September 18, 2012 7:13 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, IT projects
, Outsourcing effectiveness
, project challenges
, project management
, Requirement gathering
, scope creep
A heated debate ensued between the two project managers, from the development vendor and the customer respectively on change in scope of the project. This was not a late stage discussion or changes requested during UAT; in fact, the project was just a week-old with the Requirement Specifications still being formulated. The key user who was also the subject matter expert sat through the charade wondering where she should step in. With no resolution visible, they all decided to go to the CIO for arbitration.
Predefined, is it?
It was supposed to be a quick win project that typically delivers what everyone refers to as low hanging fruits. The project brief was a working model on a spread sheet of the solution to be developed. So it was assumed that the solution should be easy to create and scale up. The timelines and costs were agreed to and the vendor team arrived on site to finalize the project scope and integration points. So what could be the reason for the conflict? If something is working, how can requirement change?
The CIO heard the point of view from each stakeholder, the user, IT project manager, and the vendor. For the user, she had clarified how the model worked and what was expected from the system that the spreadsheet was unable to deliver; the IT project manager stressed upon the integration to various masters and the scalability expected of the solution; and the vendor project manager completed with a complaint that some of this was not in the original scope that was outlined prior to commencement.
So what was the issue asked the CIO? Wasn’t the current discussion to clearly define the functionality expected from the system? Where is the conflict in the integration definitions? Does expansion of the concept and explaining in detail qualify as scope enhancement? They had an advantage over a standard software development model that a working prototype was available. There was a discomforting silence for a while until they all decided to go back and close the discussion amicably.
So when I bumped into the CIO many months later, I enquired about his story from our last meeting. He mentioned that it had gone live but did face challenges in the initial days. This was discovered during deployment that the system needed elaboration. The functionality was evident common sense but missing from the system (I shall not get into the details here which my CIO friend explained to me to my surprise). He quizzed the team for the missing parts of the whole; the user said it was obvious, the PM agreed, the vendor did not.
State it explicitly
“It is not in the system since you did not ask for it.” Technically correct but does not solve the problem! So now that the system is accepted, deployed and support phase over, this is a Change Request and will have to be managed as such. The ineffectiveness of any argument was evident and the only recourse was to give in to the demand in the interest of the project and the business. That vendor has not been welcome to new initiatives since then; even the support has been moved to other partners.
My friend the CIO had no recourse! Do we? With the outsourcing trends taking the direction that they have, everything has to be now explicitly stated and included as a part of the Requirement Document. If you do not have an internal team of business savvy IT team members actively involved through the cycle such outcomes are quite likely. Invest in your team, keep them actively involved in the project and not just to manage at a high level. Keep a watchful eye open. Assumptions hurt; try “ass u me”.
September 11, 2012 3:23 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, CIO and the Board
, CIO as a business leader
, Evolution of the CIO
, leadership and the CIO
In the last few weeks there has been a lot of publicity and visibility on the fact that CIOs are being or going to be measured on business metrics, many of which they do not control or influence directly or indirectly. This sparked many a debate on various forums that attract CIOs, and social media sites and groups that are dedicated to IT leaders. Not that anyone tried to contain it, the fever spread globally very quickly with reactions that spanned the spectrum of emotions.
Traditionally, IT was measured on three aspects: operational efficiency, budgets, and delivery of projects. The connected world also added information security. Disaster recovery and business continuity surfaced and made it to the dashboard. Somewhere business benefit crept in and then projects were also reviewed from a business angle. Regulatory compliance required significant IT support and thus edged in. But revenue, profitability, customer acquisition or retention, product availability?
How does the CIO influence any of these? Can better IT deliver additional growth? Will technology drive profitability? What can the CIO do to acquire new customers or retain existing ones? And what about product quality or availability? If cash flow is an issue, how will systems ease it? Competition has a better and cheaper product or a great marketing strategy, can IT or the CIO counter it in any way? If the answer to one or more is no, then why link performance or compensation to these measurements?
I know some of the CIOs, who have been there done that, evolved beyond technology and / or taken additional business roles will say that the CIO can indeed contribute and influence most of the measures above. This is achieved with systems that create operational efficiency, business process management, information visibility, business intelligence and analytical models, and even enabling new models of engagement with the new trends and hyped technology troika: Big Data, Mobility, and Social Media. Cloud and Outsourcing are passé; everyone has done it or is doing it.
It is evident that this piece of news has many people worried, and not all of them are CIOs; they are propagating the message that if I cannot control something, I should have the choice to determine if my performance is likely to be impacted. Fair point if the organization worked in perfect silos. In business and life uncertainty is certain and thus even the metrics that seem to be under control have dependencies – internal and external – which are beyond one’s power of influence.
Does the CEO control how the industry will behave? Can the CFO control interest rates or liquidity crunch? If the customer does not buy, what can the CMO do? Rhetorical questions? They are not helpless, but there is a limit to their ability to influence the outcome. They do play a role and they depend on the rest of the CXOs to work lock-step in achieving success. CPO (Chief People Officer) has to help hire and retain the best talent, CIO has to ensure information availability to key stakeholders for decision making and analysis. That’s what the C-suite is all about.
So if the CIO stakes claim to the table, it comes with a set of obligations and responsibilities; it comes with the territory; all CXOs are jointly and individually responsible for the success of the enterprise. It is not about “I have done my part and now you go figure”; I believe that CIOs should and does actively seek this responsibility and then works with others in shaping the future. The C-suite has to take this variability risk. Only then can the CIO aspire to take a position on the Board or become a CEO.
September 5, 2012 3:02 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
CIOs are a lucky bunch, whenever they have a problem of any kind, all types of help is available to them from various sources; IT vendors, system integrators, business school professors, peer CIOs, and finally management or IT consultants big, small, and even individuals, ex-CIOs, i.e. retired or in-between jobs. All of them bring different kind of experiences and solutions to the table; some with a genuine interest to help find the best solution, others with a vested interest to sell goods or services.
Recently when I moved to a new industry and assignment, there was a flood of offers to help from the entire gamut of consultants. Can we help you understand your new industry? Would you like us to do a diagnostic of the current situation? What about some help with IT strategy? Can we offer you some interesting research papers on the industry and its challenges? How are you planning to prioritize the various business pulls and pressures? Is there an IT governance issue you want to address? ….
Their insistence, persistence and perseverance created a few moments of shaken confidence! Did I really need their help to get started? I asked them for data on similar engagements where they had contributed to the direction and shaped the future for the CIO. My mailbox almost ran out of space! There were local and global case studies, customer references, engagement frameworks and best practices. I was surprised with some names of good CIOs friends, while others were predictable.
More than a decade ago as a newbie CIO I had gained some benefit from the consultants and IT advisory and research companies; they helped fast track my learning. But these references were amongst the best of CIOs. So I decided to call them to find out why they engaged these consultants; what prompted them to spend, and on what did they invest? Did they get any insights that eluded them or create a better strategy or help them in their success? Should I too get some of them on board?
The answers should not have surprised me but they did; the consultant brought credibility to the plan, documents on current status bench-marked to local and global metrics. The big name consultants were seen as the best options even when they put your words and common sense into fat documents and fancy presentations. Somehow the stamp of authority and approval made the difference to company management with higher acceptance. The CIO had validation of his/her choices and rub-off credibility from such engagements.
Now I am not averse to using consultants or industry experts in areas that need a different level of thinking and problem solving. To drive company-wide change across different stakeholders can always do with some help! I have had my share of good and mediocre; authority is not bestowed by the brand or the years, it comes from a deeper understanding of the issues and positive query; whereas the ridiculous ones tested endurance levels not to be recalled again.
In my current context I felt that whatever the consultants wanted to solve is what the company had hired me to do; that was my core competency and what I excelled in. By the time they came to the table I had most of the answers that had been discussed and accepted as the reality and way forward. I tested my hypotheses with a couple of big names; they acknowledged that I was on the right track.
Did I need a validation of my decisions? I don’t think so and neither did the rest of the business leaders who found the rationale and direction to be credible in its articulation. I believe that the use of consultants is finally a matter of personal choice influenced by the organization culture and the locus standi of the CIO. The past record of success internally or with consultants determines what works better. I think for now I will continue to stay away from them.
August 28, 2012 6:29 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
business IT alignment
, business uncertainty
, Business value of IT
, IT lead innovation
My friendly Board Member who has also been my mentor for some time now always brings up very interesting points in discussions. I have always enjoyed talking to him as he challenges conventional wisdom with his way outside the box ideas. Being technology savvy, discussions with him tend to be not just at a high level but at times I have to explain why one solution scores over the other. In one such meeting he brought into the open a dimension.
Selection of a tool
We were discussing a new predictive analytics solution and its adoption in the industry not just locally but globally. With no competitor locally using such a solution, with bright eyes, he started drawing the end game that he wanted us to reach; the dimensions were simple in their representation but complex to execute, requiring multiple data sources and algorithms that would challenge most. As the big picture unfolded, it had me and the team scared and excited about the leap forward for our company.
Using a formal matrix for evaluation of the solution is normal for IT; functionality, roadmap, customer success, ease of use, scalability, investment, and industry-fit are some of the parameters. He helped us refine the list discarding most of them considering every solution scored a tick on them. It then came down to a few that focused on strategic intent and investments by the vendor. E.g. How many customers has the vendor invested in to enable them to succeed?
Thus the discussion was at a different plane working on the methodology, plan and shared success criteria that had direct linkage to business outcomes. I could sense wariness in the business, IT and vendor teams on the perceivably risky proposition. What if the solution does not work? What if the industry changes shape or direction? What if business users don’t use the end result for decision making? How do we enforce the models that the solution recommends? What if …
Playing it safe?
Success and failure rates of IT-led projects have been a statistics that scares every one; the reasons have not changed much over the years since I read about them first–more than 15 years back. So there was some hope with a project endorsed by Board Member, but then the big question was if we can sustain his interest over the 18-24 month period in which the end outcome would be measured. We decided to raise these questions to moderate expectations and ended up inviting trouble.
Why are you all so risk averse? How would innovation happen if everyone wanted a fool-proof solution that someone has used in the past? Why are you always looking for precedence? Early adopters always gain a competitive advantage even if it is short-lived; in most cases, the followers get lesser benefits. If you keep working with a view that we don’t want to get anything wrong, is there a guarantee that you will not? And not getting it wrong does not imply that you will get it right!
Doing nothing wrong would mean that status quo is the best place to be; trying something new is always fraught with risk. I am not implying that we take undue risks on new untested technology solutions. To get something right requires collective buy-in that CIOs seek for most projects; the marquee CIOs take a lot of calculated risks, and yes, they do face failed projects more often than others. However, they more than make up for them with their successes.
Inertia is not a good keyword for IT and CIOs; they should seek unexplored avenues to make a difference. I believe that we all strive for success and in the same vein we have a phobia for failure. The obsession to always succeed may result in a dull and boring existence that is disconnected from real life and business which has to compete every day in a new competitive environment with uncertainty. I tend to agree that doing nothing wrong does not mean that you are getting it right!
August 21, 2012 4:03 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, business IT alignment
, Good CIO
, vendor CIO alignment
, vendor management
The front page of a business newspaper carried an interview of some of the big 5 IT services company CEOs that had me engrossed as these industry captains shape the direction for the industry, influence decision making and are consulted by global CEOs on IT strategy and direction. Thus the interest was high to gain from the collective wisdom as they talked about their experiences with global CIOs, decision making process, budgets, successes and finally their perceptions of where CIOs could and should be.
There were some clear messages:
- The global economy will continue to remain under pressure for the next couple of years
- Outsourcing deals will be smaller and of shorter duration as IT budgets will see a lot more rigor in the discussion
- Talent shortage will squeeze growth for IT companies and Cloud computing will keep the hardware industry challenged.
- The CIO-role will change again with technology evolution–the difference between the good and the challenged CIO will widen.
A vested interest?
They outlined the differences on how CIOs across geographies and industries outsourced core and non-core activities to focus on what matters, i.e. you guessed it right, the business. But then they also mention in the same breath that CIOs that did not outsource remained challenged to align the IT objectives to business. Whether it is remote infrastructure management (RIM), or application maintenance, and everything in between, the message was clear, outsource or perish, get relegated to reporting to the CFO.
Huh? Now that is simplistically stretching a facet of the CIOs role to create a perception that outsourcing can be equated with strategic intent. If you don’t outsource, then you and your team is busy with things that do not matter to the business and thus you are likely to remain alienated. Was there a vested interest in the words from these CEOs who have been struggling to grow their business? Some had taken over from ousted CEOs with a clear mandate to bring back the old days of high growth.
Time to introspect!
While I am a proponent of outsourcing and have partnered with IT service companies big and small to give away the technical or operational activities, in my experience there have also been cases of outsourcing not delivering to promise. CIOs connected with the pulse of the business draw the line on what needs to be given away and what should be retained. The company’s focus, perceptions of core, and finally the financial health determine what operating model should be adopted by the CIO.
The CEOs went on to talk about CIOs need to engage their stakeholders on what matters. People in a glasshouse do not throw stones at others. My plea to the same CEOs is to introspect a bit before preaching to their customers, the CIOs. The sales heads of the same companies want to engage with the CIO on nitty-gritties of technology that even the next level in the IT department rarely gets involved in (OMG, I saw a data center). They do not practice what they preach. A few CIOs I met the next day agree!
So what separates the good from the challenged? I do not for a moment believe that it is as simple as outsourcing operations or infrastructure or total outsourcing; a good CIO is a well-rounded leader who manages people and perceptions while ensuring that the delivery of promise is consistent with quality that is visible. S/he communicates effectively in all situations and is able to challenge business and IT partners/vendors in a discussion on the right solutions to business problems enabled by technology.
Is this the finite list? No again, there is no checklist that determines the difference; you have to find your balance.
August 14, 2012 12:01 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
CIO and the team
, leadership and the CIO
Recent times have seen some distinguished CEOs and leaders biting the dust literally when some untruths were discovered in their resumes, a clear case of unnecessary padding. A few did not possess the qualifications they professed, some had not been to colleges they put in there. These are not run of the mill average Joe kind of people, they are in high offices and have shaped the future of many. It created news for a short while, and then everyone moved on relegating the tainted ones to oblivion.
To expand the team, I recently started hiring fresh and experienced talent and was flooded with resumes. It was a task to navigate through pages of hundreds of eager professionals looking through spell check errors, acronyms that I have no clue what they mean, grammatical goof ups, and multiple formats that challenged me to find information in a maze game. These were not freshers, unexposed to corporate culture; they included experienced professionals with decade-plus behind them.
I did not challenge the veracity of the information presented even in cases that stretched conventional wisdom, though annotating to explore further in the interview. I discovered that IT folks are largely truthful and sometimes too much; if they have been on a project that involved a leading edge technology, they will ensure it catches your attention. Only on digging deeper you realize that their role could have been just testing or documentation; or maybe peripheral and not technical or functional.
The conscientious mentioned every project, every assignment, and every new company even if they spent only a few months in each; though the interesting ones were the gaps which during the interview were explained in shy and embarrassing tones. They believed that if you join a company and realize that it was a mistake, don’t mention it; skip the experience that does not reflect well on your resume. No mal-intent here, just that not always in interest of keeping an abridged and concise representation; just to put the best foot forward.
So how to get the real person out of a few pages of history including education, experience, achievements, personality, potential, technical skills, and what have you. There are umpteen reference websites that offer to teach the art of interviewing and getting the best out of the person sitting across the table, the potential candidate. The intent though not adversarial is to assess everything possible about the person in the typical less than an hour spent, lateral thinking and what not.
I am not sure if this would make sense, but it is not just the responses to the questions that help us in the selection process, there is a lot more. The first few minutes have already decided the way the interview goes; subconscious mind or body language, you already know if you will like the person. The resume and the detailed planning are then thus pointers to the discussion. I have rarely seen a situation where the candidate was able to swing it around though many did not live up to initial expectations.
Coming back to the moot point, why do people manipulate resumes? Is it just to look better than who they are or a desperate urge to get something that is not rightfully theirs? Is it misplaced self-esteem or belief of personal value? I don’t know; everyone probably has different motivations; do they realize that in the end they are really undermining their integrity and the way people see them? Or has the value system changed in a way that we are comfortable with little lies if they go unnoticed?
August 7, 2012 12:01 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, MPLS networking
, Social media
In the monsoon season, clouds are a good subject to discuss. The last event I attended headlined clouds of all types; public, private, hybrid, that had everyone exchanging notes on experiences in drought and rain.
Participants from public sector and government agencies, companies–big and small, service providers, and a few academics, all found something to talk about and share. The organizers were beaming and so were the participants; networking at its best, which most events promise.
There were a few small groups that decided not to move out of the conference hall during the breaks finding comfort in each other’s company. It was evident that they were not at ease in reaching out to strangers and discussing subjects of mutual interest. Our IT teams have many such people who lack the social niceties and behaviors that are normal in, say, the marketing team. Such individuals are present on social networking sites albeit as silent observers rarely posting or sharing anything at all.
Importance of soft skills
Over so many years I have wrenched such individuals from my teams from their machines and pushed them into the big bad world of people who are unpredictable, emotional, talkative, demanding, lively, aggressive, and overall human in their demeanor. The above-mentioned IT folks cringe at the thought, but slowly and steadily open up and realize that it is not so bad after all. Most are able to transition over the boundary into the normal, the rare few who do not constitute groups like the one I saw.
In a hyper-competitive world that demands higher performance every day to stay in the same place, the balance between soft skills and domain (or technical) expertise is important. Everyone talks about the traits CIOs need to embrace; the teams are left to fend for themselves, and in most cases, at the mercy of the individual CIO to elevate the level at which the IT team operates. Successful CIOs who nurture talent and high potential performers invest in their teams giving them the platform and reason to grow.
Drawing a parallel
So what has all this got to do with MPLS networks? By definition MPLS networks were defined to create efficiency over existing networks in the mid-90s. With evolution they became the preferred option for many. Network administrators loved them for reliability and performance; they hated the opacity by virtue of the cloud architecture. It was big evolution for many and most techies adapted well. This is evident from the fact that most enterprises embrace MPLS over other network types.
In the real world of people, recent times have seen disruptive changes due to social networks. It has had the world excited, the marketing teams worried, and everyone wondering on whether there is a ROI in social network. Consultants have thrived and definitely made some money. It cannot be denied that Most People Love Social Networks. They provide freedom of expression in a level world. IT organizations clamped down with security concerns. Now, social media policies have replaced dictatorial censorship.
Taking the lead
Some mature companies have seen their CIOs take lead in this arena and drive social media strategy successfully and a few also found a way to make money. These CIOs and IT teams belonged to the MPLS network groups, did not talk about old paradigms like BITA, had higher success in customer engagement and continue to be the envy of the world at large.
I believe that MPLS is the way forward for everyone. IT has to lead from the front and not follow in the back. Where are you today? Part of the MPLS gang?
July 31, 2012 12:01 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
business IT alignment and profitability
, business technology
, Changing role of the CIO
, CIO and the Board
, CIO as a business leader
, CIO as business leader
, CIO role
, CIO value
Talking to a few CIO friends on the much debated and discussed subject of “what next” for us, the CIOs, many aspired to be CEOs. Now that is a good thing given that CIOs are setting their goals high; some are also achieving it within IT companies, a few in other industries too. Making the transition was possible for them as they graduated from technology enabling to business enabling to business itself. Their leadership was acknowledged and when the opportunity arose, they were considered rightful choice.
Emerging as a leader
Trust and respect from peers is garnered step by step everyday with the word and the deed. Conviction that comes out of past experience, the ability to consistently deliver against odds, the cohesion of the team in committing to the stretch and unreasonable, the ability to engage in conflict resolution focusing on the issue and not the people involved. They are always happy to help, sometimes even with personal sacrifice. This separates chalk from cheese.
You would say that this is just a sample of everyday behaviors that make a successful leader and CIO; it is also shaken quickly with hearsay and frequent missed steps. Respect is always earned, rarely conferred if at all; it comes out of consistency in delivery, walk the talk, articulation, coaching and mentoring others selflessly. The mojo develops with practice and stays with them as long as they continue to stay grounded through the journey. Nothing new here too? Hold on a bit.
The gap between perception and reality is based on the demand supply management between IT and business. When CIOs manage this well, they remain relevant to themselves, the business and the enterprise. The progression is determined by the interventions outside of their realm and “out of comfort zone” discussions. The CXO has no boundary defining Job Description; they only have a primary allegiance to a function.
Path to becoming the CEO
So when a successful CIO asked me the path to becoming a CEO, I wondered what qualified me to give advice? While I am a CIO and have held a few P&L responsibilities in my career, I am not a CEO. Having mentored a few people and learned a few tips from the world’s best coach (Marshall Goldsmith), I decided to probe further. He was determined to get there and was willing to work hard. We discussed his winning formula, did a SWOT, and identified a few behaviors that needed attention.
Defining the road ahead was easier than I thought; crafting the evolution plan took some time and then we agreed upon a follow up plan and progress report. I felt humbled by the experience, his faith in my words, and suggestions on his actions which he ardently believed will get him to his goal. Reflecting on what my virtual guru referred to, “I don’t coach losers because they are not willing to change”, I too believed in his plan and hope as he was willing to change. I believe sooner or later he will get there.
And then last week someone asked me the question, “When will we see you as a CEO?”, I started wondering if I should be reading more into these questions and discussions! Flattery is good, but it should not be taken to heart lest the fall hurt the inflated ego!
July 24, 2012 8:28 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
business IT alignment
, business of IT
, business technology
, CIO value
Every enterprise has an IT function though the name it goes by may be different. Not many call it EDP or MIS anymore, IT is the most prevalent, BT is catching up and there are a few variants which I wrote about sometime back. Similarly the title of the leader has manifested itself in many ways, CTO, CIO, Head, GM, VP, SVP, EVP – IT and some not so common ones that are either legacy, futuristic, or far removed from convention.
Every person in the enterprise has a view on IT and the persona it represents; this is determined by personal experience and hearsay. Sometimes it is relative to past experience in other companies, in most cases it is based on (un)fulfilled expectations and the buzz in the company. The industry, its associates and partners add to or confuse the perception with their views. CIO and the team collectively are thus labelled based on these facts, experiences and views.
CIOs and IT organizations like all beings driven by Maslow’s hierarchy yearn for acknowledgement and recognition. They work hard to create their aura and earn respect with solutions and dialogues that demonstrate understanding beyond technology. They walk the talk, meet customers, and engage with stakeholders to stay ahead in the race. In many cases they succeed in creating a lasting brand value, in few they remain challenged despite doing everything right. Why?
The basic foundation of IT branding happens every day with desk side support on the laptop, desktop, printer, application, network access, email, and various other things that we take for granted. No one cares until something breaks and that incidence ends up being the tag by which IT gets labelled. One incident gets extrapolated to generic statements of (in)efficiency. Some IT organizations have active communication processes to manage this; most don’t leaving a wide gap on how they are seen.
How many CIOs invest in building the brand they and their team represents? Business IT Alignment (BITA) is not only about projects being executed or the discussion the CIO has with the Management teams. BITA happens every day with every interaction anyone within IT has with any other non-IT person (normally referred to as user) within the enterprise. This cannot be left to passive management; it has to be actively managed across the levels.
External branding is another aspect of visibility and credibility that requires a strategy and plan. Go to any conference, event or panel/ roundtable discussion, you will find the same old faces on the stage. It would appear that CIOs were born with stage fright; most are happy to be part of the audience, their views rarely get aired (everyone has a view). Nowadays social media and internet presence too contribute towards the identity of the CIO who represents the IT success of the enterprise.
The combined persona is finally the way s/he is portrayed to the world at large. If the CIO does not actively manage this, it will be managed by forces that s/he does not control. The CIO could then just be an entry in a database or one of the featured ones in a search. If people read about you and read what you stand for, your views on varied or specific subjects, it adds to the perception of who the person is. Some manage this well, the rest leave it to divine intervention.
I believe that CIOs should invest in building the brand not just internally, which is easily done by constant communication and discussion beyond transactions. They should also actively manage their visibility and branding across the IT industry and their chosen industry; participation in industry specific events, membership to bodies, talking to tech journalists and participation in social media make a great combination to get started. Is there more? It all depends on where you want to go!
“I don’t have time” is the first lament (please read ’Being Busy‘), “how do I get started” is the second; ask the ones who have made it or wait until I write about it.