July 26, 2013 11:21 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, Rogue Applications
, Shadow IT
We need IT support and expertise to scale up the application; there are a few enhancements and some bugs that need to be fixed. For us it has worked well for the last year and we believe that it can deliver similar benefits to other parts of the company. You know the efficiency it has given us has helped meet our targets and we now measure favourably on most KPIs. Can you organize for the resources at the earliest? Thus started a discovery of an application that had gone business critical!
The company had engaged a big name consulting firm to help in a business transformation. The project had been announced with big fanfare and branding that had everyone excited with the potential outcomes. The initiative took off quickly with key process identification and definition of measurement criteria. Review meetings began with the realization to promise while dashboards sprung up all over the place. These charged up everyone and the movement spread quickly.
Everyone applauded the effort which was cascaded to a few sites with the same level of success thereby ensuring that the model was robust and scalable. The consultants had created a working spreadsheet model that automated the critical process chain and helped improve the decision making. It worked well for the select set of users who proudly displayed the results to anyone and everyone who wanted to know more about their success. People moved on to other things and soon this was forgotten.
The CIO had no inkling of the spreadsheet becoming mission critical to the unit and the slow virulent spread of the solution. It did not cross the business teams’ mind to move on to an integrated and scalable formal application that would integrate with the data sources rather than continue taking data dump and manipulating to get to where they wanted. No one challenged the process as it slowly crept on until the data size became unwieldy and a few locations wanted to tweak the model.
That is when the CIO was approached to rescue the situation. They wanted a technical resource to help fix and deploy the solution. It was a precarious situation for the CIO whether to push back or fall in line and support the business critical application. There was pressure from the stakeholders and some CXOs to support the solution. The easy way out was to let go; after all, the project did have visibility and everyone knew about it, so why make an issue. But that would have set a precedent!
My friend was not known to be politically correct and ready to take a stand on principles; for him that was the only way to do things. And that’s what he did; he asked the team to submit the documentation of the system based on which the team would determine whether the program could be supported or redevelopment was the way out. He went on to deplore the situation with the CXO responsible and instructed his team to follow his diktat. Reconciliatory moves to find a compromise were brushed aside brusquely.
This was not a typical case of rogue or shadow IT that ignored the IT function or the CIO intentionally. It was never expected to become a business critical solution to be deployed across locations. Every function uses spreadsheet to address simple data capture, analysis or sometimes address tasks that conventional solutions are unable to fulfill. Quick and dirty spreadsheet or other out-of-the-box solutions are typical to any company today. They crystallize the need which IT is able to qualify and address.
I do not believe that there is a singular way to address this situation. All approaches are correct in the context of the situation and the reality of the involved stakeholders. It is important to address this tactfully without burning bridges. My friend knew the boundaries in which he could push back and where he needed to take a step back. Post acknowledgement of the issue, he asked the team to support the scale-up of the application in an integrated framework that had everyone move ahead.
What would you do in such a situation?
July 15, 2013 7:52 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
The CIOs represented first among equals; CIOs who had been consistently effective in creating an example for others to follow. This bunch of score and some more could have filled a museum with the accolades they had collectively received. They had gathered to listen to the wisdom of a few learned men. Their collective expertise could have solved many business and technology problems across industries. To a fly on the wall, their interactions provided interesting insights into human behavior.
They threw a range of technical questions at the speakers and some challenging cases which needed fair experience to resolve. They kept the chatter on through and post the session into the break and the beginning of the next one; the banter never ceased. It is not that they all were good friends or acquaintances or that they were from the same company or industry or shared interests; if at all they had probably met before in another similar forum or maybe not.
Careful observation revealed that within the group some voices were loud and incessant, some broke the monologues with their insights only to be interrupted by the dominance of the need for a few to be heard; or was it to hear their own voices over the others ? Their compulsive need to speak was amazing and unnerving and rather irritating after some time. “I have been there done that and know it all; I have seen all situations, even surreal ones that you cannot imagine. It makes me a winner!”
Bright eyed and confident of their ability and success, another part of the group participated with moderation; it is not that they were in any way lesser to the other group, but did not share the need to speak at every opportunity and sometimes force their way into a conversation. They made sense when they spoke, had questions that made sense (at least most of the time and more often than the first group for whom the sounds of their voices is the only thing that mattered). They were tolerable in comparison.
And then eyes fell on a group who rarely if at all opened their mouth. Through the conversations their contributions were restricted to non-verbal cues, an occasional attempt to get in sideways and then falling silent again. After a few attempts they would go back to fiddling with their smartphones only to awaken intermittently when a point was made where they had an opinion. Unfortunately their views if any will rarely be known to the masses. Their stories, travails and achievements will sound paler when compared to others.
I would hazard a guess that this dynamics manifests itself in every gathering of learned men and women across cultures, geographies and age groups. The participants even when chosen randomly will in relative degrees form similar alignments with a few dominating the proceedings while others defer to them. Spokespersons even when there is no consensus on the view or what is being said come from the first lot. A person in one group may move a few notches in another or demonstrate antonymous behavior.
Everyone likes and wants to win; some talk about it even when their achievements may have been lesser than others. Their forceful presentations create a momentum that takes them through. On the other hand a few winners rarely get noticed until someone takes up their cause. Which is a desirable stand and which is despicable? Should you not brag about your skills and goals attained because if you don’t no one would know. In today’s world how does one project self to get what is rightfully due?
There is an old Indian saying “the peacock danced in the forest; who saw it?” No one likes a braggart though everyone acknowledges success. Our conditioning refrains us from being the peacock with resplendent plume; show some restrain unless you are in the showbiz or have a career in politics. I think that if you are indeed endowed with the qualities that differentiate you from the herd go ahead and tell the world about it. There is a difference between modesty, being an introvert and humility. Know the difference and decide where you stand.
July 8, 2013 9:21 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, cost cutting
, IT budget
, Outcome based pricing
When the going gets tough, the tough don’t get going anymore because companies cut cost. In the last 4-5 years the economic, governance, and policy uncertainties across geographies, markets, industries and sentiment in general, have had an overall negative bias. We saw recessionary trends that never really went away; an after taste remains even today. Companies that have globalized continue to see challenges in some situations every day thus keeping the teams on their toes.
Cost cutting or management has become a way of life; we have all been through these cycles or what management types call S-curve of investments and cuts; the corporate strategy and agenda oscillates between cutting costs and creating efficiency when lead indicators of performance reveal that growth is stunted and profitability is taking a hit. The onus of efficiency many a times rests with the CIO who has a micro view of every process. Sooner or later the process reaches a break point within the constraints.
Green shoots that bring promise of the era of growth has most companies scrambling to invest again; with the herd mentality everyone then wants agility, process flexibility, and an ability to respond to the market faster than equally ill-prepared competitors. Why are you unable to deliver new functionality faster? Market will not wait for us to build systems at leisure; IT is not aligned to business reality, they do not understand business priorities and how to deliver to them.
The CIO retaliates and cites budget cuts in the past when the going was slow; when IT and business teams had some spare time, we decided to fine tune efficient processes rather than building new capability that could have helped retain market leadership. All good things take time to build and deliver; now putting more men on the job does not solve the problem. If you (Business) continue to look for the perfect solution, we might not complete before the next recessionary cycle making all the effort pointless.
This tug-of-war is played across many enterprises with no learning applied from past cycles of cuts and investments. It is like a knee jerk reaction to external factors that throws strategy out of the window and the company to the mercy of fickle minds and men. The short-term prevailing over the long-term takes away the flexibility to respond to market shifts with no latitude to adapt. Thus benefits available with sustained investments thus continue to stay elusive.
Can organizations and CIOs create a balance between the efficiency and flexibility agenda? Is such a position desirable and achievable? Can IT help the cause? I asked these questions to a few learned CIOs; everyone nodded unanimously to the fact that cost containment drives every few years has taken away a lot of energy. The yo-yo keeps them and their business folks running to stay in the same place. Discretionary budgets not being available now, the tussle for flexibility is an uphill journey.
Turning to a consultant amidst the group for wisdom of the ages, there was no solace in what she offered as advice. She propounded the obvious: stop investing and cutting cost in spurts. Don’t lose sight of your direction; focus on your customers, explore cloud, analytics…. With no real input coming from this quarter, we decided to brainstorm the issue. The nemesis was universal and thus participation eager; while we did not solve world hunger problems, an outline emerged that offered some promise.
The new engagement model with outcome based payments holds a lot of promise; as CIOs engage with the partner ecosystem to link outflow to projects delivering to business metrics, two things will change. Firstly business will have to define outcomes and their commitment upfront; this will impact discipline of execution and the ability to stay focused. The second change will be the acknowledgement of the role of IT in business excellence putting the CIO in the driver’s seat should s/he choose to take on the opportunity.
Are you ready?
July 1, 2013 7:07 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, Hybrid cloud
, Public cloud
, ROI from cloud
The last fortnight could be classified as the official cloud period of the year with multiple conferences vying for attention; it also saw business newspapers and magazines write about clouds. A couple of television channels aired hyperbolic programs with the usual set of vendors and spokespersons talking about why enterprises have to adopt the cloud for survival. One of these had an interesting open and candid discussion between two senior CIOs on clouds which kept the organizers on their toes and the audience regaled.
A brave move by the organizers, in an unstructured dialogue with no moderator, their bantering got off to a good start with sharing of experiences on how they had used various technology solutions to create purported private clouds as well as engaged with third party service providers to leverage varied cloud offerings. They unanimously admonished the vendors for creating hype more than they could deliver in reality. The hysteria parallels the dotcom era in its favor with everything being tagged to the cloud.
The senior retired CIO used his sharp wit and tongue challenging the audience if they had different experiences. He demolished a few hypotheses and claims as myths with no evidence apart from anecdotal references. He sought to differentiate between public cloud solutions for consumers from ones available for enterprise users. The clouds are drifting with the wind created by a lot of hot air in the room, so let’s be practical and realistic in promises to customers on cloud solutions.
We all know that cloud for the consumer has been a big hit connecting mobile devices to ubiquitous cloud solutions offering multiple for purpose apps. Almost all the content is uploaded or downloaded to or from the cloud with seamless access across multitude of devices. Try for free, if you like it, buy it; micropayments allow easy download and upgrades, and if you don’t like it, you don’t feel the pinch. From tweens, teenagers to grandfathers and grandmothers everyone is hooked on in varying degrees.
The corporate journey started with sales applications gradually moving on to full-scale sales force automation solutions; employee self-service and customer facing portals (B2B or B2C) kind of rounded off the foray on the public cloud. Test & Development, archiving, and experimentation of new solutions were the other deployment cases. None of the core applications moved to the cloud; small and medium enterprises, and start-ups though did find the cloud offering quick solutions at affordable costs.
All As-A-Service models worked on the assumption that enterprises are desperate to move their capital investments to operating expense; in reality all of them were not excited. The variability of expenses that clouds promised was rarely delivered with rigid contracts and time to (re)provision. ROI remained elusive in the public and hybrid cloud models, the private cloud (which was created as a term to appease the CIOs who did not embrace the real cloud) did provide some benefit with agility and higher utilization.
Repurposing a consumer offering to the enterprise (read the micro-app nemesis) has many challenges which I guess will eventually get resolved; the reverse may to the consumer as I know is not been ideated; the boundaries are blurring between the two. While the transactional need fulfilled by enterprise applications will rarely move to the cloud or onto the mobile, information consumption and field data gathering will become key processes working off the same personal mobiles on the public cloud.
With the boundaries between consumer and corporate devices no longer tenable and enterprises adopting BYOD, the next disruption will be the convergence and unification of the consumer and enterprise device, and applications. Until that happens, the debate will continue on where the cloud has a promise for the CIO and where it impacts the person the CIO is. Stock tickers, games, utilities and what have you gratify the individual and are perceived as a distraction and risk by the enterprise.
Coming back to the chat, a vendor in the audience challenged the duo that the vendor had customers who have successfully deployed the cloud but meekly backed off when challenged to verbalize the business case and benefit. The hot air was indeed clouding a normal discussion; so the CIOs agreed to wind up the discussion with the conclusion: clouds are here to stay, they are/will be a part of the IT setup, don’t go gaga over it, be pragmatic, practical and deploy only if it fulfills a business need. Sound advice if there was one!
June 16, 2013 10:13 PM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, IT innovation
Innovation has always been a mystery to me; I mean what triggers innovation, how do people come up with ideas that result in innovation, why do some companies innovate more than others, what enables companies to create an innovation culture. Most of the books on innovation do a wonderful job of justifying why some are more successful than others. Theories and postulations fail to tell us how to innovate in our frame of reference; their motherhood statements are rarely actionable.
Corporate innovation agenda manifests itself in many ways starting with Committees, working groups, posters and banners, award and reward schemes, various interesting sounding Japanese terms used to christen the initiative, what have you. When these do not deliver in the anticipated stupendous way, consultants are hired to review and propose a model presumably aligned to the enterprise reality. Many interviews and thousands of slides later no one is wiser on the way forward.
In the last few weeks I was bombarded by the need for innovation to be on the CIO agenda. These came from CIO surveys, research papers and opinions of a few vendor marketing pitches. The reference was to enable and support corporate innovation programs and at the same time also create an IT innovation agenda. The tall order revolved around deploying solutions that capture ideas, enable collaboration, allow progress visibility, all of which will turn the enterprise into an innovation factory.
The other part of the discussion looked at IT innovation which in turn should enable business strategy and/or growth. According to them, a combination of the usual suspect and hyped technologies should do the trick for every company irrespective of size or industry; if you are not doing Big Data, then you are missing out; if you do not use mobility solutions (or BYOD), then you are a laggard; you don’t have clouds? You must be joking, everyone does clouds, private, public or hybrid. The message does not look at business cases, but expects traction.
So where does the CIO stand in the corporate innovation agenda? Is s/he leading or participating in the program, or is the CIO a bystander? Where does IT if at all fit into the innovation drive? I started tracking the reality for the CIO and how they are dealing with this predicament to validate my reality. While I had no expectations, the answers in their candour surprised me. Very few had a different reality and I am not sure if they were trying to cover up. The overwhelming majority were quite clear.
In a large part, the innovation initiatives were created to counter some competitive force or pressure that hurt the business. Beyond the initial wave of ideas that delivered quick-win results, the programs did not live up to their initial expectations. All the buzz and hoopla died down after a few months or quarters, few lived to celebrate an anniversary. Where technology platforms were part of the design, the CIO enabled it and stepped out of the way. A few IT lead innovative business ideas brought them to the limelight which was good while it lasted.
Innovation and breakthroughs are rarely achieved using structured agendas; they flow out of creativity of individuals and teams working together. These can impact processes, products or services in big and small ways. Committees evaluating ideas are more likely to kill them than enable, so is the case with laborious processes to determine which ideas should be funded and which discarded. We all know this but play the game along when it is seeded in our companies.
Is the CIO really uniquely positioned to help further the innovation cause? The challenge is the enterprise wide acceptability of this position where every CXO wants to be associated with such a prestigious initiative irrespective of whether it delivers to promise. After all, no one wants to be not seen as not supporting innovation. Should the CIO fight to get his/her name stuck on? If you can’t beat them, join them appears to be the best approach for now. Do you have a different view or reality?
May 20, 2013 12:40 PM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, IT vendors and the CIO
, managing expectations
, Selling to business
, Selling to the CIO
By design, omission or inadvertently, all of us have faced the situation where the vendor has declared the product “end-of-life”. This puts at risk legacy applications, instrumentation, automation, or in many cases plain old processes that have survived all attempts to change them. CIOs and IT realize that upgrades are expensive and in some case not as good as the earlier working versions in terms of stability and/or functionality. But then they have to do it lest there be no support when the software fails.
Many CIOs succumb to the pressure quickly, only to realize that the deadlines have shifted and they could have avoided the nasty dialogue with respective functions (normally finance). They could have saved the unbudgeted expense in the upgrade which wiped out buffers that were provided for some innovation. Sometimes this leaves a feeling that this was a ploy to move everyone along reducing the support costs for the vendor, maybe some incremental licences (new versions typically may have different breakup).
A CIO friend bought a software package that fit business requirements so well that it appeared to have been developed using the requirement specifications of the company. She loved it as it implied very little customization and a deployment timeline better than what the business wanted. Everything went like a dream, the solution went live with celebrations and everyone was happy. The vendor was acquired by one of the big IT product and services companies; the new CEO promised to keep old customers happy.
As it was time to scale up, the CIO approached the new entity for new licences. The offer for upgrade had her fall off her chair; it was twice of what she paid earlier. Reaching out to the old team she found no help forthcoming with them citing new policies of the acquirer. The big guy sales team explained the new investments into the solution justifying the increase. Left with no choice in the face of the earlier business success, the CIO felt cornered and frustrated though had to accept the new terms.
In another scenario recounted to me some time back, a packaged vendor gave a demonstration of a specialized solution to the business team who loved what they saw. They approached the CEO and the CIO with a claim of higher productivity and ROI. The CEO endorsed the purchase and the IT team got down to creating the project charter, implementation plan and timeline. Quickly they realized that the solution required significant customization to work in their environment.
The CIO got together with the Business Head to provide the reality which was quite different from the short trailer and demo. Since they shared trust, it was evident that the solution provider had only revealed the surface; they had pressed the right buttons and given the messages that created empathy. The resultant in high expectations created a feeling of being short changed; while there was no false information, limited revelations created desire and expectations that were unrealistic.
I could go on and on with many examples on how every day we face situations which leave us with a negative gut feeling and a sense of having been taken for a ride. Some of these are a result of our own naivety, inexperience, or overenthusiasm; also in many cases due to intentional concealment of facts and/or our interpretation of what is said. There are rare cases when mal intent has been the driver too; it is largely taking advantage of the gullibility of the buyer. And every time I hear of an incident, I feel restless.
I do not believe for a moment that this situation is unique to the CIO; at times all CXOs face situations that leave a feeling that we are being taken for a ride, sometimes during the journey, sometimes after we have been gypped. Is there a solution to this? I do not have a silver bullet to resolve such situations; I believe that tactically the CIO has to work on each case to address the issue at hand. Due diligence and contracts go some distance, the rest falls into risk zone and have no easy answer.
May 12, 2013 5:50 PM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, cloud computing
, Hybrid cloud
, managing expectations
, Technology hype
When the phenomenon called Cloud made appearance on the IT landscape, it promised to disrupt many existing paradigms. You don’t need to buy any server hardware and storage, capacity is available on demand and you pay for what you use. Applications with licensing models that can adapt to business cycles, Everything-As-A-Service (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and many more), no capital investments, only operating expense. It was touted to be the silver bullet to solve all the budgeting challenges of the CIO including getting rid of the CIO.
Evolution brought competition and a hysterical wave that caught every Vendor, System Integrator, Research Analyst, and the CIO alike. New terms were coined to depict the key attributes that the cloud promised: agility, flexibility, resilience, scalability, and on-demand. Alliances of hardware, software and networking vendors vied for attention; everything was cloud-enabled or ready. When corporate data centers could not be classified, the term “Private Cloud” came to rescue.
It brought some comfort to the CIO that s/he was not seen as “not doing the in thing”; almost everyone now had a cloud, private or public. From there rose the challenge of making them work together. After all if some apps are on the public cloud while the transactional systems or other apps are still in the corporate data center, they need to inter-operate. Tools and technology solutions attempted to bridge the chasm; everyone had a variant that did something better than the other confusing the heck out of IT teams.
Someone christened the new reality of the coexistence as “Hybrid Cloud” and the term has stuck on. For simpler solutions, applications and processes like collaboration, sales force automation and the likes of Human Capital Management, the challenge was easily overcome by most. Pervasive challenges of security, data residue, service levels, interoperability between different clouds, or difficulty in migrating from one service provider to another, cut across every offering.
Evolution of the services and technology has not been uniform; a few still struggle to offer a consistent experience straddling between the data center and the public cloud. A CIO narrated a harrowing story of his journey towards making a hybrid cloud work to offer a consistent and uniform experience to his users. The vendor in question either due to ignorance or over-enthusiasm promised everything to be possible and the delivery team struggled to get even the basics working.
Step by step through the early stages of making things work, they did not just lose time, the arduous journey had the IT team struggling to explain to the CIO why the project was running totally off target. Most were not technology challenges but oversell to the CIO on what would work and how it would. Straddling the physical and cloud world to offer a seamless and uniform experience to users did pose a few challenges. I guess all clouds are not created equal as competing solutions did offer to expectation.
The CIO called for a review and experts from all over the world joined in to rescue the situation. It was a one-sided affair with no real solution emerging to the problem at hand. The CIO concluded with the pilot being disbanded. The resultant credibility loss alienated the vendor in no small measure undoing a lot of the good work that they had delivered in the past. It was almost like the nursery rhyme in real world “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put the vendor back on track again.”
I guess when it comes to hybrid, cars work and have achieved a maturity level that brings consumer confidence; with clouds I guess there are still challenges to overcome and technology to reach stability and interoperability. Until then stay cautious and don’t bet on everything to work the way it did in a pure cloud or in-house model. The user experience with hybrids can be a dampener on the enthusiasm that vendors and system integrators want you to feel while they experiment at your cost.
P.S. it would appear that the next wave promises Autonomic Computing, anyone game?
April 28, 2013 4:26 PM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, legacy systems
, managing teams
, People Management
Technology evolution has created many opportunities and challenges for IT departments. The pace of change in recent times has been going up exponentially with obsolescence setting in faster than the adoption curve maturity. Each new flavor, trend and hype creates a flurry of activity which forces the CIO to react. Despite claims of various consultants, there is shallowness of expertise to get some real stuff done. Today it may be difficult to find COBOL programmers; it is equally difficult to find UX or Big Data experts.
Every company and function wants to retain talent and leverage the years of experience and expertise rather than losing them. This is more so if the person is really good at what s/he does; which is why we have retention plans, fast-tracked development, high potential identification and many other financial and non-financial incentives. We also face the challenge of managing a few members who have failed to change with the times and are unable or unwilling to adapt to the new world.
The technology treadmill keeps some of us running to explore and evaluate how and what could be potential uses that will create a differentiation. We embrace the technologies when something works and soon you find the trend becoming main-stream with everyone following. Consultants, vendors and tech media keep the hype high with new buzzwords and technology lead disruptions. The already scarce resources end up stretching to explore the opportunities over and above their operational activities if any.
Operations are necessary and critical to ensure that business as usual continues while the new stuff keeps the excitement going. Most enterprises have teams that either built the systems a few decades back or were part of the teams that conceptualized the implementation. If you are lucky they have been able to reskill and stay current while managing the legacy. It is also possible that some have not been adept. Many organizations outsource the legacy sustenance and thereby the BAU operations.
The challenge that many face is to find productive use for the team members that failed to stay current with technology or business. These old-timers built the legacy that did well for the business contextual to the need at that time. With evolution their inability to adapt makes them deadweight in the current hyper-competitive business environment. The quandary for the CIO is to find useful work for them or find a humane way for their easing into other functions or out of the company.
One of my CEOs in the past had remarked of this phenomenon “We offer employment to qualified people on merit, we do not guarantee employment”. With profitability pressures and economic uncertainties this is true even for the better ones with work not just shifting to lower cost but also adding on to existing staff. Do more with less is here to stay and the bar keeps rising every year. Discussing this with a CIO, when she asked me “What is your ERP strategy?” I was stumped.
ERP is presumably the new term for Early Retirement Plan, effectively created and deployed with HR. Her company had moved off the legacy technologies that had survived more than two decades and through the planning process she had attempted to reskill the old workforce offering those positions that would have created a graceful exit over a period of time. Most took the opportunity clutching straws and made the grade. A few who did not had to be offered the new ERP!
In some companies old tech still stays, so do people; the pressures of current technology enabled disruptions will require them to sooner or later transition to newer and contemporary solutions. Recent times have seen many transitions from custom legacies to COTS systems to compete in the new normal. The eventual will arrive; CIOs need to hasten their people strategies to ensure that they are not left with a situation where they are pushed to a wall to take a decision.
All ERPs require planning, so why wait?
April 21, 2013 8:53 PM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, Selling to business
Last week when I wrote about selling projects, there was a flurry of responses on what is wrong with the overall approach proposed; according to many, I painted a picture of a CIO who is subservient to business and not proactive in his/her approach to creating change and transformation using IT. Some were of the view that if the CIO does not sell, it will lead to CXOs creating a shadow IT organization which will be available at beck and call to do their demand thereby side lining the CIO.
I met with a senior IT leader who postulated that the “order taking” CIO will not find success as s/he is waiting for the business to define what they want. Most of the time business does not know what they want and in such a situation there will be little progress and lot of dialogue and frustration. According to him the business friendly CIO will explore opportunities and propose the solution to what business may desire and then deliver a solution. He summed up with “know your customer and the industry and get deep into the business.”
I do not disagree with him on knowing the business or proposing a solution; I disagree with the statement that business does not know what they want. Often they presume that lack of technology knowledge creates a gap in how they need to define the business problem. They do need help in articulating the problem statement such that it clearly states the market, the process and the outcomes. It is imperative that the ownership stays with the business stakeholders lest it become an IT project.
A friend and CEO of a mid-sized company joined the discussion on what should be the terms of reference and engagement between IT and business. He is known to be “IT friendly” and good customer who uses IT effectively. He acknowledged his inability to provide a well-defined problem statement that can be translated into a system. So I probed further to give an example of what he implied. He warmed up and started talking about his current situation and his information needs.
The company was entering a new market and with commencement of commercial operations needed systems to enable the business. Local regulations being tough and demanding, the competition fierce, the CEO needed end to end visibility across the supply chain and customers while addressing the needs of the regulators. He defined the need, the growth, and the ecosystem going on to say that he had no clue what IT systems will solve the problem while throwing some available options from experience.
To me the problem definition was quite clear and so was his information needs. The point is that the questions you ask will determine what you get. We did not discuss any technology options; neither did we get into details of hosted, cloud, or solution options. Clarifying some of the finer nuances it was clear that he was at ease on my overall understanding of the need. I then turned to the CIO and signaled that despite the starting point where the CEO stated he did not know what he wanted, he actually did.
When you meet business leaders, what is the approach? Do you probe based on your knowledge of the situation or do you expect the business to come up with a formal requirement document? Is it a discussion or is it a template given to the business to fill and define what they want? What kind of engagement model do you practice? For any discussion to be fruitful, involved stakeholders have to have a common ground and assumptions to make sense. I don’t know what I don’t know, let’s collaborate.
The answers you get is a function of the questions you ask; if you start with “What reports you want”, that’s what you will get without the background context. If you ask only about the process, you will hear that; take a detached and a connected view simultaneously to get the information required. You will be surprised at the insights you can garner. I believe that CIOs and the IT teams need to be trained on how to ask the right questions; and that is also a function of how well you know the business.