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The CIO's Spice Rack
Praseed Thapparambil
CIO-National Assoc. of Boards of Pharmacy
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Unless you are living under a rock, there is little chance for one to have missed the plethora of Technology topics in today's political and social landscape. We have seen how fracking technology has shaken up the oil industry and how governments are entangled in cyberattacks. We have watched helplessly how terror groups use technology to recruit and expand so rapidly. Net Neutrality, Hacking, Twitter Storm, etc., have all become common folklore. Soon, the sudden explosion of Artificial Intelligence software in the news, will toy with people's privacy and profile information. New technology is making impacts in economies to a great degree. We have no means or expertise to draft the do's and don'ts of any of these invasions into our lives. We pick our smartphones everyday diligently and wade through a barrage of social engineering traps, unwanted links, sponsored messages, manufactured news bits, offers-all yearning for our click. Technology Management has invaded our lives. So, a typical everyday person makes so many conscious and unconscious technical decisions which could have consequences. Similarly, computers can make sketchy decisions as well. Any piece of software can make a mistake, which would have taken humans many months of effort to commit. How about Technology professionals? They are bound to know how to wade through this jungle of Technical decisions. Right? These individuals make impactful decisions for the software being built which affect the Customer value created off it.

So how can a CIO plan and deliver solutions to the marketplace amidst all this entropy and array of decisions. Let's dissect this from a Customer perspective. A customer organization or person, is an embodiment of an organization much like ourselves. They are literally us. They seek value, a value they cannot produce themselves or choose not to, due to priorities. So, when a customer arrives at your web storefront, the expectations are to seek and achieve that value as soon as possible. Today's customers are armed with their own devices, an expectation of data security and identity protection, an expectation of spending little time seeking that value and an expectation of serving themselves and not interacting with a phone-tree of service-people. They view this as a drive-through experience-in and out. These customers will become repeat customers if the value was derived successfully. Amidst the multitudes of solutions in the marketplace, a repeat customer is akin to us preferring to watch a few cable channels repeatedly, although we have hundreds of channels to choose from. So, how do we go about building these customer engaged solutions. Let's look at some necessary ingredients.

"Value provided to a Customer to improve Identity trust and data security both in motion, and in rest requires changes in how you operate"

Ingredient 1: Cloud and Mobile Enablement

A typical Pharma tech solution organization needs to constantly engage in improving the overall customer value. Solutions should reach where the customers are. Customers are all over the globe and use disparate devices. Cloud infrastructure provides a necessary lift to reach and service these customers efficiently. CDNs, disaster recovery architectures, and caching-all of these play into this infrastructure. Moving systems to the cloud is no longer about buzzword compliance-it is to reach your worldwide customers in a ubiquitous and performant manner. Should all your systems reach the cloud? I would venture to start with things near and dear to the Customer. Back office operations may very well be on premise unless your employees also need to be reached and served across multiple, variant locations. Making applications device-agnostic takes us another step closer-respecting customer's technology diversity and preference. A case in point, if you look at today's employee manuals and corporate policies on mobile devices, you will observe a reticence to standardize on one platform. It is all about choice.

Ingredient 2: The Platform

One can no longer standardize on a uniform one-vendor footprint. Consumer expectations always outpace advances in software technology. The Organization has to decide the UX stack to best enable the customer. Should the Services be built in a monolithic fashion or should it be an assembly of microservices? Should the data persistence be done through traditional SQL Databases or shards of NoSQL engines? These decision points can be challenging to build a cohesive technical organization from a talent perspective. DevOps and automated deployments can cause tremors within, regardless how agile the processes are. The fissure appearing in your platform team across all these technologies is normal. You are going to have a dizzying array of tech and supporting resources. A CIO needs to weigh these cost expansions versus the customer value it may provide. For instance, one can no longer have solutions on Android and iOS. They represent a large population of where your customers reside. So, expect platform fissure. But, manage it thoroughly.

Ingredient 3: Data Security

Value provided to a Customer to improve Identity trust and data security both in motion, and in rest requires changes in how you operate. A service organization needs wellbuilt policies and procedures including data loss prevention software. This necessarily touches on the culture of the organization so that all employees and contractors in scope of the data universe adhere to them. Shredding unwanted paper prints containing sensitive information comes to mind. These are cultural shifts which Praseed Thapparambil should be built into the fiber of the organization. Encryption mechanisms, scheduled penetration tests and overall incident awareness are all pillars of a well-executed solution.

Ingredient 4: Culture DNA + Economy of Operation

Building solutions to meet market deadlines, requires trade-offs. Labor cost for the newer skills and the ability to retain them is hard work. Should you train or should you source consultants for the heavy lifting? Should you add more tools to expedite delivery? Functional expertise coupled with motivated performers can make a significant difference to the solutions put forth. The spend will need to be proportional to the delivery velocity and productivity of the organization. All of the labor oriented decisions are risk-laden. The cost vs benefit needs to be addressed. Concepts like 'Minimum Viable Product' should be driven deeper into the organization to enable fiscal responsibility. Many organizations tend to focus a lot on financial structures to motivate employees. These may work for some organizations especially for a short term. Intrinsic motivation is the best kind of incentive to achieve organizational goals for the long term. Clearly they are harder to cultivate. It starts with the culture bend of the organization and the kind of people you hire. Work done on building organizational culture reaps great benefits. One is always confronted with people producing results with very little people skills or the contrary, people who are great to work with who produce sub-standard results. An organization needs to cultivate results orientation along with strong values to cultivate the repeatability required for success.

Ingredient 5: Serviceability

If the delivery of solutions pushes an organization to perform at its best, serviceability requires us to perform a complete makeover. It starts with support processes, motivated individuals and requires software designed for serviceability. From a customer perspective, when issues occur during a transaction, how the organization rallies to resolve it in a timely manner goes a long way in retaining the customer. In fact, no matter the effort to write perfectly secure code, we are going to miss a bug, there will be new attack exploiting this eventually. Systems should have adaptive security measures to apply fixes quickly. This illustrates the need for serviceability.

Extended exposure to cloud/ mobile front-either multiple cloud platforms or mobile platforms will directly affect the economy of operation and increase platform fissure. Maintaining the talent levels to support as well as integrate across these platforms, creates considerable stress for a company. Similarly, the UX for the solutions delivered should not be overwhelmed with a zillion security questions and steps. The users should be encouraged not scared of using your solutions. Passwords, two-factor authentication apps, error messaging, performance-any of these could fail on any given day. So, building serviceability into the solutions to recover and reestablish the customer value becomes a significant feature.

Ingredient 6: The Cafeteria Plan for Product and Service

By definition, a product is a tangible good that a customer can see, try, or use. A service however is intangible-something a customer experiences but doesn't hold or retain. Often solutions are packaged without forethought on distinguishing them clearly. Building, testing, packaging, and versioning a product should be distinguished from subscription services. A good alignment between the operational and marketing wings of the organization should be established well before venturing into this. A well packaged solution has direct impacts the revenue model. Respect the customer's wish to mix and match features as they need by providing multiple options for their consumption.

The Right Mix: Your Recipe

Having all the ingredients for a customer engaged solution does not guarantee the results or profitability of it. The right mix needs to be arrived for your Organization. The degrees to which these six ingredients can be altered and mixed, determines the stickiness of the solution with the customer. Every organization may apply these elements in a recipe form to best deliver and sustain customer value.

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