A long time back I wanted to write a book on Organizational Inertia; it was to be an expression of angst from stories captured from many IT teams on theirs and my experiences in large enterprises. The funny thing is that large enterprises have a peculiar life of their own which makes interesting case studies. They rarely surface and get buried in the stifled cries and whimpers of the frustrated who try to find solace in greener pastures. When I wrote No decision, the biggest enemy to progress, it appeared to have stories of many encapsulated into the anecdotes.
Organizational inertia manifests itself in many ways; pushback to innovation, new ideas and change, is the norm with justification that is final in its utterance. If that does not work, Committees are setup to review feasibility, or research commissioned to validate the assumptions, or a Consultant hired to benchmark and recommend best practice, or just keep asking for more data; anything to maintain status quo almost as if life depended on it. Let me give you a few examples of how they manifest themselves, I am sure you can add to the list:
- That’s the way it is done here
- The current process was written/endorsed by the Chairman/Founder/CEO, how can we change it?
- It was tried earlier and it did not work
- There is no budget allotted
- How can you even think about … you don’t understand this company!
- This requires approvals from global headquarters … and you know how it works …
- It is not relevant to our industry/company …
Almost two decades back as I remember some bright consultants created a practice around “Change Management” to address these issues which plagued the industry. How to manage change, how to get people to embrace new ideas, and how to institutionalize change. Every large enterprise went through some kind of workshops, management consultants adding value, and attempting to coerce people to look at things differently. The inherent pushback from the change averse (that’s what they were called) was WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)?
Fair amount of the change was created by automation and force fitment of processes into technology solutions that integrated processes and functions (ERP). The next layer of function specific solutions like CRM or SCM and then broad based solutions like BPM added to the change which started accelerating. Post the initial chaos emerged clarity on the benefits and the ease of use with early adopters enjoying market leadership or an agile advantage. Things were beginning to settle down and enterprises were at peace with themselves.
Change being the only constant, the next level of disruption was thrust upon enterprises from outside with the changing dynamics of employees, contractors and customers embracing technology in their personal lives. The now ubiquitous smartphone in the hands of the masses catalysed by exploding plethora of applications forced enterprises to accept this force multiplier. CIOs and others were challenged to accept the new wave which required not just adaptation to the technology but also a change in process.
From the internet led disruption to mobility to Clouds to now the Digital hype, IoT, and wearables to name a few, enterprises and CIOs have never had a dull moment. Doomsday did happen for some though not because they did not embrace the hype, but because they did not change when they should have or when they could have. Stories of such companies shall remain case studies in organizational inertia. In the new world of digitally defined success measured by valuations among other things, everyone wants a share of the pie.
This is an opportunity for every company and leader to introspect and take some uncomfortable decisions to give up the good old ways of working and explore how the hype can be tamed and applied within. The CIO more than other CXOs is well placed to take steps towards creating a dialogue that puts the elephant in the room and test hypotheses on impact to customer, employees, partners and stakeholders. In the new age some of the fundamentals cannot be forgotten; finally for every company it is about creating value for the ecosystem.
“A year from now, you may wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb
I was at this conference of small and mid-sized cloud service providers who were discussing the current state of the market and evolution with everyone talking digital. They were hoping to collectively brainstorm and learn from each other’s experience. They discussed the evaluation criteria they were subjected to, problem statements they had to answer, and the two biggest stumbling blocks that would not go away even with the maturity of the cloud solutions and growing customer base; they are ROI and Security.
Some large enterprises have adopted a cloud first approach to their new initiatives while they seriously evaluate movement to the cloud whenever faced with any upgrade or refresh decision. These early adopters and fast followers now are more or less convinced that it does not make sense to continue investing in conventional hardware solutions. Data centers and servers are best left to the experts to manage while application management was outsourced a decade back. DevOps is the way to go and Cloud is where everything should reside.
Off course there are industries which have seen exceptions for some types of solutions which are still not amenable to be on the cloud. Even the providers acknowledge this and keep away from pitching for such use cases. Big monolithic solutions are facing the agility challenge and the paradigm has shifted to accommodate multiple for purpose apps on the cloud that are making some parts of the big solutions redundant or enhancing productivity by reducing the effort to complete a workflow or task in the conventional solutions.
Consumer and personal apps reside on the same devices that are used at work; this transgression managed or otherwise is here to stay. CIOs and CISOs have learned that pushbacks are no longer accepted and they have to find a way to make peace and find solutions that allow coexistence. MDM has evolved to provide some level of containerization to separate the official from personal and the ability to brick a device should it be lost or fail to return on exit. So where is the unfulfilled promise of security and ROI or is it just a favorite flogging horse?
How secure is your cloud solution? Have you had any security certification done for your software? When was the last time penetration test was conducted? What is the uptime offered on your cloud? Clouds are expected to save money; what is the ROI of your solution? The service providers’ reality was that they had to field these questions every day with every customer with every opportunity with everyone they met. It was as if repeating the message would strengthen its value and make it work for the customer and stakeholders.
After all the due diligence and certifications, customers then go on and deploy the solution with limited security governance and vulnerable practices that expose the data. Eventually if and when data leakage does occur, the cloud and/or the solution is deemed immature and not up to the mark. Attempting to create idiot proof solutions with all the checks and balances to protect against human stupidity is the final and ultimate step in ensuring that the solution is secure; and this has remained the goal of every enterprise and the challenge for every provider.
Return on Investment is a different ballgame; value is a function of the frame of reference of the perceiver and nothing to do with reality. For someone a dollar a month per user may be value and for another $10 is not expensive. Can service providers do justice to the wide spectrum of expectations? I am not sure that kind of elasticity exists; volume driven discounts or market entry strategies may offer initially low pricing which is rarely sustainable in the long-term unless the end game is market valuation and not profitability.
At the end of the discussions collective wisdom indicated that alleviating the fear factor will take its time with evolution not being consistent and everyone wanting to reassure themselves of the risk factors. It does not matter how many have taken the leap of faith or how long the solution has been around. Even today there are buyers apprehensive of every decision lest it not work in their unique environment or their inability to leverage the value. I think that the discussion will keep popping up and we will have to reassure a zillion times over.
Why does the team need to travel and spend money? You know well enough that there is pressure on costs and it is imperative that everyone contribute and IT is no exception. I don’t want to hear excuses on why it will not work effectively. Get on to a video conference to understand more about what they have and what they do. Use a bit of technology to get requirements from these markets; there has already been too much travel from other functions. I just came back from a review and we have busted the travel budget.
With this spiel to the CIO and the IT team, the CFO proceeded to travel to four countries to give the message on cutting cost to the country heads. It was not important that he always made up his trips last minute and traveled First Class. It was also not of relevance that just his personal travel budget was higher than the total IT budget for travel. It did not matter if suboptimal solutions were being used by some of the acquired companies and the integration effort had faltered in the absence of travel authorizations to IT.
The company had leapfrogged into the big league with acquisitions in quick succession; after an era of organic growth, the change in pace was exciting. There was a palpable sense of aggression and pride that prevailed internally and also made news thrusting the company to the pages of business magazines and newspapers. At the same time there was a bit of uncertainty on how to work the mechanics of integrating multiple companies simultaneously. As normal, Consultants were hired and teams created to oversee the process.
Business teams created groups of domain experts who traveled to the acquired companies globally to meet their counterparts, understand culture, process and systems used. Teams were mapped and processes reviewed for compliance to standards and regulatory requirements. All this was fed into a structure which captured each and every component of the new company beyond the pre-acquisition due diligence. They followed the best practices laid down by the Big Consulting Company assisting in the integration.
Weeks became months and progress was good though with one glaring gap; IT was nowhere to be seen in the picture. The business teams reached out to the CIO seeking a timeline and calendar that IT would follow in the integration process. The CIO advised them of the incremental data required and promised to have his team reach out to the far side. Quickly it was evident that the gap cannot not be bridged with conference calls and email exchanges. Having executed a couple of integrations, the CIO realized that he was being setup for failure.
The CIO reached out to the business teams with his constrains and sought help which was promptly offered since everyone was now feeling the pinch of un-integrated email systems which bounced messages, lack of information flow and integration between various systems including financial reporting. Some of the functions whose success depended on harmonized IT were happy to sponsor. Despite the urgency, need and demand, ego prevailed and the CFO was unwilling to accede leaving everyone frustrated and wondering.
It was evident that the deadlock would be difficult to break; in the absence of an integrated approach taking off, business leaders attempted to use local solutions. They had to deliver results with synergies and process improvements, and their dependence on IT was critical. Using personal rapport with the CIO they validated some of the local solutions that could be deployed in the short term. Scrounging for budgets they attempted to get these off the ground; talent crunch and missing strong leadership failed to get them going.
Integration review meetings became a war of words with the CFO finding excuses and then blaming the CIO for not effectively managing the effort. Business knew the reality to be otherwise and had reached a situation that they had no recourse but to accept the fact that the new company will remain technology challenged for some time to come. The acquired company’s leadership team too accepted the power play and silently lived in their acceptable level of inefficiency hoping that someday in the future things would change.
What happened to the CIO and the IT team? Well in quick succession many of them found greener pastures outside leaving the CFO to find other scapegoats for his ego while business struggled to stay afloat.
We are going digital and we will change the way the industry leverages digital! You know these 20 year old bright B-school interns? I am sure these kids who were born with technology know a lot about how their generation uses the Internet and devices and Internet of Things and wearables… They will help us take our company into the digital world. I am commissioning a research study on the industry and what is happening globally and how our customers are likely to behave. Everyone sighed and nodded their heads to the ravings of a man possessed.
This CXO had taken on the mantle of leading the digital transformation of the enterprise; no one had asked him nor did anyone suggest that going digital was a priority for the enterprise. He was good at spewing buzzwords and had a basic though carbon dated understanding of IT. His own function and team tolerated him for his loudmouth tactics that appeared to be getting him attention of those who mattered. One fine day he pronounced that he was going to be the Chief Digital Officer and drive the digital journey for the company.
The CMO who was well grounded and grown in the industry over two decades, heard about it from his team mate who was sitting in on his behalf that day. He felt amused that a rank outsider who had barely spent a year in the industry was willing to make tall promises and claims on how the business shall stand transformed with help of a few college kids! He asked his team to provide full support to the CXO and keep him informed of progress. He had a business to run and numbers to deliver, the company can learn from someone else’s mistakes.
The industry was known to be conservative in adopting technology with no real pressures on growth or profitability especially in growing economies. The company had always attempted to stay in front of the game though not always able to push through the competitive advantage. Globally some early pilots on digital had early success and some of the larger multi-national companies had started investing for mature markets. It was too early to predict how digital will finally shape outcomes for the industry, companies and the consumer.
The CXO flew people around the world, organized videoconferences, and finally selected a bunch of students from a mid-tier global B-school. The selected team comprised 5 nationalities was seen as a good mix of perspectives and cultures. They were excited as the young can be, and looked up to the CXO to set the agenda for the project. Many meetings later there appeared to be a structure to what was required and the process to get it; a protégé of the CXO was entrusted the task of chaperoning the team around their field visits.
The CMO working with the CIO had many projects underway which were significant components towards the digitalization of the enterprise and connect with the ecosystem. These were kept as low key affairs to keep news from spreading and gaining a competitive advantage. The business knew these would help them get a big boost in the market and supported the CMO/CIO partnership. The CXO made multiple attempts to get a handle on these unsuccessfully and moved on to his globally envisioned digital strategy that will transform the industry.
Months passed away with the teams working across borders, engaging with customers, stakeholders, end consumers, influencers, and everyone who mattered. The collated volumes of quantitative and qualitative data which was put into the churner. The CXO took excerpts and published them as brilliance from the students while crooking a finger at the CMO and how the new strategy will … Everyone listened and nodded again allowing the CXO to present the findings in the upcoming meeting. The CMO and CIO remained unfazed and continued to toil.
D-day arrived and everyone was anxious to hear the new vision. Everyone listened attentively to the young lady who presented the groups findings based on data and inferences based on interviews globally. The picture that emerged was not too different from the direction chosen by the CMO and the CIO. The company was on the right track, they just needed to get some acceleration into the projects. A sense of relief settled around the room; the CXO changed colors through the presentation, ran out of the room with phone attached to his ear which no one remembered ringing!
The new generation will behave differently to stimulus, who better to validate with?
Call it providence or just plain bad luck or for that matter the CIOs inability to get along with his newly appointed boss, things had just gone down over the last year. Every day was a new battle ground for him to conquer, every discussion was steeped in frustration, and every proposal an uphill task. The CIO gave it all his energy, patience, learning on how to manage difficult situations, advice received from peers and industry veterans to no avail. It did not matter what he did or did not, the relationship failed to bloom.
The CIO had been with the company for some time; he had seen his reporting changed multiple times with increasing dependency on IT creating success. Almost all his managers had taken a hands off approach with deference to his professional expertise. After all he had delivered in difficult times building credibility for his team. Business appreciated the calculated risks taken that brought value to the company operations and efficiency improvements. He was high on professional competency which made people listen to him.
The new boss was intrinsically insecure which made him a loud person always wanting to speak in every meeting, interrupting the flow of thought while attempting to make a point or two; he loved the sound of his own voice and even when none existed, created opportunities to talk about how great he was. His garish attire complimented his personality making him completely malfeasant. Without any qualms about collateral damage, he attempted to demean everyone around him, peers, subordinates and others.
The CIO and his new boss had a great start with the IT team wondering if the CHRO made a mistake or the CEO inadvertently or otherwise overlooked some basic principles while taking a decision to hire. Both were known to be well grounded high professionals; it appeared disturbing that they and the Board disregarded some of the obvious personality flaws while hiring for a senior management role? It was really too much of a coincidence to believe that everyone missed out something so obvious!
The CIO had multiple projects underway with large investments with the best of technologies and partners who were selected with active participation from all stakeholders. As the days progressed everything that was working well and going in the right direction suddenly became a cause for concern. The new boss made mountains out of molehills and at times fabricated problems that were the one in a million exception to process. The screeching grew in crescendo drowning not just IT but even protests of the business owners.
It would appear that he was there to transform the entire business single-handedly and fix the malaise that ailed the company of which there was plenty as he saw and fabricated in all directions. With Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) sown in the minds, the boss proclaimed that the company needed urgent transfusion of high talent and professionals to rescue the sinking ship. As the FUD factor took root, there was a general agreement that if the situation is indeed as bad, the saviors need to be expeditiously on boarded.
They came in droves and spread across the enterprise into every function; past nonexistent or minor accomplishments embellished with superlatives made the new team superheroes. They were showered with disparagingly high benefits to the chagrin of the existing teams who had no recourse having been labeled incompetent and responsible for the current situation. Soon the place was infested across layers with people that coincidentally worked in the boss’s previous companies, many of whom had been laid off.
It was evident that there was no reversal likely unless something broke colossally and even then it appeared that the team would get away with massacre. No one was sure of the source of protection they enjoyed, to brazenly get away with non-performance and break the culture that made the company successful. Wild rumors founded or otherwise floated the corridors crushing the already broken will of the people. The CIO after a huge internal struggle decided to let go and find peace of mind outside the jungle of hypocrites.
On another planet in a similar setting the end outcome was quite different; with sliding deliverables the Board woke up and realized that they had let the boss break some of the conventional rules and ethics that govern any company, like mass hiring from past employers. They challenged the boss and set a timeline to deliver to promise with obvious consequences for non-performance. Blaming the past did not hold any more water; he had adequate time and bandwidth to create the change which he had failed to.
Much damage later the inevitable happened: “Dear Boss, you are fired!”
Last week when I wrote “CIO will survive …” I received lots of thank you notes and endorsements from CIOs and others, some with vested interests; 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. And then some had doubts too.
Enterprise dynamics have changed with upsurge in technology awareness that has had every CXO wanting a piece of the pie. It all started with the CFO wanting reports/analytics, then marketing attempting to push ahead in the social media and digital space, to supply chain, operations, sales, and even human resources wanting some attachment and visibility to the new world full of disruptive opportunities where success is not the only measure. Fail fast and fail often echoed in many discussions and meeting rooms.
Pressure also comes from within for few who want to keep their teams under their watch with clipped wings should they want to fly higher than their own flight. There is the aspiring and ready next in line: CISO, Head Applications, Head Infrastructure, Head Analytics, Head Innovation, and Head Customer Service, all wanting to displace the CIO from the mantle. What should the CIO do to stay ahead of this pack of technology professionals while running the race with peer CXOs without falling down and getting trampled?
Lot has been said and written about behaviors, skills, expertise, knowledge, and temperament of the ideal CIO; in a perfect world s/he can balance business and technology while knowing as much about the domain as Sales & Marketing, Supply Chain, Finance & Accounts, Human Resources, and Customers as each function heads. At the same time s/he is expected to know about every new trend or technology that will disrupt the world today, tomorrow and a year down the line. Off course s/he should be a fluent communicator to explain all this in simple language.
How does the CIO thrive in such extreme conditions? There is no magic potion, formula or wand, no Holy Grail or acquirable super power; no short cuts or fast track formulas. It is not a destination but a journey with milestones to achieve as you keep moving; a step by step process for most with concerted effort to stay relevant and ahead in the game. Many would want to create New Year resolutions; my recommendation after falling and getting up many times over in the last two decades is to get started and not link it to the calendar.
Here’s my view of the needs for not just survival but to thrive in an uncertain world:
- Hire your direct reports or for that matter others who are better than you and who will challenge you; given them enough freedom to move faster than you and help them find success internally. Coach them and learn from them; they will make up for skills that you don’t have and help you win.
- Seek feedback from your peers (internal CXO customers and externally other CIOs) who can amplify your success or make it look like a stupid expedition to nowhere. Don’t just have a transactional relationship with them; have coffee or drinks with them to understand their strengths and fears.
- Communicate success as well as qualified opinions about technology enabled disruptions which may impact your industry or company; communicate often and don’t wait for downtime, virus outbreaks, or plain simple bad news. Good news creates a favorable perception and energy
- Network across layers internally and externally; the more you network the better you are likely to get at connecting with people and that will help you create visibility for yourselves. Always respond to requests for meeting, information or business even if the answer is no.
- Build a brand, stand for something in the industry; don’t get lost in the crowd where no one knows you or wants to connect with you beyond the immediate business. Respect has to be earned for it to be sustainable; what comes with the position or title goes away with the position.
I could add a few more and I am sure so can you based on your frame of reference. This is just a beginning to a better tomorrow.
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?