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


April 21, 2013  8:53 PM

Chief Interrogation Officer

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

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.

April 15, 2013  8:22 AM

Selling projects

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

It’s been 2 years in the role and I have been reasonably successful in changing the IT landscape modernizing the applications and infrastructure; many new applications have done well and have been acknowledged by the Management. The IT team some of which had spent decades in the company too has undergone change with skill upgrades and their alignment to the new way of working. However I have been finding it difficult to make big moves which I know will create business transformation.

I met an old teammate after a long time who had blossomed into a first time CIO. He had done well for himself and the company by taking them from what he described IT 1.0 to IT 2.0. He took the journey step by step reviewing the existing architecture and creating a roadmap that he systemically executed with ease. I remember him having an eye for detail and scrupulous in his approach. Proudly he explained his and his team’s handiwork which was achieved despite the lack of overtly enthusiastic support from the business.

As he narrated his story, I could not help drawing parallels from a decade back when he worked in my team. He and imbibed the principles well and upgraded the team to deliver; he was now struggling to move to the next level where he was unable to find support from his peers or his Management who did not share his enthusiasm for the new initiatives. The company with a strong legacy and loyal customers had grown with the founder driving the business skilfully not just locally but globally as well.

My CIO friend had many ideas based on his understanding of the business; networking with peer CIOs and taking help from vendors, he had come up with a few projects which he had been attempting to sell to the leadership team. They did not share his excitement on the change and resultant outcomes; everything is working well, business growth is better than it was in the past. Why upset the applecart? He found it incredulous that despite a clear ROI no one was willing to take up the cause.

I dug deeper to figure out the key business drivers (inorganic growth), the makeup of the people (loyalists), the culture (conservative), the connect and receptiveness (cautious), and finally the sense of shared urgency (none). The business perceived the new initiatives as unnecessary and a distraction; they saw no need to change; why fix something that isn’t broken? It was evident that he was unable to make it their priority or convince them of the merits. So I pushed back and asked him to stop selling.

The current approach appears to be desperation from your side with an automatic pushback response. It is your project, your idea and not theirs; they don’t see any value in your projects, so stop selling and start asking questions. Take a different approach and start engaging them in a conversation on new possibilities that open up to them and make their lives simpler or make them winners. You have to stimulate and connect with different stakeholders across the chain to kindle interest.

In the current scenario even if the project were to get started, the possibility of successful deployment and effective use is relatively low; because it is an IT project and not a business project. I have observed many projects floundering when key process or business owners were not aligned to project deliverables. A challenged HR project where the CFO and CIO pushed the decision on better ROI; an eCommerce portal with reluctant or indifferent business stakeholders, a CRM disconnected from field operations!

Why do CIOs sell projects? There’s the hypothesis about being proactive and partner to the business, something to do with alignment. I believe that situation belongs to the past as it ends up in a situation where the wooing is all left to IT, business playing the role of a reluctant partner. Unless there is connect on both sides and endorsement from senior management, the CIO begins to appear desperate while others wonder why. So stop selling and start collaborating; proceed only if you find reciprocal acknowledgement of need.


April 7, 2013  9:05 PM

That critical resource

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

He was passion personified and loved what he did; on most days he would be the first to arrive and the last to leave. For him there were seven days in a week which just rolled along, rarely he took even the weekends off. Meal times whether breakfast, lunch or supper happened on the move whenever a few minutes presented themselves in between fixing issues or changing code. He was in perpetual motion and yet tireless like an ideal state machine.

Users loved him as he always smiled and never said no to any request or demand. Technically he was good and working 16 hour days he almost always delivered to promise. Not that the rest of the team complained, in fact they passed on some of their work to him which he took on with no qualms. The CIOs attempts to slow him down did not change his working style until one fine day nature took its toll and he was down with illness and out of commission for a month.

A decade and more later, in another company a similar story played itself again. I don’t remember if it was the first job for the person, she had already spent a decade in the company and had been part of the IT evolution from the first set of large investments. Having spent so much time, she knew every aspect of the business and the system; when the principal vendor had a problem which they needed to validate, they would call her and she always had an answer. If there was one, she was the subject matter expert.

The company was growing in leaps and bounds which lead to increase in workloads. Unable to retain a team of professionals due to her nature of micro-managing every aspect of the work, the pipeline started getting clogged leading to delays in the regular stuff; the urgent always got priority and was addressed. The bottlenecking required drastic steps and the CIO moved her laterally to the business and distributed the work to the team. Very quickly there was no pending work and everyone was happy.

Every company has this scenario playing out in some way or the other. There is always a set of resources that are deemed critical to the functioning of the company that they end up getting overloaded. Some get into such situations by default because they are good at what they do and some create such situations because they love being the center of attention and attraction. In either case their false sense of importance leads to the person and the company suffering as observed in the above anecdotes.

A long time back one of my Managers told me “In every company there is one individual who is indispensable, s/he should be fired”. Curious and naïve I asked “Why?”; to begin with apply the Red Bus theory, if a bus runs over the individual, what happens to the company ? And how to prevent and minimize any minor or major disruption? The second reason is to address the growth aspirations of the person. If s/he is critical to a position, task, process or function, then s/he cannot get elevated as s/he is critical.

So whenever such a situation presented itself, I have used a step by step approach to de-risking the individual as well as the enterprise.

  1. Discuss the situation with the individual to create awareness; ensure that s/he understands the implications to self and the company
  2. Explore growth aspirations and personal goals and how they may be restricted by the current reality. If this has been the situation for long, cite peer examples of growth
  3. Work with him/her to find a workable solution which could be lateral or upward move, changing role or addition of resources
  4. If none work, outplace the person

You also have the option to let the situation be and do nothing; not that anything has happened in the last so many years, so why should it happen now? That is a choice to make. Have you faced such a predicament either yourself personally or within your team? What did you do? I would love to learn from your experience.


April 1, 2013  4:27 PM

The mobility conundrum

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Take any event, survey or discussion with a vendor, or pick any IT magazine or newsletter, all of them have something on mobility and integrally linked to that is BYOD. Mobility has prominently featured in the top priorities in every survey. It has become as discussed or more a subject as BITA (Business IT Alignment) was a decade back. There are views and opinions on everything going mobile from business process to commerce from company to consumer and everything in between.

With number of innovative as well as hair brained ideas vying for attention, there is little to choose from for a CIO. Every one of these comes with a theory and hypothesis to change the world or transform the way business is done and information consumed. These range from recognizing your customers to agile delivery of information to senior management or pushing alerts to the sales or distribution teams. The need for instant approvals to various requests is no more a proposition cutting ice.

When I met a consultant from one of the big and respected IT and Management companies, the dialogue soon veered towards what is happening in this space. Everyone is talking about mobility and related challenges of managing the device, security of information and the big issue of non-company owned devices that connect to the corporate network. He went on to postulate that the future holds a lot of pain for the CIO who has to manage the diversity with new devices mushrooming every day.

So I challenged him to illustrate what he has seen of the deployments across companies that he has surveyed or CIOs met. What kind of applications are becoming mainstream? Beyond sales force automation, reporting and maybe order entry by field staff, are there other use cases that have gained acceptance? He mentioned insurance agents and banking relationship managers using mobility to sell their services; but these are corporate deployed and largely laptops with limited customer information if at all.

Then, where is the need for mobility? Are CXOs demanding information on sales or other KPIs real time or by the hour? Are knowledge workers expecting to carry their work from the desktop/laptop to their tablet or phone? Is the shop floor crying for a mobile device or a transactional worker like Finance or HR executive expecting work enabled on a mobile device? What information and process needs the velocity that mobility enables? And if none need it, then why is mobility a big deal?

Most mobile devices, managed or unmanaged, are connected to the corporate network for email access and to some extent on collaboration (read messenger or chat). Most organizations stopped supplying phones a while back and very few have procured tablets beyond the sales or field staff. The information the phones carry is corporate email and almost all users have password protected their individual or corporate device. Loss of phone gets the finder mostly an inoperable device which could get unlocked only by luck, rarely by brute force.

Information contained on tablets could have some value to the finder if again access can be gained bypassing the security. MDM or Mobile Device Management solutions are an insurance cover over and above protection that we all enable on our personal devices. A disabled email id or active directory will anyway prevent email and other information sync immediately. Security vendors whipping up paranoia would like you to believe otherwise by painting a grimy picture of revenue and reputation loss.

I am not propagating that enterprises stop looking at mobility or mobile security; what I believe is that review each case on the business value that can be quantified. Do not base your decisions purely on the spread sheets that vendors want you to use for TCO/ROI. Stop following the mobile information security hype and deploy pragmatic solutions; you are not following your competitors to pick up their lost device, likewise your competitors are not following your people around. Take care!


March 26, 2013  6:29 AM

Cost center, profit center, whatever

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Not too long ago there was a CIO who was involved in a cultural clash upwards and sideways in a matrix organization. He supported multiple diverse business units across multiple geographies; the business units had CIOs reporting into the respective CEOs, they had limited accountability to the CIO. The CIO reported to the Group CFO locally and the regional CIO functionally; the corporate IT function under the leadership of the CIO supported all the business units across the geographies.

The CIO had taken over a team of submissive staff who never challenged the business CIO demands for fear of conflict. While the overall matrix was a bit complex with differing size and profitability of business entities, the equilibrium was largely maintained with some give and take between the business units and corporate functions. Chargeback was based on revenue as well as headcount; there was occasional rumbling and murmuring which was subdued before it could raise an ugly head.

So when the CIO met the business units CXOs he was surprised at their aggression and attitudes; it was justified that the business team will generate the demand and the corporate will take care of the supply. Corporate IT was expected to take orders based on what the business had decided as the direction and strategy to deliver the systems and technology. It would have worked well except that the timelines were rarely reasonable even when Corporate IT tried very hard.

Corporate IT was also responsible for BAU systems, the data centre, applications and networking. The divide reached morbid peaks during budget discussions; your cost is too high, business cannot afford to pay increases every year; find efficiency was the mandate. Scraping the bottom did not reveal much and that was unacceptable to the business. If business is not growing, how can the expense grow? Fair point as any was, with business seeing a downturn, it is imperative to cut cost.

The difference was that the business IT budgets grew while the cut was imposed on CIT budgets. This led to frustration and thus the CIO sought arbitration from his boss the Group CFO. That is when things started going out of hand; Business CIOs along with their CEOs represented that we are a Profit Centre while you are a Cost Centre; we pay for your existence and thus have the right to determine how you work while you cannot challenge how we allocate resources. Ouch!

Determined not to lose his temper the CIO silently looked at the CFO who gravely looked at his phone avoiding eye contact. With no help available, the CIO took the challenge head-on and suggested open book costing to get constructive feedback on what can be optimized. This was rejected upfront that it was not for business to run operational systems. Smiling the CIO offered a handover of all BAU systems to respective business units to run and transfer resources too.

Taken aback the group looked at each other; the CFO rose from his slumber to pacify and resolve; he suggested that the groups step down from their positions and create a working model that does not create conflict. The open book model was agreed to with benchmarks with the external world. This was deemed an acceptable compromise. His words on being a team and the need to work in harmony appeared hollow to everyone, which he too realized.

This is not a normal scenario in every matrix organization but some parts play out in every company. It is difficult to align direction when measurement criteria are disjointed. The open acknowledgement of team work towards success ensures that producers and consumers do not see each other that way; rather they work to create an ecosystem that motivates progress. Having been part of a few matrix structures, I believe that finally the culture of the company (read CEO/Head) will determine success.

If you have been a part of a matrix and have stories to share, I would love to hear them.


March 18, 2013  12:27 PM

Inane CIO surveys

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

We are conducting a survey among the top CIOs on IT trends, data centre efficiency, Cloud computing adoption, business analytics, mobility, leadership, top 5/10 priorities, technology priorities, top 5/10 IT challenges, business challenges, social media adoption, big data, security, … phew! You name it and it is there; every day I get a couple of invites to participate in surveys with varying time indicated, from 5 minutes to an hour. They are run by all kinds of IT vendors, research companies and publications.

Surveys normally have MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions) or a matrix in which you select different options; some also want descriptive answers. Most of them end up taking twice as long to what they mention and what they would like you to believe. For example if a survey indicates that it will take no more than 10 minutes of your time, in all probability it will take 30 unless you are a speed reader. If you actually read all the text in the MCQ before you check/click your answers, then it may take longer!

Why do CIOs participate in these surveys? They are busy professionals with paucity of time; I think it is to put across their views and get to know what others think (most surveys promise to send the results to participants, 50% do so too). But nowadays they come with incentives attached; take the survey and you stand a chance to win your favourite gadget/device or a shopping site voucher or …. The incentive increases participation rates, gravely said one such surveyor; from 5% to about 20%.

The first page normally gets genuine thoughtful answers; then you hit a block with questions where answers don’t reflect your context or reality; there is no way to skip the question, you end up selecting a random option. Questions are constructed in a way that support what the surveyor wants the outcome to be. Soon you hit a complex grid or matrix where you are expected to balance options in a way that you select one option per row whether it matters to you or not. The more interesting ones are when you keep track of totals in a column across multiple columns.

That is when most respondents start randomly marking answers or rush through the pages. Any online survey or questionnaire that requires more than 5 minutes or has more than 10 MCQs tends to get into indifference zone. What you get is random responses or a middle path or a horizontal row of answers if the questions use a scale of 1-5 or 1-10. Many are kind and desert the survey mid-way rather than input garbage. Why are most surveys so painfully irritating and difficult to respond to?

You can now understand why most CIOs don’t agree with the results; because the input is rarely a reflection of reality of the participants. The responses appear to be from a different planet, the analysis bewildering, and the implications or actions disconnected from what makes sense. CIOs blame the outcome when they largely respond with indifference to surveys that seek their inputs on what matters to them. The starting point is the survey itself. So how to overcome this situation?

To begin with reduce the complexity of the information required. If you want a split of percentages across routers, switches, wireless, bandwidth, network management, which is a subset of hardware, which is a part of the infrastructure, then you will only get what you deserve. CIOs do not measure these, neither do IT Managers. Ask questions that can be answered without a calculator or the IT budget spread sheet which has numbers, not percentages. If I don’t do social media, then I need an option “Not Applicable” or let me simply skip the question.

Now I rarely participate in surveys and if I do where possible put in textual answers with my views. Surprisingly no one has as yet written or called me back despite having my email id or cell number. Do people really read the answers? Do they care about what is being said if their agenda or hypothesis is met? Maybe the surveys are just to say that we conducted a survey and keep the data aside to publish what you wanted to anyway.


March 11, 2013  7:55 AM

Politically correct

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

I am beginning to discover new benefits of drinking wine; apart from being a social icebreaker with people discussing the merits of Merlot over Shiraz or the lineage of the grapes and the geography, it also opens up their heart with the cup of woes flowing over with gushing speeds. I was party to one such conversation with a well-known CIO who had scraped through challenging times and was drowning his sorrows in the red. And thus the saga unfolded.

He had joined a diversified conglomerate as the Group CIO; most of the companies within the group had mid-level IT heads who now reported to him. He was expected to bring synergies and efficiency across the companies while taking the IT agenda forward to the next level. The group itself had aspirations to grow manifold over the next 3-5 years and believed that IT can contribute to expediting the journey. Everything looked well set for the CIO to capitalize on and forge ahead.

The group had humble beginnings and had tasted success with some of the new ventures that brought it to prominence. Expanding global presence, the founders had begun to hire professionals to run individual businesses as well as leaders like the CIO to drive the corporate agenda. Collectively the team was tasked with bringing to life the strategy and goal. The recipe thus appeared to be what would achieve the stated objectives.

The seasoned CIO got started by meeting the business and functional leaders, understanding their key drivers and opportunities, and within a span of 30 days charted the IT agenda and roadmap. It had all the components of internal efficiency that could be gained with technology standardization as well as connected some of the initiatives with the external end customers. Commendable progress noted the family who owned the business.

The next 30 days had some of the initiatives getting off the ground with participation from business and IT stakeholders. The larger investments needed discussion and debate on the selection of solutions as well as partners who would deliver them. Everyone had a view on how they wanted to make the selection and everyone had an opinion on what should be prioritized. The CIO attempted to moderate expectations without success. And that is when things started going haywire.

Over the next 30 days the power struggle continued with no one wanting to give away, each holding their ground; the CIO in his righteousness and professional pride believed that he knew how to run with the critical projects. The business leaders believed that they knew the business best and the CIO should yield to them considering they have to finally deliver the business outcomes. The owners left it to the group to take a decision not wanting to be the arbitrator.

As the status quo continued for some time, patience wore thin and the level of exasperation grew; in the next quarterly business review meeting they orchestrated a show down. Most of them updated the respective family members of their discomfort and the decisions they were hoping would prevail. The CIO did not have this connect and neither did it cross his mind that he should work with the majority owners to achieve what he believed was the best outcome.

In a stormy meeting the CIO quoted from success within and outside the industry with his proposed solutions and why his path was the best way forward for everyone. The business leaders refuted the claim and chorused the CIO’s limited knowledge about the culture and business. The Chairman had to react and he did what was obvious; he took the path that the CEOs had advised him of rebutting and chastising the CIO for not listening to his customers.

The CIO had a devils choice; he could accept the verdict and get started or he could refuse to bow to the decision and move on. His stand had created a deadlock; his abrupt manner and straight talk had alienated the business. The superior attitude ensured rejection of the proposals giving him limited options on the way forward. He believed that others did not understand technology neither did they respect his experience.

We know the CIO should have tactfully managed the relationships first selling his ideas to become the choice of solutions and vendors. The politically incorrect situation was self-created and this dawned upon him in our discussion after a few drinks had been downed. I am not sure if the self-revelation was too late to make amends or he had the opportunity to go back and change the direction. He thanked me and left. I am curious on how this unfolds, keep watching this space.


March 4, 2013  2:35 PM

2012 to 2013, old wine in new bottle

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

In November 2011 I wrote about predictions for the CIO. Because I did not want to stop at 10, the post had 11 predictions. This year I did not create a list of predictions or a wish list for Santa CEO/CFO to fulfil. I also gave it a decent amount of time coming to end of February thus 16 months have elapsed; now looking at the list, its efficacy and applicability to the current year and beyond, I realize that the world at large for the CIO has changed but not changed. So here’s the list and current scenario.

1. CIOs globally will continue to be challenged on operating budgets. Capital investments will become relatively easier; operating expenses will need to be controlled very tightly.

Talking to many CIOs and CFOs in the last two months, this remains reality almost in its permanency

2. BITA (Business IT Alignment) will fall off the priority list for many as it will no longer be an issue. Business will acknowledge IT contribution and will work with IT to plan business goals. There will be no separate IT goals.

This shift was also acknowledged this year by the premier IT research company and validated by CIOs

3. Attrition will not be the problem, retention will be; with economic and political uncertainty, staff will hang on to their respective jobs. CIOs will have to take some hard decisions.

This trend is beginning to become a worry for a few CIOs; in the last 6 months there were many IT staff that were hit and were looking for opportunities.

4. Clouds will be the first choice for deploying apps for the mobile workforce. The rest will continue to access applications behind the firewall. Hybrid clouds will remain experimental as CIOs figure out that it really does not save money. CIOs will no longer build data centers.

Reality is quite close to this; I have yet to see core apps moving off. ROI has eluded everyone thus far

5. Lead by Consumerization, mobile devices will be out of IT control (for good) and the personal device will find a way to get inside; resisting CIOs will have to provide equivalent additional device, which eventually the Business will turn down. Managing multiple screens will become a pain for the Executive who will challenge IT to make it simpler. The phone as a corporate device will thus be replaced by the tablet over the next 2 years.

Tablets are making inroads especially with Win 8 stability curve round the corner. Everyone has 2-3 devices today with one of them rarely used but toted along nonetheless

6. CIOs will or be forced to challenge the cost of sustaining big ERP (licenses, support, etc.) as it keeps growing; alternate support vendors will gain market share. Usage will shift out from the office to using marketplace supplied micro-apps thereby challenging the existence of big ERP in 5 years.

Now this is one that I was really hoping would begin to help the CIO. So far no luck though

7. Social media fatigue will set in and even marketing teams will be asked to create ROI for expenses and investments on such initiatives. CIOs will need to manage expectations around social analytics while Consultants will thrive with maturity models and make loads of money.

Consultants did make money; the declining interest is evident though attention is shifting to another hyped technology below.

8. The CIO will continue to be tasked with managing information security with the CISO reporting into him/her. A few cloud bursts (cloud security breaches) will make matters worse before things settle down over 2013 and beyond.

Well, security breaches are becoming business as usual; uptime has been a bigger headache. So the CISO continues to live in the shadow of the CIO

9. Big Data will remain high on hype with vendors pushing and CIOs scratching their heads if it really gives the benefits promised.

Flowing from social media, the mushrooming industry is riding the hype curve while everyone is wondering if it is a key looking for a lock

10. Custom development of solutions will wane with ocean of micro-apps promising to enable business processes as effectively. At the same time appliances will replace generic hardware.

Custom solutions are slowing down though the micro-app has not replaced it as yet. Appliances are yet to get the required attention

11. Many CIOs and research analysts will not agree many with the above points.

When I published this list, many did disagree and some acknowledged it. This year I think I will stick to this for now.


February 25, 2013  9:52 AM

The IT orphanage, happy ending?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Last week when I wrote about orphaned projects, applications and solutions that find no takers despite them having started life as perceived business critical process or need, many of the readers wrote back with their stories of orphanages within their companies. The problem has been around for a long time since the time IT departments started developing software for ever changing stated and unstated business needs. The idea of alignment between Business and IT thereby took shape and still remains the subject of discussion.

Rarely did the CIO bring this to the discussion table with customers or at Management meetings as the failure was largely attributed to insufficient business engagement and understanding; compounded by the fact that there were some broken systems and challenges that kept the IT departments busy just to run business as usual. So everyone worked in expectation of creating a better tomorrow driven by new and disruptive technology trends and new solutions that promised to solve the issues of the past and future.

The protagonist CIO in the earlier post (The IT Orphanage) had a big white elephant sitting on his lap and the enterprise had written off the project as a bad experience. More than a dozen man years of effort seemed a waste and the solution had no takers. The team was disheartened, the business indifferent, and the vendors wondering what next. The CEO was not interested in funding the project further and wanted to cut losses and move on. The situation seemed hopeless.

Undeterred, the CIO called the team together and captured the sequence of events from the initiation of the project. Step by step they analysed the methodology, the plan, the data elements, the solution pieces and the overall architecture, and finally the business need and benefit. Everything appeared to fit in; they could not find anything wrong with the technology. They went through the business objections and the critique of the results one by one and that is when they discovered the real cause.

The impacted business users were being challenged by the outcomes; they were feeling threatened by the results that expected them to give up their old way of thinking. The actionable insights that the solution proposed required the business to unlearn what had worked for them so far and approach their customers and the market differently. A consultant would have classified this as a change management failure; however this went a little deeper than just change management.

So the CIO farmed out his team to selectively target some of the empathetic users; they adopted a struggling business unit and worked with the business head to help her. Having been pushed to a corner and labelled as an underperforming unit, the business head was happy to use any help possible. She became an ally and agreed to work with the team. The team worked in their spare time, over weekends, to meet the new partner’s requirements. The vendor pitched in with no fee to recolor the elephant.

Over the next six months everyone toiled and sweated; the business started showing an uptrend and quickly turned profitable. The business head emboldened by the success redoubled the efforts embracing the new state of nirvana. In management meetings she started talking about the tools of her success and how it has helped them grow. She urged others to discard their cynicism and give a fresh look to the solution that was probably ahead of the evolution curve in the industry.

With the numbers speaking rather than perceptions, grudgingly the CEO endorsed the way forward and slowly other units came around. The ramp up was quick and the fire spread quickly giving the company a distinct leadership position and advantage. Fresh investments gave the project a boost and the team a great sense of achievement. Success has many fathers and soon everyone wanted to talk about how they had supported the project earlier. The orphanage had one less member now.

Soon after, the CIO quit!


February 18, 2013  10:06 AM

The IT orphanage

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

It had been a long search, far and wide, across the oceans; many able men and women working as teams traversed the globe in her quest. A few options were shortlisted but discarded very quickly when some deficiency was uncovered with deeper analysis. The rigour redoubled, the pursuit unwavering, the promise of reward for the long-term kept them going. Their leader encouraged the team though the journey especially when they appeared to falter and give-up.

Almost a year into the expedition, the quest finally came to an end with what appeared to be a perfect and made to order ending. The leadership team got together to discuss the outflow; she was expensive and required high maintenance. No one had the courage thus far to take such a risk. However the promise of the future convinced everyone that it would be worth the investment. So they all agreed to part with the precious gold coins and get her on board. High risk, high return said the treasurer.

She was welcomed with a lot of fanfare, the headman chose a name from the many suggested and the message spread across on the new unique acquisition. Everyone contributed to setting the expectations that rose in unison as if in a crescendo; everyone watched the future with euphoric anticipation. Smiths and specialists from all over the world got together to define outcomes that she would enable. Progress was slow and soon people started paying lesser attention focusing on their daily chores.

Life continued as usual with occasional reviews that highlighted challenges to understand and adapt to her whims. The workmen toiled day and night for many moons encouraged by their leader who did not give up belief. Two winters later the team broke off into a joyous dance; everything worked as designed, all the links delivered, the input validated, the outcome was as expected. Rushing to the leadership team they demonstrated the end result, chests puffed with obvious pride.

Celebration was called, everyone wanted to be associated with success; anecdotes of arduous journey spread with friendly banter.  After almost 18 months since the start day, the project had gone live and was churning out results that were unfamiliar territory but delivered business outcomes the leader had believed possible. The competitive advantage gained using the new technology was evident and accolades poured in locally and globally for the unique pioneering solution.

Too good to last, some of the naysayers found reason to challenge and doubt the results; conventional wisdom did not support the new solution; thus they were able to sow seeds of doubt which spread quickly through the enterprise. The initial success was passed off as stroke of luck and not sustainable. With no supporters, almost everyone went back to their old way and deserted the solution as a bad dream and mistake. The solution thus joined the IT orphanage.

Applications and solutions that the IT team developed bur no one really used; solutions that were bought by users only to be discarded with no one to support them; applications and reports that are always urgent for development but rarely complete UAT; and if they do, hardly anyone wants to use them, they all finally find their place in the IT orphanage. These have no owner, no user, and no parent to support them. Once relegated they rarely if ever find a benefactor who is willing to support them.

Every organization has a (un)labelled orphanage that sometimes gets very crowded especially if the CIO and the IT team is unable to assert themselves or if they collectively work to create solutions that are disconnected from business reality. The CIO needs to highlight such instances transparently and openly to either change team behaviour or improve chances of success; and/or change business engagement and ownership that rarely if at all any need to be assigned to the orphanage.

P.S. Within a year the project was revived by the CIO and has stayed a success now for over 2 years; that is a story for another time.


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