The CEO was perplexed that despite his product having all the features and more when compared to the market leader, most enterprise customers were shy of giving him business. His product was priced at a discount to the larger and dominant players thus providing great business cases and ROI; the technology platform was current versus competition. Customers liked the product and agreed that it met specifications and requirements; however it did not result in business. His company was a young startup and had few customers.
The world of startups is exploding and they offer solutions for existing and imaginary problems that you may have never thought about. Consumer applications are finding their way into the enterprise while the choices for enterprise applications have increased manifold. Convergence across the differing use cases creates opportunities for IT to automate and/or create new process efficiencies. These are beginning to offer viable alternatives to the large vendor solutions with complex licensing models and maintenance contracts.
Meeting a few entrepreneurs exhibited the most prominent feature across all the discussions was the belief and the passion in their ideas. Everyone had a dream to challenge the big players, wanted to solve problems of the world, and almost everyone was born a digital native. For these individuals the pursuit of their dream overshadowed the difficulties they faced learning to survive in fiscal deficit. With loads of infectious enthusiasm they happily demonstrate the value of what they have or plan to build to anyone interested.
They have like-minded teams with great technology skills and ability to create solutions with velocity that puts many enterprise IT teams to shame. They are able to react quickly to market and demands of their sparse customers; the struggle is largely around creating a dialogue with business and IT leaders on how their solutions will benefit the enterprise. They are the advocates and the best salespersons for their companies and solutions and in an endeavor to get first few customers, it is highly probable that they are willing to offer bargain prices.
Most enterprise CIOs and business heads find themselves meeting these entrepreneurs more often, now competing with the larger well established local or global solution providers. The gorillas with loads of muscle power, large number of customers, and an ecosystem of system integrators create doubts in the minds of potential buyers on the stability and longevity of the minnows. Thus in the face of perceived risk most customers end up making the expensive choice of going with the well-entrenched players.
Good news is that there is a wave of fresh air wafting through the crevices in the enterprise fortress – the data center and the application landscape; some successful and early adopter CIOs have taken calculated risks and the call to work with startups. The benefits in almost call cases have been beyond compare with quick and unbelievable ROI; for the struggling beginners these saviors were embraced and they stretched to exceed expectations. The CIOs pleased with success built symbiotic relationships by mentoring them.
For the safety net seekers following conventionally long implementation cycles, the larger players provided rich functionality though with restrictive practices offering ROI over 2-3 years. They became victims of their choices when they could have taken an alternative approach and experimented with the newer generation solutions and enjoyed associated benefits. The loss of agility came with its own set of challenges considering the fact that rarely a solution change is undertaken after long cycle of implementation.
Startups nurture their customers who imposed faith in them; large enterprise customers bring them credibility. They contributed significantly to their revenues which in turn helps them raise money from interested sources. For the large players another customer is just another customer even if you are a dominant force in the industry; exception being companies who are larger than these large vendors and they are just a handful. Relatively size does makes a difference to the treatment the vendors give to a customer.
All things being equal the question is where do you want to be? A big customer to a small vendor or a small customer of a big vendor? Your choices will determine not just your success but also your ability to influence the product direction, shape industry solutions, and finally give you a financial advantage. Having been in all the three camps, I would say that being a big customer of a startup outweighs the perceived risks; the sluggishness imposed by big vendors can be a big challenge; finally as a part of startups now I love big customers!
I recently met one of the senior team members of an enterprise who had decided to move away from bespoke custom developed solutions to implement a market leading ERP solution. For the company it was a big step forward after much discussion, debate and hesitation on the changeover and expected resultant business impact. They had thought about it many times, engaged with different consultants to assess the business case and every time decided to retain status quo fearing business disruption and no change readiness.
The ERP wave that started in the mid and late nineties ebbed almost a decade back with almost everyone taking one or other solution. The resultant automation, integration of business processes, and transparency brought about a quantum jump in efficiency for most. Some enterprises resisted the change to process and practices embedded in the solutions, ending up with highly customized implementations. They delivered superior results over the earlier tailored solutions though with overhead of maintaining the custom code.
In the ensuing years with the changing industry and economic dynamics, maturity and evolution of the solutions with new features and technology, and new business models, the ERP implementations began to appear as monolithic and unwieldy. The high level of customization became a roadblock towards leveraging newer technology and innovation. Soon it was evident that new strategies will be required to overcome the agility challenge; to gain benefit from the new age solutions, it became imperative to review the IT landscape.
Business CIOs took up the challenge and recommended trimming bolt-on and fringe solutions with every version and technology upgrade. The brave ones endorsed and took up reimplementation of their ERPs which eliminated changes to the core solutions and depended on parameterization over custom code to the extent possible. Advent of the Digital world and on-demand service models gave them an opportunity to stay current and relevant. Few who had implemented out-of-the-box solutions stood validated and happy.
In conversation with my friend I was curious to learn about his journey on the project which had high visibility in the industry due to the large size and complexity as well as the reputation of his company being risk averse. They had gone live after multiple misses to the timeline stretching the project to a level where the fainthearted would have got palpitations. He was not too happy with the end outcome; the project which to begin with had been planned well down to the last level of detail had not gone the anticipated way for many.
The going in mandate was to stay with out-of-the-box best practice processes and functionality with help of one of the best global implementation partners. Everyone had aligned to this direction which was deemed to be the best approach for a large enterprise. Functionality was cast in alignment to available features, changing process to ensure that business requirements are met. Progress suddenly faced potholes and bottlenecks with some new constituents challenging every decision that steered away from changing the system.
Archaic views prevailed over commonsense and best practices were overruled as being irrelevant to the company’s context. The direction was changed to the well-trodden path of an era gone by as the new players had only been on that track which lay mothballed and abandoned by the newer generation of IT leaders and followers. Thus began the regressive journey of change that brought in a battalion of programmers to fit all processes with customizations even if it meant breaking the core to batter the system into a familiar face.
When the secret chambers are opened and fundamental innards tinkered with, something has to break; and it did colossally spinning a spiral from which it became difficult to surface. Despite the writing on the wall the team plodded through with fear of retribution should they even raise a whimper. Deadlines came and went. The chaos and delays started hurting the business who finally found their voice and asked uncomfortable questions. The inept leadership reduced project scope, blamed everyone but themselves, and finally declared go-live with a badly bandaged system.
With an embargo on communications, the real state of affairs will probably never be known, though murmurs are heard off the records of the adverse business impact and the loss of credibility of the team with the business. Published numbers do indicate everything is not hunky dory; I guess that this episode will remain under the carpet for some time to come. Custom applications and customizing commercial off the shelf systems are getting buried. Unfortunately the challenged in positions of power continue to hurtle enterprises down the ravines of ignominy.
The IT team was pleased with the effort and congratulated each other for the delivery. The team had worked hard with the development partner to meet aggressive timelines and delivered for UAT a few days early. But that is when the problem started; the team working on the UAT came up with many exceptions that poked holes in the solution; a process not captured well, some processes missing and absent data elements. It was like IT was from Mars and the business was from Venus and they blamed each other.
The CIO was peeved off by the disconnect; the vendor with high pedigree and domain expertise had been carefully and jointly chosen; the business had offered domain experts with good standing, and the IT team understood the technology well enough. So the CIO did some quick checks on the delivery versus expectations and discovered that the IT team knew the business though the understanding was not as deep as it appeared to be. There were translation losses with implicit assumptions by the business and IT.
I think the drums started beating almost a decade back on the need for the CIO to become business savvy. It was about understanding business operations so that the written and articulated processes are translated it into a solution that meets business expectations. The origin of this was the nemesis of what everyone called scope creep and resultant change requests that escalated cost and created time overruns such that the end solution at times became irrelevant to the business; bridging the gap was necessary and critical.
The CIO also had aspirations to get a seat on the Management Committee or the Operating Board or equivalent leadership team. Discussions in these meetings largely did and continue to focus on topline, operating efficiency, bottom line; essentially discuss monthly performance and numbers. Some teams had graduated to reviewing competitive activities and customer engagement while the more evolved ones discussed strategies and more openly. For the CIO to get there it was imperative that s/he understand, participate and contribute.
It took some effort and humility to make the grade, while some for whatever reason did/could not; the fruits of the effort were worth the struggle and more. As a business partner the CIO enjoyed the perks of being in the team and on the table working lockstep with other CXOs. Having a bird’s eye view of the business and a pulse of operations, the CIO stitched together the missing pieces of the jigsaw that made up the business. The transition to a business leader brought new aspirations which resulted in lateral or upward movement for a few.
The IT team reveled in the success and leadership position taken by the CIO; the adulation apart some of them attempted to follow the CIO’s footsteps that led to the transformation. The CIO was happy in his/her new found position and willingly coached anyone who wanted to follow the path. Key lessons revolved around the not so obvious soft skills which help in building relationships; s/he also stressed the need to know the chosen function or domain as well to be seen as a subject matter expert internally as well as externally.
Attempting to get to the bottom of the imbroglio, the CIO realized that the IT team involved in the project had not fully imbibed the learning citing paucity of time and work pressures. They had sidestepped some meetings and relied on their knowledge and focused on technology. The vendor to his credit had attempted to engage with the business and had suggested field trips which were deemed unnecessary by the IT team. Thus the partial understanding created a solution that evidently did not meet expectations and resulted in frustration on both sides.
It is the CIOs responsibility to push his/her team to leave their comfort zones and make the cut; business in most cases is willing to help the learning. A planned approach to engage from both sides works best; the CIO must measure the engagement levels and continuously create opportunities on both sides to appreciate each other’s expertise. Project success is an important milestone but to move to a trusted partner and advisor takes a lot more. In this case walking the talk is a difficult journey which the IT team had failed to do.
Prepare your teams the way you plan your learning, after all your success depends on them.
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?