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


April 14, 2014  9:13 AM

Sick IT, healthy life

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

I have been sick for most of the week; on Monday there was a niggling pain which I hoped would go away like it did most times. By mid-week it had aggravated considering I ignored not just the pain but also the cause which I was not consciously aware of. Once the connection was made I aggressively tried to remedy the situation, except that it was out of control now and needed expert attention. On Thursday the Doctor looked gravely, a long prescription and pronounced that it required a specialist to treat it.

The specialist sympathized and made it look innocuously simple to fix; for him it was a routine escalation to manage. On Friday he did what he was good at and fixed the root cause with knowledge that the rest will fix itself if I followed the defined SOP. The prescription was not too much, the lingering pain and inaction that restricted me to a bed with limited ambulation was. Daily checkup visits add to the agony as I am now in a state of mind, when will this ordeal end and I declared fit and healthy again to get back to work.

When you have a lot of time to do nothing, run out of music to listen or have no inclination to read with half the senses dulled due to heavy dose of pain killers and antibiotics, you start thinking; Doctors also refer to some of the extreme thoughts as hallucinations. To me my chain of thought was lucid and it created many correlations in the swarm of random disconnected millions of thoughts. Analogous to associations created in a data warehouse by a skilled analyst, I picked associated groups which made a lot of sense.

Early pain = project not on track; you know something is not working, you think it will get better, it doesn’t. Falling sick = project misses milestone; you get the vendor consultant to help, he refers to subject matter experts who have been there done that. SME educates on root cause, defines road ahead and KPIs to keep the project healthy. Recovery = always slow and painful; getting back on track takes a lot of effort, following the prescription, no shortcuts. Most of the time you do get back on track with no further slips; you have lost time, money and momentum.

I realize how we can create correlations between totally disconnected facts and make them look like similar data sets or for that matter draw analogies that sound quite logical. The event graph appears to follow a perfectly aligned path drawn by the same artist. Retail has been doing this with disjointed sets of data and have hit upon success many times; we don’t know what happened to the ones that did not work though. But then maybe life does have predictability that it wants us to find and we are getting better at it.

But I am digressing now, rambling about febrile correlations. IT gets sick quite often; whether it is business as usual or new initiatives, they do face challenges and require fixes from specialists and experts depending on the nature of ailment. We have prophylactic technology to keep things going while the next piece of hardware finds itself being resilient or more reliable than a decade back and networks become self-healing and storage can survive failure of a disk or two; Software still requires human intervention.

Human life expectancy has in the same vein gone up as we find better medicines for micro classified diseases. Our way of treating different patient types has been evolving rapidly with Internet of things allowing embedded Nano sensors connected to Big Data repositories analyzing symptoms as they happen and trigger corrective actions almost instantly with novel drug delivery systems. Okay, maybe the entire chain is not yet feasible, but getting there. Affordable access to such innovation would definitely be a paradigm shift.

As IT gets better, projects get more manageable, technology commoditization makes itself ubiquitous, IT wouldn’t matter! What would matter is how we apply it to real life and help solve problems that have eluded solutions thus far. As more solutions go open source or relinquish patents for global availability, there would be a new world order where healthy humans will score over sick IT. Some of us will be part of this evolution if it happens within this generation. I hope our contributions would have made some difference.

April 7, 2014  7:54 AM

Can big data deliver big insights?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

The other day I met a CIO friend who wanted to discuss a tricky situation in which he had landed; he worked in an industry which was in the thick of being projected as one of the industries that will benefit from investments in Big Data. His CEO wanted him to build a data warehouse to rival some of their global competitors, at least one of which was prominently talked about as the poster boy of Big Data analytics. He was thus under pressure to invest while the rest of his IT budget was under pressure.

Having a keen understanding of technology, his company and the industry, he was a non-believer in the Big Data story; according to him the hype around some of the Big Data insights were not commensurate to the investments made in the overall project. And there was nothing new since the first story broke out of one of the companies having found a use case that conventional technologies would not have delivered. He had many data warehouses and Business Intelligence successes in the past for which he was well known too.

By definition Big Data was all about big data sets that earlier available technologies could not bind together within tolerated elapsed time and budgets. Volume, Variety and Velocity defined Big Data; (Business) Value was added later. The availability of high compute resources and ability to store large volumes of data had made solving some problems easier, faster and cheaper; that is not necessarily success from the capitalized Big Data. It is just that larger data sets were analyzed as compared to the past.

The question at hand that needed an answer was whether he should let go and invest as directed by his CEO or he should help the business with a scalable data warehouse which would deliver immediate value. Is it possible to get started small with Big Data (an oxymoron if there was one) and then work with the business to find the needle (if they wanted to find the needle or a pin) in the haystack; after all Big Data is expected to throw up unknown possibilities by random correlations that human minds are not able to pick.

Big data works on “found” data, i.e. data that you have and complex algorithms which can provide some statistical probabilities. Analysts predict the value that different industries can gain from investments; no one is talking about the real value derived. Governments have been making investments with equal zeal as are large enterprises; the providers and consultants are happy to make hay not just while the sun shines but until by accident they discover a needle in the haystack and make a case study out of it putting pressure on the rest of the gold diggers.

What about the data that you don’t have? Can you draw negative inferences from Big Data? For that you have to know what you don’t have! Can what you have tell you what you don’t? The answer to that is still to be found; available data in a Big Data repository cannot indicate to what is missing. The concept of “found” data predicates that available data set is the whole universe from which correlations are to be created. And that is where many Big Data implementations are unable to deliver any meaningful insights.

The veracity (the 5th V) of information in a Big Data store can throw up many false positives which have been the bane of many projects. Data will never be clean unlike conventional data warehouses and the velocity will keep you challenged to move with agility. The ability to come out of the clean and complete data mindset is the beginning of what Big Data may enable. From here to get to Value is a long journey with no near-term goals; if you hit something, consider yourself lucky and celebrate.

My suggestion to my friend was to get started the way he believed he will be able to deliver what the business wanted. Forget the discussion on technology and focus on what matters, insights driven by data. If he can get traction from some CXOs based on the results, no one will grudge whether they came from Big Data or Small Data. The business leader in him understood while the technologist wanted to fight; for his benefit, I hope the business guy prevails.


March 31, 2014  7:55 AM

The King is dead, long live the king

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

I cannot believe that it has been almost two decades of the CIO role in the making; not the EDP manager which precedes the title by around another two decades or so; a score of years of making enterprise adopt, adapt and leverage IT; twenty years of educating CXOs on why they need to invest in IT for their own benefit if not survival; definitely a decade if not more of fending off ROI models for every initiative; a little less than a decade of helping the CMO get digital savvy and finally riding the waves of disruptive technology innovation.

With every changing paradigm or rather hype in some cases, starting with Client-Server to the most recent Internet of Things and everything in between (Internet, ERP, CRM, e-commerce, m-commerce, mobility, BYOD, Cloud, Social media, Big data to name a few) there were predictions of demise of the CIO. It was predicated that the CIO will lose relevance with power shifting to other parts of the enterprise, democratized decision making and budgets no longer under CIO control. Many joined the chorus, the technology king is dead.

A decade back, the article IT doesn’t matter made a splash; it had many proponents and a collection of CIOs defending their position citing the author had lost it. Many CIO bashers interpreted the report to suit their hypothesis of why the CIO will soon be dead; clarifications from the author were brushed aside brusquely. Lectures were delivered by all and sundry proposing remedial steps for the CIO for his/her survival. Suddenly as it came, the brouhaha withered away and everyone moved on to the next issue, whatever it was.

CIOs need business skills, soft skills, technology skills, people skills, vendor management skills, project management skills, change management skills, financial skills, legal knowledge, customer management skills, and should be politically savvy at the same time. Probably any CXO job description may fit the above profile but they rarely get discussed in the open akin to washing dirty linen in full visibility of the world. Or maybe the IT media is obsessed with the role’s gaining prominence and thus attempts to find avenues to diminish it.

Recently when I read a few mainstream business publications headlining IT and the CIO, it revealed two things to me. The message that emerged is that IT effectiveness is diminishing with time and unable to keep pace with changing business expectations. Contrary to this is the fact that business pressures have led to risk averse attitude to investments in new technology; discussions on the management table however expect outcomes that can be achieved only when business works lockstep with IT rather than a customer-supplier relationship.

The world today is digital and connected in ways that were only imagined in the past; digital natives are consuming information very differently when compared to what makes enterprises run. Digital commerce has moved the power of choice to the consumer; however big enterprises are influencing choices using better tools and technologies to find patterns from unstructured data. Possibilities are opening up with large volumes of data being analyzed for patterns that can now predict events with higher probability breaking the choice mirage.

The future belongs to the enterprise which has mastered the art and science of consistently finding needles in the haystack of data. The individual who can make this happen shall be anointed the new high priest; only time will tell whether s/he will be the Chief Digital Officer or the Data Scientist or the CIO making a transition to becoming the orchestrator of such services. It is certain that sooner or later this will become commoditized and challenge the adopters to find new differentiators sooner than later.

I should also highlight the fact that there will continue to remain a need to manage the unseen parts of enterprise IT which are basic hygiene for business as usual, the network, the data center and cloud, the database and apps, information security, data warehouse, transactional manufacturing and supply chain systems or for a services organization the customer and related data. The CIO and the IT team have to keep this foundation strong for the digital enterprise to flourish and to that extent the role will not go away.

Individuals will make their choices on evolution; what is yours?


March 25, 2014  6:37 AM

Chief Inspirational Officer

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Over the years I have faced this question umpteen times only to find that I have no answer; at times that has been embarrassing and sometimes feeling stupid for not being able to give a bright answer like others. Am I so different or unable to comprehend the influencers on the direction my life has taken over the years? There were many who taught me as I stumbled through life! Maybe I did not seek or connect to any beacons that stood out over others in a significant way which could be anointed as role models?

Participating in a CIO conference with many vendors big and small jostling for attention over three days, the event threw up many surprises; the biggest among them was a lesson in humility, mixed feelings and emotions. A handful of CIOs who had earlier been in my teams now had become leaders in other companies; there were also many vendor CEOs who on open stage declared their role models. The compliments that followed sounded good, too good, I wished my family, my ex-Boss, and my parents could hear those wonderful words.

I felt a lump in my throat listening to my friend and senior compatriot from the industry who in the conference had been honored along with few other chosen ones for contributions to the industry. He stood out as an inspiration and role model to not just his team across the companies where he worked, but also to a large section of CIOs who looked up to him for guidance, leadership and coaching when they faced any sticky situation or had challenges to which they wanted experiential answers; he always obliged with a smile.

From an early age we all draw inspiration from someone or other: grandparents, parents, siblings, historical or mythical figures, teachers, managers, CEOs, global icons and leaders, or just someone we meet along the way in our professional and personal journey. In most cases it’s one or two who become the leading light, at times there are many more who individually and collectively contribute to what makes us who we are. There are also negative influences which we hasten to extinguish from our memories.

What contributes to positive strokes and influences people have on us and we have on others? Why do some stand out whereas the larger group remains neutral in the impact they have on others? Intrigued I started analyzing my friend who always appeared larger than life; he was the chosen one in almost every gathering; articulate and clear in his thought process, he gave a voice to the faceless CIO in every forum and publication airing the travails and evolution of the role through the decades which he personified with ease.

He was always approachable, a balance between people and task orientation, a good listener who gave attention to everyone, well read and knowledgeable on technology, knew the business and represented the industries in which he worked (he had worked in many). He met with vendor sales teams and their CEOs never refusing an audience or missing a reply to unsolicited mail from the world at large wanting to do business with him. Not that he gave business to everyone, but rarely did he chide anyone for reaching out.

He stretched his team, coached them to achieve, helped them face the business and worked with vendor partners challenging them to use technology differently. The teams enjoyed basking in the glory of achievement and learning through the journey. He shared his expertise and experience with everyone and coached many start-ups or SME companies of his chosen industries on how to leverage technology. He advised many IT companies big and small through participation in Advisory Boards or Customer Forums.

Inspiration comes from giving and sharing, not from domineering or manipulating behaviors; respect comes intrinsically when there is enough evidence of having helped not just yourselves, but everyone around you. No one can take away what you do or stand for, it is up to you to decide what you want to be. Some lack the words to put forth their ideas and learning; that does not make them any lesser, they just remain hidden treasures. Where are you in this? Are you inspired by someone or you are a source of inspiration?


March 18, 2014  5:41 AM

Formula One IT

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Congratulations for being the chosen one! The business likes your solution and we are also fine with the technology, functionality and customer references. Now that we have an agreement on the price lets quickly get legalities and other formalities out of the way. The process for PO creation and other paper work will take another couple of weeks. The question is how quickly can you allot resources to our project? I do not believe that we need 3 months to get the solution off the ground into a pilot or for that matter go-live.

Any objections to aggressive timeline expectations from the customer are brushed aside citing urgency in business need and the dynamic business environment. Software vendors sheepishly accept the modified forceful project plan which assumes turnaround of all documentation from users with no delay or for that matter existence of clean data. Idealistic as it may appear both sides approach the project with enthusiasm that is outward for the vendor who is happy to get the business. D-day arrives and the project kicks off with much fanfare.

This situation has occurred a lot more often than gets visibility; time to market expectations from commercial-off-the-shelf software implementations (leaving aside ERP type solutions) are getting shorter. Most of them offer standard process automation or functionality that is typical across companies. Thus with basic configuration and some integration the anticipation is that the solution will be up and running in no time. Reality however bites every time with outcomes that do not live up to such expectations exposing the fallacy in the approach.

Analyzing scores of such projects undertaken by many of my peers the discovery was not very surprising. The facts were largely consistent and created a picture which when played back to the CIOs made them cringe and accept it. There were reasons and there were reasons; they were not the usual that have been published by various groups who track challenged projects. In almost all cases these failed to achieve timelines as well as deliver the functionality expected and the CIO ended up with the short end of the stick.

To begin with the evaluation of available options extended to eternity with high business expectations wanting to select the perfect solution. Comparing apples with pineapples creates a situation where the end result morphs from being a custard apple to a jackfruit. Moving from one demo to another scope expands to encompass all exception conditions. Sanity prevails after some time with CIO or business CXO intervention to bring back expectations closer to reality. Elapsed time through evaluation now puts pressure to achieve results in impractical timelines.

What started as a city street drive has now converted into a formula one race! We need to finish the journey in the fastest possible time; get your experts, put more people on the job, why does hardware delivery take so much time, put it on the cloud. Configurations cannot take that long, it should be possible to reuse expertise from other customer projects. We are not that different but we are different; what we meant is not what you have understood, you don’t know our business and we don’t have time to educate you.

Time keeps ticking with business participants unable to adhere to unworkable timelines resulting in missed milestones and angst on all sides. Reviews soon become infrequent with everyone wanting to just finish the project with redoubled effort. The cascading effect leaves everyone frustrated and wondering why they accepted the stretched targets or ever got into the project in the first place. The formula one race with no equipment, trained drivers and crew suddenly is back to being what it should have been, a street car race.

Accepting reality brings everyone back to what they should have done to begin with; plan with real assumptions, acknowledge dependencies and the need to follow a workable model with good project management practices. It is good to take time to find the right solution which needs to be given due time for deployment too. I believe that CIOs need to continuously educate business users not to apply consumer principles to enterprise software deployments. They need to push back even at the cost of being unpopular or appearing unaligned.

Sometimes they should also be ready to go to a formula one race!


March 10, 2014  7:21 AM

Scaling startups

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

He was talking about the next paradigm in cloud computing that will transform the way we look at IT infrastructure; it has received good traction with the initial set of early experiments. Another one was passionate about the new world of converged consumer and enterprise mobility; there will be a need for a different type of mobile device management. Security remains a favorite subject with all kinds of paranoia and sometimes reality demanding attention and budgets. And then there are many solutions vying for attention with no real differentiation.

Technology evolution creates opportunities for innovation limited only by imagination and passion. The number of startups is growing in leaps and bounds supported by family funds, angel investors, incubators constituted by academic institutes, and sometimes the rich and foolish. After the initial idea is germinated many of them struggle to move to the next level. While the consumer facing ideas find their moments of truth quickly, the enterprises focused tend to seek advice on how to pitch and connect with the CIO and business.

Call it coincidence or maybe the industry is changing in a definitive way, the recent past had some ex-CIOs and industry friends talking about getting involved in helping startups. There already exist many formal and informal groups who tend to the needy and also help them with funding. Most such groups want to look at the idea, business case, and background of promoters to determine if they should invest their time or bet their money. Opportunities appear to be ranging from some great ideas to harebrained downright ridiculous.

Mentoring startups seems to be the “in” thing to do and talk about in social circuits. The commitment ranges from using old contacts and industry connect to open doors or at least create an initial meeting and dialogue, to taking on formal roles with shared financial upside should any intervention result in an engagement and business. The rub-off credibility is indeed making some difference to young entrepreneurs and also giving them a dose of reality to what works and what does not. The partnership is increasing the possibility of survival and success for startups.

Some startups tend to thrive in a niche without getting distracted giving them higher propensity for survival. For the challenged ones one of the reasons has been the founders becoming a bottleneck by not building depth of management; their passion and emotional connect that brought them to a market position ends up stifling the company. They are unable to let go of micromanaging every person and activity thus rarely scale up to their true potential. This is largely true for individual owned companies; partnerships face other conflicts and challenges.

Serial entrepreneurs on the other hand have enjoyed fruits of success with their ability to detach themselves. Moving on to their next idea or wave of evolution gives them new opportunities. They know who to tap and what they need intuitively; their experience adds to their ability to find the right customer advocates and advisors. Knowing when to push and when to give up comes naturally. It is not that everyone can be a successful serial entrepreneur, the success or failure of the first one is the most difficult analogous to making the first million dollars.

CIOs can play an important role especially in the evolution of startups wanting to provide solutions to enterprises.  Their understanding of the business context coupled with their technology expertise gives them the ability to craft architectures that positively impact business outcomes. I believe that CIOs should adopt a few fledglings depending on their interest and inclination; shaping the future has merit that it is predictable and brings self-actualization. The other option is to read about success stories and wonder.

That is the choice for the CIO to make.


March 4, 2014  10:11 AM

Software Asset Management

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

You know it is a funny fact, we know where the hardware is (at least most of it) and what it is used for. It is tagged, classified, part of the asset register with clearly defined depreciation rules and possible refresh when it reaches end of life. The same does not always apply to software licenses; software is bought in varied forms, box packs, paper licenses, and enterprise agreements, downloads, handed over on a disk or thumb drive. It’s all over the place with most clueless of where, what, how much, and changing licensing conditions.

We help companies save license costs, manage their software inventory effectively towards compliance and ensure that there are no surprises during renewals or audits. Said so a representative from a large global IT advisory company to an audience of CIOs. He offered data and metrics to the disbelievers on how they helped many companies. Consulting companies have been pitching that everyone has a lot more licenses than they need; rarely anyone creates an inventory of all the software they buy, deploy and retire.

Software vendor representatives in the room nodded away through the sales pitch adding that most CIOs do not look at license compliance actively; it is an afterthought and enterprises need to deploy tools to manage the process of license management. Collectively they incited the CIOs to deploy SAM or software asset management. While a couple of CIOs from IT and software development companies talked about the benefits of SAM and how they were able to improve margins, rest of the CIO audience could not connect.

A FMCG CIO interrupted: when IT is your business and software the tools of the trade, they are managed as well as the machines that define the assembly line in a manufacturing organization.  We know where the finished products that move across the supply chain are the same way you know about your tools and services. We are users of IT to run our business; IT is not our business and we need simpler licensing when compared to the current complexity that makes it impossible to keep track of the ever changing environment and terms and conditions.

Life in the software industry started with the simplest of forms such as enterprise license for the entire company which gradually moved to concurrent users, named users, and then by server. Later arrived licenses by CPU which soon changed to Core based licensing. Advent of Virtualization created some confusion which was compounded by the Cloud. My software is licensed to run only on physical servers; if you want virtual servers you can only run it on my technology stack. Some innovative guy added memory based licenses.

Mergers and acquisitions in the software industry made life even more interesting with products morphing from one avatar to another, SKU changes, changes in terms and conditions, or licensing models. In many cases these were updated on respective websites and customers expected to periodically check! Refer to clause on page 179, sub-clause … you signed that enterprise user licensing agreement agreeing to this. It would be good for you to also take cognizance of the inflation clause which raises annuity payments every year.

Unable to stop himself, a veteran CIO asked the audience: I am sure all of you have account managers from the software companies who meet with you frequently; has anyone of them ever engaged with you or offered help to stay compliant with the licenses? Is there role only to sell more solutions or also to help you leverage what you have and work collaboratively to keep the relationship going? Why do we CIOs have to face audits like criminals and then get cornered for small aberrations or use beyond the licenses?

Acknowledging the gap the vendors and the consultants in the room mentioned the need for SAM and why it is important for companies to stay abreast of their licensing. I believe that depending on the size of the enterprise and the complexity of the architecture it would be worth getting hands dirty on SAM. Until the industry learns and decides to work with CIOs on managing licenses, the onus shall remain with the IT teams to stay compliant with process driven provisioning and frequent internal assessments that rationalize use.


February 24, 2014  10:26 AM

The 80% solution

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

It had been a long project with missed timelines and scope creep, the kind of projects that everyone dreads as they create difficult conversations in every review meeting while meetings are being conducted. The vendor was as frustrated as IT; the management wanted to stop funding to the project and treat it as a learning experience. The users wanted the project bad enough and managed to keep it afloat citing business need, efficiency gain and cost saving “when we go-live.” So the project survived despite odds.

Every enterprise had at some time or the other witnessed similar stories or projects that became unviable with all metrics: time, cost, resources and business value being busted; not necessarily software projects, but even hardware deployment, network upgrades, storage capacity enhancements or something as simple as the new projector for the boardroom. It is neither incompetence nor lack of rigor that causes such situations, everyone is committed to delivering the best result and that is where the problem starts.

Technophiles, well-meaning and conscientious team members want to provide the best solution which leaves no room for any kind of discussion or debate. They like to get the perfect solution in place that will win awards, accolades or in many cases just simple satisfaction of having done the best. The quest for the best keeps them busy exploring all angles including ones that don’t matter. They love debates on technology standards, finer aspects of architecture, the last exception condition the software will ever face, leading to frustration.

Searching for the best solution is indeed important for long-term success of any solution; after all you do not want your creation to be flayed within a short time. So try casting an eye over the 5-10 year horizon and postulate the future of the solution, technology, and the company. Shouldn’t the source code be in escrow or buyback of hardware at every refresh at predefined values? How can we be sure of your wanting to continue with this line of business? The questions get quite interesting as everyone wants to look good forgetting the adverse impact of sliding timelines.

Users living in a paper dominated manual or inefficient solution world want to make sure their problems are addressed down to every imaginable scenario. The evolving solution landscape wants to ensure the least change and the highest level of customization which unfortunately vendors are willing to acquiesce to; thus IT becomes the bad guys attempting to prevent the massacre of the solution. Trying to get it 100% right has become the nemesis of many projects and solutions; teams struggle unable to imbibe past learning.

Agile methodologies applied to software development provided a process for iterative evolutionary development where good enough is deemed acceptable to be refined over a period of time. It recognizes the impact of time on any project or need thus finding many business teams wanting to adapt to quick wins. The 80% mark is not cast in stone; the baseline is notional and varies by project. I believe that this can also be applied to hardware procurement or other IT disciplines with variations to the design.

The starting point for such a paradigm shift is the alignment of all leaders and managers to the new way of working. Don’t expect a solution that does everything of what the business wants and you can have it up and running in say 30-60 days. Refinement can continue over a period of time by the operational team working with part of the project team. Business can start using the solution to fulfill their need and everyone is happy. Off course this cannot be applied to ERP type projects which have different levels of complexity.

A good decision in time is worth more than the best decision if delayed; this maxim applies to the world of IT, IT project management, software development, and in many cases to hardware deployments too. Consensus is desirable but not critical unless the primary stakeholder is not aligned. If you have not moved ahead in your journey, then activity is of no consequence. So stop debating if you have all the data to make a decision, if you believe you have all the critical data, take a decision; that may separate you from being a manager or a leader!


February 17, 2014  8:23 AM

The Corporate Social Media Network

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

The trigger has been the wilder than earlier predicted adoption of social media websites, applications and mobile apps by all age groups across geographies and social strata. Every new innovation, fad or me-too has caught the fancy of not just consumers, but also investors. After denial and prohibition came the acceptance within the enterprise and experiments on how to use it to the benefit of the company. Thus we see a new trend emerging that now has many players vying for attention; the corporatization of social media.

I am not referring to the numerous models that have been attempted to measure return on investment or to convert “Likes” into hard cash (fortunately not by selling personal details of customers). Many will point out a few popular success stories where a brand or product found exponential growth driven by social media campaigns; this number has not grown much in subsequent years. I am alluding to the attempt by companies to setup internal portals and sites that mimic behavior of the popular social media sites.

CXOs blessed this and agreed that while we prevent our employees from the internet on corporate devices let us give them a way to spend their energy on similar sites internally with each other. Let them channelize their time towards being more productive. CIOs with help from vendors cloned most of the functionality and put it on the intranet and waited for employees to start using it. Some did, they posted stuff here and there and then went away very quickly. How can I put up my private life on display inside the company?

Managers attempted to create collaboration use cases; success was measured by number of people active or the number of posts. Structures around groups helped them find behavioral and psychological insights. Soon these became case studies and best practices to be touted by vendors and consultants. Within boundaries these worked adding to the momentum which forced almost every respectable CXO to leniency. All along employees continued to put on display their private lives on non-corporate social media via their BYOD smartphones.

Is corporate social media really a tool that can transform the way enterprises and employees collaborate? Can it imitate the viral effect seen in private lives? If we discount the generation X/Y who are just entering the workforce, are the 30 and 40 something employees going to embrace getting on internal social media to post their feelings and share brainwaves? In a hypercompetitive and paranoid professional world, will the existence of a platform with adequate catalysts be the trigger that breaks the barriers?

Social media fatigue is already setting in; the multitude of options from 140 characters to pin boards and friendly sites only confuses rather than compartmentalize the use. People realize the time demands in an ever connected world which expects instant responses to emails, tweets, SMS, chat messages, posts and whatever mode of socializing they engage in. Souring relationships due to or because of the face down thumb happy posture is changing the way we engage with each other. Peer pressure keeps some going, the rest follow the herd.

Coming back to corporate social media, there are opportunities if used well; any foray requires capturing the ethos of the company, department or group which will determine the character of the site and engagement. It requires a team of enthusiastic believers who infect everyone they come in contact with their exuberance and create an urge to try. The team needs no boundaries or censorship for engagement; let there be self-imposed discipline on what the group is willing to accept. Monitor you may, don’t be the police.

In a recent interview a journalist asked me the question “What is the future of corporate social media?” I believe that there will be pockets of excellence from which people will learn only to fail until they are able to create the cultural ecosystem in which sharing can thrive without fear of retribution or rebuke. We need freedom to communicate, disagree, and be ourselves the way we are outside the workplace. Leaders and Managers have to walk this talk for it to work. Until then there will be case studies that we read and wonder why it does not work for us!


February 10, 2014  7:46 AM

And they lived happily ever after!

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

I had this interesting debate with an aspiring CIO on my earlier blog “The Perennially Dissatisfied User”; he talked about some organizations not really having this problem where the users kept on finding faults with everything that IT did. They are a satisfied lot if not delighted; at least they do not berate IT on everything and there is an equilibrium and harmony between the teams. The camaraderie lends itself to discussing what works and finding opportunities to solving business problems or creating new ideas to explore.

Though far and few there are such organizations who have found peace and a process design to make things work collaboratively rather than be at each other’s neck all the time. IT is seen not just as a service provider, but as an enabler and partner who can help them achieve success. Not that they do not have conflicts, they are healthy debates and resolve them to move ahead or agree to disagree. There is mutual respect for the profession and competency each brings to the table. How does this state of being come into existence?

The foundation of any such partnership is laid over a period of time; it is about creating an engagement process which outlines the boundaries and acknowledges expertise where it exists. The governance is democratized in a way that everyone understands the implications and there is a platform to resolve open issues. Across organization layers exceptions are discouraged and do not have to become you versus us; there is no across the table creating two sides, there is only one side which benefits the function and company.

Business processes and customer expectations are open to discussion and so are technology choices; the final decision and accountability are clear in their design. Sign-offs is achieved in time or if there is a delay everyone is agreeable to the rationale. It is not about whose budget it is or who is funding the project or purchase; it is about what is the value the solution creates for the enterprise. It requires consistent maturity on part of everyone to ensure that this works. Thus success rates are higher than industry benchmarks.

There is clear communication of expectations, be it hardware standards for new devices or restrictions on access to applications or internet. Decisions on solutions are based on merit and agreement on the metrics used with everyone collectively aligned. Thus everyone works towards the common goal and thereby leaving no room for fault finding should things not work out. Whenever priorities are competing with each other for budgets or resources, the group is able to reason it out and come to an agreement on the way forward.

Escalations for exceptions are pushed back to the business and IT leaders to resolve. Policies are simple yet effective in their intent and well understood by everyone. They are living documents which are frequently reviewed against changing business environment as well as dynamic technology landscape which shifts expectations and the way of working. This keeps IT infrastructure and environment simple to govern and manage. Shadow solutions are rarely seen in such organizations with high levels of engagement being the norm.

Sounds too good to be true? Organization culture plays an important role in facilitating this. I have seen some enterprises embrace this so well that they become the poster boys of how to use a specific technology or solution. Business CXOs talk about success stories and benefits accrued acknowledging the role IT played in their ability to win. The CIO persona and behaviour plays an important role and s/he shuns pure technical discussions and focuses on how to help the company stay a leader. IT vendors love doing business with such companies.

Is a transition to such a nirvana state possible? Can sustainable change be made for good? I would say “conditions apply”. To begin with the organization culture has to be collaborative and progressive; the company should be profitable with the appetite to spend, else the discussion will always be on cost. The CIO should be articulate, know the business and have skills to keep his team cohesive and motivated. When all these factors come together then you have a recipe for success that everyone talks about!


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