Having dealt with the basics of what cloud computing is, let us go further to understand more on this subject and talk about the main characteristics and deployment models. With so much of hype surrounding the topic, simple matters often get missed out, leaving us a bit skeptical of its utility. Many therefore stay unsure, wondering, whether this solution is appropriate for them or whether this is the right time for them to do so.
We can look at the advantages of cloud computing and examine if this would benefit us. Cloud computing exhibits the following key characteristics:
1. Reduction in costs: The cloud model (especially the public cloud) works on a shared delivery model, which enables sharing of resources and costs across a large pool of users and therefore brings down costs. Instead of companies making capital investments, they incur operational expenses. This lowers barriers to entry, as infrastructure is typically provided by a third-party and does not need to be purchased for one-time or infrequent intensive computing tasks. Pricing is on a utility computing basis and the user is charged only for the resources used.
2. Agility: Since resources are provided ‘on demand’, it brings in agility, thereby, improving users’ ability to re-provision technological / infrastructure resources. Therefore, it ensures scalability and elasticity in provisioning resources on a self-service and near real-time basis.
3. Device and location independence: Users are able to access systems using a web browser, regardless of their location or what device they are using (e.g., PC, mobile phone). As infrastructure is off-site (typically provided by a third-party) and accessed via the Internet, users can connect from anywhere.
4. Peak-load capacity management: In normal cases, we deploy infrastructure to meet peak load demands, and which lays idle at other times. This problem is taken care of by provision resources on demand. There are utilization and efficiency improvements for systems that are often only 10–20% utilized.
5. Reliability: Service levels are assured through the SLAs signed and the service provider usually provides for multiple redundant sites, which makes well-designed cloud computing architecture suitable for business continuity and disaster recovery.
6. Performance monitoring: SLAs should cover performance monitoring services that the partner must provide. The user company can thus be relieved of this responsibility.
7. Security: The subject of security is often discussed and there are huge concerns especially on the public cloud model. In my opinion, security could improve due to centralization of data, increased security-focused resources, etc. Nonetheless, concerns can persist about loss of control over certain sensitive data, and the lack of security when on shared platforms.
Various models of deployment are possible and organizations have been using them for a while. Let us discuss two of them which are usually debated.
The public cloud: A public cloud is one based on the standard cloud computing model, in which a service provider makes the resources, such as applications and storage, available to the general public, over the Internet. Public cloud services may be offered on a pay-per-usage model. Since this is based on a shared services model, it really helps in bringing down costs.
The private cloud: Private cloud is infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, whether managed internally or by a third-party and hosted internally or externally. It is the so-called private cloud, where companies, in effect, try ‘cloud computing at home’ instead of turning to an Internet-based service. The idea is that you get all the scalability, metering, and time-to-market benefits of a public cloud service without ceding control, security, and recurring costs to a service provider.
The private cloud model has, however, attracted criticism because users ‘still have to buy, build, and manage them’ and thus do not benefit from lower up-front capital costs and less hands-on management. Adoption of the public cloud is largely influenced by concerns of security and I am sure that as the concept matures and the security issues are addressed, larger number of organizations will be seen on the public cloud.
Cloud computing is a current topic and it sure will look bad on me if I stay away from this discussion. This subject is ever present in all seminars/ discussions/ debates and people swear by it. In a discussion on the television the other day, a panelist stated that this was the biggest thing ever to have happened to the IT industry and others nodded in acceptance. I do not know if they were really in agreement or wanted to look good to the audience, but the discussion went on espousing the cause.
Cloud computing is all the rage. The problem is that (as with Web 2.0) everyone seems to have a different definition. On the Internet, “the cloud” is a familiar cliché; but when combined with ’computing’, the meaning gets bigger and fuzzier. Some analysts and vendors define cloud computing narrowly as an updated version of utility computing — basically virtual servers available over the Internet. Others go very broad, arguing anything you consume outside the firewall is ’in the cloud’, including conventional outsourcing.
Articles in IT magazines and business magazines, advertisements and direct mailers from vendors to CEOs and Business Heads created quite a few embarrassing moments for me. Touting cloud computing as the ultimate fix to IT problems, they led the unsuspecting business managers to believe that the solutions to their woes was near. However, subsequent discussions with a few vendors left the matter unresolved. The truth was that the vendors themselves were riding on a wave and hence did not have their feet to the ground. They had some ‘overall’ models but no clear directions on how to put forth a comprehensive solution to the customer.
What is cloud computing
Now let us understand what cloud computing means in simple terms. I intend to make it easy to understand and not get into an all-encompassing definition. Let us say, “Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet)”.
Cloud computing provides computation, software, data access, and storage services that do not require end-user knowledge of the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services. Parallels to this concept can be drawn with the electricity grid, wherein end-users consume power without needing to understand the component devices or infrastructure required to provide the service. The concept of cloud computing fulfills a perpetual need of IT; a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without having to invest in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing speaks of a pay-per-use service in real time over the Internet.
How cloud computing works
Cloud computing providers deliver applications via the internet, which are accessed from a web browser, while the business software and data are stored on servers at a remote location. In some cases, legacy applications (running on a client-server model) are delivered via a screen-sharing technology, in other cases, business applications are coded using web-based technologies.
Most cloud computing infrastructures consist of services delivered through shared data-centers and appearing as a single point of access for consumers’ computing needs. Commercial offerings may consist of various models but should be built on the premise that the users pays for the services that he avails of, apart from the fixed one-time costs that may be charged in the beginning for set up. These contracts usually ask for commitment for a certain period but the user can insist on service-level agreements (SLAs), ensuring that the service providers delivers a minimum level of service.
This, in a nutshell, could be cloud computing. I will discuss more on it in my next update.
‘Make it large’ screams an advertisement on the television, obviously trying to draw attention of the viewers to sell its products. I am sure, viewers do understand the purpose of the advertisement, but then there is a subtle message that the clip conveys which gets lost in the cacophony of all the noisy pieces that follow one after another. The clip shows someone dissatisfied doing normal things and then deciding to risk doing something big and succeeding in the end. This is about a paradigm shift, of an effort to come out of the shell, breaking barriers to grow and realize his full potential. Friends, it is this message that we should absorb, get inspired with and use it in our professional life.
Life of the ordinary
We often get mired in routine tasks and trying to manage day to day operations. We get so consumed with this routine (of keeping the lights on) that we forget the larger purpose that we came in for. Of the little time that we have, we try to add an application here or there and keep ourselves in business. Small successes keep us happy and we try to make big of the small stuff that we accomplish. But when we go out to a seminar and hear someone speaking of big achievements, we feel shy and hide ourselves in the crowd so as to become ordinary and nondescript. That sure doesn’t give us happiness – we wish we had done something good to talk about. Small projects and extensions to the current systems we do often, but it is about doing something significant which brings about a difference to the environment that we are in.
Doing something big
Let me delve on few ingredients of such an effort:
Identification of a requirement – One needs to scan the business environment and seek out a business need that could change the fortunes of the company. This would come through discussions with the business heads or the CEO. Define the requirement and the projected outcome.
Planning – No large project is ever successful without adequate planning. So what is required is to lay down all steps necessary, resources required, possible risks and fall back options. The plan obviously requires concurrence of those involved in the project.
Review post implementation – After the initial applause, do pause to take a look at the impact that the move has created and whether the project has actually achieved what it set to achieve. There are many who miss out this step. The management or the end users are the real spokespersons and it is only when they speak out in happiness, we can consider ourselves to be successful.
Of courage and managing risks
However, doing anything big and significant requires courage. We have to break shackles, come out of our comfort zone and get ready to strain ourselves for a big battle. Success however is not guaranteed and therefore the move tests our risk taking ability. Low risk entails small rewards and greater the risks, larger are the gains. We take what is called a calculated risk i.e. be conscious of the pitfalls but prepare well enough to tackle them.
I have at times during my career refused to take the beaten path and embarked on some big ventures against the usual advice of colleagues and vendors. For example, doing a big bang ERP implementation, going ahead with supply chain automation even when there were very few examples of other companies doing so in our industry, attempting digital assets management, etc. The projects carried risks no doubt but when we succeeded all others wanted to be a part of it and claim that they also contributed.
CIOs design and manage complex information systems to help the company get better in terms of their efficiency and effectiveness. With time, as systems expand due to organizational growth and changed environment, they get unwieldy and it becomes difficult to keep a good grip over the systems. A need was therefore felt to have a process which could ensure delivery of good IT services to the organization at all times. We have seen challenges faced by CIOs in keeping up with the organization’s demands, and at the same time, dealing with technology-changes.
‘IT Services Management (ITSM)’ then came up as a formal methodology for managing the IT environment and services delivery. No one author, organization, or vendor owns the term ‘IT Service Management’; the origins of the phrase are unclear. There are a variety of frameworks and authors contributing to the overall ITSM discipline; and proprietary approaches are available too.
Let us first understand what ITSM is. IT Service Management (ITSM) is a process-based practice intended to align the delivery of information technology (IT) services with needs of the enterprise, emphasizing benefits to customers. ITSM involves a paradigm shift from managing IT as stacks of individual components to focusing on the delivery of end-to-end services using best practice process models. It has, to some extent, common interests with process improvement movement, for example TQM, Six Sigma, Business Process Management, and CMMI, frameworks and methodologies. ITSM may consist of a set of best practices, a natural progressive life cycle approach, focused on value generation and business outcomes, non-prescriptive and therefore easy to tailor and adopt.
Main components of ITSM
It would make sense to understand various steps of the process that one has to undergo for implementing ITSM. Let me describe them in brief here. They are drawn from methodology followed by the Quint Group.
Service Strategy – Vision: This is about understanding the business and aligning IT with business objectives. Therefore every stage of service lifecycle is driven by a business case.
Service Design – Blueprint: This consists of a document made after a detailed analysis which guides the design of architectures, running of IT services, putting in appropriate and innovative IT infrastructure solutions and services. This provides the right direction for delivery of various services to business.
Service Transition – Construct: This part focuses on the broad long term change management role and release practices so that risks, benefits, delivery mechanisms, and ease of ongoing operations of service are delivered. Therefore the matters like knowledge management, awareness, training, release and development management, service testing and validation, are considered adequately.
Service Operation – Provision: This stage focuses on delivery and control process activities like event/ incident management, request fulfilment, problem management, etc. By doing so, we achieve a highly desirable steady state of managing services on a day to day basis.
Continual Service Improvement – Enhance: Continuous improvement is integral to this process and therefore there should be an effort to identify process elements to bring about service management improvements.
If we are currently managing our processes well, we tend to get complacent and do not formalize the service delivery mechanism. We should institutionalize the processes by inviting wider participation including those from business so that IT stays focused on delivering business benefits. It may sometimes not be possible for us to develop the best practices and therefore some external help could be of value.
Large enterprises, as we know, operate on huge budgets and can easily afford good and senior persons as their CIOs. These companies run several projects and therefore have a staff contingent who manage the work. They can also engage consultants, service providers, and the likes, to assist them in their efforts.
Small companies, on the other hand, work under several constraints. It is not easy for them to hire good and senior persons to head their IT departments — for one, they can’t pay salaries that the senior persons demand, and secondly, the good and deserving candidates always prefer large and known organizations to small companies to further their careers. These small companies, though may have great ambitions, operate with limited budgets and have to be extremely careful with their spends.
As a result, these companies run small projects which take care of bare necessities, what we call as vanilla implementations, and these do not deliver any significant benefits. With the available resources, they do not have the stomach to try big initiatives. But some of the entrepreneurs, many of whom are the new generation businessmen, are ambitious and want to grow at a fast pace and think big. For them, IT becomes a drag, one which does not facilitate their growth efforts and becomes a constraint.
The way out
The only solution they can think of in such cases is to hire consultants. Consultants from known organizations, may often be expensive and work for short periods for the duration of the assignment, leaving the rest for the organization to manage. CEOs sometimes trust the hardware/ software vendor to provide a solution as some vendors increasingly claim to have a bouquet of tools and services to take care of all the requirements. This, to my mind, is risky and avoidable.
Appointing an advisor
The best case, in my opinion, is for them get hold of an advisor who could devote some time regularly to draw the right IT road map, help them in selection of technology and of implementation partners. By advisors, I mean senior professionals who are retired or those who have chosen to do some work on their own. Advisors can help guide projects to their logical conclusion and supervise the internal teams to ensure that they carry out work as per the defined schedule.
I have been advising two such companies and I find the arrangement to be of great advantage to them. They are assured that their IT program would be taken care of and they just have to concentrate on their business. I also find it very satisfying as I am able to bring in the best practices and the knowledge and processes of large enterprises to these smaller companies.
The CIO plays a significant role in his organization and helps in providing various technology solutions. He is often a part of transformational projects that provide a competitive edge to the organization.
The CIO in most cases is one who initially starts as a programmer or a systems analyst or a business analyst and slowly rises up in the organizational hierarchy or picks up another opportunity and then builds his career till he reaches the level of a CIO. There are of course cases of lateral entry and people from other disciplines moving in to take the position of a CIO. The CIO learns as he builds his career and gets better in terms of effectiveness. He becomes well-adept in understanding functional processes, systems analysis, project management, people management, organizational behavior, etc. He implements wonderful systems and makes an impact. In spite of his efforts he is sometimes not viewed very kindly by the management.
In spite of his efforts, at times, his work does not get the due credit from the management. Reasons could be many, however, in my opinion, he can try to enhance a few skills to create that impact. People may suggest that they attend workshops to develop their leadership qualities, management skills, etc; but here, I wish to deal with another factor which can be useful in making the CIO more effective.
A case for the CIO to pick up a different role
In his normal progression, as described above, the CIO develops into a functional head and like other functional managers acquires skill in his domain but has a narrow outlook. My suggestion is that he should, as a part of his career building exercise, consider parking himself with a consulting or an IT services organization for some time. This gives him an opportunity to look at organizations from the other side as he goes to user organizations and develops solutions for them. In the process he learns new skills which otherwise he would find difficult to acquire. Let me explain about the exposure that he gets and skills he learns.
1. Communication skills: As a consultant he is expected to convince the potential customer of his offering and this he does either through meetings (speaking and convincing skills) or by making presentations. He also gets better in the areas of persuasion and negotiation.
2. Writing skills: The engagement begins with his submitting a proposal to the client and then he has to follow it up with clarifications and justifications. His writing skills therefore get honed. When he becomes a CIO, he can use these skills for putting up proposals and justifications to the management and get them approved faster.
3. Management perspective: Consultants usually talk to the CEO or senior functionaries and take a note of their expectation and engage with them at defined stages of the project. By doing so they start looking at issues from the management’s perspective and this can be of immense help when they later assume the role of a CIO.
4. Project management skills: All consultants and service providers work on fixed timelines and costs. They learn how to draw time schedules & resource plan and have to monitor the progress on a regular basis. As we know any overrun on time or costs is viewed seriously. Project management skill therefore becomes a very useful ingredient of one’s role as a CIO.
5. Documentation: We all know that documentation of specifications, systems documentation, users manuals, policies etc. in user organizations are usually neglected or are poor. However for consultants / service providers this process is fully ingrained in their working. This can be a great advantage for such a CIO.
6. Understanding the customer: Whether at the time of selling their services, project stages or at completion, the consultant has always to be customer centric. For him his existence depends on keeping the customer happy. Now if he carries this perspective with him when he becomes a CIO, he will treat his internal customers with due care and will learn to build the right relationships.
Is it doable?
Well, I am sure, it is. After spending my initial five years with user organizations, I spent the next 10 years with a management consulting organization. What I learnt during this period was of immense value and at times I found myself doing things a little differently as a CIO than my peers in the industry. I was fortunate to have taken that step and I strongly advocate this strategy for career growth.
Over the years, many organizations have committed themselves to corporate social responsibility (CSR) as one of their important tasks. Many adopt this as part of their organizational values while some others do it as part of their corporate branding exercise. This task is usually undertaken and managed by the corporate affairs, HR, or the directors’ cell. The CIO is nowhere in the loop. But since this is an important organizational program, should not the CIO contribute his bit and stay on top of various organizational initiatives?
I am aware that all may not agree with my assertion but let us debate this point a little more. In my opinion, the CIO can take a step forward and provide his support to such an initiative and send a clear message that he is ready to go beyond his boundaries to contribute to important programs of the organization. Let me delve at a few examples wherein the CIO can add value; the possibilities can be a lot more depending on the organizations they work for and the programs they undertake.
Contribute to ongoing programs
Companies adopt villages, work with NGOs, or run their own programs as a part of their CSR drives. The CIO can offer help in various forms. For instance, he can offer to set up communication channels, to develop systems to capture data and monitor progress, to help generate information and statistics, etc. To speak from my experience, my last organization had tied up with an NGO to empower rural women by helping them start some vocation, for example, tailoring, handicraft, etc. We spoke to the corporate affairs department and developed systems which helped them monitor progress of each of the schemes including money spent, number of participants, output generated, money earned by individuals, etc. In another case, we helped develop a mobility solution for data to be captured directly from the field.
Making IT assets available for the needy
In all our companies, whenever the IT assets like the PCs, laptops, and printers get to the end of their life cycles, and as per policy, we replace them. The old equipment is either sold or given as a buy back. It is here that the CIO can suggest and seek approval from the management to give away the old assets to rural schools, villages adopted by the company, or to other needy groups through NGOs, etc. Since the resale value of these equipment is small it makes sense to put those assets to better use this way. In the last three organizations I worked with, I was able to seek management’s nod and we gave away PCs and printers to some rural schools and to others through an NGO.
Saving on energy consumption
Many companies have taken it upon themselves to reduce energy consumption, to seek to lower carbon footprint, or to lower pollution levels. These are important organizational programs and therefore it makes sense to make our own contribution. We, as CIOs, can help by adopting green technologies and by optimizing usage of IT assets to help our organizations to meet this objective. For example, in one of the organizations that I worked with, it was decided to reduce energy consumption levels as a part of its social commitment drive. The major contribution, of course, came from the factory employees who did this by improving shop floor efficiency levels, getting newer energy efficient machines, improving production processes, etc.
The administration department started the move to switch off lights and fans when not in use, and also replaced old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Not to lag far behind, we, in IT, undertook a concerted program to reduce energy consumptions in the data center. We introduced virtualization and reduced physical servers by over 55%, we replaced the old split ACs with targeted cooling systems and implemented power saving features on all desktops and laptops. We were able to demonstrate drop in the energy consumption by over 40% and the energy audit report was submitted to the management for information.
These are just a few examples of how the CIO can stay a step ahead of the others and pick up initiatives to add value to organizational programs. This also helps him develop his personality and confidence and puts good use of his talents for a social cause.
In the normal course we keep on adding servers, storage and other equipment in our data center to cater to the increasing demand for IT services in our organization. During this expansion we sometimes fail to notice whether our facility is still relevant to business. It is best to halt and do a reassessment of our IT set up. It was to address this need that about two decades ago, a new field was born that soon came to be known as ‘enterprise architecture’. This field initially began to address the following two problems:
System complexity: Organizations were spending more and more money building IT systems; and
Poor business alignment: Organizations were finding it more and more difficult to keep those increasingly expensive IT systems aligned with business need.
Issues that we are faced with
Management and users often express their dissatisfaction with the IT systems and we feel the need of addressing their concern. The common refrain that we hear is as follows:
i) IT systems have become unmanageably complex and increasingly costly to maintain.
ii) IT systems are hindering the organization’s ability to respond to current, and future, market conditions in a timely and cost-effective manner.
iii) Mission-critical information (provided by IT) is consistently out-of-date and/ or just plain wrong.
iv) A culture of distrust is developing between the business and technology sides of the organization.
Frameworks or methodologies
Though many methodologies evolved over a period of time, the following four were the most prominent, viz. The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architectures, The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF), The Federal Enterprise Architecture, and The Gartner Methodology.
We may call them frameworks, processes, or practices, but they did define a formal approach to the subject.
Adoption of enterprise architecture
Organizations can follow any of the approaches or a blend of these methodologies but it is important that they formalize this approach and follow this with all seriousness. But even a blended methodology will only be as good as an organization’s commitment to making changes. This commitment must be driven by the highest level of the organization. It is usually not possible to drive this initiative on our own and we may require the services of a consultant or an expert who brings in best practices based on his experiences with other organizations.
Now let me briefly discuss two of the methodologies as example to show the different approaches they follow:
TOGAF divides enterprise architecture into four categories:
Business architecture: Describes the processes the business uses to meet its goals.
Application architecture: Describes how specific applications are designed and how they interact with each other.
Data architecture: Describes how the enterprise data stores are organized and accessed.
Technical architecture: Describes the hardware and software infrastructure that supports applications and their interactions.
The Gartner Methodology
Gartner believes that enterprise architecture is about bringing together three constituents: business owners, information specialists, and technology implementers. If you can bring these three groups together and unify them behind a common vision that drives business value, you succeed; if not, you fail. Success is measured in pragmatic terms, such as driving profitability, not by checking off items on a process matrix.
Most organizations are facing major changes in their business processes. The process of creating an enterprise-architecture vision is the organization’s opportunity to sit down, take a collective breath, and ensure that everybody understands the nature, the scope, and the impact of those changes.
Enterprise architecture, in the Gartner view, is about strategy, not about engineering. It is focused on the destination. The two things that are most important are where an organization is going and how it will get there. Any architectural activity that is extraneous to these questions is irrelevant
Whichever method we choose, we should remember that enterprise architecture is a path, not a destination. Enterprise architecture has no value unless it delivers real business value as quickly as possible. One of the most important goals of any enterprise architecture is to bring the business side and the technology sides together, so that both are working effectively toward the same goals. No enterprise-architecture methodology can bridge this divide unless there is a genuine commitment to change. That commitment must come from the highest level of the organization and an enterprise-architecture methodology can be a valuable tool for guiding that change. This change can manifest itself in many ways.
It is obvious that an organization that does well in these key areas will be more successful than one that doesn’t.
Technology is complex and it is quite a task to manage it effectively. With the technology advances happening at regular intervals, and the changes taking place in the environment in which the business operates, the work of the CIO has become more challenging than ever before. Whereas on one hand the competition gets tougher with business expecting more out of IT, on the other hand, technology changes make many of the current components redundant or need upgrades. Not responding to a change exposes the organization to the danger of a business competitor taking a step ahead with new technologies.
Now how would the CIO deal with these challenges? He can either learn and equip himself with new knowledge and put them to work or he can seek an external help. Consultants are often hired for specific requirements and they leave after completing them, but the CIO often needs an agency that can feed him with the latest information and expert advice on various matters pertaining to technology and its application. It was perhaps to fill this gap that IT research bodies came to the scene to serve organizations with their research findings and expert opinion on members’ queries. The more popular research agencies include Gartner Group, Forrester, Aberdeen Group, etc. Many organizations worldwide have been using them and extracting value.
Why should the CIO engage with them
The requirement of using their services arises only if the organization that we work for, is serious about technology application and has big plans to leverage on IT. If we have large projects on the anvil and we have challenges of making choices between various technologies and vendors, it may be good to have the support of IT research organizations who could give us valuable inputs.
Do CIOs resist them
I believe they do in some cases. Sometimes it is the feeling that they are intelligent enough to assess various technologies themselves or that they could seek references from fellow CIOs in the industry. At other times CIOs feel they will dilute their importance in their organizations having positioned themselves as IT experts. They may not be wrong at all times but in some cases it is their own interest that takes precedence over organizational interest. So this needs a proper assessment.
How to use these agencies
When organizations hire them they pay them a handsome fee for using such services. There may be various levels of services offered and each may have their fee structure. Though some organizations may flaunt such association as a status flag, they still have to extract value for the fee they pay. I have used them in the past and was able to get sufficient help to justify the hiring and was therefore able to renew the contract as also upgrade the level of engagement. Let us look at a few ways to utilize such services:
Use their research database: Usually these agencies have several analysts who conduct research on a regular basis and publish such papers for limited viewing. As a subscriber, we can access relevant research notes from their large database and contents of these papers are usually rich and not found in normal publications.
Raising a specific query: Services of their experts can be availed of by raising a specific query either through a mail or we can ask for a telephonic conversation with the expert. If our questions are precise, the answers will be clear and can help us in our decision making process.
Seminars: Seminars are usually held at periodic intervals and though the participation requires paying a fee, it is complimentary for the subscribers. These provide opportunities for a face-to-face meeting with some of the experts. I have found these meets very useful and I often felt that experiencing once such event was equivalent to attending a dozen of usual vendor-led seminars.
Industry meets: Subscription models may include a proactive engagement by these agencies, i.e. their experts coming for these meets to discuss with you specific issues of your organization and to offer advice. They may also arrange for a meeting of your peers from the industry segment so that specific issues of that sector are the focus of the discussion.
Help in vendor negotiation: As the research agencies have in-depth information on vendors and their product sale throughout the world, they can lend assistance to us regarding the likely price points on which our deal can be closed. There are various models of this assistance but some savings is achievable.
Help in seeking approvals from the management: Expert opinion given by these agencies becomes very handy when seeking management approvals for our projects. Managements usually give credence to the endorsement from these agencies.
Many people often get deterred by the huge fees that they have to pay; but I believe, if we really require and avail of such services, it is possible for us to extract value that is greater than the amount incurred.
With increasing complexities of business and with additional load in terms of the assignments to be completed, the CIO looks for some external help to see him through these difficult periods. This external assistance comes from experts in specific areas and they fill in the knowledge and skill gap that the organization has. We term them as consultants and hire them to help us achieve the objectives that we have set for ourselves.
Consultants fill in to help us in the areas of redefining IT architecture or business process improvement or recommending solutions for various business issues or as implementation partners, software developers, security consultants, etc. These consultants play a stellar part in our quest for success and therefore they have to be used well.
Having been a consultant myself, I have seen the story from the other side. I often completed assignments successfully and got sign off from the client, but when I used to visit them later I would find my report lying in a shelf, gathering dust. Though unhappy with the situation, I did learn a lesson: the consultants are not always at fault; a lot depends on the customer organization and its resolve to get the best out of the consultant. So when I got into a CIO role, I decided to practice what I preached. So let me put down a few factors that I learnt were important:
Selection: It is very important to have the right person/ organization to help us in our endeavor to succeed in our objectives. The evaluation process must be adequate to assess the relative strengths and capabilities and important stake-holders in the organization should be involved in the decision making. In some cases the procurement department gets into the picture and influences selection based on the ‘lowest cost’ parameter. This is where many organizations go wrong.
Proper brief to the consultant: The start is of a great significance. Right at the beginning we must give a complete background of the assignment, the stated objectives, expectations, and get the key people in the organization involved in the project. This sets the consultant on the right path and his work proceeds towards the objectives as defined. Consultant’s understanding of the organization and its people gets a firmer footing and he understands the underlying forces that he may have to steer clear of.
Working with the consultant: There is always a tendency to leave the work to the consultant and expect him to deliver. This, at times, can boomerang back at us. It is therefore advisable to interact with the consultant at regular intervals, both formally and informally. This helps in two ways, one that it motivates him since it conveys that we are serious about the work and secondly it helps us correct him in case he has gone off the track.
Regular monitoring: It is important to have a proper monitoring or review mechanism. It is ultimately our responsibility and therefore we need to keep a track of the progress and take suitable measures in case of a slip up. The matter can either be taken up sternly with the consultant or escalated within the organization for addressing it.
Read their final report, whet out and seek resolutions: Often times the report submitted by the consultant is faithfully received and distributed to the people concerned. Since the project gets over, it is business as usual and everyone forgets about the report and its findings. As we say proverbially, ‘the report gathers dust’. This, in my opinion, is criminal. We must take responsibility to see that the findings are implemented and report the matter to the higher-ups if action is ignored.
Take responsibility: In the ultimate analysis, it is the responsibility that we demonstrate which carries us through. It is easy to lead the normal life of a commoner and lament for the sad state of affairs. But it’s a difficult task to take lead in getting the work through and stamp the imprint of success. It is good to be different even if we have to take a difficult path.