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

May 12, 2014  5:37 AM

A new government

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

The country is going through the most complex exercise of voting for and electing new representatives to the government. Selecting amongst the candidates is difficult; some of them are easy to disregard as they have no visible credible experience to stake a claim to the seat. Handfuls have relevant experience and on paper they look like good options.  References to past work demonstrate their ability to deliver and execute; a couple have the backing of their respective political parties who lend the promise of a collective manifesto.

Every 5 years this process repeats itself, sometimes a little earlier if the incumbent government is unable to serve out a full term. Soon we will have a new government, a new head, a set of ministers who will vie for the most visible and high profile ministries. The correlation between portfolios and core competencies is always a good thing to do; however many a times that does not happen. Bureaucrats and the staff within the ministries does not change much, they follow the new directions set by the ministers irrespective of expertise.

Running an enterprise is very much like running the country, especially a large diversified group with interests in varied businesses. Each company and function has a head that is selected from outside more often than inside. The selection is most of the time purportedly on core competency and merit. The difference between a government and an enterprise is normally the available options from which a candidate is chosen. In a government, the candidate is from the elected party, in the other case almost everyone can apply.

Government portfolios are presumably distributed by the head of the winning party and head of the country collaboratively. Most often decisions are based on seniority, past experience, credibility and interest. Cross functional movements are the norm and it is expected that the person would do equally well in the new function too. The rationale here is that a leader need not be a functional expert; the team has adequate skills to advise the leader on the best options when taking a decision. We know how well this process works.

In the corporate world the skew is more towards functional expertise while selecting a person. Cross movements do happen at beginning and mid-careers; moving up the ladder, these are rare. Leaders at the top take on additional responsibilities at times; lateral moves occur but are not frequent. Success rates are higher in comparison as everything is expected to be time bound. It is not a sure shot recipe for success; we do observe failures across the board, many attributable to the leader not being effective or fitting in.

It is not necessarily the interviewer or selectors inability to assess that result in a bad selection. Drawing parallels, it is evident that the best person does not always get selected for the job; favoritism and at times other factors like past workplace association, belonging to same religious sect or geographical area, been to the same school/college, having the same ideologies, result in suboptimal choices. While not always avoidable, enterprises do watch out for such hires critically lest they end up with unwanted baggage.

It is relatively easier to replace a person within an enterprise as compared to the government; performance appraisals even though many a times skewed do elevate non-performance. On the other hand, recently observed citizen activism has its place in creating change. Cabinet reshuffles however move the problem from one area to another; this is rare in the enterprise though not unheard of. Are there learning that can be applied to enterprises to not follow the same path that ails many parts of the government?

I believe that when we choose an elected representative or a new hire, in both cases rigorous due diligence is essential. Our choices can come back and haunt us not just in the short-term but also in the long-run. Both impact our lives and future; we tend to spend more effort in our workplace due to impact proximity and blame bad decisions to the ill choice of others. If we want control of our future and destiny, we have to exercise our rights and influence outcomes. Can we afford not to?

You decide, you have a choice!

May 5, 2014  6:43 AM

The Digital Moron

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Not too long ago one of the consulting companies’ classified people by their digital proficiency and created three groups; digital dinosaurs, digital migrants, and digital natives. This was picked up by many people who used this classification to target their solutions or services to their respective benefit. The resultant divide did not matter to the bourgeois or the elite, they anyway continued to demonstrate behaviors that they did; the world continued to evolve, and gave way to a new species, which is gaining ground.

Characteristics of the first three categories were quite easy to comprehend and evident with their names. The Dinosaurs are the people born before the advent of technology (today’s 60+ generation) who use basic technology to stay connected. Migrants (born before 1990 or thereabouts) embraced the new technology wave sometimes a bit uncomfortable, but more or less adept. The Natives are born into the new world and do not know of a life without social media, mobility, ubiquitous connectivity and instant gratification.

As is with all kinds of evolution, there are genetic mutations, exceptions and the differently abled who do not partake in the normal. They have all the means, the environment, the facilities, the stimulus, the desire; they show a lot of promise and demonstrate a stray spark of brilliance. These individuals are mostly found in the cusp of the natives or wannabe migrants (migrants who believe they are better natives than the natives themselves). It does not take too much of an effort to spot them, they are visibly obvious.

In a digital conference with average participant age less than 24, we tried spotting the pseudo natives; one of the sparsely haired speakers in mid-40s was desperately trying to impress the audience with his knowledge and investments into digital startups. A mobile cloud, take it anywhere you go; make 2G work at 3G speeds; family only social media, were some of the references to his invested concepts which he believed were ahead of the evolution curve. No one had heard of his ventures but the crowd humored him to get his wallet share.

A corporate 20-something CDO (Chief Digital Officer) reveled in the fact that he was ahead of his peers having already achieved the pinnacle position in an industry which was always in the forefront of digital technology. With an MBA from a prestigious institute, he strutted around to the envy of others who wanted to get there. He was on stage being interviewed on his vision and predictions of where the digital world was headed. Not that he wanted to entertain the audience; his responses had most people snickering.

His stated digital strategy for the company revolved around leveraging an existing portal which had lost traction with customers. Is mobility part of your strategy? Off course, we are deploying apps! How do you plan to differentiate? We are looking at global trends! Do more of the same, do it a little differently; will it change the world or bring around a revolution? As the Q&A progressed, the audience became restless wanting to be rid of the listless conversation. One anonymous listener shouted across the room, “Get off the stage, you…!”

Titles aside the general enthusiasm around digital everything ranged from wearable technology to esoteric business cases; the general feeling was that if you are a migrant, there’s a generation gap, if you are older, why are you here? You don’t understand our language; you don’t belong to this new wave. Don’t slow us down; we know where we are going. While some oldies tried to moderate the irrational exuberance reminiscent of the dotcom era, the young believers retaliated with cries of frustration with the dinosaurs.

I think that giving some latitude to sprouting innovation connect to real life use cases is the need of the hour. It would serve the well-wishers to espouse the cause while staying out of the way of the emerging digital tsunami. The velocity and variety of change challenges legacy thinking; to understand and appreciate the thinking process of the new generation entrepreneurs requires unlearning and new mindset failing which the older generation and some from the current too run the risk of being alienated or being labeled Digital Morons.

April 28, 2014  6:58 AM

Budget increase mirage

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

In the beginning of the year CIO surveys depicted an upbeat mood with redefined priorities, business bouncing back, economic situation getting better and last but not the least IT budgets going up. This was the global optimistic view portrayed and shared by many CIOs that I spoke to also; and everyone wanted to break into a spring dance and celebrate the return of the good old days. Few CIOs enthused about significant increases in their budgets not betraying the fact that they had the benefit of a low base; 100% increase in budget sounds better!

Every organization big or small goes through an annual operating planning of budgeting revenue and expenses. All CXOs play the game with their promoters, headquarters, Board and whosoever is the negotiating and approving authority. Revenues are understated, expenses inflated and the commentary is all about how tough the environment is while we need to invest for the future. Projects get labeled strategic in their quest for approval; expenses become unavoidable, while market conditions constraint growth which is linked to past mediocre performance.

The situation predictably repeats itself annually like clockwork with an element of distrust on either side built out of past experiences. There is an air of wasteful irresponsible spending that needs parental control which needs to be exercised by the approvers. Chastising the minions, the numbers are adjusted amidst protests to reluctant acceptance. If the normalization has been prudent, life releases the brakes and moves the organization into top gear; when the negotiation is unrealistic, then starts the frustrating process of out of budget approvals.

So when I met a large number of CIOs on the unveiling of one such report, I tried to validate if budgets had really gone up; majority in the room had participated in the survey which brought exuberance to the sponsors and vendors in the room as the details unfolded. The dipstick brought in mixed results, the percentage was lower but there was indeed a group which had seen an increase in their budget. The quantum of increase was also a bit lower than illustrated in the report with a higher inclination towards variability.

Deeper analysis revealed increases factored in inflation apart from business expansion or higher levels of dependence on IT with newer technologies taking up a lions’ share. Business As usual (BAU) spends is under pressure and requires rethinking; there is an expectation of lean thinking but willingness to spend for innovation and quantifiable business value. CIOs are engaging the rest of the company in prioritizing the allocation of funds and challenging status quo. The number of non-participative CIOs is dwindling and that is good news.

I did not hear much about the earlier big discussion on open source towards cost reduction; open source is now a viable alternative for some technology stacks. Expectations of free software reducing costs have withered away with experience of engaging teams to sustain such solutions which require a little more effort, specialized skills and lenient service level agreements. In specific segments the uptake was large and benefit quite visible. The push towards open source personal productivity tools has taken a back seat.

Everyone likes good news! And budgets going up after a while is indeed good news for everyone. The moot question is how much of this will be discretionary to the CIO, or will the strings be pulled by the business? The shift of project budgets to business has been gradual but consistent; the perception of lack of control has created many conversations fueling the insecurity of some CIOs. Though rarely observed now, it is also a check on some not to run away with technology ignoring the best interests of business.

CIOs with strong business connect will continue to innovate and create enterprise value with whatever budgets get thrown at them as they have already aligned the business to what is required and in almost all cases they do end up getting what they wanted. CIOs with patronage of a board member may in the short-term get endorsement, but will be under pressure to deliver more than the first set which is business aligned. So if you have an increase, either way, live with the good fortune of funds availability until the mirage lasts.

April 21, 2014  8:18 AM

Technology shaping human behavior

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

As a kid I used to watch Star Trek and marvel about Mr. Spock and the technology some of which is reality now. I also devoured (Isaac) Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and other science fiction fantasizing about the future possibilities that will change the way we live. When the internet made its presence felt and mobile technology started gaining traction, the realms of reality stretched imagination. Moving from the humble personal computer to the smartphone, the new world is impacting us in many ways directly and indirectly.

The last few years have seen a lot of technology wanting to attach to human body; fortunately it is still outside the body and not getting inside as yet. Fitness bands gave way to smart watches which doubled up to also show you the time while telling you about who is calling or the latest trends on social media of choice. Glasses anyone? And there was a queue of people wanting to cover their eyes! Directions from your favorite map service on your windscreen? Why not also notify you about what your “friends” are excited about or what is trending?

Is that a distraction to driving? Let’s make cars that can drive themselves while you immerse yourself in the pervasive world of noise from all over. Traveling somewhere? Write reviews and tell your friends, too bad some burglars also took notice that you are away from home. Stay connected wherever you are on Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, LTE, on your tablet, phablet, phone or at least the watch? Your health parameters are being monitored and stored by some app. You can use it later to determine your health; so can someone else who you don’t know!

Will you scan before you eat? Supermarkets would like to help you create your personalized basket of products which they can remind you to buy. All the packaged food companies would also like to know the products you consume so they know more about your eating habits. Next time you renew your health insurance, don’t be surprised by a markup or discount; the health insurance company also has vested interest in this data! The situation is becoming Orwellian with Big Brother watching every move you make using Big Data.

The question that bothers me is why are we willingly obliging everyone? What makes us want to obsessively stay connected and share the important to obscure to inane details of our lives? Why are we allowing personal data to be used in a way that influences our actions and our behaviors? This was not anyone’s favorite part in any futuristic idea or science fiction? Digital addiction especially for the new Digital Native generation is rewiring responses; the thinking process is changing, our dependence on technology complete.

People have reported withdrawal symptoms when they are unconnected; the thumb is getting used beyond its evolved state leading to new diseases. Accidents are increasing with distracted mind unable to focus on walking or driving. Eyesight is adversely impacted while our hearing ability is impaired due to constant high volume sound from earphones. Over and above all of this, the expectation to respond to any stimulus (email, message, alert) instantly is putting psychological pressure on the connected generation.

Enterprises want productivity with the connectivity; corporate apps hijacking the personal phone, information driven process velocity is the new normal stretching the already challenged balance between work and life. The lines are blurring and both have intertwined into our awake hours in a way that does not leave any personal space or time. The resultant pressure and stress is increasing rate of heart ailments and lifestyle diseases in 20 something youth that were associated with 60+ in the past.

Some companies and governments have begun to take cognizance of this and are enforcing work hours in an attempt to wean off the addiction. How can parents do the same with the upcoming generation which is born to technology? I believe that they will have to lead by example for the young ones and also at work for their teams. Wearable technology is here and urging you to participate; I know what you did last summer is now more like I know what you just did and what you are likely to do!

Digital free day anyone?

April 14, 2014  9:13 AM

Sick IT, healthy life

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

I have been sick for most of the week; on Monday there was a niggling pain which I hoped would go away like it did most times. By mid-week it had aggravated considering I ignored not just the pain but also the cause which I was not consciously aware of. Once the connection was made I aggressively tried to remedy the situation, except that it was out of control now and needed expert attention. On Thursday the Doctor looked gravely, a long prescription and pronounced that it required a specialist to treat it.

The specialist sympathized and made it look innocuously simple to fix; for him it was a routine escalation to manage. On Friday he did what he was good at and fixed the root cause with knowledge that the rest will fix itself if I followed the defined SOP. The prescription was not too much, the lingering pain and inaction that restricted me to a bed with limited ambulation was. Daily checkup visits add to the agony as I am now in a state of mind, when will this ordeal end and I declared fit and healthy again to get back to work.

When you have a lot of time to do nothing, run out of music to listen or have no inclination to read with half the senses dulled due to heavy dose of pain killers and antibiotics, you start thinking; Doctors also refer to some of the extreme thoughts as hallucinations. To me my chain of thought was lucid and it created many correlations in the swarm of random disconnected millions of thoughts. Analogous to associations created in a data warehouse by a skilled analyst, I picked associated groups which made a lot of sense.

Early pain = project not on track; you know something is not working, you think it will get better, it doesn’t. Falling sick = project misses milestone; you get the vendor consultant to help, he refers to subject matter experts who have been there done that. SME educates on root cause, defines road ahead and KPIs to keep the project healthy. Recovery = always slow and painful; getting back on track takes a lot of effort, following the prescription, no shortcuts. Most of the time you do get back on track with no further slips; you have lost time, money and momentum.

I realize how we can create correlations between totally disconnected facts and make them look like similar data sets or for that matter draw analogies that sound quite logical. The event graph appears to follow a perfectly aligned path drawn by the same artist. Retail has been doing this with disjointed sets of data and have hit upon success many times; we don’t know what happened to the ones that did not work though. But then maybe life does have predictability that it wants us to find and we are getting better at it.

But I am digressing now, rambling about febrile correlations. IT gets sick quite often; whether it is business as usual or new initiatives, they do face challenges and require fixes from specialists and experts depending on the nature of ailment. We have prophylactic technology to keep things going while the next piece of hardware finds itself being resilient or more reliable than a decade back and networks become self-healing and storage can survive failure of a disk or two; Software still requires human intervention.

Human life expectancy has in the same vein gone up as we find better medicines for micro classified diseases. Our way of treating different patient types has been evolving rapidly with Internet of things allowing embedded Nano sensors connected to Big Data repositories analyzing symptoms as they happen and trigger corrective actions almost instantly with novel drug delivery systems. Okay, maybe the entire chain is not yet feasible, but getting there. Affordable access to such innovation would definitely be a paradigm shift.

As IT gets better, projects get more manageable, technology commoditization makes itself ubiquitous, IT wouldn’t matter! What would matter is how we apply it to real life and help solve problems that have eluded solutions thus far. As more solutions go open source or relinquish patents for global availability, there would be a new world order where healthy humans will score over sick IT. Some of us will be part of this evolution if it happens within this generation. I hope our contributions would have made some difference.

April 7, 2014  7:54 AM

Can big data deliver big insights?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

The other day I met a CIO friend who wanted to discuss a tricky situation in which he had landed; he worked in an industry which was in the thick of being projected as one of the industries that will benefit from investments in Big Data. His CEO wanted him to build a data warehouse to rival some of their global competitors, at least one of which was prominently talked about as the poster boy of Big Data analytics. He was thus under pressure to invest while the rest of his IT budget was under pressure.

Having a keen understanding of technology, his company and the industry, he was a non-believer in the Big Data story; according to him the hype around some of the Big Data insights were not commensurate to the investments made in the overall project. And there was nothing new since the first story broke out of one of the companies having found a use case that conventional technologies would not have delivered. He had many data warehouses and Business Intelligence successes in the past for which he was well known too.

By definition Big Data was all about big data sets that earlier available technologies could not bind together within tolerated elapsed time and budgets. Volume, Variety and Velocity defined Big Data; (Business) Value was added later. The availability of high compute resources and ability to store large volumes of data had made solving some problems easier, faster and cheaper; that is not necessarily success from the capitalized Big Data. It is just that larger data sets were analyzed as compared to the past.

The question at hand that needed an answer was whether he should let go and invest as directed by his CEO or he should help the business with a scalable data warehouse which would deliver immediate value. Is it possible to get started small with Big Data (an oxymoron if there was one) and then work with the business to find the needle (if they wanted to find the needle or a pin) in the haystack; after all Big Data is expected to throw up unknown possibilities by random correlations that human minds are not able to pick.

Big data works on “found” data, i.e. data that you have and complex algorithms which can provide some statistical probabilities. Analysts predict the value that different industries can gain from investments; no one is talking about the real value derived. Governments have been making investments with equal zeal as are large enterprises; the providers and consultants are happy to make hay not just while the sun shines but until by accident they discover a needle in the haystack and make a case study out of it putting pressure on the rest of the gold diggers.

What about the data that you don’t have? Can you draw negative inferences from Big Data? For that you have to know what you don’t have! Can what you have tell you what you don’t? The answer to that is still to be found; available data in a Big Data repository cannot indicate to what is missing. The concept of “found” data predicates that available data set is the whole universe from which correlations are to be created. And that is where many Big Data implementations are unable to deliver any meaningful insights.

The veracity (the 5th V) of information in a Big Data store can throw up many false positives which have been the bane of many projects. Data will never be clean unlike conventional data warehouses and the velocity will keep you challenged to move with agility. The ability to come out of the clean and complete data mindset is the beginning of what Big Data may enable. From here to get to Value is a long journey with no near-term goals; if you hit something, consider yourself lucky and celebrate.

My suggestion to my friend was to get started the way he believed he will be able to deliver what the business wanted. Forget the discussion on technology and focus on what matters, insights driven by data. If he can get traction from some CXOs based on the results, no one will grudge whether they came from Big Data or Small Data. The business leader in him understood while the technologist wanted to fight; for his benefit, I hope the business guy prevails.

March 31, 2014  7:55 AM

The King is dead, long live the king

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

I cannot believe that it has been almost two decades of the CIO role in the making; not the EDP manager which precedes the title by around another two decades or so; a score of years of making enterprise adopt, adapt and leverage IT; twenty years of educating CXOs on why they need to invest in IT for their own benefit if not survival; definitely a decade if not more of fending off ROI models for every initiative; a little less than a decade of helping the CMO get digital savvy and finally riding the waves of disruptive technology innovation.

With every changing paradigm or rather hype in some cases, starting with Client-Server to the most recent Internet of Things and everything in between (Internet, ERP, CRM, e-commerce, m-commerce, mobility, BYOD, Cloud, Social media, Big data to name a few) there were predictions of demise of the CIO. It was predicated that the CIO will lose relevance with power shifting to other parts of the enterprise, democratized decision making and budgets no longer under CIO control. Many joined the chorus, the technology king is dead.

A decade back, the article IT doesn’t matter made a splash; it had many proponents and a collection of CIOs defending their position citing the author had lost it. Many CIO bashers interpreted the report to suit their hypothesis of why the CIO will soon be dead; clarifications from the author were brushed aside brusquely. Lectures were delivered by all and sundry proposing remedial steps for the CIO for his/her survival. Suddenly as it came, the brouhaha withered away and everyone moved on to the next issue, whatever it was.

CIOs need business skills, soft skills, technology skills, people skills, vendor management skills, project management skills, change management skills, financial skills, legal knowledge, customer management skills, and should be politically savvy at the same time. Probably any CXO job description may fit the above profile but they rarely get discussed in the open akin to washing dirty linen in full visibility of the world. Or maybe the IT media is obsessed with the role’s gaining prominence and thus attempts to find avenues to diminish it.

Recently when I read a few mainstream business publications headlining IT and the CIO, it revealed two things to me. The message that emerged is that IT effectiveness is diminishing with time and unable to keep pace with changing business expectations. Contrary to this is the fact that business pressures have led to risk averse attitude to investments in new technology; discussions on the management table however expect outcomes that can be achieved only when business works lockstep with IT rather than a customer-supplier relationship.

The world today is digital and connected in ways that were only imagined in the past; digital natives are consuming information very differently when compared to what makes enterprises run. Digital commerce has moved the power of choice to the consumer; however big enterprises are influencing choices using better tools and technologies to find patterns from unstructured data. Possibilities are opening up with large volumes of data being analyzed for patterns that can now predict events with higher probability breaking the choice mirage.

The future belongs to the enterprise which has mastered the art and science of consistently finding needles in the haystack of data. The individual who can make this happen shall be anointed the new high priest; only time will tell whether s/he will be the Chief Digital Officer or the Data Scientist or the CIO making a transition to becoming the orchestrator of such services. It is certain that sooner or later this will become commoditized and challenge the adopters to find new differentiators sooner than later.

I should also highlight the fact that there will continue to remain a need to manage the unseen parts of enterprise IT which are basic hygiene for business as usual, the network, the data center and cloud, the database and apps, information security, data warehouse, transactional manufacturing and supply chain systems or for a services organization the customer and related data. The CIO and the IT team have to keep this foundation strong for the digital enterprise to flourish and to that extent the role will not go away.

Individuals will make their choices on evolution; what is yours?

March 25, 2014  6:37 AM

Chief Inspirational Officer

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Over the years I have faced this question umpteen times only to find that I have no answer; at times that has been embarrassing and sometimes feeling stupid for not being able to give a bright answer like others. Am I so different or unable to comprehend the influencers on the direction my life has taken over the years? There were many who taught me as I stumbled through life! Maybe I did not seek or connect to any beacons that stood out over others in a significant way which could be anointed as role models?

Participating in a CIO conference with many vendors big and small jostling for attention over three days, the event threw up many surprises; the biggest among them was a lesson in humility, mixed feelings and emotions. A handful of CIOs who had earlier been in my teams now had become leaders in other companies; there were also many vendor CEOs who on open stage declared their role models. The compliments that followed sounded good, too good, I wished my family, my ex-Boss, and my parents could hear those wonderful words.

I felt a lump in my throat listening to my friend and senior compatriot from the industry who in the conference had been honored along with few other chosen ones for contributions to the industry. He stood out as an inspiration and role model to not just his team across the companies where he worked, but also to a large section of CIOs who looked up to him for guidance, leadership and coaching when they faced any sticky situation or had challenges to which they wanted experiential answers; he always obliged with a smile.

From an early age we all draw inspiration from someone or other: grandparents, parents, siblings, historical or mythical figures, teachers, managers, CEOs, global icons and leaders, or just someone we meet along the way in our professional and personal journey. In most cases it’s one or two who become the leading light, at times there are many more who individually and collectively contribute to what makes us who we are. There are also negative influences which we hasten to extinguish from our memories.

What contributes to positive strokes and influences people have on us and we have on others? Why do some stand out whereas the larger group remains neutral in the impact they have on others? Intrigued I started analyzing my friend who always appeared larger than life; he was the chosen one in almost every gathering; articulate and clear in his thought process, he gave a voice to the faceless CIO in every forum and publication airing the travails and evolution of the role through the decades which he personified with ease.

He was always approachable, a balance between people and task orientation, a good listener who gave attention to everyone, well read and knowledgeable on technology, knew the business and represented the industries in which he worked (he had worked in many). He met with vendor sales teams and their CEOs never refusing an audience or missing a reply to unsolicited mail from the world at large wanting to do business with him. Not that he gave business to everyone, but rarely did he chide anyone for reaching out.

He stretched his team, coached them to achieve, helped them face the business and worked with vendor partners challenging them to use technology differently. The teams enjoyed basking in the glory of achievement and learning through the journey. He shared his expertise and experience with everyone and coached many start-ups or SME companies of his chosen industries on how to leverage technology. He advised many IT companies big and small through participation in Advisory Boards or Customer Forums.

Inspiration comes from giving and sharing, not from domineering or manipulating behaviors; respect comes intrinsically when there is enough evidence of having helped not just yourselves, but everyone around you. No one can take away what you do or stand for, it is up to you to decide what you want to be. Some lack the words to put forth their ideas and learning; that does not make them any lesser, they just remain hidden treasures. Where are you in this? Are you inspired by someone or you are a source of inspiration?

March 18, 2014  5:41 AM

Formula One IT

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Congratulations for being the chosen one! The business likes your solution and we are also fine with the technology, functionality and customer references. Now that we have an agreement on the price lets quickly get legalities and other formalities out of the way. The process for PO creation and other paper work will take another couple of weeks. The question is how quickly can you allot resources to our project? I do not believe that we need 3 months to get the solution off the ground into a pilot or for that matter go-live.

Any objections to aggressive timeline expectations from the customer are brushed aside citing urgency in business need and the dynamic business environment. Software vendors sheepishly accept the modified forceful project plan which assumes turnaround of all documentation from users with no delay or for that matter existence of clean data. Idealistic as it may appear both sides approach the project with enthusiasm that is outward for the vendor who is happy to get the business. D-day arrives and the project kicks off with much fanfare.

This situation has occurred a lot more often than gets visibility; time to market expectations from commercial-off-the-shelf software implementations (leaving aside ERP type solutions) are getting shorter. Most of them offer standard process automation or functionality that is typical across companies. Thus with basic configuration and some integration the anticipation is that the solution will be up and running in no time. Reality however bites every time with outcomes that do not live up to such expectations exposing the fallacy in the approach.

Analyzing scores of such projects undertaken by many of my peers the discovery was not very surprising. The facts were largely consistent and created a picture which when played back to the CIOs made them cringe and accept it. There were reasons and there were reasons; they were not the usual that have been published by various groups who track challenged projects. In almost all cases these failed to achieve timelines as well as deliver the functionality expected and the CIO ended up with the short end of the stick.

To begin with the evaluation of available options extended to eternity with high business expectations wanting to select the perfect solution. Comparing apples with pineapples creates a situation where the end result morphs from being a custard apple to a jackfruit. Moving from one demo to another scope expands to encompass all exception conditions. Sanity prevails after some time with CIO or business CXO intervention to bring back expectations closer to reality. Elapsed time through evaluation now puts pressure to achieve results in impractical timelines.

What started as a city street drive has now converted into a formula one race! We need to finish the journey in the fastest possible time; get your experts, put more people on the job, why does hardware delivery take so much time, put it on the cloud. Configurations cannot take that long, it should be possible to reuse expertise from other customer projects. We are not that different but we are different; what we meant is not what you have understood, you don’t know our business and we don’t have time to educate you.

Time keeps ticking with business participants unable to adhere to unworkable timelines resulting in missed milestones and angst on all sides. Reviews soon become infrequent with everyone wanting to just finish the project with redoubled effort. The cascading effect leaves everyone frustrated and wondering why they accepted the stretched targets or ever got into the project in the first place. The formula one race with no equipment, trained drivers and crew suddenly is back to being what it should have been, a street car race.

Accepting reality brings everyone back to what they should have done to begin with; plan with real assumptions, acknowledge dependencies and the need to follow a workable model with good project management practices. It is good to take time to find the right solution which needs to be given due time for deployment too. I believe that CIOs need to continuously educate business users not to apply consumer principles to enterprise software deployments. They need to push back even at the cost of being unpopular or appearing unaligned.

Sometimes they should also be ready to go to a formula one race!

March 10, 2014  7:21 AM

Scaling startups

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

He was talking about the next paradigm in cloud computing that will transform the way we look at IT infrastructure; it has received good traction with the initial set of early experiments. Another one was passionate about the new world of converged consumer and enterprise mobility; there will be a need for a different type of mobile device management. Security remains a favorite subject with all kinds of paranoia and sometimes reality demanding attention and budgets. And then there are many solutions vying for attention with no real differentiation.

Technology evolution creates opportunities for innovation limited only by imagination and passion. The number of startups is growing in leaps and bounds supported by family funds, angel investors, incubators constituted by academic institutes, and sometimes the rich and foolish. After the initial idea is germinated many of them struggle to move to the next level. While the consumer facing ideas find their moments of truth quickly, the enterprises focused tend to seek advice on how to pitch and connect with the CIO and business.

Call it coincidence or maybe the industry is changing in a definitive way, the recent past had some ex-CIOs and industry friends talking about getting involved in helping startups. There already exist many formal and informal groups who tend to the needy and also help them with funding. Most such groups want to look at the idea, business case, and background of promoters to determine if they should invest their time or bet their money. Opportunities appear to be ranging from some great ideas to harebrained downright ridiculous.

Mentoring startups seems to be the “in” thing to do and talk about in social circuits. The commitment ranges from using old contacts and industry connect to open doors or at least create an initial meeting and dialogue, to taking on formal roles with shared financial upside should any intervention result in an engagement and business. The rub-off credibility is indeed making some difference to young entrepreneurs and also giving them a dose of reality to what works and what does not. The partnership is increasing the possibility of survival and success for startups.

Some startups tend to thrive in a niche without getting distracted giving them higher propensity for survival. For the challenged ones one of the reasons has been the founders becoming a bottleneck by not building depth of management; their passion and emotional connect that brought them to a market position ends up stifling the company. They are unable to let go of micromanaging every person and activity thus rarely scale up to their true potential. This is largely true for individual owned companies; partnerships face other conflicts and challenges.

Serial entrepreneurs on the other hand have enjoyed fruits of success with their ability to detach themselves. Moving on to their next idea or wave of evolution gives them new opportunities. They know who to tap and what they need intuitively; their experience adds to their ability to find the right customer advocates and advisors. Knowing when to push and when to give up comes naturally. It is not that everyone can be a successful serial entrepreneur, the success or failure of the first one is the most difficult analogous to making the first million dollars.

CIOs can play an important role especially in the evolution of startups wanting to provide solutions to enterprises.  Their understanding of the business context coupled with their technology expertise gives them the ability to craft architectures that positively impact business outcomes. I believe that CIOs should adopt a few fledglings depending on their interest and inclination; shaping the future has merit that it is predictable and brings self-actualization. The other option is to read about success stories and wonder.

That is the choice for the CIO to make.

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