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

October 7, 2013  8:52 AM

Awry Outsourcing Anguish

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Recently I met a friend whose company had signed a strategic outsourcing deal a few years back with much fanfare and was talked about as one of the first in his industry. His company made news in restricted industry circles and the vendor gained good leverage out of the deal. The long-term deal was expected to create efficiencies which were acknowledged by the Management and the Board. The teams were excited with the prospects of the new engagement and the benefits outlined.

From initial discussion to closure of the deal, it had taken a lot of groundwork between both the teams who toiled for over a year. Setting the baseline was the most rigorous task which required everyone to agree to the “as-is” scenario; number of assets, age and residual life, upgrade and replacement norms, scale-up of the business operations, revenue growth targets, additions to workforce, industry outlook; everything was required to be put in writing to ensure that the contract survives the signatories.

I asked him on how it was going; after going down the journey for close to three years, had they started seeing the benefit of their decision? How was the service delivery and how had the users taken the change? What would be his advice to others who may want to go down the same path? After all not many had signed long-term deals in recent times. He looked at me hard as if trying to understand why I was asking him all that. Seeing no ulterior motive in my query, he responded:

We have decided to terminate the deal; it is not working out. Our problems started during service transition. The team misinterpreted almost every clause and intent; we had to involve the pre-sales team and escalate across layers to get to the shared understanding that went into the contracting. The people on the ground had skills deficit and were unable to come up to the same level of service pre-outsourcing. In every review meeting they promised improvements and then nothing changed.

The commercials were based on certain assumptions of growth and efficiencies. They were expected to make upfront investments on tools and technologies which took longer than committed to materialize. Business had also started slowing down and the cost was beginning to hurt. The vendor was unwilling to accept this and review terms of engagement even though one of the primary benchmarks, cost as percentage of revenue, was broken and going north instead of the promised south.

After much discussion, escalation and negotiation, small tweaks were done to the model which survived a stormy year. When business growth eluded us as per original plan and required deferral of certain initiatives and hardware refresh, the dialogue was not very encouraging. All the spreadsheets that made lot of sense prior to commencement now appeared to be work of fiction. The contract did not allow significant change downward while it captured the upside. Short of suing each other the only recourse was termination.

In recent times there have been many outsourcing contracts that have run into rough weather; what seemed like a great idea in the late 90s and turn of the century have lost charm. Back then everyone was racing to outsource; now it seems that everyone is in a race to find a way out. Most contracts that are coming up for renewal are finding favor with neither incumbent vendor nor new partners. Have the outsourcing benefits suddenly disappeared? What has changed that suddenly makes enterprises shy away?

It is evident that for many who outsourced with large long-term deals with big service providers have not gained the promised benefits. Where did it fall short? Sales organizations did a great job of painting a rosy picture while the delivery and execution team ran out of color red. The gap between intent and execution and the inability to adapt to variability of business has resulted in both sides feeling shortchanged. The advent of newer services and scenarios like RIMS and BYOD has anyway changed the game.

One of the models that I have found survive over others is a deal where service parameters and expectations are reset every year. It requires IT, business and the vendor to work on the same side of the table. I have observed many successful deals that survived multiple challenges; they had clearly defined ownership. When you outsource, you still are accountable and responsible; it is not abdication of responsibility. New models of outcome based engagements are appearing on the horizon, their efficacy is yet to be experienced.

September 23, 2013  8:59 AM

The micromanagement macrocosm

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

As he entered the room, he was looking quite frustrated to say the least, and he is someone who does not feel frustrated so easily. That raised the curiosity of many in the room who have known him as the “jolly old fellow” always ready to help anyone with a smile. As someone who had been there done that with rarely a fluster it was unusual and appeared unnatural. We naturally gravitated towards him wanting to understand the load of the mountain he was carrying that bowed him down.

He was an acknowledged leader and had been a CIO for close to two decades; his business acumen, industry and domain experience was unparalleled. As a turnaround CIO he had changed IT perceptions and created delivery frameworks in many companies. Through thick and thin he portrayed himself as the savior for challenged business and IT; the image stuck and led to his enviable growth. If he ever had moments of uncertainty or felt overpowered by a situation, no one had the privilege of seeing that.

So the emotion that he displayed was alien to the group; they tentatively edged up to him to seek the reason for his annoyance. What could have flustered the first amongst equals? He looked around at the anticipation and decided to share his situation. It appeared to be an innocuous position which everyone felt should be easily resolvable. As the discussion progressed the perception slowly faded away to leave the group in an exasperated state of mind. It was as if there was no way out.

The CIO was doing well working with the business and the Board; the company had endorsed his plan and strategy including required investments. Everyone was happy with progress, direction and outcomes. He had no reason to worry or think about anything adverse happening or changing his reality. The company underwent a management change and he now had a new boss whose belief system was a contrast to the earlier culture. She challenged everything and wanted to be involved in every meeting with peers and be the gatekeeper to every communication.

She restricted access to the CEO and the Board with a view that their time is valuable and everything that goes upwards or sideways needs her endorsement. The CIO used to a free hand started feeling stifled and struggled to work within the new rules. Every presentation, communication, and meeting request needed approval; the new manager appeared to require control of everything. Other CXOs reporting into her also shared similar experiences. Individually and collectively a solution failed them.

Seeking advice from other peers and earlier managers did not reveal any new solutions. The CEO was either unaware of the discomfort of the team or did not believe that the situation warranted a change. So everyone who was being touched by her cringed and wondered how to overcome the overbearing and autocratic behavior of their new colleague. Her credentials were reasonable, the bravado and projected success larger than life. Her conviction and mannerism did not easily allow for a challenge.

Having run out of options, our CIO friend was thus wallowing in choppy seas with no straws to clutch and wondering if he should look for new opportunities. A few members of the group shared similar experiences in their respective careers where they finally found a way out on their way out. People join companies, people leave their bosses stood proven many times over. Then someone raised an interesting question. “Why not align to the new style and start working to new expectations rather than fighting them?”

It was as if that option was never considered and fight of wills was the only option. Agreed that it is a departure from the conventional and it puts a constraint on the ability of the CIO to continue to innovate, in the absence of any other avenue, this may be a model that allows progress. It had everyone wondering and as they thought deeper, the solution appeared practical though not in the best interest of the flexibility and freedom that typically CIOs enjoy. I am not sure I would choose that path, but then …

What would you do?

September 9, 2013  9:53 AM

Insecurity is good

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

“Insecurity is Good”, so said a KOL CIO (Key Opinion Leader, a term I pick from my current industry – pharmaceuticals) in a conference which had over 100 CIOs gathered for a couple of days. It had the audience arise from their post-partum slumber, suddenly awake and scratched their collective heads in an attempt to decipher the deeper meaning (if any) of the phrase. Seeing the disbelief and curiosity on almost everyone’s face, he clarified his stance. The moderator and co-panelists raised more than an eyebrow!

The panel discussion among the CIOs was an attempt to unravel the seed of the perennial discussion on the endangered CIO. All the panelists had close to three decades of experience each with more than half their tenure as the head honcho. They were beacons of success and looked up to by every aspiring and junior CIO. News and views on the waning influence, diminishing power, struggle to hold on to budgets, and finally with every new technology an adverse opinion required a platform to unravel the reality and learn from the learned.

The CIO clarified his position: CIOs should not get into comfort zones and shun risks that may require a different level of thinking. They should be risk takers, and as they take on the unconventional, it is natural to feel insecurity; the opposite being complacency, insecurity is a preferred state of mind. Insecurity ensures that complacency does not set in and that the CIO will think out of the box and explore all options before taking a decision. The calculated risk and the accompanying insecurity are essential to keep the bar of performance high.

Are CIOs really an insecure lot? Are CXOs really insecure about their future? Do they really live in a world of uncertainty with no visibility of how their role will change for the good or worse? Do utterings from a motley lot of opinionates indeed make their daunting predictions require rebuttal? The group largely disagreed and opined that once for all this debate should be put to rest; not just by argument, but by actions which shall strongly signify reality as it is, giving a burial to this postulation.

A potential solution was proposed by one: CIOs are reluctant communicators; they send occasional status reports, outage notices, a project go-live or delay, and a few times an update on the industry or a new trend. A lot of the good work done by the IT organization remains unnoticed or unappreciated only to be negated when something fails. There is almost no match to the communication sent by other CXOs or their functions on specific/generic issues internally or externally. This commentary is rarely matched by IT.

Another viewed the situation as a self-inflicted disease; why are CIOs so gullible that they are willing to be swayed so easily? Why do they have to retaliate to every small instigation? They should ignore the doubters and work towards creating a position for themselves driven by results rather than by debate. I kind of agree with the view except that I cannot let go of a good fight without getting into the ring. Should the CIO take the non-violent biblical path towards his/her success and acknowledgement?

I do not believe that any hypothesis is universally applicable to the entire fraternity. There are some who have adapted and evolved to becoming KOLs, while some remain in their positions of perceived insecurity. Evolution is selective and that is nature’s way of weeding out the weak. Everyone without exception has to build relationships on the foundation of credibility and trust which is derived from success. Most shortcuts lead to perdition, the escalator to success is rarely sustainable. Take the ladder or stairs up.

So coming back to “Is insecurity good”? I believe that insecurity is not the opposite of complacency, it is an inexplicable feeling of being incomplete that keeps you from achieving more. It does not and should not have anything to do with external stimulus or instigation; the CIO gets to this position based on some core competencies and deliverables. S/he has adapted to the changes thus far and achieved success; why should the future be different?

I wonder if CIOs have lost their mojo so abruptly?

August 26, 2013  7:41 AM

Unlearn to learn again

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

We all have been part of multiple project teams; projects big and small, spread over weeks to months and years, functional and cross-functional, department, geography, or enterprise wide. We have played roles ranging from team member, functional or project lead, sponsor, champion, or simply an observer. We have shared the euphoria on successful completion and anguish of failed projects, the pain of projects missing timelines, the anger when someone does not get it, the relief of recovering from missed milestones, heartbreak when a project was abandoned.

Every project has its set of protagonists, antagonists and fence-sitters; the mix largely determined not always by reality but the perception of impact to self, team, function, and organization. The difficulty level and the change to existing norms, processes, role, conventional wisdom also determines the enthusiasm demonstrated by everyone. Position within the organization hierarchy and age too play an important role in determining how we embrace the project and the change it brings about.

Change management has thus become an industry where specialists and consultants have defined frameworks to help overcome resistance to change. From proactive to resistive management, these practices collate experiences from multiple projects with a hope that some of them can be universally applied. The faith in such an intervention keeps fueling the growth of change specialists and enterprises continuing to invest in managing change with every project. There are a few basics that address the challenge: engagement, communication and agreement.

Project charters to creation of a team, and bringing them together typically defines the first few stages of any project. The collective belief in the outcomes is a basic necessity to create a foundation on which the project will be build. When a motley group gets together the first time, their collective conscience needs alignment to the common goal. Achieving this requires the leaders to engage the team in formal and informal settings. Their professional, social and emotional states require tuning with each other.

Communication needs a plan and then you break the plan to adapt to project progress; there will always be instances when a few will raise a furor that they were not informed or involved or constrained from participation. Everyone in the team needs to take charge of communication rather than a few chosen ones tasked with it. It is not just status reports, newsletters, and email campaigns, but open and honest dialogue within the team across hierarchy and laterally, is the best mechanism to keep the spirits high and aligned.

Whenever a group assembles, there is disagreement, conflict, and politics; projects with significant change also bring fear of the unknown, surfaces insecurities, and highlights missing competencies. These emotions and states challenge not just the project, at times also the company and business continuity. It does not matter if they were mediocre or high performers in earlier roles, or their longevity; the fact that they have to change is unpalatable to the human mind by design.

Young are impressionable and embrace all ideas without judging them; as we grow older we benchmark any new ideas with our past and what we believe is correct. We want things to be white or black equated to right or wrong rather than as an alternative view or way of working. What we disagree with is not necessarily wrong. This fixation to slot every action or decision into two buckets leads to conflict and a change averse behavior. We all learn through experience as there is a limit to what we can gain from others.

Every day is a discovery of our ignorance; we have to unlearn the past to learn something new. Giving up old beliefs is always difficult, they were part of our lives and brought us where we are. As Marshall Goldsmith said “What got you here, won’t get you there.” I believe that change starts from self. Change is a threat when done TO us, but an opportunity when done BY us. Threats are resisted, opportunities are embraced. We have to give up being a caterpillar to become a butterfly.

Change is like that only!

August 19, 2013  9:11 AM

Change of Boss

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Her castle suddenly appeared to be like a pack of cards precariously balanced which could come down collapsing at the slightest hint. The new person had a new agenda, a new style, a new set of ideas and notions on how your department should function, a new direction, and a new set of KPIs. Almost everything she painstakingly built now appears to require change. She looked around to find that for most of the organization there was no issue with the new scenario, it’s just her and a few.

Her meetings with the new boss were a discussion in stretching the boundaries and defining the new ropes; she was pushed into new corners and suddenly everything that was working was being labelled as needs improvement. Her old boss sympathised with her but leaves her to fend for herself. He had only broken the news to her a few days before the organization change announcement saying that it was for the larger good of the company. She felt like the sky was falling but maintained her composure.

She was a star performer, which is why she were hired; the company needed a strong leader to drive change and she delivered to promise and more, her credibility preceded her joining and she ensured that it held good against all measures. She contemplated a change and banished the thought quickly; she was a fighter and a survivor, she also had a lot happening and many initiatives riding on her shoulders. The situation required a different approach that eluded her. So she started spreading into her network to seek help.

Everyone told her that she needs to understand the personality and drivers of her new boss and then work towards adapting to them. Like she manages her team, she also needs to manage upwards. After all, the new person too is a professional and has a pedigree because of which he has been hired. There may be challenges, there will be opportunities too; it is up to her to decide how she want to use them. She was disheartened, her professional pride had been hurt; she had attempted steps with limited success.

Organization changes have a way of upsetting the best of plans; at times these are internal, they could also be driven by external, environmental and industry factors. Leaders have to adapt to the situation and change strategies and plans; it is foolhardy to stay emotionally attached to them. Do not take it as a personal or professional affront; it impacts your ability to succeed. Appealing to your previous boss may project you as a weak individual. If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.

I have observed many good CIOs unable to accept and start believing that their winning formula is being challenged. Some take the drastic step of leaving the organization to find greener pastures elsewhere. The escapist route may bring short-term personal victory, but it gets you back to the starting point where you have to build credibility all over again. Those who are smart build relationships to overcome the situation and recreate success. I believe that the choices are driven by personal values.

Don’t drift, make a choice!

July 26, 2013  11:21 AM

That rogue app

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

We need IT support and expertise to scale up the application; there are a few enhancements and some bugs that need to be fixed. For us it has worked well for the last year and we believe that it can deliver similar benefits to other parts of the company. You know the efficiency it has given us has helped meet our targets and we now measure favourably on most KPIs. Can you organize for the resources at the earliest? Thus started a discovery of an application that had gone business critical!

The company had engaged a big name consulting firm to help in a business transformation. The project had been announced with big fanfare and branding that had everyone excited with the potential outcomes. The initiative took off quickly with key process identification and definition of measurement criteria. Review meetings began with the realization to promise while dashboards sprung up all over the place. These charged up everyone and the movement spread quickly.

Everyone applauded the effort which was cascaded to a few sites with the same level of success thereby ensuring that the model was robust and scalable. The consultants had created a working spreadsheet model that automated the critical process chain and helped improve the decision making. It worked well for the select set of users who proudly displayed the results to anyone and everyone who wanted to know more about their success. People moved on to other things and soon this was forgotten.

The CIO had no inkling of the spreadsheet becoming mission critical to the unit and the slow virulent spread of the solution. It did not cross the business teams’ mind to move on to an integrated and scalable formal application that would integrate with the data sources rather than continue taking data dump and manipulating to get to where they wanted. No one challenged the process as it slowly crept on until the data size became unwieldy and a few locations wanted to tweak the model.

That is when the CIO was approached to rescue the situation. They wanted a technical resource to help fix and deploy the solution. It was a precarious situation for the CIO whether to push back or fall in line and support the business critical application. There was pressure from the stakeholders and some CXOs to support the solution. The easy way out was to let go; after all, the project did have visibility and everyone knew about it, so why make an issue. But that would have set a precedent!

My friend was not known to be politically correct and ready to take a stand on principles; for him that was the only way to do things. And that’s what he did; he asked the team to submit the documentation of the system based on which the team would determine whether the program could be supported or redevelopment was the way out. He went on to deplore the situation with the CXO responsible and instructed his team to follow his diktat. Reconciliatory moves to find a compromise were brushed aside brusquely.

This was not a typical case of rogue or shadow IT that ignored the IT function or the CIO intentionally. It was never expected to become a business critical solution to be deployed across locations. Every function uses spreadsheet to address simple data capture, analysis or sometimes address tasks that conventional solutions are unable to fulfill. Quick and dirty spreadsheet or other out-of-the-box solutions are typical to any company today. They crystallize the need which IT is able to qualify and address.

I do not believe that there is a singular way to address this situation. All approaches are correct in the context of the situation and the reality of the involved stakeholders. It is important to address this tactfully without burning bridges. My friend knew the boundaries in which he could push back and where he needed to take a step back. Post acknowledgement of the issue, he asked the team to support the scale-up of the application in an integrated framework that had everyone move ahead.

What would you do in such a situation?

July 15, 2013  7:52 AM

Introvert, Extrovert, Braggart

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

The CIOs represented first among equals; CIOs who had been consistently effective in creating an example for others to follow. This bunch of score and some more could have filled a museum with the accolades they had collectively received. They had gathered to listen to the wisdom of a few learned men. Their collective expertise could have solved many business and technology problems across industries. To a fly on the wall, their interactions provided interesting insights into human behavior.

They threw a range of technical questions at the speakers and some challenging cases which needed fair experience to resolve. They kept the chatter on through and post the session into the break and the beginning of the next one; the banter never ceased. It is not that they all were good friends or acquaintances or that they were from the same company or industry or shared interests; if at all they had probably met before in another similar forum or maybe not.

Careful observation revealed that within the group some voices were loud and incessant, some broke the monologues with their insights only to be interrupted by the dominance of the need for a few to be heard; or was it to hear their own voices over the others ? Their compulsive need to speak was amazing and unnerving and rather irritating after some time. “I have been there done that and know it all; I have seen all situations, even surreal ones that you cannot imagine. It makes me a winner!”

Bright eyed and confident of their ability and success, another part of the group participated with moderation; it is not that they were in any way lesser to the other group, but did not share the need to speak at every opportunity and sometimes force their way into a conversation. They made sense when they spoke, had questions that made sense (at least most of the time and more often than the first group for whom the sounds of their voices is the only thing that mattered). They were tolerable in comparison.

And then eyes fell on a group who rarely if at all opened their mouth. Through the conversations their contributions were restricted to non-verbal cues, an occasional attempt to get in sideways and then falling silent again. After a few attempts they would go back to fiddling with their smartphones only to awaken intermittently when a point was made where they had an opinion. Unfortunately their views if any will rarely be known to the masses. Their stories, travails and achievements will sound paler when compared to others.

I would hazard a guess that this dynamics manifests itself in every gathering of learned men and women across cultures, geographies and age groups. The participants even when chosen randomly will in relative degrees form similar alignments with a few dominating the proceedings while others defer to them. Spokespersons even when there is no consensus on the view or what is being said come from the first lot.  A person in one group may move a few notches in another or demonstrate antonymous behavior.

Everyone likes and wants to win; some talk about it even when their achievements may have been lesser than others. Their forceful presentations create a momentum that takes them through. On the other hand a few winners rarely get noticed until someone takes up their cause. Which is a desirable stand and which is despicable? Should you not brag about your skills and goals attained because if you don’t no one would know. In today’s world how does one project self to get what is rightfully due?

There is an old Indian saying “the peacock danced in the forest; who saw it?” No one likes a braggart though everyone acknowledges success. Our conditioning refrains us from being the peacock with resplendent plume; show some restrain unless you are in the showbiz or have a career in politics. I think that if you are indeed endowed with the qualities that differentiate you from the herd go ahead and tell the world about it. There is a difference between modesty, being an introvert and humility. Know the difference and decide where you stand.

July 8, 2013  9:21 AM

Flexible or efficient?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

When the going gets tough, the tough don’t get going anymore because companies cut cost. In the last 4-5 years the economic, governance, and policy uncertainties across geographies, markets, industries and sentiment in general, have had an overall negative bias. We saw recessionary trends that never really went away; an after taste remains even today. Companies that have globalized continue to see challenges in some situations every day thus keeping the teams on their toes.

Cost cutting or management has become a way of life; we have all been through these cycles or what management types call S-curve of investments and cuts; the corporate strategy and agenda oscillates between cutting costs and creating efficiency when lead indicators of performance reveal that growth is stunted and profitability is taking a hit. The onus of efficiency many a times rests with the CIO who has a micro view of every process. Sooner or later the process reaches a break point within the constraints.

Green shoots that bring promise of the era of growth has most companies scrambling to invest again; with the herd mentality everyone then wants agility, process flexibility, and an ability to respond to the market faster than equally ill-prepared competitors. Why are you unable to deliver new functionality faster? Market will not wait for us to build systems at leisure; IT is not aligned to business reality, they do not understand business priorities and how to deliver to them.

The CIO retaliates and cites budget cuts in the past when the going was slow; when IT and business teams had some spare time, we decided to fine tune efficient processes rather than building new capability that could have helped retain market leadership. All good things take time to build and deliver; now putting more men on the job does not solve the problem. If you (Business) continue to look for the perfect solution, we might not complete before the next recessionary cycle making all the effort pointless.

This tug-of-war is played across many enterprises with no learning applied from past cycles of cuts and investments. It is like a knee jerk reaction to external factors that throws strategy out of the window and the company to the mercy of fickle minds and men. The short-term prevailing over the long-term takes away the flexibility to respond to market shifts with no latitude to adapt. Thus benefits available with sustained investments thus continue to stay elusive.

Can organizations and CIOs create a balance between the efficiency and flexibility agenda? Is such a position desirable and achievable? Can IT help the cause? I asked these questions to a few learned CIOs; everyone nodded unanimously to the fact that cost containment drives every few years has taken away a lot of energy. The yo-yo keeps them and their business folks running to stay in the same place. Discretionary budgets not being available now, the tussle for flexibility is an uphill journey.

Turning to a consultant amidst the group for wisdom of the ages, there was no solace in what she offered as advice. She propounded the obvious: stop investing and cutting cost in spurts. Don’t lose sight of your direction; focus on your customers, explore cloud, analytics…. With no real input coming from this quarter, we decided to brainstorm the issue. The nemesis was universal and thus participation eager; while we did not solve world hunger problems, an outline emerged that offered some promise.

The new engagement model with outcome based payments holds a lot of promise; as CIOs engage with the partner ecosystem to link outflow to projects delivering to business metrics, two things will change. Firstly business will have to define outcomes and their commitment upfront; this will impact discipline of execution and the ability to stay focused. The second change will be the acknowledgement of the role of IT in business excellence putting the CIO in the driver’s seat should s/he choose to take on the opportunity.

Are you ready?

July 1, 2013  7:07 AM

IT is windy and cloudy

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

The last fortnight could be classified as the official cloud period of the year with multiple conferences vying for attention; it also saw business newspapers and magazines write about clouds. A couple of television channels aired hyperbolic programs with the usual set of vendors and spokespersons talking about why enterprises have to adopt the cloud for survival. One of these had an interesting open and candid discussion between two senior CIOs on clouds which kept the organizers on their toes and the audience regaled.

A brave move by the organizers, in an unstructured dialogue with no moderator, their bantering got off to a good start with sharing of experiences on how they had used various technology solutions to create purported private clouds as well as engaged with third party service providers to leverage varied cloud offerings. They unanimously admonished the vendors for creating hype more than they could deliver in reality. The hysteria parallels the dotcom era in its favor with everything being tagged to the cloud.

The senior retired CIO used his sharp wit and tongue challenging the audience if they had different experiences. He demolished a few hypotheses and claims as myths with no evidence apart from anecdotal references. He sought to differentiate between public cloud solutions for consumers from ones available for enterprise users. The clouds are drifting with the wind created by a lot of hot air in the room, so let’s be practical and realistic in promises to customers on cloud solutions.

We all know that cloud for the consumer has been a big hit connecting mobile devices to ubiquitous cloud solutions offering multiple for purpose apps. Almost all the content is uploaded or downloaded to or from the cloud with seamless access across multitude of devices. Try for free, if you like it, buy it; micropayments allow easy download and upgrades, and if you don’t like it, you don’t feel the pinch. From tweens, teenagers to grandfathers and grandmothers everyone is hooked on in varying degrees.

The corporate journey started with sales applications gradually moving on to full-scale sales force automation solutions; employee self-service and customer facing portals (B2B or B2C) kind of rounded off the foray on the public cloud. Test & Development, archiving, and experimentation of new solutions were the other deployment cases. None of the core applications moved to the cloud; small and medium enterprises, and start-ups though did find the cloud offering quick solutions at affordable costs.

All As-A-Service models worked on the assumption that enterprises are desperate to move their capital investments to operating expense; in reality all of them were not excited. The variability of expenses that clouds promised was rarely delivered with rigid contracts and time to (re)provision. ROI remained elusive in the public and hybrid cloud models, the private cloud (which was created as a term to appease the CIOs who did not embrace the real cloud) did provide some benefit with agility and higher utilization.

Repurposing a consumer offering to the enterprise (read the micro-app nemesis) has many challenges which I guess will eventually get resolved; the reverse may to the consumer as I know is not been ideated; the boundaries are blurring between the two. While the transactional need fulfilled by enterprise applications will rarely move to the cloud or onto the mobile, information consumption and field data gathering will become key processes working off the same personal mobiles on the public cloud.

With the boundaries between consumer and corporate devices no longer tenable and enterprises adopting BYOD, the next disruption will be the convergence and unification of the consumer and enterprise device, and applications. Until that happens, the debate will continue on where the cloud has a promise for the CIO and where it impacts the person the CIO is. Stock tickers, games, utilities and what have you gratify the individual and are perceived as a distraction and risk by the enterprise.

Coming back to the chat, a vendor in the audience challenged the duo that the vendor had customers who have successfully deployed the cloud but meekly backed off when challenged to verbalize the business case and benefit. The hot air was indeed clouding a normal discussion; so the CIOs agreed to wind up the discussion with the conclusion: clouds are here to stay, they are/will be a part of the IT setup, don’t go gaga over it, be pragmatic, practical and deploy only if it fulfills a business need. Sound advice if there was one!

June 16, 2013  10:13 PM

Is innovation on the CIO agenda?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Innovation has always been a mystery to me; I mean what triggers innovation, how do people come up with ideas that result in innovation, why do some companies innovate more than others, what enables companies to create an innovation culture. Most of the books on innovation do a wonderful job of justifying why some are more successful than others. Theories and postulations fail to tell us how to innovate in our frame of reference; their motherhood statements are rarely actionable.

Corporate innovation agenda manifests itself in many ways starting with Committees, working groups, posters and banners, award and reward schemes, various interesting sounding Japanese terms used to christen the initiative, what have you. When these do not deliver in the anticipated stupendous way, consultants are hired to review and propose a model presumably aligned to the enterprise reality. Many interviews and thousands of slides later no one is wiser on the way forward.

In the last few weeks I was bombarded by the need for innovation to be on the CIO agenda. These came from CIO surveys, research papers and opinions of a few vendor marketing pitches. The reference was to enable and support corporate innovation programs and at the same time also create an IT innovation agenda. The tall order revolved around deploying solutions that capture ideas, enable collaboration, allow progress visibility, all of which will turn the enterprise into an innovation factory.

The other part of the discussion looked at IT innovation which in turn should enable business strategy and/or growth. According to them, a combination of the usual suspect and hyped technologies should do the trick for every company irrespective of size or industry; if you are not doing Big Data, then you are missing out; if you do not use mobility solutions (or BYOD), then you are a laggard; you don’t have clouds? You must be joking, everyone does clouds, private, public or hybrid. The message does not look at business cases, but expects traction.

So where does the CIO stand in the corporate innovation agenda? Is s/he leading or participating in the program, or is the CIO a bystander? Where does IT if at all fit into the innovation drive? I started tracking the reality for the CIO and how they are dealing with this predicament to validate my reality. While I had no expectations, the answers in their candour surprised me. Very few had a different reality and I am not sure if they were trying to cover up. The overwhelming majority were quite clear.

In a large part, the innovation initiatives were created to counter some competitive force or pressure that hurt the business. Beyond the initial wave of ideas that delivered quick-win results, the programs did not live up to their initial expectations. All the buzz and hoopla died down after a few months or quarters, few lived to celebrate an anniversary. Where technology platforms were part of the design, the CIO enabled it and stepped out of the way. A few IT lead innovative business ideas brought them to the limelight which was good while it lasted.

Innovation and breakthroughs are rarely achieved using structured agendas; they flow out of creativity of individuals and teams working together. These can impact processes, products or services in big and small ways. Committees evaluating ideas are more likely to kill them than enable, so is the case with laborious processes to determine which ideas should be funded and which discarded. We all know this but play the game along when it is seeded in our companies.

Is the CIO really uniquely positioned to help further the innovation cause? The challenge is the enterprise wide acceptability of this position where every CXO wants to be associated with such a prestigious initiative irrespective of whether it delivers to promise. After all, no one wants to be not seen as not supporting innovation. Should the CIO fight to get his/her name stuck on? If you can’t beat them, join them appears to be the best approach for now. Do you have a different view or reality?

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