We need “A teams” not “All A Players”

This is the greatest mistake that happens when we try building teams . We start out with the intention of hiring an “A team” – and pretty soon it magically transforms into a hunt for “A players” . It took me a long while to realize it’s not the same – and often hiring all A players into one team hardly makes any sense .

There are only two ways of building an A team that I know of .
1. If you have money and luck on your side – hire all A players you can to fill each role in the team.
2. OR, hire a few A players with strong leadership skills and fill the rest with B and if needed some C players . Then make it the Responsibility of A players to bring along the B and C players

Option 1 is a no brainer . A players love working with other A players – but there are only so many of that caliber. And you probably can’t hire them all.

Individuals can win a few matches with their sheer talent . But to win consistently and become championship material – it takes a team . Not just any team – but an A team .

My favorite example is the Indian cricket team that won the 1983 World Cup . There were two top talent players – Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. Rest were average or slightly above average players if you look at their life time stats . Yet – Kapil led that team to win the World Cup , defeating the best West Indies team ever in the finals . That is the nature of A teams .

The Australian side of Steve Waugh in 90s was probably close an A team built with all A players . And they kept winning for a very long time , except when that crop of players retired – the team could not make another A team of A players . Now they are taking an approach which is closer to building an A team with couple of A players and the rest with B players .

I have had the fortune of working in A teams where every one was a star player , and also in A teams where only some players could be described as stars . But in both cases – output was stellar . And my current thinking is that the viable model is to discourage people from trying to build an A team of solely A players .

However, an A team with A, B and C players needs some ducks to line up in a row before their execution ability gets into stellar territory. Here are my top 6 thoughts .

1. An A team needs strong leadership – ideally an A player who can take responsibility of bringing along and improving the non-A players to play at major league. It’s the acid test of motivational ability of a leader.

2. Hire one or more A players to keep the leader honest throughout the time the team works together . Most often, of the leader alone is an A player – their ideas will go unchallenged . That can only hurt in the long term . You always need people in the team who can challenge the leader when needed

3. Never allow the B and C players to recruit . If you do – then the chance of them hiring an A player is close to zero. The biggest long term risk is the standard of incoming players decreasing over time and the team moving from stellar to mediocre status.

4. Don’t drink the “culture fit” koolaid in big gulps . It is important that people get along – but end of the day, fun needs to be balanced with output. And output needs specific skills and experience . This is a grey area at best – and a true test of a good leader is the ability to find the right compromise.

5. Stretch, but don’t break . A players typically can stretch a lot in the assignments they take on. Don’t let that make you try to stretch the B and C players too in similar fashion . Everyone has a breaking point – and the sooner the leader and team realizes everyone’s breaking point , the better the chance of great execution. In most cases , B and C players and can stretch the same as A players over time – as long as it is done in small increments .

6. Rotate players when they are successful . Let new players come in with new ideas . Let your A players go to other teams and expand their horizons . Share the wealth of talent – that is how it multiplies and scales .

Education is the key for unity in diversity in India

It is parliament election season in India now . The country is so vast and infrastructure hasn’t caught up yet – so elections have to be held over several weeks in a phased manner . Whichever way I look at it – a coalition government is bound to rule India for the next term . And that usually is only slightly better than no government . And a country so diverse as India – with 1000s of languages and tens of states and countless religious beliefs – good solid governance is a must have to ensure continuous progress. It’s not a trivial challenge – to say the least .

There are three strong political groupings – one led by Congress , one by BJP and a third by the new AAP .

Congress led United democratic front – which in reality is neither united nor democratic – ruled for the last two terms . They barely got to govern with their structural issues . Regional parties held the government to random throughout the term. And given Manmohan Singh was just a figure head – whom the party could not find a safe seat to get elected, and hence had to get him in through the back door via Rajyasabha – his ministers seem to have had no intentions to take his lead . One of the greatest presidents we had – Dr Kalam – wasn’t even given a second term . And now they are projecting Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate . If Congress can’t find a leader outside the Gandhi family in all these years , how exactly are they going to watch out for the common man ?

It’s not as if Gandhi family is the only one looking for politics as a family business venture . Veteran leaders like Chidambaram , Jaswant Singh and many others found no moral issues in asking for seats for their kin . The country has a billion plus people – why does this keep happening across all political parties ?

There is BJP – and they have some very strong leaders . The big issue with them is that despite almost a guaranteed secular rule if they come to power – like their last term – they find it necessary to stir up a Religious agenda to get votes . That regressive nature is not fit for a secular republic that the constitution envisions . India needs economic development – which happens with unity of purpose, not with communal tensions . BJP tends to keep church and state separate when they govern – but not when they are running for offices. It’s pretty sad that this is the best way for them to come to power .

And finally there is the AAP . I was elated and disillusioned back to back with AAP . Corruption is a very serious issue in India and Arvind Kejriwal took a great step in rooting that issue . Unfortunately – they lack political maturity and ended up as a one trick pony . Running away from office in 49 days meant that they couldn’t take the heat of actual execution . Talk is cheap – and now they have to deal with the stigma of being a party that ran away . Real life governance is not binary – you cannot govern with the attitude that you will do only one thing . Fighting corruption is fantastic – but the state needed more and AAP didn’t stay to deliver . However , I am positive that in 5 to 10 years , AAP will be a very viable party to form a good government . And in the process, they will force other parties to reform and get closer to their citizens

In my mind – the reason for this mess is mostly a lack of education. We always get leaders that we deserve . The politicians who are after our votes would rather have a large uneducated and poor vote bank – which can be swayed by simple and mostly false promises . If I can’t find three square meals a day – I will vote for the guy who offers me free or subsidized food . If I am an oppressed factory worker who has no skills to find another job – the communist ideology might be too attractive for me to see other options . If I can’t read – I probably won’t realize that Rahul Gandhi is not the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi . If I didn’t have access to a variety of TV channels and newspapers – I might not realize that not all Muslims are terrorists and that many Muslims have served India at highest offices . If I don’t go to school – I might never hear about gender equality .

And for that – education is key. Education improves life across multiple dimensions – and gives us options . And it teaches us how to evaluate options . It allows us to have different beliefs but unites us as a country . It makes us Indians first and followers of a religion second . Education is what India needs – in abundance . It takes a lot of political maturity for a political party to push education at grassroots level across the country – as opposed to pontificating in an election manifesto.
The onus is on those of us who had the good fortune to get education to help our fellow citizens who were less fortunate . Part of that responsibility is in choosing wisely the people we want to represent us in government . Let’s choose wisely every step of the way for this election and every single one coming after it .

What on earth does VP of Global Channel at MongoDB mean ?

Ever since I announced I got a job at MongoDB , the question that I got the most has been “what does a VP of global channels do ?”

I grew up as a technologist – not as a business development / channel person. And apart from engineering , I have been a successful sales guy too in later stages of my life . That is the primary reason why I get the question – why did I take a job running channels .

This is how I explained my vision to my friends and family .

Let’s ignore software business and think of a manufacturer of home plumbing supplies . The company’s goal is to revolutionize how modern houses do their plumbing . For this to happen – the important thing is that adoption of the new way of plumbing goes viral – and enough money gets made to keep the business running and growing .

If the goal was to become a high margin company in the shortest time – the idea would have been to sell the minimum possible with the highest prices for product and services . That is not what this company wants to do in our example – it is exactly the opposite . Here the course will be to get as many customers to use the product as possible – irrespective of how much each pays . It is an important distinction – the goal is to radically modernize how people do plumbing .

There are two types of people who generally buy the products – home owners and contractors . One way or other – it’s the home owner who eventually picks up the tab . So it goes without saying that the company must convince home owners to use their product . You cannot take focus away from home owner ever . No one is more important a stake holder to make your goal a reality .

But this is rarely sufficient . If the sales person sold the product – who is going to do the installation of the plumbing ? Who would connect old plumbing to the modern plumbing ? When the bathroom plumbing changes – it usually happens along with redesigning the flooring , faucets, showers etc . Who does that ?

So it is imperative that all the plumbers and bathroom remodelers and general contractors need to be trained in using the new way to plumb . That usually needs them to be convinced this is a better way of doing plumbing , and that home owners will give them business if they have the skills and experience .

To begin with – how many sales people can be hired to go after each home owner ? At some point you want the supplies store to stock your product . Sales person can make a sale and send the home owner to a store to pick up the stuff .

There are other things like bathroom vanities and showers that will need to work with the new way of plumbing . Initially, it might be enough to hire a contractor to connect disparate things by hand with a connector . But some home owners might expect pre-fitted shower heads and vanities that are DIY friendly . So someone needs to convince those manufacturers to work with you to put your way of plumbing into their products for the benefit of your mutual customers.

As the business grows – you want new products to come up that are specifically built for your way of plumbing . You want a large number of people to work with your plumbing to create even more sophisticated solutions for the home owner – to the point that people take it for granted that if they are plumbing , they are using your product as the default . That is when the world of plumbing has been revolutionized .

As people make optimized widgets for your way of plumbing, you might need a one stop shop to help them and your customers – like your own marketplace.

In this entire process – the idea is to help the customer have a better quality of life enabled by your plumbing. You want to reach a state where your plumbing is behind everything in the home – to the extend that no one thinks twice about its presence . You can’t get there by yourself – the plumbers , the general contractors , the retailers , the manufacturers of vanities and shower heads and many others need to work together with a unity of purpose (improving the quality of life of customer) to get there .

And as more and more people work with the product – there will be more things that come up that needs the company to tweak its products and services . The old plumbing companies and you might learn a trick or two from each other – it’s a big world with a place for everyone , especially if everyone plays together and talks to each other .

That is the principle and spirit of channels – and it applies just about the same to software as it applies to plumbing supplies or soaps or cars. No one company can revolutionize the world by itself – but by working in a trusted relationship with several good partners, we can get there together and make some happy and excited and loyal customers .

That is the journey I am embarking on at MongoDB – to help and build and nurture an ecosystem around an amazing product to revolutionize how the world builds applications. I know it will be quite a ride – and I am very sure I will get to work with a lot of people who read this to reach that goal .

Now, Let’s go make our customers successful – and let’s do it TOGETHER !

Higher standards , double standards and no standards in leaders

So the CEO of Mozilla resigned – and I saw the news on twitter last night when I came back to my hotel room . And the question that came to mind was – should CEOs and other leaders be held to a higher standard ? Do double standards apply to some ? And are there any lines that can be drawn on what is appropriate and what is not ?

I am a HUGE fan of equality . And I have many friends in the LGBT community . I know what pain prop 8 caused those of them in California – and hence when I first saw this news on twitter , my instinct was that it is a good thing that he is no longer the CEO.

And then I thought of politicians with extra marital affairs that became public – including a past president . Some of them left public life , some – like Clinton – didn’t . Well, Clinton apologized – but he didn’t resign from office . And years later , it seems his other good deeds compensated for his bad deeds and he is touted as a great leader .

If rewind a lot more in history – there is Adolf Hitler who ruled over Germany . He was a vegetarian and was faithful to his wife . He loved his dog dearly . But he also did extremely bad things and the fact that he didn’t have extra marital affairs nor his vegetarian diet was used by anyone to cut him some slack in history . And that is the way it should be – there is no justification .

Nehru, India’s first PM, had a public romantic relationship with Edwina Mountbatten even before Independence . That didn’t stop him from being elected back to back till he died .

The point here is – we have historically judged leaders on the impact of their “day job” – not on other things they did or said . In the grand scheme of things – Clinton, Hitler and Nehru all had more powerful jobs than the CEO of Mozilla . This is why I am wondering if there are double standards in how we evaluate leaders .

America is a republic – and citizens have rights guaranteed by constitution . Whether I agree with him or not – and I don’t – He is free to have his own opinions and beliefs . He doesn’t need to conform to anyone else’s belief system . Even if he is in an absolute minority – he can stay true to his beliefs as a citizen of USA . So this is where I wonder maybe there are no standards to be applied – if someone like a CEO doesn’t conform to popular sentiment, then maybe all bets are off these days , and his constitutional rights don’t give him much of a benefit . I feel kind of uncomfortable with that line of thinking – everyone is a minority in some way , and that is the reason why rights are guaranteed in the first place . But legal rights don’t mean society holds the same opinion .

Could he have protected his company’s equality culture while personally being opposed to gay marriage ? I don’t know – there wasn’t enough time to find out given he had the job only for 11 days . But going by the examples of Nehru and Clinton – those guys didn’t try to make rules legitimizing adultery, despite their own weaknesses on that front . So maybe Eich could have pulled it off – or maybe he could not have .

Increasingly , we tend to not have lines drawn in sand . World just seems to have a lot more grey areas with every passing day . I usually have a strong opinion on these things – but this time I am just pretty thoroughly confused .

First impressions about MongoDB

After spending two days at MongoDB – I am pretty happily convinced that my instincts about both the company and the product were not off base . It’s just very different from what I am used to .

Although I was hired to run the global channels organization here , I am an engineer first (and I am not very good at reading manuals) . So the first thing I did (even before I started my first day in office ) was to instal and write a hello world .

I Kid you not – installation of MongoDB was the fastest thing I have ever seen in my SW experience . I signed up online and hit download and clicked install – and it did . If anything trumped my excitement of installing the software – that was when I saw the list of drivers available . There is a driver for every popular programming environment including C , which is my first preference coding language . Not having to learn a new language to try MongoDB – that made me believe “Bring Your Own Language” is indeed a reality . In essence – it took next to no time to instal and code a small program . Forget databases – I have never been productive this fast on any software in my life . It will be an understatement to say I am excited .

Then there is the onboarding – in less than an hour , I filled the paperwork for government stuff, insurance etc and got all the systems I need access to .

This week, I am going through a five day bootcamp with colleagues from all over the world . It’s both informative and fun – and it’s abundantly clear the company has good quality control in its hiring process . And the content delivered in the bootcamp is not a pile of PowerPoint – it is on whiteboard . For someone like me who hates PPT with a passion, this is close to nirvana.

It’s a startup in every sense . People use skateboards and ping pong tables all the time – and what is best, I can’t find any trace of a corporate hierarchy . The CEO, CTO and head of sales are as approachable as the developers and sales people . I am used to seeing people with those titles walking along typically with an entourage – and I haven’t seen it here yet . I am totally counting on it staying that way :)

I love our social media policy – which is to remain peaceful and not get into mudslinging even if competitors try to sling mud on us . The team is as competitive if not more competitive than any I know of . But they like to compete directly in front of customers – not in shadow matches in social media . I went back some time in twitter to see and I think this has held true from the sample I checked .

As an aside , this was in fact the reason behind my April Fool’s joke today on twitter and Facebook that I took over as VP of Social Media in MongoDB. It was a reasonably successful prank given the number of congratulations I got :) (My original idea was to say I am now VP of facilities management – but started having doubts if anyone will believe to begin with)

What about customers ? I was thrilled to see a nearly unending list of customer stories with many big names that I recognize readily . I am looking forward to talking to them directly to make sure I get some first hand feedback too . There are many examples of volume, variety and velocity being handled well by MongoDB , enabling customers and partners to build apps that give them BIG VALUE.

The one I especially liked was a project that MetLife did on MongoDB . After spending 2 years and several million dollars trying to get a 360 degree view of their millions of customers – they were not successful . And then they did that in just three months with MongoDB – consolidating information stored in 70 or so policy management system . It’s pretty clear that the ability to handle schemas dynamically is key in making such a solution – I can’t imagine trying to design a classic relational database solution to combine the 70 systems . If you don’t believe me – just look at your automobile and life insurance policies side by side and decide how much is in common . There is a good chance that you will not even have policy numbers across the two that look alike – let alone the attributes for each policy . Today with the 360 degree view – a MetLife call center agent knows almost everything there is to know about a customer . Isn’t that transformational ?

Many friends have asked since I announced I am moving to MongoDB if MongoDB is competitive with Hadoop . I learned today that it is not the case and the two are quite complimentary . In fact there is a Hadoop connector from MongoDB that is capable of MapReduce functionality to be triggered in Hadoop side and it lets the results be written back to MongoDB. You can use MongoDB as the online transactional engine and Hadoop as an analytical engine side by side . That is pretty neat .

I haven’t figured out a whole lot about the ops side of devops – but if I understood the roadmap correctly , the 2.6 version being released shortly will make the ops functionality pretty sophisticated and it gets even more better in future releases . More on that as I learn more about the product.

Sorry for the rather long post – I got a little carried away with all my excitement :)


Those who know me well know how much I care for my dogs . For all intents and purposes – Boss, Hobo and Ollie are treated as our kids by my wife and I .


And today morning all three of them disappeared – on my watch !

My dogs have a tendency to lock me out of the house . They did that today too – while I was in the backyard , Ollie knocked the latch from inside . So I went around to the front of the house and my wife let me in. In the process, I forgot to latch the gate from the yard to the street .

My wife left for her work, and my daughter went to school – and the dogs and I were in the house by ourselves. Then came the handyman to help me with some odd jobs . To let him in – I left the dogs in the backyard. About five minutes later – I went back to get them in, and they had disappeared . All three of them had gone some place – and left no trace.

In sheer panic, the handyman and I started driving around the neighborhood but we couldn’t find them. My wife came home to help me search but no result . I sent her back to office and started systematic scanning of every route we have walked the dogs before – but no luck.

I posted on twitter and Facebook that my dogs are missing – and my friends amplified it quite a bit . I also got a ton of great advice on how to find them. I ran back home and printed flyers to put up on every place I could tape one on in the neighborhood.

I advertised in Craigslist and also reported the incident to the county animal control . A volunteer of an online forum in Facebook for list pets in AZ helped me put an announcement in their page. Still no dice . I came back home dejected fearing the worst and thoroughly angry at myself .

Few minutes later , my pal Mani Sreenivasan pinged me to say he saw an online ad saying a dog was found in my zip code . I checked out the link and was shocked (in a good way) to see Ollie’s photo. He looked like he was having a good time too. I called the number on the ad – and a guy picked up immediately . And after checking details – he confirmed he has all three of the dogs

Apparently he was walking back from the bus stop seeing off his fourth grader daughter when he saw my three guys roaming the street . He took them home and let them play in his backyard and pool with his two Goldens . Apparently from 9 AM to 5 PM – while I was within an inch of having a heart attack , my three fur kids were having “the best Friday ever” playing non stop with new friends :)

My daughter and I went to pick up the dogs and after thanking Rich and his family as much as we could – we got the guys home. All three are tired , and Hobo seems sore from all the hard playing he must have done today. But everyone is happy now and tucked in. It will take a lot longer for me to calm down – and even longer for me to forgive myself for not being careful with the gate when I let them out

It is amazing how much social media – or in general, internet – helped me in getting my boys back. Google, Facebook, Fidofinder.com and twitter came together to connect many different people to eventually trace my guys . The irony is that the guy who found my dogs lived about 3 minutes away from our house and his kid and mine go to the same school .

There is only one villain in this story – that is me . But there are two Heros – my buddy Mani, who checked online a thousand times tirelessly till he got the link to the advertisement , and Rich and family who found and took great care of my fur kids all day. They are not just Heros – they are angels in human form. They have my eternal gratitude.

And a huge thanks to my many friends on Facebook and twitter who helped me by spreading the word, keeping me focused and finally celebrated with me when we found the guys . Many of them are physically thousands of miles away from AZ – some stayed awake through midnight to give me support. I can’t thank them all enough.

All is well that ends well – and thankfully, it did end well this time. But I will be a lot more careful in future – I don’t have it in me to face this nightmare a second time .


SAP to acquire Fieldglass – Integration is key!

As I picked up my phone today morning , the first thing I saw online was
this http://global12.sap.com/news-reader/index.epx?category=ALL&articleID=22589&searchmode=C&page=1&pageSize=10

I think it is a pretty good move for SAP.
Here are my initial thoughts

Managing Contingent Workers – and the vendors that represent them – is a big pain for every client I have had in my career . I have seen SAP, non SAP and 100% custom built solutions used for CW management and never seen a customer that thought they had a firm grip on the matter .

The difficulty I have seen is not in core functionality – it’s always in integration. CW information is needed by a lot of parts of the company – like HR, finance , legal, compliance , procurement ,AP and so on . For every stand alone CE system – we have had to build many interfaces and reports to make it work.

If SAP cracks the code on integration quickly – they have access to a HUGE market . Practically all of its install base will buy if integration pain is taken off the table . The exact opposite will be the result if they suspect this is yet another massive integration project .

Given SAP’s investment in Ariba (power of networks – CW and procurement is a potent combination) , SFSF (one cloud for all HR) , Hana ( conquering world hunger and all that :) ) and BOBJ ( mobile analytics , predictive) – there is plenty of opportunity to take Fieldglass to a higher level and highly differentiated solution .

Jonathan Becher’s challenge as CMO will be to choose which of the hundred possible messages his team will focus on . That is a good problem to have :)

Product management and Engineering – that is the side of the house that needs to burn the midnight oil now. Arriving at a comprehensive roadmap is not trivial . But knowing the team – I am sure they will come up with some good stuff .

If SAP wants to bet on cloud – I think HR is the best possible domain to bet on. I would even go on a limb and say SAP should sacrifice CRM in favor of HR in terms of new investments. Workday is a real threat for SAP and such acquisitions will give SAP something to out flank them rather than just try to out run them .

Good luck to Shawn Price and team !

Are we there yet ? Can’t wait to start my new adventure

It is the last week of my sabbatical – and I am ready for work . Having never had a month off work since graduating from B school – I can say without a doubt that it was the best decision I could have made. No work email , no conference calls at ungodly hours , waking up in my own bed every day , spending the whole spring break with my daughter , binge watching “house of cards” – two seasons in three days , binge watching “west wing” – all Seven seasons in a week, and touring the wine country in CA with family …the list goes on and on, and I think I am as ready as I can be for my new job . I am practically a new man :)

I am off to NY next weekend to get an early start on my new job the following Monday . The last time I felt this kind of excitement was probably when I got my first job after MBA – in Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai . I did not know much about what I was getting into . All I knew was a bit of programming and I had the tendency to make new friends wherever I go. I am walking into the new job at MongoDB pretty much with the same “can code and will make friends” attitude . Hopefully it works ok this time too :)

My job is to lead the channels organization for MongoDB – making our partners successful, and via that make our customers even more successful . I did not grow up in my career on the traditional channel organization – my background is in services and consulting . But I have been heavily involved in channel activities for many years as part of my job . I firmly believe that no software company can scale successfully without a great partner ecosystem to support it . That was true in IBM and SAP and I am betting on the same being true for MongoDB as well .

MongoDB does not have many of the challenges of a traditional company – it already has seven million downloads of the software .This is an exciting new world for me . There is a vibrant open source ecosystem that pushes MongoDB forward – and it has serious momentum . I come from a world where we partied for 100th and 500th and 1000th customer – I don’t remember talking in 7 million of downloads in IBM or SAP .

If there is one thing that I admire more about MongoDB than the community aspect – it is the recruiting process . It is a much smaller company compared to my prior employers – but the quality of people will not make anyone believe they count employees in early hundreds . My own recruitment process was unlike any I have had in past. I think I talked to 15 folks at MongoDB – and it never felt like an interview at any point . It was friendly, professional and all cards were on the table . No one pressurized me a bit at any point – and every single question I had was answered honestly . I walked away thinking “wow – I would be really lucky to work with a group of people of this calibre” . Turns out I was indeed lucky and the CEO offered me a job (Thanks Max).

As my team grows – I am hoping to keep the hiring standards at the same high level as I found it when I was offered the job . I already had informal conversations with couple of the folks running channel today – an incredible team with fantastic ideas and energy to match . Which reminds me – if you know any awesome channel folks looking for an exciting and challenging job (and who can stand working with me) , please send them my way .

As an engineer, my first instinct was to check out the product itself . It took me maybe half hour to download the software and do a “hello world”. Then I spent two hours worrying maybe I did not install everything – only to be told later that it is actually as simple as it looks . Once I moved past hello world – my next surprise was the sheer number of drivers. There is a driver for every programming environment . Essentially – I don’t need to learn a new language to start serious coding . It truly is “bring your own language”. There is plenty of online training and forums to get going quickly . I am starting to get an appreciation of why seven million downloads have happened . ( I am sure some % of that is people downloading newer versions etc – but still a more impressive version than anything I have seen in prior life). Since I promised my family to not slave in front of a computer all day – I did not continue playing with the software after the initial try out . I plan to do that as soon as I start the job. I am especially keen to checkout the DBA aspects .

Then started checking around how this stuff is priced . It is quite straight forward – and dare I say inexpensive compared to the enterprise software world I know . Purchasing process is a click through as well – very easy, and you can pay with a credit card . I am not sure if there are limitations for this outside US .

What kind of shocked me was that I saw a volume discount schedule for subscription purchases in their website.


I am used to seeing 50 page pricing briefs – not a half page table on my browser that covers everything . So if I understood this correctly – the sales reps probably do not have the “let me work a deal with my boss to get you some volume discount” thingy in their bag. They have to sell on value and not price ! That is how all software
sales should be – but It is totally against the grain of my experience .

There is extensive online training – something I am sure will come in handy for me as I make friends with our partners . The first “speed dating” appointments I made for my first week in my new job is with my colleague Andrew who leads the education initiatives . On first looks – it seems like the online education is an incredible resource .

As excited as I am about all these things – there is one thing that scares me a lot . No – it is not that I didn’t grow up in the channel side of the house in my career so far . What makes me scared is that I am going to start using a Mac instead of my beloved Lenovo PC

I think we have digitized AND transformed

First, you should read this excellent blog post from my pal Sameer Patel. It definitely got me thinking (which is a surprise given I am thoroughly enjoying a month off work between two jobs ), and I thought I can add a couple of things to this discussion. It also gives me a chance to put my wife’s laptop to test – I spent a whole day improving its performance yesterday :)

This is the central theme of Sameer’s post

The crux of my assertion is that for the last 40+ years we have been busy digitizing – an important first step. But it would be a stretch to day that we have digitally transformed, save for a few pockets.

I am rarely positive about the world of enterprise software. Yet, I think it is not too much of a stretch to think we have indeed transformed digitally – actually quite significantly. Are we there yet ? No – and it will be still a No if we ask this question in fifty years. Transformation is not absolute – it is about change between two states, or maybe the rate of change between two states.

So I am going to extend Sameer’s assertion and say something like “We have been busy digitizing for last 40+ years, and also transforming along the way in many pockets. This will be the way life is going to be for next 40+ years and we will  worry about silos pretty much for ever”.

In my school days, occasionally I had the opportunity to sit in a corner of my dad’s office and watch the fascinating corporate world stuff. He would dictate letters to his assistant who would take that down in short hand, type up a draft and have dad review it. It took a few back and forth attempts before the letter , with the real carbon copies, made its way to the dispatch clerk who would then sort them and send them on the way to various corners of the world. When dad got promoted , he had two assistants and both pretty much worked all the time to handle his business correspondence. He could have had two more assistants but decided that it won’t scale given there was only one of him . That was the case of his fellow senior executives too.

I saw two transformations there – one in my school days, and one in my college days. First one was the electronic typewriter – which increased the productivity of communication to the extent that dad briefly considered having three assistants to maximize output. The company expanded significantly in that time frame – in no small part because the executives could deal with more customers and vendors. The second round was the introduction of computers into the office. The growth in that period was explosive to say the least, especially with the introduction of email few years later. Email took the company to heights no one imagined. My dad and many colleagues who had two assistants moved to a one assistant model – with some people even sharing assistants. The extra capacity was moved to other parts of the company that needed additional hands.

That company at some point under invested in digitization and that was one of the reasons it eventually went out of business . There were articles published in management and technical journals of those days on both the early investment in digitization and the later under investment before the company went under under.

That was truly transformational for the times it happened. By today’s terms – people will die of shock if they hear about a company without email. Email is so uncool now – and it was transformational not that long ago. Simple workflows via email improved the efficiency of business processes by orders of magnitude back in the day. Today, a rigid one directional email workflow is looked down with disdain.

I can’t help bringing up my favorite topic – ERP !

ERP never lived up to its promise. I will be the first to admit that, despite making a living off that business for most of my career . But even its worst critics agree that several companies underwent serious transformation , along with plenty of pain and bruises and battle scars. But now the rate of change is not enough to get attention – and hence all the crying out loud that ERP sucks.

Such is the nature of transformation – no one cares about past transformation. You have to constantly evolve and adapt to keep up and hopefully thrive. But that is not the same as saying business has only digitized but not transformed. At various points in time, the rate of change might be high or low – when that tends to zero, business dies.

Sameer goes on to say

At the very least, Digital Transformation will expect that we are able to contextually expose repeatable patterns that:

1. Embrace a true working model that’s powered by real time access to business insights.

2. To the network of experts that dynamically assemble around the problem at hand.

3. The “un-silofication” of todays fragmented work experience that expects me to hop from system to system to get my work done.

4. And the flexibility to have people and data access conform to how I work. It’s a topic I’ve spent a lot of time.

I have a few thoughts on these bullets as well

Repeatable patterns and context : I am not sure if repeatable patterns make a magic bullet – repeatability makes things good candidates to automate/digitize. But it also assumes that world is static – which by now we know is not a safe assumption to make. Yet, it is a compromise we have to make to get things done. Just that we should do so with eyes open that repeatability is temporary and comes with the risk of rework at some arbitrary point in future. However – repeatability aside, I do agree wholeheartedly with the contextually part. Context has not been a big deal in past because it was in the user’s head and with the comparatively lower amount and quantity of data to be processed – that probably was ok. It is not OK now – and context is not negotiable in process design any more.

Real time access to business insights : My beef is only with the “real time” part. My favorite example is knowing right now that I can make a killing by moving inventory from Texas to California for sales this weekend, but not having trucks ready to move the inventory till next week. Not all business processes need real time information. In fact several don’t even need precise information to aid a decision. Humans make decisions on approximations – and trust context more than precision. However, IT systems historically have been built on the concept of precision and now tend to be built on real time. I prefer the term “right time” over real time.

Dynamically assembled network of experts : AMEN ! this is the root cause of most evil in IT systems in today’s organizations . Sameer and team are doing excellent work on making this happen and I am a huge fan and cheer leader.

un-silofication : It is an elusive goal to say the least. There will always be silos and we need to make peace with it. History of IT is littered with lessons like Mainframes did not die , ERP did not consolidate all systems and so on. World fluctuates between fascination for best of breed and suite – which means silos will only increase, not decrease. We can solve some of this problem via collaboration and BI and things of that nature. But I don’t think we will get far enough ever. IT systems will have to play catchup. I don’t like it – but realistically I don’t see a real change coming to save us .

People and data access conform to how I work : Again a big AMEN ! This is totally a worthwhile goal to pursue – although very difficult to get to. Just like un-silofication thing – I don’t envision an all encompassing solution, but this approach of conforming the world around to how a user works might happen in enough pockets to make it worthwhile.

That is it – I am going back to vacation mode !

Are CIO jobs more difficult today ?

No – it is not more difficult or more risky compared to what past CIOs had to do . Every time I see articles and tweets that seem to indicate otherwise , I cringe .

Dealing with business problems has always been on CIO agenda – it is not something that came up yesterday . Good CIOs have always dealt with CXOs – the excellent ones have always dealt with users too . In 90s – when ERP was the “innovation” thing to do , CIOs led the charge . They had to take big risks with unknown software for the benefit of the business . They had to agree to customize off the shelf software knowing that business needed it and hence the price to pay in future is justified . In many cases they convinced colleagues to change business processes to suit what is available off the shelf in ERP systems .
I have sat in several such meetings – it wasn’t pretty , but CIOs of big and small companies did that .

In the 2000s, they had to find ways to reduce cost and figure out working partnerships with outsourcing firms . In most cases they had to deal with a loss of their power and authority and yet they did that . They had to fire people that they knew for decades – and they did that to save their business . They invested in BI systems knowing more or less for sure that it is a journey and not a destination . They jumped into the exciting world of Internet knowing well that there are big risks .

And in 2010s – they have to deal with CMOs with more budget , cloud vendors who bypass them and go to business side directly , in-memory and NOSQL vendors who want to displace incumbent RDBMS vendors and so on . Is that difficult and risky ? Yes . Is it MORE difficult and risky than what previous generation had to deal with ? Hardly ! It’s just different .

The one thing that is becoming more common these days is that executives from business side are now taking on a CIO job for some time to check the box on their way to bigger and better things . This has many advantages for sure – but it has one disadvantage that I have now seen a few times . When a sales leader does well in West – she gets a shot at maybe running all of North America , or go run marketing for a change . But when a Sales VP goes on a CIO tour of duty and does well in that job – he risks getting stuck there for more time than he signed up for . And for some – it becomes a dead end job . That is the part that is riskier and harder for the CIOs these days than the ones in the past – in my experience .

Ok – I am getting back to vacation mode !