It was during my school days that I first learnt the importance of good writing as a means of communication. Our English teacher was once distributing answer-sheets of our periodic exams in the class. One of the questions in the paper was of essay-writing. The teacher singled out my paper to explain to the class how an essay needs to be written. I was overwhelmed as I always thought I was poor in English and often used to envy some of my classmates who had rich vocabulary to boast of. The teacher simply said that the key was not about using a flowery language but of simple expression conveying the story to the reader in a way he can understand. I could never forget that advise and that stayed with me ever since.
Experience of the professional world
After a few years of working with two companies I moved into a management consulting firm. I was on my first major assignment and had to submit a proposal to the client. I carried out the fact-finding with great enthusiasm and then compiled the data collected to write out my proposal. The proposal, painstakingly written, was full of expression and analysis and I forwarded to our Director for his approval. The Director later called me over and told me in a polite way that though the proposal was good, he had difficulty comprehending it since he looked from the client’s perspective. He said that the proposal did carry details of the task to be done, the process that I would adopt, and the deliverables, but did not speak of the need for such a work, the purpose to be served, and benefit that would accrue to the organization. It was a knuckle on my head — in short, he told me that the proposal didn’t make sense! Feeling hurt, I sat with my senior colleague to complete the task.
A similar experience with another organization a few years later brought more sense into me. New to the organization, I set out to prepare a comprehensive IT plan for submitting to the management. There was nothing wrong with the effort that I put in or about the technology solutions I envisaged. My final report carried details of system requirements for each function, software to be developed, hardware to be procured and a schedule for implementation. Most of my colleagues agreed with my assessment but our Managing Director did not. He said he could see no connect with the organization’s plans and said that the report did not indicate the purpose it is going to serve. Another knock and I nearly swooned.
I had to understand the art of good writing and went about reading, discussing, and applying what I learnt. I wrote the following guidelines for myself for writing out any report:
- Objective: Always state the objective or the main purpose of the report.
- Context: Explain the background or build up the context so that the reader is able to make out the situation that is being addressed.
- Explain approach: It is important to explain your choice of actions and various options considered for resolution. Your arriving at a conclusion otherwise would not convince the recipient of the report.
- Specify the solution: It is important to be specific and unambiguous on your decision or the final recommendation. What you may do is to suggest and leave the final decision to the person to whom it is forwarded.
- Enumerate advantages: It is good to mention about the likely gains, advantage that may accrue or savings possible and wherever possible quantify them.
- Conclusion: End up stating clearly the action that you expect. It could be seeking approval, wanting to inform, putting the matter for debate or justifying your stand but it is important not to leave the report open ended.
Did it work?
Yes, it did. In subsequent years, I was lucky to have most of recommendations accepted without too much of a debate or with very few objections. In fact, many of my other colleagues in other functions wondered what steps I had employed “to please my bosses”. I was happy to have learnt something which I could use.
Managing the complete IT infrastructure of any organization is not easy. Many a time we receive frantic calls from users crying hoarse that they are unable to go through their transactional process, are unable to take out reports or that they find it difficult to send mails or to access information. This is a complex issue that needs tackling; the CIO goes about diagnosing the fault in order to isolate the problem and set it right.
It sometimes is a nightmare. The CIO is not sure whether the issue is on the client, the network or somewhere in the back-end infrastructure. He brings to bear his problem solving acumen and tries to go through the problem methodically trying to eliminate various issues so that he can zero in on the root cause. When he has a large and multi-layered IT infrastructure he has to drill down to each layer trying to discover the problem. This often takes too long to diagnose and resolve incidents. As users call him up frantically, he loses his peace and composure. When introducing new applications he has no means to ensure that the application performance will be as good as the developers promised and spends weeks after the roll-out to resolve issues.
Use of specific tools
It is not as if the CIO is devoid of resources. He would have bought performance measurement tools for database, applications or the network and use them to diagnose faults. When in problem he uses these tools to find out faults if any in each of these areas in order to identify and correct them. This takes time since he can’t visualize the problem in a holistic manner but has to wait to find out whether each of the areas are good or have an issue which needs tackling.
Applications have traditionally been delivered from data centers. Therefore traditional performance management has focused on data center infrastructure but delivery of today’s application deals with a complex data center architecture (including servers, storage, virtualization platforms, security layers etc.), multi-tier application architecture and an expanding mix of cloud services, third party services, mobile carriers, browsers etc. The CIO therefore needs a host of tools to manage and administer the complete infrastructure. He has tackle the issue on two fronts – to investigate whether the health of the infrastructure is alright or if not, where is the problem; and secondly, to run, diagnose, and fix problems vis-à-vis the application package if that is where the fault lies.
A holistic solution
It was therefore necessary to have a set of tools which could help IT administrators to proactively scan the environment to of any potential bottlenecks and to diagnose and isolate faults in the entire chain so that they can be attended speedily. So a host of vendors, including Compuware, Computer Associates, HP, Quest, and others, came out and have been offering solutions to make this possible.
Most of these tools offer an end-to-end monitoring and management of application performance or in other words give a global view of application performance. They traverse the entire IT infrastructure to identify any blockage or bottleneck and also do a component deep dive monitoring to bring out specific problem in the application context. They incorporate a role-based dashboard to quickly assess health of applications. Further, analytics provide insight into faults so that corrective actions can be put in place. It is possible to define SLAs and track service level compliance over time. They follow industry-defined standards and therefore if you already have any application specific tool, it is possible to integrate it with the APM suite.
Should CIOs consider APM tools?
Choosing any solution has to be in the context of problems being encountered. IT setups in small and medium-sized businesses are not complex enough to warrant an elaborate solution. However, larger organizations with complex work environment and those sporting multi-layered IT infrastructure may well consider better methods to deal with application performance issues. Businesses are no longer tolerant of IT bottlenecks and it enjoins upon us to provide an uninterrupted work environment. APM suites therefore make a lot of sense.
The CIO and his role is the topic of many a discussion that take place during seminars. The poor CIO is in focus and hence under pressure to live up to the expectation generated out of these discussions. He is often asked to be more aligned to business and put on an influential role in his organization. He is asked a play a strategic role as against operational responsibilities that he shoulders so admirably. These discussions sure perk up the CIO and make him ready to assume a greater role in business but is often lost in thought not knowing how to go about doing so.
The CIO has to find a way in which he is more useful to the organization and make technology work for the company in its effort to grow and be more profitable. The plan that he makes for IT has to serve the organization’s objectives and goals. He also has to ensure that he selects the most appropriate technologies and solutions to help the company leap a few steps ahead of the competition. That makes his role strategic in which he has to understand company’s direction and goals and also bring in an element of strategy to his IT plans. That can enrich his role and make IT more effective for the business.
The strategic thought process
Even before the CIO starts with his strategic plan, he has to imbibe the strategic thinking process. Strategic thinking is a key thought process of strategic management framework; it is about finding and developing a foresight by exploring all futures and challenging conventional thinking to foster good decision making. This can be done either individually or collaboratively among key people who can positively contribute to the new thinking. Strategic thinking in this case involves understanding the fundamental drivers of business as also awareness about the technology landscape and various technology options available. He has to develop insight into the requirements of business and the right technology solutions that can materially impact organization response to the challenges faced.
Strategic thinking must take into account the following factors:
Alignment: The IT strategy must fit into company’s vision, mission, competitive situations, and operating strengths.
Goal orientation: Understand the goals defined and then set clear expected outcomes and make explicit links between these outcomes and company’s goals. Evaluate technology solutions accordingly.
Fact-based: Best strategies are based on some data, real facts or educated guesses. The logic behind the strategies should be clear and unambiguous. A formal documentation is recommended to set down the assumptions and factors considered for choices made.
Based on broad thinking: In order to keep the company nimble-footed, it will be best to consider multiple alternatives and a range of scenarios to arrive at the select choice. Consider technology solutions that give the company the required agility.
Focus: It is always tempting to do a lot to please everyone but it is important to go by the set of priorities defined by the company and devise an action plan accordingly.
Agreement: It is important to get people on board to work together and support the initiatives. Therefore steps need to be taken to ensure people participate in formulation of the strategy and feel satisfied that multiple view-points were heard before drawing the final plans.
Adaptable: Strategies need to be flexible and adaptable to the changing times and business changes and also based on learning from experimentation and new information. Plans should not be very rigid but one which moulds itself to the changing scenario.
When to start?
The thinking has to begin now. It is best that CIOs train their mind-sets to think strategy and make efforts to understand the situations around them. Strategic thinking is an input for strategic planning and therefore it’s important to get started and apply the thoughts to the factors mentioned above. It may not be a bad idea to seek help where necessary as the objective is to play a more effective role in the organizations that we are in.
I had the opportunity to develop and mentor quite a few of my junior colleagues over the years. Many of them progressed well and some of them really rose higher and took up position of greater responsibilities. I realized that some of them had innate qualities and traits like forward thinking, positive attitude, an adventurous spirit and leadership, and some had educational qualifications to back their endeavor. Some were triers while others were conservative and content. Those who were ambitious but felt inadequate in terms of education and knowledge, went for higher studies and were benefited in the long run.
I have been associated with management institutions and been teaching students through guest lectures and some semester courses as well. The experience has been rewarding as I learn when preparing for the lecture and then through interaction with the students who raise questions. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to take a guest lecture for students of an Executive MBA program, on the topic ‘Strategic Management of IT’. The students were executives from various companies with experiences ranging from 3 years to 10 years and most of them had an IT background wanting to give fillip to their careers. The learned professor explained to me before the session about the topics that the students had been taught so far. They had covered elements of IT planning, their alignment with business, about enterprise systems and the need to justify IT investments to the management. The professor told me that the students would like to know how it really works in the corporate sector and feIt that I can tell them based on my experiences with the corporate sector.
I started my lecture telling them how a simple IT plan differs from strategic plan and how it is important to know and understand business, its strategies, goals and priorities before embarking on any planning of IT and its management thereafter. Sensing their curiosity I explained the various aspects of business that the CIO should study, ask for and understand. I then proceeded explaining how I went about planning and managing IT in three different organizations that I worked with and presented a case study of one of my projects. This was absorbed well and people sat through the class without showing signs of strain.
Interaction with students
Students were bright and quite inquisitive and raised several questions during the sessions. They asked me about my interaction with the managements and about relationship with the CEOs that I reported to. They wanted to know why some plans fail and why some plans go through and falter later. A student even asked me why I had only presented cases where I succeeded but not about organizations where my plan did not work. That was a tricky question and therefore I had to explain about the organization environment and the attitude of the managements which were not supportive.
They were also interested in understanding the roadblocks and people management issues that I had faced when implementing plans. There were also questions on justification of investment and the ‘ROI’ factor and how to tide over them. I was really impressed with the group and their enthusiasm to know and understand. I complemented them and expressed hope that they would be apply what they had learnt that day. For me, they were a bunch of good CIOs in the making.
Developing IT personnel for CIO position
In my interaction with a host of CIOs, I see many of them a bit dissatisfied with their situation. Though they put in sincere efforts in their work, they are sometimes not able to make their mark. They find something missing and wonder why they are not able to get the management on their side. While other avenues could be available, education is one of them. If they could learn various aspects of management they would be better armed when speaking to their seniors. I wish more of our young CIOs and other senior IT staff members consider joining management courses and get equipped to make a difference in their organizations.
The change that has taken place in the telecom sector is nothing short of a revolution. What is available today is far different from what existed two decades ago. From a stage where we used to struggle to communicate with someone far away, we have come to an age where communication devices and services are available off-the-shelf. Far from being tied down with a fixed instrument attached to a wire, now we roam free with a wireless instrument in hand.
The tariffs that we pay for use of communication services today are also a fraction of what we incurred in the yesteryears. Voice calls and data services have become affordable and are being used by the masses. However, some elements of the tariffs are still indecently high and seem out of place with the current situation. Let me explain why they are unsustainable.
Information, communication, & entertainment (ICE)
Today telephony and information technology are intricately merged; both these platforms operate interchangeably. For instance, we can use the desktop/laptop for voice and video communication and our mobile handsets can access Internet and other applications. Any data flow or voice/video is free on the Internet whereas it gets charged when we operate on the telephone. This is the paradox which is hurting the telecom companies and we will perhaps see new business models evolving. Let us examine a few cases which cause this disruption.
- Use of Internet for video chat
A very popular use has been that of parents talking to their children studying in USA, England and other countries through use of applications like Skype, Gvideo, etc. They talk for hours and almost every day without paying a penny to the telecom companies. International calls over ISD have almost become a rarity. Many companies too have been using this facility to talk to their branches or business partners overseas. Since international (ISD) calls are expensive, using these tools makes a lot of sense.
- Using instant messaging
Interactive messaging using yahoo chat, gtalk, etc., have been popular for many years and now many of these applications are available on smart phones, e.g., Whatsapp, Viber gtalk, etc. So people on the move use these options to communicate instead of using the messaging services on their phones. As most phones now use GPRS or its equivalent, use of social networking platforms keeps people in touch. Telecom companies therefore stand to lose revenue on messaging which they usually bill as value added services.
- Calling using freeware VOIP SW
Many of these software are gaining popularity for example Viber, Nymgo, Jumblo, etc. You can subscribe to these services and make calls and pay nominal charges. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to use these for international calls as the international long distance charges are still too high.
- Use of Wi-Fi facility
Wi-Fi connectivity these days is available at most airports, hotels, institutions, companies, clubs, etc. They are free of charge for guests and visitors, but even otherwise you can buy usage for a few hours or for a day and use it extensively. I was abroad for a holiday recently and though I bought a region specific card with international roaming, I took recourse to using Wi-Fi liberally thus saving considerably on ISD calls and roaming charges.
Time for change
Integrated communication has really been a disruptive technology. I believe that the whole telecom sector is set for a change and companies in this sector will have to adopt new business models to stay afloat. While talk time charges and national roaming charges in our country have come down drastically, international call charges and roaming charges are still too high for comfort. They are in fact so high that it doesn’t make sense to today’s customers. All this is set for a change.
We have seen an increasing trend of companies moving their facilities to external professionally managed data centers. Some companies still feel the need to retain their facilities in-house while many others stay undecided and defer their decisions. As far as the data centers are concerned there is a great potential for them to nab customers but this opportunity needs to be tapped effectively.
One would tend to assume that enough is being done by vendors to expand their business but it may be good to examine this premise. I will look at this situation from the users’ perspective, based on my experience in dealing with them.
In my last article I discussed various obstacles that companies face when they consider data center outsourcing. While some of these can be attributed to indecision at the customers’ end, lack of adequate support from the vendors is also a matter that impedes progress on this front. I will discuss the measures that vendors can take to address this anomaly.
- Users’ predicament
It is no secret that users feel intimidated when the sales representatives come over to meet them with their sales pitch. They invariably start off with a list of the services offered by them, cutting edge technology they possess, and their strengths. They offer the moon and throw the gauntlet in the form of ‘cloud solutions’. The customer is usually scared to death, seeks time to savor the concoctions offered and prefers to defer his decision till he understands the subject a little more.
- Important issues to consider
It is important to realize that various companies are at different levels of maturity and therefore would have different needs. It is important to approach customers differently with offerings that are specific to the their requirements. The first step, in my opinion, should be to understand the customer’s current status in terms of IT assets they have, applications they run and problems faced by them. If they have expressed a desire to outsource, it is important to understand the objective and the target that they have set to achieve.
- Sell solutions
Once having understood the requirement, it is good for the vendors to go back to the customer with specific solutions that they propose for them. The vendor can restrain himself from overselling, as is often the case with sales persons pressured to meet their targets. An honest assessment and an appropriate solution go far in building a lasting relationship with the customer.
- Help the customer decide
Customer usually seeks help in arriving at a right decision and so it is prudent to do hand-holding and to help him choose options that work best for him. Nothing works better than educating the customer, making him aware of the technology options being proposed and the advantages that the company would derive.
When organization’s data moves out from its premises, there are usual concerns on safety and security which need to be addressed. Some good vendors go a step further and help the customer in preparing a business case and a ROI justification where necessary. It may sometimes be prudent to initially take the customer through baby-steps rather than leading him to a big commitment — that will help build confidence. Filling the customer with case studies, providing references, and taking them on site-visits can help the cause further.
During my interactions I have felt the disconnect between the vendors and users and think vendors need to work more on this area. Instead of merely dispatching sales representatives to pick up orders, they would do better to assign solution specialists to work out proper deals for the customers. This, in my opinion, is the best way to expand the market and win customers.
The trend shows that organizations are slowly moving out their computing facilities from the in-house data centers to external professionally managed data centers. While some have moved their facilities completely, others have either moved a significant part running mission critical systems or have moved a few servers to test the waters.
Some corporates have genuine reasons to run their facilities in-house but many others are in different stages of transition. There are a few first time customers who tread carefully and a few others who have hosted servers before but now want to expand their footprint and are also willing to examine new models of outsourcing. There are, however, a large chunk of companies that keep dancing at the fence, unsure of taking a leap. Let us examine a few cases of resistance which inhibit a changeover.
Shades of resistance
- Established in-house data centers: There are cases of very large organizations, both in the public and private sector, that have huge, well laid out and well managed data centers (DCs). Being the nerve centers for the organization, these DCs are given due importance and comprise considerable investment made over the years. They employ state-of-the-art equipment and processes and have dedicated staff and managers to take care of the facilities. Through virtualization, they ensure flexibility and deploy automated software tools to monitor availability and performance of servers, storage and networks. Since they care of safety and security, they don’t feel the need to transfer out their facilities and in my opinion, they are quite right in their stand.
- Cost consideration: Some companies are very conscious of costs and are not easily convinced with the idea of hosting their IT equipment elsewhere at a cost. They are comfortable managing a small or a medium sized facility in their premises especially where they have available space. These organizations mainly comprise of those who do not attach much importance to IT and are happy with services they get currently.
- The ‘ROI’ factor: Finance heads have a role to play and they always like to throw their hat into the ring on matters of investment. They get down to figures and question the investments against benefits and therefore play spoil sport. It is not easy to beat them on figures and it is only the CEO who can rein them if he sees sense in the proposal.
- The ‘IT manager’ factor: Many IT heads are too attached to their DCs which they would have built over a period and dislike the very idea of shifting them. In addition, they perceive a loss of power and influence and often resist with full force. I have seen them getting extremely worked up and trying to create roadblocks by suggesting that moving out is risky and fraught with security concerns. They just delay the inevitable.
- Concerns about security: This often comes as a genuine concern and needs addressing. Sometimes it is the fear that once the server is placed somewhere outside anyone can steal the data. This can be explained to drive home the point but there are others whose traditional mindset deflects the answer to keep the matter suspended. The reluctant IT managers also joins the fray to add fuel to fire.
- Suspicious of the cloud: There is no doubt that the ‘cloud’ solution beats many and more so for naive business heads who see cloud as a smokescreen to curious play happening on the public platform. They insist that their domain should be physically earmarked and cannot accept a virtual demarcation of their territory. The issue is complex and needs to be handled with care.
So the going is not so easy. Sales representatives of data centers have to overcome hurdles and have to use their skills of persuasion and confidence building to win over customers. There are, of course, the other customers who refuse to budge and have their swords drawn out of their sheaths, ready to fight the intruder who tries to suggest a shift. Such battles still need to be won.
Yes, I would think so, though quite a few of my fellow professionals might differ. The trend is fairly visible now and though it had a slow start a few years ago. I have visited quite a few professional data centers and have been amazed to see an array of servers there belonging to various organizations. These spaces are occupied by banks, financial institutions, brokerage houses, telecom companies, large public and private sector organizations, small and medium sized organizations and so on — you name it and you will find it there. The extent of this change cannot just be perceived, it has to be observed in person.
The initial thrust
In the beginning, when companies moved their servers to external data centers, it was for one of the following reasons:
- For external facing applications: These included applications like CRM, SRM, field sales operations, etc., as these were essentially accessed by users outside the organization. Issues of connectivity could be overcome as these sites had robust networks.
- Lack of space for expansion: Organizations in main cities had paucity of space and could not add on more servers and hence preferred to host them elsewhere.
- Problems faced on servers at remote locations: Many enterprises placed their servers at the factory sites as most of the transactions emanated from there and there was ample space to place them. However, issues of maintenance and delayed resolution during emergencies forced these companies to consider hosting them at external data centers.
- Turning wise after a mishap: We often see light of the day when we are hit by an undesirable incident. Some companies make emergency calls to service houses after their in-house data centers are struck by short-circuits / destroyed by fire.
The scene now
Companies have moved quite a distance since then. Hosting servers or hiring computing facility is more out of choice than being forced by circumstances. Managements today are more aware and CIOs more willing to shift facilities outside than they were in the earlier years. Their decision is based on the following considerations:
- Lean staff strength: Corporates are no longer in favor of having a large army of people installing and maintaining data centers. They are also wary of committing scarce organizational resources for ensuring power, physical security and fire safety requirements.
- A revenue model rather than owning assets: The whole rigmarole of buying servers, storage, software, et al, paying AMC for them every year and finally replacing them with newer equipment on obsolescence or at end of life, has become too much for organizations to handle. They now prefer arrangements where they can hire facilities as and when they want.
- Flexibility and agility: The nature of the markets today force organizations to be responsive to ever changing needs. Companies therefore can’t afford the luxury of time to provision resources, they want extra resources as and when needed and on demand. Virtualization, the ‘cloud’ model, etc., have made this possible.
- Safety and reliability: Tier-3 data centers today have strong measures against unauthorized intrusions, fire hazards, etc., and have round-the-clock monitoring. They also offer disaster recovery solutions with a parallel server placed in one of their data centers in another geographical zone.
As I speak to organizations including those from the SME sector, I find them more amenable to hiring external facilities and the resistance from the old guards is slowly dwindling. Greenfield setups clearly start with a clear direction towards hiring and provide no budgets for owning IT equipment. It is because of these trends I am prompted to state that the days of in-house fortified data centers are numbered and they may get extinct in a few years from now. Resistances may prolong their life but can’t prevent the inevitable — let us discuss the roadblocks in the next piece.
As discussed in my earlier notes, the concept of ‘CIO as a Service’ is catching up fast and I see more enterprises viewing this option. As information and communication technologies throw up newer tools, methods and solutions, some of the medium and smaller sized organizations find it difficult to cope up with these challenges with available resources at their command. They need help but they do not know where to go looking for such a resource.
So we have a set of enterprises which are in the need for such a service and there are quite a few CIOs and other IT service organizations that are ready with this service offering. Since the market for this service has not developed yet, this match between the demand and the supply has not taken great shape. There are two ways of looking at this opportunity – one that the demand for this service is not developed and hence there is a need for stimulating demand; and the other, that the supply of this service has not matured enough for the market to grow. Let us look at both these factors.
Developing the market
While a few organizations do feel the need for such a facility, most others are not even aware of such a possibility. They are wary of engaging with consulting organizations and do not trust technology vendors to play a neutral role. It is therefore important for providers of this service to increase awareness among their target customers and make them believe that such an arrangement could really benefit them. This can be done through publicity (distributing pamphlets or direct mailers), advertisement (in specific magazines), arranging seminars or associating with industry associations (like CII, FICCI, SIAM, etc.). Cold calls by individuals do not really work as the contacted CEO is suspicious and takes it to be another case of aimless selling. There are quite a few CIOs who have been pursuing this market individually but it would make a lot of sense for them to get together and think of ways to market this concept collectively. I would not be surprised if we see the formation of something like a ‘virtual CIOs guild’ that serves the role like NASSCOM does for IT software and service companies.
Supply side constraints
One of the main factors for the development of any market is the availability of adequate resources to service that demand. For the services that we are talking about, this factor is still to take proper shape. I have seen individual professionals as CIOs vigorously pursuing this opportunity on their own and though a few have formed organizations, they do not have enough resources to service the need. There are also IT service providers who have been trying to sew together an offering by getting a few CIOs to be on their panel. However, there is still not a formal service delivery model and the scope of each engagement is drawn up on the basis of negotiation between the CIO and the client. There is perhaps a need for forming an organization which can have on their Board several CIOs with specializations in specific industry segments or technologies, and also have CIOs at various levels of seniority. For example we can have a senior level CIO operating at the strategic level for the client organization and have a less senior person filling up to supervise at the operational level. It would not be inappropriate to suggest that the ‘virtual CIOs guild’ helps develop models or standards of quality and delivery – that will really help credibility to this service.
We have to be aware that some services of this nature have hitherto been provided by consulting organizations that are more organized and mature. It is therefore necessary for the proponents of this idea to get together to develop and grow this market.
I have written about the topic of CIO lending some time to help organizations with their IT deployments. Since the CIO is available for rendering service to other organizations at the same time, he becomes a shared CIO. I also wrote about different types of roles that he takes on such assignments. What we need to discuss now is proper execution of his task so that he plays an effective role in the client organization.
Since this concept is still developing, the contours of this service have not yet been clearly marked. Many from the CIO community are already working on such assignments with different companies but the scope of their work differs. Based on their experiences they tweak the scope to make it workable although such learning is not shared with the community at large. It is therefore important that we have a forum to discuss and learn from each other’s experiences.
The CIO when taking this task faces various challenges. Not being a full time role and being different from the conventional role of a functional head, this task is not fully understood by the other managers in the organization. The CIO therefore has to struggle to establish himself. In this note, I am putting down a few challenges that are often faced and actions which could help managing the scene better.
- Clear definition of CIO’s role missing
It is very important to define the scope of his services right at the beginning. Many a time we start with a general understanding of the scope and this is what lands us in trouble. An overarching purpose stating the scope as a ‘review of the IT systems and making it more relevant to business’ is somewhat vague. It is necessary to be specific about the role whether he would just be an adviser coming in at important meetings or a consultant whoa would undertake a review and advice periodically or as a functioning part time CIO managing the IT function. He should also arrive at an understanding with the management on the frequency of reporting on status and his recommendations.
- Managing expectations
We sometimes rush into laying down deliverables at the start under pressure from the company. While it is important to have clear understanding of deliverables, it is but fair to ask for a month’s time to study the organization’s status and arrive at the measures that need to be taken in the short term and for working out plans for the future.
The actual status and the prevailing problems are at times different than what is perceived. Therefore an initial assessment is important to start with the right set of assumptions. Differing expectations are sometimes a stumbling block which is played up by political groups within the organization. The plans put up should also state assumptions with respect to employees’ participation and the management support desired.
- Powers and responsibilities of the CIO not predetermined
This is an area which in my opinion is the most challenging. In a role where he is supposed to oversee and monitor the IT function, he is expected to assume ownership. Since he is not in an executive function, he does not have powers to approve projects, select vendors or even to appraise IT staff. He may just recommend; in such cases he has responsibility on his shoulders but no powers.
The best arrangement would be that he is given powers like a regular CIO where his recommendation on technology solutions is put up to the executive board, he has a say in selecting and buying products and is given the right to write the appraisals for IT staff and others whom he is supposed to supervise. If he continues to be treated like an outsider without a place in the organization hierarchy, he may suffer from a handicap and would be less effective.