Technology today is about being Agile

Date:   Thursday , February 02, 2012

Sridhar Nallani is the Vice President IT, TRIA Beauty, a privately-held, venture-backed medical device company that develops and markets light-based therapeutic beauty systems. He is placed in San Francisco Bay Area. He has over 17 years of experience in building high performance teams. His expertise spans areas of Ecommerce, Business Intelligence, Enterprise Architecture, Application Development including ERP/CRM transformations and Cloud/Virtualization. Prior to joining TRIA he was a Senior Director of IT at Microsoft under the CIO and earlier to that the First Vice President of Technology at WaMu under the CIO and CFO. He is known as an accomplished technologist and leader who applies a rare mix of technology depth, relationship skills, and business acumen to direct strategic enterprise software development, management and customer delivery.

Technology is not just limited to the IT segment but has been a big driving factor for emerging companies in sectors ranging from retail to agriculture to help them boost their business growth. Our perception towards technology has completely changed. There has been a shift from a more traditional life cycle developmental methodology to a more agile methodology. One of the key trends that seems to have made a come back is e-commerce. Additionally, there has been a rampant adoption of cloud computing, social networking, mobile computing and other new technologies as each company is trying to make these trends a competitive edge.

Today the emphasis is on delivering value much quicker and earlier than we traditionally did. Days of waiting for 2 to 4 years for a software release are gone. Itís more an agile based lean model where business would be looking for delivery cycles every 2 to 4 weeks incrementally. On the cloud technology front there are different types of data that could suit well to different options available, from a private to a public cloud with some companies looking into a more hybrid model. Also data from traditional data ware house & business intelligence has taken a new meaning now as well. Innovative IT teams are getting away from developing canned reports and moving to developing self-serving dashboards with drill down capabilities and putting the power into the business userís hands.

Challenges of a CIO

There are a few key challenges for any CIO today. How you constantly assess and inspire your current team, add more talent and improve from a people point of view is a big one. How you keep pace with new trends like cloud, mobile and social networking and use them as game changers for your company is another. In this context then itís not on when to adapt them but how is the key; e.g., public or private cloud, data and security aspects, on-premise or hosted, the budgetary aspects related to all these and more. Also important is the state of the IT team and how you are taking it to the next level. Using Gartnerís maturity model of functional, enabling, contributing, differentiating and transformational, where does your team stack up and what are you doing to move it up a notch. The aspect of data security and recovery plays a very critical role as well. Every CIO needs to be paranoid about how well their data and systems are secured and actually proof test their recovery mechanisms if a disaster were to occur.

The other important thing for any CIO is to be connected with his or her peers and share ideas so they donít try to reinvent the cycle and learn best practices. Iím part of a CIO group in the bay area named CISE (Consortium of Information System Executives). Founded in October of 2003, the CISE is a forum of 28 Bay Area Information Technology executives which meets monthly to discuss current and future enterprise IT challenges. This forum also enables its members to collaborate on various ways of solving their IT issues, through the sharing of relevant and timely information. It helps expand my ability to generate a competitive advantage for my company. The 3 key areas this forum focuses on are the People (recruit, retain and develop and build partnerships with exec management), Processes (Best practices and benchmarking) and Technology (various technology options available, leveraging existing systems, case studies and ROI).

Is a CIO a Decision Maker of the Company?

Let me flip it this way. For most people who join the company they have a clear idea of what their role is and what is expected of them. But when it comes to a CIO, it depends on their personality, their background and their passion on how they architect their role. The eventual goal is for sure to become part of the decision making process and be a business owner and not get settled for a supporting role getting just IT stuff done. It does not happen on day one though. One needs to clearly understand where the company is, where it is going and constantly question whether the IT strategies in place are setting it up right to realize the overall goal. That is the only way a CIO can be a game changer for the company. It is very easy for someone to fall into the trap of getting in and basically increasing just efficiency of an existing system and team and keep doing just that. The approach I took was to spend the first 90 days in understanding the current team, my bossí vision and my peersí goals and came up with a 6 to 18 month plan. The initial focus was on building credibility with all the stakeholders, so the plan of attack was look at the low hanging fruit. While there were 200 business processes and possible gaps we identified just 3 to 5 key ones with gaps and looked at improving and automating them 100 percent. Not resolving these would hinder the growth plans of the company. Once the improvements were made I had better leverage in taking up more strategic initiatives like centralizing systems, systems that would be needed for scale etc and was able to get the support needed from my peers. All the while adjusting and improving the IT team and getting it into a leaner model utilizing the offshore capabilities. Also key was to establish a solid leadership team who can own and be accountable for key areas like business intelligence, infrastructure, ecommerce and application development. Once you get a few wins and the operational aspect of IT is taken care of, you can then become a true partner to business and be part of the decision making process.

Driving innovation within the Company

Most of the companies look at their CIO for innovation. This does not happen by accident but only by creating and encouraging a culture in the IT team that not only gets things done thatís been asked of them but constantly looks at new ways of changing the game, bringing forth ideas of more than one way to solve things, on how to positively impact areas like revenue generation, productivity, growth and risk mitigation. An IT team can also dedicate a small part of the group to just focus on testing and trying new technologies like building new mobile apps more like an R&D team and then the CIO can bring back any promising possibilities to his peers and get support.