The question that stumped some of us went something like this. CIOs take decisions on IT strategy and architecture thereby setting the foundation of the technology that will enable the enterprise for a long time. So when selecting an ERP or similar system what are the criteria to select one over the other considering that once a specific technology is chosen, it will stay for a really long time. It’s like a lock-in because no one changes ERP systems normally. How do you then manage cost escalations and support?
ERP implementation and all that follows
Now, as I know, the question is largely an accurate portrayal of reality. At the time of selecting an ERP, every enterprise painstakingly reviews most options before assigning the family jewels to the solution. Such magnitude of projects is always launched with fanfare, with senior management speeches and project naming ceremonies. Committees are formed with best intent and sooner or later the project goes live. I am not getting into the success or the challenges that typical projects face; that’s another story.
Over the years, with increasing licenses and customizations, the sustenance cost starts to hurt; CIOs find ways to reduce support costs or squeeze licenses deployed to keep operating expenses low. The thought of replacement is rarely tabled and considered impractical. How can such a change be ever executed? Who will drive this? Change will be disruptive to the business. The cost of replacement will be extremely high and not worth the effort.
The perils of ERP replacement:
I am sure that these reasons have some echoes for every CIO. Change is indeed a herculean task when it impacts almost everyone in the company; especially so when the change will have the biggest impact on the IT organization. Apart from the change that every employee will have to go through, the IT teams will have to get out of their comfort zones and drive the change from the front while keeping the lights on and business chugging along as usual. So is ERP replacement the peak that no CIO wants to even attempt? Or is it only for the few brave expedition leaders akin to climbing the Mount Everest? Yes the biggest peak has been climbed a few times and so has ERP migrations done with sparse frequency. Why this reluctance in proposing the change or embracing the challenge to climb mountains?
I believe that the vendor lock-in created around the difficulty of ERP change is to some extent promulgated by the CIO. It is time to abandon this myth and start exploring new horizons in the new world being created around us. We can be part of the creators rather than accept status quo irrespective of whether we were part of the original decision or not. Every decision taken is based on facts at the time and is largely a correct decision. Should we allow this to constrain the future? After all, if you keep climbing smaller mountains, no one rejoices with you as much as if you did climb the Mount Everest!]]>
I do receive and read more than 50 odd newsletters every day across various subjects; industry specific from retail (my chosen industry for the last five years), Human Resources (for people tips and ideas), e-commerce, social media, leadership, current affairs, regional news, politics, and many CIO focused sites. These are supplemented with some internet browsing, five newspapers and some IT magazines daily. The summaries and news briefs keep me updated with information which helps me understand trends and stay current with the world.
Being worldly relevant
Coming back to my search of the sites, the idea was to look at what is the world talking about? Can I pick up a few insights that could help me in creating the next week’s blog? Are my posts still relevant to the CIO or am I living in a world detached from reality? What new innovation have I missed while running on the technology treadmill (see my last week’s post) and getting to be a retailer and a coach to start-up CEOs and future CIOs?
Headlines on new product introductions (tablets, phones, servers) and some of the hyped upcoming technologies took up 70% of the landing page across all the sites. A few links to notable blogs on the sites, vendor advertisements and videos made up another 20%. Desperately, I started scanning for CIO leadership, business challenges, innovation, people management, and customer engagement, anything that was removed from technology.
CIO case studies
On one site I did find some hidden behind a menu option; it was a CIO case study on how she overcame a difficult business situation with her expertise in business. On another site, a menu button offered expert advice; but clicking a few links got me some technology experiments and vendor sponsored white papers. When every publication rues and makes a case for a business savvy CIO, why is the content not reflecting this? Why are these sites still about technology and are they really targeting the CIO?
The CIO and business
Take any IT publication (physical or electronic), irrespective of the target audience (CIO, IT managers, channel partners, broad-based audience), the editorial or one of the cover stories is always about what the CIO should be doing to stay relevant to the business. The underlying theme is always about business before IT. But after the preaching is done, back to business as usual, do you know about the new 64-core server or the next crossover device with zillion pixel screen?
They proclaim, CIOs should evolve, cite surveys from other CXOs, CIOs, vendors … and then publish technology trends, new servers, tablets, smart phone comparisons, stuff that matters to a technology professional, and detached from a CIO who would depend on his/ her team to advise him on the relevant tools required to achieve the defined business objective. Why can they not walk their talk if their defined target audience is indeed the CIO or the senior IT leader?
I believe that evolution is slower and selective than technology innovation.]]>
A few weeks back, a reporter called me. She said that I was one of the few people she knew who was happy being a CIO. She had not come across too many such people within her contact book despite having hundreds of listed CIOs. So this discussion continued on whether a CIO should necessarily move on to another role. If yes, which one?
I wondered a bit as she continued her excited chatter — what’s wrong in being a CIO, and that too a good one! Why is the world interested in my evolution to another CXO’s role (as if other CXOs would be extremely delighted to fill in my shoes)?
Apart from technology expertise, CIOs by virtue of providing technology enabled systems and processes across the enterprise have unparalleled visibility in terms of what happens across each function. They are expected to “know” the business, as well as understand the domain specific challenges and opportunities. Such a knowledge level is essential to provide new technology solutions, whether it’s marketing, sales, warehousing, finance or any other. Typically, this gets referred to as the wonderful world of “IT-business alignment”. Such opportunities give them an advantage over others from the CXO domain who may not have this opportunity (or the interest). Best of all, other CXOs do not get measured for knowing other functions and their ability to engage, let’s say the head of supply chain, in a discussion on the best put-away process.
This advantage and ability to influence business outcomes opens up possibilities. Maybe, just maybe, the CIO could take on additional responsibilities beyond “mundane” IT. In all possibility, he can bring about the best while improving the present. Analytical abilities come to the forefront at this point, whereupon the CIO typically challenges status quo, seeking a better tomorrow. So the question of whether a CIO is ready to take on the role of another CXO or a COO becomes irrelevant. If we push the envelope a bit further, he even has a remote chance of being a CEO. So pressure starts to build upon the CIO to get on with it.
So what’s wrong in being a good CIO? Why can’t the CIO remain in the current role and evolve it into a meaningful contributor to the organization (a difficult task to consistently execute)? At this point, the Board may benevolently grant a seat in the Boardroom’s hallowed chambers with other CXOs, executive and non-executive directors. The CIO then reaches the pinnacle of success within his role’s dimensions. Sustaining this peak position obviously requires as much effort as it took to get there. It’s at this juncture that the CIO can be deemed ready to challenge any CXO and succeed in the new role. Of course, this requires the ecosystem to at least be neutral (if not positive) towards the CIO. A negative or a non-conducive environment will be a challenge for any CXO, including the CIO. (See Are Boards ready for the CIO?)
Time to get back to the question “Are you happy being a CIO?” If you are, great! Build upon your success, challenge the organization, and keep on asking the question, “What do I need to do to get to the Boardroom?” If you aren’t, you are probably a CIO by accident or unable to find the magic formula for success (the magic formula is for another day). If you face a personal crisis on your role as a CIO, you should find yourself a mentor or coach who can help. Otherwise, go and find the right job for yourself!]]>