to get busy with other work and not be part of the project that had serious communication challenges. Team members wanted to get off and pleaded to their managers to get back to their previous roles. With withering participation evidence continued to stack up against the business with no sign-offs while payments to the vendor continued as per milestones which according to him were achieved. No one challenged the situation afraid to upset the board member with whom the CEO claimed be chummy.
The board member was involved in the project during inception but had gotten off the team somewhere in the middle of the journey after he saw the flamboyant display of expertise. He believed the project was in safe hands and functionality appeared transformative. By the time the noise filtered through to him it was crisis time. He reviewed the situation and was aghast by what he saw; the project appeared irrecoverable and the blame game pointed fingers everywhere. The vendor threatened to stop work and sue for recovery of dues.
A senior member was appointed to review and assess the situation; his maturity and balance were the strengths which were the hallmark of a seasoned professional. He reviewed past credentials of the vendor, current team members from both sides, process of engagement, documentation, project plan, communication, minutes of meetings, allegations on both sides, and deliverables received thus far. He engaged an independent technology consultant to review the efficacy of technology architecture, and solution delivered thus far.
The vendor’s company really had no past or for that matter employees in any number to talk about. It was almost a one man team and his Secretary who had worked on the projects which he had claimed against his name, though only as an external consultant to another company. Effectively there was no depth in the company that made lofty claims on global case studies. The relationship with the board member was barely an acquaintance; no one had really asked the board member about the level of camaraderie and assumed rather than risk asking.
The documentation was sketchy and inadequate, technology framework in line with generally accepted industry trends, the solutions delivered partially useable specific use cases. Users had not read through the volumes that described the process automation and functionality; their ignorance evident in the remarks and clarifications. Compliance to schedule of meetings and reverts was far from satisfactory thereby leaving gaps which were exploited by the vendor to his advantage. The absence of business leadership in the project was glaring.
The vendor sued for un-cleared dues and the company sued for non-delivery; compromise was ruled out. They decided to go into arbitration lasting over 3 years; in the interim neither could use the limited solutions created. Business continued to use their legacy solution while the vendor CEO had collected many times the value of the deliveries made. The industry continued to evolve with newer solutions whereas the leadership step taken by the company failed to bring any benefit because of lack of due diligence, ownership and perceptions of team members.
Suing each other kept everyone with a bad taste and frustrated experience. With passing time the relevance faded away and it appeared to be a futile exercise. A collective failure that could have been averted easily! When customers sue their vendors or vice versa, what is the cost of a win to either? Time, effort and opportunity loss cannot be easily quantified especially when the industry is evolving at a rapid pace. It is better to break free and move on!
They were deemed a reference customer for the industry and one of the favorites of the big name vendor and solution provider. Over a long period of the relationship they had acquired almost every solution from the same vendor for any business problem. At times the price was quite attractive to turn down the offer, and at times the perceived time taken, complexity of evaluating and then implementing another solution appeared to be too big a task. So the CIO and her team continued to invest with their preferred IT partner.
Life would have continued for them with incremental innovation and harmonious coexistence with their vendor ecosystem had not events overtaken them. The company was caught up in an industry turmoil which required information agility they had never experienced before. Their strategy to stay with one solution provider had given them a basket of solutions for every stated need; the implementations technically successful and were declared live. The business use found them lacking in the new paradigm when efficiency mattered.
Earlier business had continued to use parallel systems and created business critical spreadsheets that became the lifeline for the enterprise. The level of (in) efficiency was deemed acceptable as change required them to actively participate in the definition and building of the solutions. It appeared easier to let the IT organization manage the complexity of IT’s favored solution which ended up becoming a system of records while business users added headcount to solve problems. Now the murmur of disenchantment grew louder.
The CIO was in a fix and wondered why her winning strategy was no longer deemed effective? They had bought from one of the largest providers in the world and the vendor had in many meetings acknowledged the leadership in implementation of some of the solutions. Business had participated in the selection of the solutions in almost all cases and signed off the choice. Now how could they be pointing fingers and distancing themselves? Okay, there were some disagreements on the solutions and partners, but…
The applications lead had grown within the ranks and his first implementation of any major system was from this big solution provider. The success of the first big step gave him sense of invincibility if he continued to bet on the same provider. Guess what, it actually worked for a while and the resultant growing arrogance made him deaf to the occasional issue and limitation. After all not every wish list can be fulfilled by the solutions; why did they not admire the brilliance of simplicity of integration of parts from the same vendor?
The CEO instructed the CIO to benchmark with specific companies to find out how they stacked up in comparison and what they can learn from some of the finest companies. Initially skeptical and full of themselves, the CIO and the team ventured out to explore the world and how others lived. The chosen benchmark had a much awarded CIO who was seen as an early adopter and trend setter. He was always happy to share his success with others and welcomed the team to spend time with him and his IT and business teams.
There were many common solutions deployed between the two companies; they had the same big name vendor as their primary provider and that is where the similarity ended. The CIO had given the freedom of choice to his team to seek solutions beyond the initial investment. In fact he challenged his team to find alternatives just to be sure that they had covered all options before making a choice. They were cautious of the fact that they did not want compromise solutions and were willing to stretch to get the best.
Both companies having started their IT journey had taken different paths at the crossroads; one had gone down the well-trodden path of low risk and reaped the fruits that came along the journey. The other created their own path and enjoyed the journey and the new experiences that it brought. The first was finding her achievements pale in comparison to the risk taker who had the business totally in sync with the decisions, the pains and the success. Two different paths enabling business, two different outcomes, two tales of success.
Which path have you taken and what is your story?
It appeared like a losing battle for the CIO; he was struggling to keep momentum going with new initiatives as well as running the business as usual. Most function heads had begun raising voices in review meetings; the CIO had been unable to find time to attend the last two management meetings trying to solve one crisis while other fires burnt bright. He was running faster than ever before to stay in the same place but was unable to; despite best of intentions and good past performance, the CIO was facing a credibility crisis now.
It was a traditional company with nondescript existence for a long time with unimpressive growth and undifferentiated products. They hired people below market median who worked with them until they retired; you could find employees with impressively long careers in doing the same thing for decades. They had invested in IT along with everyone and like everyone they had stuck to automation basics. Everything worked but never reached a wow! Parallel systems continued thereby rendering the entire framework a passive failure.
Then something explicable happened, no one knows what changed but the company found its mojo after a long time; the business started beating market growth and acquisitions added to the excitement. It brought lot of expectations and the demand on IT suddenly multiplied. New opportunities required new skills and way of working for which the CIO and his team were unprepared. They toiled longer and harder in a quest to meet the demand; they did deliver more than they had done earlier but somehow it did not seem enough.
The CIO had hired based on need and the team was happy to find stability which they valued; they were good in a passive way and executed the orders they were handed. They never had the opportunity nor the need to collaborate or take first steps; the company was satisfied with what they had. Over the past year the CIO attempted to change team behavior and found capability improvement had limitations. Training, coaching and mentoring got acknowledgement of lessons and then they would be back to normal as soon as they went back to their workplace.
Pressure on the CIO and IT team increased manifold creating a cycle of underperformance and frustration on both sides. Adverse impact to process and efficiency due to lack of IT solutions began affecting the business. Not seeing any visible change, Human Resources was confidentially tasked to build a parallel team including finding a new CIO! The news trickled back to within the company after some time leaving the IT team scurrying for survival. Shaken the CIO conferred with the team to explore avenues to bring themselves back into relevance.
Variations of this situation repeats itself in many enterprises where IT teams fail to keep up with changing expectations. As a C-level executive, the CIO is expected to anticipate change and plan for it rather than been told what to do; inability to demonstrate leadership results in change of CIO who pays the price for failing to scale and change with the times. Sometimes the IT team sees forced attrition and collateral casualties which leaves the team either weakened with the exits or strong with infusion of fresh talent.
It is imperative for CIOs and IT teams to anticipate change to stay relevant in the new business; they are expected to be equal partners and work across layers to institutionalize new technology enabled processes. Failing to stay relevant (see Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish) will create situations described above. The problem is a lot more widely prevalent than acknowledged; the real CIOs are able to thrive in this uncertain world, the wannabe CIOs and IT Managers sporting the title give away their lack of maturity and ability.
The CIO rose to the challenge; seeking help from industry peers, he worked with HR to segment the team into groups based on competency and capability. The group low on competency and capability was outplaced with help of IT partners; competent team moved into operations while the capable teams were happy to move into other functions. The last group which had competency and capability scaled into business facing IT roles. Fresh blood inducted into the team strengthened the organization ability to move with the times.
The CIO earned his position onto the Management table where he was welcomed as an equal.
The CIO was doing quite well; he had good credibility within the company as well as outside with peers in the industry. He wasn’t the flamboyant type, neither was he a pushover; he participated in industry discussions and was seen as the strong, silent and effective leader. His company had invested well in IT; they were not early adopters, neither laggards, a balanced view of technology investments and business was happy with what they had. The company was growing faster than the market and placed well in the industry.
Working with business leaders and the CEO who understood the value of IT, he managed the budgets pragmatically. The CEO gave him enough latitude to work independently and he kept abreast with the technology curve to field any challenge thrown at him. IT vendors were happy to work with him as he was straight and forthright in his approach telling it as it was. His team was made up of business focused professionals who had invested their careers in the company. The turning point for him was when the CEO moved off to greener pastures.
The new CEO had grown through the ranks; he restructured the organization and the CIO found himself under the tutelage of the CFO. An ostentatious man, the CFO never lost an opportunity in the game of one-upmanship. He met the IT team and vendors with visible disdain with a clear message that the golden era of IT spends was over. The mantra set by the new CEO was to deliver a better bottom-line and he, the CFO was going to leave no stone unturned in his quest. The budget shall be cut by 20% with immediate effect.
The CIO a logical man attempted to discuss the irrationality of the step as it would impact operational efficiency. IT budgets did not have any buffers, the CIO never needed to pad his budgets with the trust he had from the earlier CEO. Support charges for ERP, CRM, and office automation licenses apart, the network links to global offices and sustenance of support services for users and data center took up the larger part of the operating budget. He had limited choices and began the process of rediscovery for cost control.
Negotiations and calling in favors he was able to bring down operational cost by 10%. The balance appeared unachievable and he sought help from the CFO to evaluate options. Why does everyone need an expensive license? Why do we pay so much on software maintenance contracts? We should move to cheaper solutions, embrace open source, bring in garage mentality into our team. Move to lower cost options on email, start using common ids at remote locations, move to cheaper hardware; and make sure the “management” does not get inconvenienced. Thus the CFO spoke!
His protests on operational impact being overruled, the CIO got down to execution; mail was migrated to a lower cost option of a popular personal public free mail services’ corporate offering. Onsite engineers were reduced at locations, development work brought in. The change was seen as a retrograde step across the enterprise. The trickle of problems from the alternative solution slowly became a barrage which had every function head tearing their hair in frustration on lost functionality and team efficiency.
Slowly and steadily the noise ebbed when people realized the change was driven by the new CFO; citing business impact some teams sought and received approvals to move back to the older system. Soon enough everyone was attempting to go back to the past, though not very successfully. People learned to live with the new, factoring in the inefficiency into their work schedules, discussing and debating the gap in communication. It was fairly evident that the resultant reduction in performance cost the company a multiple of the savings.
Do organizations measure such a consequence where deployment of a new tool or process has an adverse impact on the outcomes? Consultants tout their new success when the change is even slightly positive; I haven’t seen instances of the adverse impact or degraded efficiency being elevated or discussed openly. I believe that this costs enterprises significantly almost to the tune of 20% reduction in productive time. Change is rarely sanctioned due to costs involved which is typically a fraction of the lost hours. How long will pennywise and pound foolish continue?
It’s an opportunity for the CIOs to take a stand and lead the way!
I have been flooded with articles, case studies, and the benefits of DevOps; every newsletter that I subscribe to (over a dozen that arrive in my inbox every day) has at least one link that headlines DevOps. In the initial days I read a few of them with curiosity and forwarded some of the articles to friends and peers in the industry. The flood of discussions and seminars raised my anxiety if I had missed any salient point in my analysis and understanding. So I dug deeper to understand the subject and its relevance to good IT departments.
What is interesting is that many vendors are now offering tools and consultants providing frameworks and expertise on helping organizations create DevOps centers of excellence. It’s the new buzzword that promises to fix the issues faced by enterprises when they deploy new custom solutions. The most interesting and highly impressive manifestation appears as “a cross-disciplinary community of practice dedicated to the study of building, evolving and operating rapidly-changing resilient systems at scale.” Do you get what it says? I don’t!
If you search for the term online, the definition on Wikipedia is as follows: “DevOps (a portmanteau of “development” and “operations”) is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and Information Technology (IT) professionals. DevOps is a response to the interdependence of software development and IT operations.” Note the keywords that stand out, communication, collaboration and integration between IT and developers!
Over the decades there were many methodologies that evolved since we needed to develop “for purpose” software. I am not discussing one over the other or their pros and cons; there are proponents and opponents to each depending on what has worked for them. The point is that whether you followed one or the other, all of them required communication to flow between the stakeholders (Business, IT teams and developers). Else how do you ensure that everyone understands the problem or the opportunity and what is needed?
When in a group people collectively work together towards a common objective, I would safely assume that they are collaborating. There are instances when differences of opinion or point of view may result in conflict or disagreements; that does not imply that they are not collaborating. The level of integration is determined by the crisp and clear communication from the top as well as within, and a shared vision and objective of their goal. That is how I have seen almost all projects, IT or otherwise, – big or small – getting off the ground.
What changed in recent times that gave birth to this new term and the wave that is following? The underlying assumption is that development teams and operations teams are independent (which they are in many cases though not a universal truth) and that they don’t talk to each other; that is an interesting hypothesis and rare occurrence when both teams are collocated. Companies who outsourced support operations of applications or moved them away from core teams did suffer often requiring rework and occasional disruption.
So should CIOs be bothered or worried about DevOps? The starting point would be to diagnose if there is a gap, perceived or real. Once deployed, are applications able to scale and sustain themselves? Or they slowly wither away into the IT Orphanage (where applications who no one wants rest until they find a benefactor). Are business users happy with the solution provided and the support rendered? Some of these questions would probably point you into the right direction on what needs to change to the desired state.
Simplistically many solutions may endeavor to push for additional investments in tools, technology and consulting; my belief is that tools and technology do not solve a problem if the underlying process and culture don’t support it. As the CIO or for that matter the CEO, it is necessary and essential to look at the facts and data before beginning to get paranoid about competition or next door neighbor doing it. Even if you have your support teams sitting across the seas, if the development team has thought about support, you are already there!
“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!
When I came across my CIO friend who looked like he had been trampled multiple times by a runaway cattle herd, I was anxious to find out more about the cause of his pitiable condition. His demeanor suggested that he was on the brink of giving up, ready to throw the towel, just run away and retire into the Himalayas, to hell with the fabled Ferrari and take up the way of the monks. For someone always willing to help with a ready smile, it was a sight that concerned many of us to do a root cause analysis and help the poor soul.
He was not a recluse or introvert but in recent times conferences and seminars had been prominent with his absence. He was a busy man, everyone knew it; he was also known to be a master in time management rarely forgetting an appointment or being late or making anyone wait. So his growing hermetic avatar was a surprise to many of us who surrounded him to hear the cause of the rainy clouds replacing sunshine. Hesitant at first, after a few drinks he decided to share his predicament to lighten his heavy heart and seek a solution from collective wisdom.
His mega project that was on the watch list of many vendors, partners and the industry had run into some minor challenges. He engaged a specialist consulting company to review the situation and suggest the way forward. They had suggested shift in approach for the issue and resource augmentation with specialist skills which appeared to be a rational approach. Some internal stakeholders taking advantage of the situation wanted to take control with infusion of their coterie. Despite no skill match, they had prevailed to further damage of the project.
Like termites the project was soon crawling with unskilled people ignorant of business or ability to manage complexity and were projected as God’s gift to mankind and specialists. Despite the situation deteriorating, status reports were altered to reflect progress. This continued for some time with the CIO being asked to back off. Protests and discussions with key stakeholders and management changed nothing. The project in a tailspin now, the CIO could only watch from the sidelines; he was hurting from the damage to his toil and blood.
The large business and IT project team disillusioned by the downward spiral were of broken spirit indifferent to the outcome. Unable to bear the incompetence some quit the project and the company weakening the now shaking foundation and structure. Timelines slipping further and expert opinions overruled, there was little hope for the transformational project that was to be the savior and enabler for the business and enterprise. Unable to bear the hurt to his passion child and with no recourse, the CIO had decided to detach from the company.
We listened with stunned and angry silence absorbing the pain, empathizing with the CIO living his agony, everyone unanimously wanted to reach out and touch his wounds to heal them. No one disagreed with his decision, many wanted to help his recuperation; there was shock at enterprise apathy and silence by a large affected group to the value erosion. Lightening his burden the CIO managed a fleeting smile which lifted the gloom from the group. He joined the light banter that typically follows a serious discussion.
Time flew by, months passed away, the CIO moved on to newer ventures and greener pastures, happy and successful again with no visible scars of the past. It was as if he had buried the bitter experience never to be unearthed again, any discussion on it a taboo. But morbid curiosity never lets’ go especially when someone you know and respect has been wronged; you want the perpetrators to get their due punishment. Meetings with common industry peers and vendors does raise queries on progress and status.
A year into the intervention, the project had seen slippages on timelines consistently; some of the leadership team finally found a voice and challenged the continually sliding deadlines. Running out of excuses though unwilling to acknowledge their limitations they shifted the blame to the business folks for not defining the requirements, cooperating and providing accurate data; it seems there is no hope for redemption. Last heard there was pressure to shape up or ship out; a new date has been set to go live in whatever state, business disruption be damned!
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.