May 1, 2012 12:01 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, Time management
I was recently reading a survey on how CIOs divide their time between activities; internal customers, external customers, vendors, management and business meetings, staff review meetings, fighting fires, responding to emails, learning new technologies, and attending a host of IT events. CIOs are a busy lot, they have to balance all this with some time also to be allotted to their families.
So I started talking to a few CIO friends to understand what keeps them busy through the day. It was an interesting revelation; the CIO keeps business running as usual, the networks, the servers in the data center, distributed architecture in many cases, information security, and plethora of applications that keep the business alive, new projects that business wants and some that the CIO feels are necessary even when business does not care. There are, of course, the urgent yet sparsely defined requirements for changes, the IT team and finally the IT vendors.
I am not even getting into new trends that promise disruption to the existing landscape; the flavor changes frequently. Not in any particular order they have been the Internet, Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing, Mobile Computing, Thin Clients, Work anywhere, Cloud Computing, Social Media, Big Data, Virtualization, Advanced Persistent Threats, Mobile Commerce, ad infinitum. Educating and managing expectations across all the hype along with running IT operations; all in a day’s work!
So one of the pet peeves that I heard is that there is no time for any discretionary work, little time to sit back and think about the strategic direction IT should be taking, no time to engage with other CXOs and end customers to work on the innovation agenda, no time to mentor/ coach the team which looks up to the CIO for direction, no time to educate self on what could be the next disruption to their business. No time for the stuff that they enjoy.
Are CIOs any different from other CXOs who also have to balance variety of similar but dissimilar tasks? Every leader within the enterprise has to stay abreast with the industry, the economy and how it impacts the company’s market position; what interventions will make a difference. At the same time they are expected to manage internal and external perceptions while leading and managing the team to create success. Successful CIOs I know do this every day.
A very large conglomerate’s CEO abhors the lack of time cited by every busy executive; his group of companies are well respected for their market leadership and value creation. Almost everyone in his companies leaves the workplace before the sun sets. His mantra? If you cannot complete your work within the stipulated time, then either you are incapable, inefficient, or your manager/ boss does not know how to allot and divide work within the team.
In many companies, busyness is also a well fueled perception; culturally these companies encourage activity and spending time beyond working hours. It then becomes a race to be seen late evenings and even nights to say I was busy; don’t leave before the boss is a way of life. Perpetual state of motion does not guarantee outcomes. Don’t tell me how hard you work; tell me how much you get done. I have lived by this maxim and it has worked for me.
I believe that every leader including the CIO needs to empower, delegate and let go of tasks and focus on outcomes. In the end what matters are results! Manage time and don’t live by the clock. Prioritize the important and the urgent based on the impact. Your becoming indispensable to the company is bad for you and the company. It will stunt your growth opportunities and also give you no time.
April 24, 2012 12:01 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, Changing role of the CIO
, IT budget
I liked the rhyme in the words as I read the headline; it is poetic in a way and in contrast many research companies that are telling us, the CIOs, that one of your top five priorities is to save cost. I still cannot figure out who collates the results and what kind of solutions they use to determine the results, there has always been an outlier that no one agrees with; this includes many who participated in the survey. So when I saw the news about business wanting to spend on IT, it was like an oasis and the heart wished it was real and not a mirage. After all, many businesses I know have been investing extensively.
Over the years we have been hearing the maxim, “Do more with less”, almost to the extent that it has become “the normal”. I cannot remember a year when the CEO and/or CFO did not repeat the phrase chiding the proposed budget for being irresponsible. The banter is part of the negotiation between the CIO and the custodians of profitability. The underlying assumption was and now in some cases still is that CIOs are far removed from reality and they leave stuff like profitability and ratios to other CXOs.
Reading through the lines it was evident that the data points that went into the writers’ hypothesis were of strong foundation. She had industry slices and geographical splits with numbers that were plausible. Interviews with stakeholders validated her statistical inferences citing willingness to invest in IT solutions that provide market advantage or capability needed for growth or to stay where they were. Melodious music to ears with slowly creeping nagging cynicism; if it is too good to be true, then probably …
So I dug deeper, followed the links, unearthing the evidence that has continued to elude respectable research companies professing the contrary, save or die. Having got conditioned to a message, it was hard to believe that there someone has been brave to talk about reality the way it is. The sample size more than adequate to withstand scrutiny, the data irrefutable; some may wonder if she connected with CIOs and CEOs from another planet?
The conclusion was associated with a reasonable set, there were many who still lived in the old world of cost. Progression of CEOs showed IT investment trend line going north. The winners subset depicted converging thoughts between CEO, CFO and CIO, the bulging middle some alignment, and the laggards a big divide. The number of believers in IT is growing and they are happy to talk about their success. The author had decided to focus on good news with a positive bias that was growing than the statistically larger group which is shrinking, albeit slowly. Hallelujah!
We all live under the same sky but have different horizons. Over the last decade and more across industries surviving a roller-coaster economy, many CIOs have been able to create a perceptible shift in thinking wherever they go. These are the business savvy, technology aware, articulate and confident set of CIOs who bring success like the Midas touch (if you prefer a more contemporary analogy, I would compare them to X-Men). The tribe of these outliers is increasing; shortly they will be the majority and it is evident they will shape the future.
Are you a part of this assertive movement? Come join the joyride!
April 17, 2012 6:04 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, Oh I See moment
, Shadow IT
It was a conference of supply chain heads who had gathered to discuss and debate their collective future. The themes revolved around agility, efficiency, constraints and opportunities; all in a day’s work for a CSCO or a Chief Supply Chain Officer. I was invited to talk about IT lead supply chain innovation and why CSCOs need to partner with their CIO to be successful. It was a good feeling that other functions are looking at IT and their CIO to help them win.
The conference agenda was similar to what CIOs typically see in an IT event; a few vendor sponsors who want to sell their wares, in this case warehouse automation solutions; select IT vendors pitched in to discuss Warehouse Management and Transport Management Systems. Then there were a couple of luminaries from the supply chain world who were looked upon as beacons of success to share their winning formula. And finally a few odd men like me not from the domain to talk about collaboration and synergistic success.
The half-day ended quickly enough, which happens when you are having fun, with the evening transitioning into an informal gathering of the speakers and the participants. CSCOs are a smart lot who know what they are doing and how to get there. They also acknowledge internal and external dependencies that aid or curb their success. IT is one of the key tenets to their capability to execute; thus there were a lot of questions to probe how CIOs perceive the partnership.
A mixed bag
We all know that most CIOs are always willing to partner with other CXOs to create change; when there is equal or more commitment from the other side, it is a recipe for a winning team and results that matter. As the discussion unfolded, I heard some good stories and some filled with angst and agony. A mixed bag if there was one with fingers pointing in all directions. So I started digging deeper.
A CSCO began narrating his journey towards creating improvements in warehouse processes with some IT enabled automation; the journey took twice as long as promised and thrice as long as expected. He also talked about his struggle in getting his CIO to agree to evaluate a warehouse management system. The CIO kept throwing back questions and never took the steps forward to understand the challenges on the ground. He had almost given up his quest to use IT for competitive differentiation and then budget not being a constraint started creating shadow IT organization to fulfill his need.
Another one talked about his CIO being the best partner creating quick and dirty solutions to solve every business challenge despite budget constraints; he praised the IT team’s pragmatism and alliance with the supply chain team and warehouse managers to improve inventory turns and reduce labor required. Analyzing the situation with some additional questions, it was evident that the two CIOs approached the opportunity differently.
Apart from everything else that includes alignment, business understanding, etc. that everyone talks about as qualities that a CIO should imbibe, the risk-taking ability of the CIO has direct correlation to how often s/he is able to create a ‘WOW!’ moment. Everything safe equals no risk; and no risk also means that innovation takes a backseat. As long as the CIO plays safe, s/he is bound to slip on everyone’s perception. Business will find a way to overcome; the CIO can decide to be a part of it or will sooner or later find him/herself relegated to the background.
I believe that CIOs should give up inertia and work on their risk ability to stay successful. I close with a collectible quote from Keith Johnstone: Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.
April 10, 2012 12:01 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
I don’t know how I stumbled across this blog and hundreds of comments but it had me thinking with a gaping and wide open mouth. Not that the scenario I read about does not play itself ever so often in the corporate circles; it was an open discussion on strategies to entrap the CIO to meet the next target, to close a deal, to shorten the sales cycle. There were experiences shared, discussed, fortunately no names mentioned of the vendors or the CIOs. I did pick up some good recommendations on fine dining though.
Balance of power
Trappings of power bring with it responsibility; with large budgets and the ability to decide in favor of one against the other, the CIO sits in a position where every vendor, big or small, attempts to find the winning formula to gain a good book and business. The exalted chair is expected to make a fair decision (the loser may think otherwise) to award business to the deserving and not be swayed by the drama or influenced by ill means. CIOs I know across this globe practice unshakeable integrity in decision making.
From time immemorial, those wielding financial power have been sought after for favors. In the old days, after the technical evaluation, the purchase executive could turn down a decision and no one could challenge that. The power of veto was a feared weapon. Over time driven by trust and increasing penetration of IT, a shift occurred with the CIO empowered to work independently. Economic cycles shifted the decision making to where the monies lie, and the elastic nature swinging it back and forth to equilibrium quickly.
Queasy means, easy deals
So as I read through post after post, it was an uneasy feeling to see tips and trick that have worked to snare a deal. Golf course priority bookings, tickets to matches, free vacations, gourmet dining, you name it, they had tried it. Some more than others, they found what works for whom not leaving many who resisted all temptation. Feeling queasy about this, I called a few old colleagues to chat and discussing this with them, one toppled my wine by adding anecdotes of his own.
Are decisions so easily facilitated with the lineage and vintage of wine determining the steps and time required to close the deal? Is this working at the conscious level or the sub-conscious even when there is no coercion? Is it wider in its reach and influence than we believe it to be? Are we becoming slaves to a system without realizing it? Or have we become immune to the system and now factor it into our decision making criteria?
The CIO insights?
I love my red wine and some good food to go with it; I have enjoyed many evenings out with friends and family. Occasionally vendors seek relaxed meetings “outside of workplace”; I know many have been careful to take a few colleagues along for comfort and keep the meeting a strict business one. It keeps the discussions easier and the environment lighter with no obligations being created on either side. A few CIOs also pick up the tab rather than leave even an iota of doubt. I would assume that each vendor would have classified data on what works and what does not for every tagged CIO.
The play now is universal; every vendor uses some leverage or other to go beyond the normal decision making cycle. Direct or indirect, these influences are here to stay as long as there are multiple vendors offering similar solutions or products. Wine and dine is part of corporate culture, the CIO and for that matter other CXOs have to work the fine line between undue influence and socially acceptable behavior keeping their personal and corporate values above everything else.
April 3, 2012 8:32 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, service delivery
My CIO friend was looking glum, really glum if you know what I mean; and he is not the type who normally gets harried by issues, always cheerful, and willing to help others. He goes around telling people about thinking positive and choosing your attitude. It was surprising to see this side of his demeanour. So I asked him about the root cause of his worries.
He has always been a proponent of outsourcing over his illustrious career spanning more than two decades, more like a trendsetter than a follower. In that he had worked with outsourcing companies large and small, local and global, structuring large deals that were acknowledged and appreciated by the companies he worked for as well as the vendors. When someone needed advice on managing tricky situations or contracts, he was the person they approached.
Building on an existing contract that did well, he had extended the scope of services and support for a longer tenure. Considering that the outsourcing vendor had been working with him for a long time it was seen as a natural and logical extension. There was merit and value in the deal for both sides. It was like a no-brainer deal. Going into execution he did not foresee any challenges barring the initial teething troubles when any new service is commissioned.
A disruptive extension?
The slip between the lip and the proverbial cup or intent to execution started going awry very quickly. Process review and tool deployment planned, the timelines slid with consistency that was expected of improvements. Existing services that had been working well for many years also started deteriorating. Monthly review meetings attended by increasing levels of management made the right noises but delivery failed to align to commitments. Whatever happened to ITIL led SLA and global best practice?
I was surprised to hear of his misery considering that the relationship with the vendor preceded his arrival into the company and that successful outsourcing was child play for my CIO friend. Large deals have a way of coming to life on their own; they do not always follow a predictable pattern, instead they find their own lowest common denominator in which they settle down before improvements begin. He acknowledged this hypothesis and queried how should he respond to adverse business impact or disruptions to critical business processes?
This was discussed in the review meetings and the team said they were committed to making amends. Reality being different, he was exasperated with selective and partial information sharing. It is not the way relationships are built and sustained. What causes this gap? I do not believe for a moment that there is mal intent present; but how to bring the train back on track? Was it about transition from courtship to marriage predicament where partners take the relationship for granted? The nuptial agreement spelt out everything, but … Not wanting to proffer advice to the wise, I sought his game plan.
Forget the SLA, the contract, that can come back later; it is people who make things happen. For the situation to change, the people have to be brought back to the table with a rigour to the review that sticks accountability to senior leaders and individuals. Review and monitor everyone by the day on the plan and change people if they are unable to run with the required speed. Keep the pressure up until they deliver or want out of the relationship. It is critical and important to keep the end objective in mind, and that is linked to business expectations and improvements.
I wished him luck and promised to connect back in a few weeks again.
March 28, 2012 10:10 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, divergence-the new convergence
, information overload
We live in a world of information overload, information thrust at us across all media: print, hoardings, building facades, transport buses, taxies, email, SMS, chat, social media, and now multiple mobile devices that wake up and stay with us until we go back to sleep. In bed, while traveling, at work, at home, with friends, in a meeting, relaxing by the beach, even while in the washroom, we are now connected, consuming, creating and contributing information to the ever growing heap.
Information overload was a term I heard long time ago when dial-up internet connectivity was just beginning to get into our homes. Suddenly the world of information opened up; over the years the quantum of information just continued to grow exponentially while technology folks created new terms to encompass the new paradigm. KB to MB took longer than MB to GB did and GB to TB to PB happened in a jiffy. Suddenly it appeared to be more than we wanted. Nostalgically, we did enjoy occasional moments of privacy with sparse cellular coverage, unaffordable handsets and obscenely high tariffs.
So when along with a few CIOs I met a learned senior consultant talking about the disruptive nature of technology innovations, it provoked an interesting debate. He outlined his theory on hyper connected information overload that every executive faces today. He postulated a world of hyper mobility where devices connected or disconnected from people receive information on the go. People consume this information and take decisions that influence business and personal outcomes. Everyone agreed and sought to look at the future. The wise man smiled and refrained from making any predictions.
The phenomenon today is driven by multiple location-aware mobile devices all connected to an ecosystem of corporate data and applications and personal/business social media interlaced with multiple apps. Thus corporate decisions are no longer only dependent on transactional or analysed data within the enterprise. This trend is increasing exponentially with buzz around Big Data which encompasses all the data. It however does not factor in the speed at which information is disseminated to the consumer of information. Are we burning the wires, read wireless, faster than we can process it?
I do carry three devices (almost) everywhere with me; my laptop, my tablet and my smartphone. Across these almost all the information I need on the go is synchronized over the air. They are interchangeable and yet serve different purposes. From one line responses on the phone to approvals, dashboards and longer responses on the tablet, the laptop is still the device for writing posts like this and doing a lot of figure work with formulas or creating presentations. I know many would jump up and say all this is doable on the tablet; I personally find it easier on the laptop.
A new paradigm
With divergence being the new convergence, it is certain that we will continue to waddle between screens; a recent study talked about multi-taskers using two or three screens connected to the same desktop computer for enhanced productivity. Really productive? Velocity of information will continue to increase and our day will continue to shrink. We are doing more everyday thanks to technology. Our world is more productive, our companies more profitable; as individuals we see ourselves evolving faster, achieving goals quicker than we did even a decade ago. Will we ever stop? I don’t know.
What will be the next disruption in this space? A connected device to keep us busy while we sleep?
March 20, 2012 9:43 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, role of the CIO
, Vendor relationships
Over the years CIOs and vendors have worked to forge relationships that go beyond transactional and contractual obligations. This decade-long trend has strengthened some bonds in such a way that irrespective of the companies that the CIO or the vendor representative worked for, they continued to do business over the years. I have heard the adage many times, people do business with people.
CIOs in new assignments replace vendors with their preferred partners from the past based on comfort and the proposition that they know the people within the company; they are comfortable with the management hierarchy and the finer nuances of the organization’s way of working. However, such changes are occasionally disruptive to the enterprise as well as the incumbent vendors who may have enjoyed good relationships and business with the earlier CIO.
A lesson in humility
An interesting situation happened when the sales head of a large hardware vendor moved to the larger competitor; the customer used the solution of the earlier vendor and the CIO was planning an upgrade or replacement. The sales head had to come back to the CIO to work in her new avatar to sell the competing solution. Earlier as a customer of the smaller company, she had advised him of the demerits of moving to the industry leader’s solution. The predicament switched over a weekend close to signing the deal created some amusing but discomforting moments for both the CIO and the vendor.
While they enjoyed a great relationship, the CIO demonstrated maturity with fair evaluation and technology taking precedence in the decision making criteria. In the end, the CIO did buy the competing product but with a clear message that the decision was fait accompli before the movement of the sales head. It was a lesson in humility for her being a large order from a marquee customer for which she could claim no credit.
In another case I found that business to business connect was stronger, surviving the changes in relationship managers over the years. The foundation was built on long standing relationship though the delivery was of acceptable quality. This relationship sustained itself with the sales team only facilitating renewal of contract and extension of service.
Why do some relationships survive beyond people or organizations? What makes some shift while others stick to the tried and tested? Does one have merits over the other? What happens when the sales team starts taking the business for granted? How does the CIO break the chains of inertia or comfort keeping the business interests over individual comfort?
I believe that relationships are fragile; they sustain themselves in a symbiotic way when the end result is win-win. When the CIO is in a position of compromise, survival instincts will drive the path ahead. This may result in breakdown of existing relationships. Vendors need to keep a watch in such signs before they reach a break-point; go beyond transactions to engagement. The CIO on his/ her part should constantly engage in an open dialogue with service partners to provide feedback and discuss challenges and opportunities. It is almost like managing internal teams.
Status quo is not an option.
March 13, 2012 10:11 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
, role of the CIO
Everyone agrees that business priorities define the IT agenda for any enterprise; the starting point is the organization business strategy, in the creation of which the CIO participates and then gets down to formulating the IT strategy that is aligned to the business objectives. It is also well understood that there are no IT projects but only business projects enabled by IT. There is no disagreement to the fact that if there is business ownership and buy-in, initiatives have better success rates when compared to projects owned and led by IT. Companies working in this framework claim higher business IT alignment or BITA.
In the current context with disruptions and changing business paradigms driven by technology, social media, mobility, every day brings new challenges and opportunities for every CXO. All of these link back to IT in some way and the responsibility rests on the CIO to help unravel the quagmire. Referentially there are many instances of wins though they do not provide the same results when replicated by others. So where is the gap?
A recent survey on the balanced scorecard of the enterprise cascaded to CXOs revealed that in mature organizations it was difficult to differentiate between the CMO, CFO and the CIO scorecard. They appeared to mirror each other with the collective agenda being customer acquisition and retention, growth, and profitability. There was appreciation of core competency but there were no silos. Everyone had to work together to create success.
What’s the right recipe for success?
Then is the hypothesis on alignment above still relevant? Why some of the innovation does not work with copy and paste? What makes some organizations successful and some challenged? In the past some of the scenarios were termed cultural or political and brushed aside; sustained success is a function of how the management team works together to support each other. When any of the functions is perceived to be first amongst equals or of lesser pedigree, then the effort required for success multiplies.
CIOs leading from the front can drive new business opportunities and models. In the case of FMCG industry, the solutions transformed the way orders were logged into the system from the field; the pharmaceutical industry gained prescriptions using planning, targeting, and reporting by the medical representatives on the field; retail and airlines improved customer service with queue busting. These are just a few examples of innovation driven by IT. I do not in any way take away the credit from others–without their collaboration this would not have worked.
I believe that the era of alignment is passé; many CIOs have already moved beyond focusing on alignment to creating new business opportunities. It is not about how IT can solve a problem but about the next leadership step driven by IT and business adapting to the new paradigm. Business no longer drives IT alone; IT has broken free of the age old postulate and is now also leading business direction. BITA and ITBA are two sides of the same coin. It does not matter which side you look at, the value remains the same.
March 6, 2012 3:50 AM
Posted by: Arun Gupta
business apps vs. personal apps
, change management
, cloud-based apps
, ERP deployment
, long project cycles
Exchanging notes with some old friends, reminiscences of long drawn ERP or similar projects and some quick wins took us on a rollercoaster ride. Everyone had been through a couple of implementations that stretched patience and planned deployment timelines that now seem unreasonable. In those days a five-year multi-geography deployment was acceptable; after all, the first implementation had to stabilize and learning imbibed before taking the next steps. Baby steps before running, you know!
The long and the short of IT
I remember my first ERP implementation almost two decades back that lasted almost a year; that company was the size of today’s small-medium enterprise. But in those days, business agility was measured in years and not in quarters or months, or for that matter, weeks. A decade later I was involved in a global deployment of a large back office system; we were at the tail of the global project spread over five years. Since the business impact was considered nominal, no one saw any issues with the five-year cycle.
A debate then ensued attempting to answer the question that in the current uncertain world how long is long indeed and untenable? In the age of SCRUM and hyper time sensitivity towards every change in business process or new business idea, what is an acceptable implementation plan for a project that spans multiple countries? How long should it take to replace an ERP system or a financial accounting system across, say, 50 locations, each with some variances or country-specific regulations or statutory reporting? No easy answers here, I have not come across a less than three-year plan for such deployments.
It is an acknowledged fact of IT implementations that they bring about change; when we look at large scale projects, the change is always disruptive (the level of disruption varies from positive to extreme negative). The subject matter experts from the business end up with pressure of maintaining existing operations while dividing their time to project led improvements. Setting expectations and constant communication that is the hallmark of large projects rarely finds its way into the smaller innovation projects. But can this be sustained over three to five years?
What about systems that are created with urgency portrayed by the business but languish in their use? Many times IT organizations work under undue pressure to create solutions deemed critical towards continued success or to react to competition, but they end up as ‘shelfware’. Unanimous in their reality this thread triggered reactions on or lack of sign-offs. Can the CIO in such cases cite past instances and refuse to toe the line? Probably not, the backlash of such behavior would be extremely negative to IT.
The fear factor?
When cloud-based solutions deploy new releases, some offer customers options to use earlier versions for a short while. Not so in the case of consumer apps; when a change occurs, everyone is impacted and learns to live with the new. Why is it that we are willing to accept the change in our personal space but abhor it in the corporate environment? Is it because that the stakes are higher or the risk averse nature of the corporate world?
I believe the answer is in our ability to switch off and move to another in the personal space, which is not even a dream in the enterprise. If the production planning or financial accounting were to face issues post an implementation or change / upgrade, our ability is limited to rollback and not to explore new options at that time. But I am hoping there will be a day when what applies to our personal needs will also be good for the enterprise. Then the CIO will have to work harder to stay in the same place.