Early Encounters with Duality
Managing with Dual Strategies - a book by Derek F. Abell, was the recommended reading suggested to me early in my career - by a senior executive of ABC Consultants, India’s premier people management consulting company. I’d been in a pure sales representation role till then, moving into a new Corporate Planning function with my then company. This book was supposed to act as my Bible on the challenges faced by senior management.
I’ve forgotten most of the content I’d read then (to confess, I never read the book fully, save for a presentation I did to my Corporate Planning colleagues). But the book’s title has stayed with me all these years, and so also the subtitle Mastering the Present, Pre-empting the Future. I would see CIO equivalents in the 90’s struggle with early age technology initiatives, in a quandary whether to stay put in the air conditions environs where the Unix servers were hosted or go down to the business teams and figure out how to make life easier for them.
As was usual in that time, management wisdom then lay more faith on maximal utilisation of the former. The would-be CIOs had their KRAs quite clear - loads of report generation, and upkeep of the servers. And as it happens with most such concise pieces of wisdom that stick around in your head, I ended up applying this beyond work situations, to my personal life.
So ‘Mastering the Present’ became an early start to personal financial planning, on a self-generated spreadsheet. Jotting down all expenses each day, then doing ‘small-data’ analytics at the end of each month on where the money went. Over months and years, the sheet evolved to ‘Pre-empting the Future’ - tracking stocks, mutual funds and tax planning. The sheet is now an unwieldy behemoth with some 20 tabs, possibly tending to big-data proportions.
The Contradicting Challenges Before CIOs
Coming back to work, and this dual strategy approach was applied more to my customers - largely CIOs or business-technology heads. The issues they’ve faced can largely be put under the ‘Present’ bucket of ‘managing’ Resources, or Costs. And the ‘Future’ bucket of all that goes in the name of Transformation, or ‘pre-empting’ its effects.
CIOs today deal with constant requests, expectations, demands, directives
The challenges CIOs face are essentially two - reducing or optimising total cost of ownership, while creating Value via Transformation. But the contradiction between these two goals is perhaps as vast and unbridgeable for CIOs today, as they once did in Derek Abell’s book to a then greenhorn.
CIOs, today, deal with constant requests, expectations, demands, directives - to cut down on resources, merge functions or teams, pare down, or harmonise or consolidate vendor contracts. All the while launching into new digital transformation initiatives that seemingly come out of a parallel universe of meetings, conclaves, or business directives.
The CIO’s role seems to straddle the two universes, chasing one objective at the cost of the other.
Can Contradictions be Resolved?
Yet as a recent customer conversation revealed, this contradiction is not insurmountable. If the business goals and expected operational benefits of any initiative are clearly outlined - CIOs can bring about digital transformation and tie it in with reducing costs.
The CIO’s role seems to straddle the two universes, chasing one objective at the cost of the other
We undertook a focused study for a manufacturing company CXO whose remit was to ‘Optimise TCO in IT’:
- we researched the company’s complete IT landscape
- identified areas where costs were being sunk into servicing licensed software or infrastructure
- identified where these were being deployed
- and then came up with a list of business use cases → these licensed IT assets could be replaced by open source alternatives
In the process generating feasible options for mini, stand-alone digital innovation projects limited to a business unit or division - acting as a proof-of-concept for a larger transformation.
So what might ‘innovation’ mean, especially since ‘innovation’ and ‘transformation’ are heavily overused terms?
Being an Indian, I can’t help, indeed I guess I must be expected to, try to explain ‘innovation’ in terms of ‘jugaad’.
‘Jugaad’ vs ‘Frugal Innovation’ - What’s the Underlying Objective?
There are lots of books out there eulogising ‘jugaad’ but since I haven’t read any, I won’t refer them here. Also, the usual positive sense of the word - this or that entrepreneur finding a cheap alternative and making billions (they usually go bust soon after) - holds true less and less.
It's more likely to be in line with this comment (even if it's highly obnoxious) of the infamously sarcastic Prince Philip. While India has seen technology and economic boom since liberalisation in the 1990s and especially the last few years, a ‘we are like this only’ attitude prevails, and in many ways, the nation remains tied to its socialist past.
Despite recent efforts at a national level, this is the attitude that has spawned and nurtured a culture of circumventing laws, evading taxes, soliciting favours, lax service standards, and public litter...
… from being the stepping stone to ‘frugal innovation’, ‘jugaad’ has come to mean ‘finding short-cut ideas to cut costs/corners no matter if the objective is compromised’ as opposed to … what ‘innovation’ means - ‘translating ideas into replicable solutions at reduced costs, to help achieve the (customer’s) objective’
As long as the objective is remembered and respected - “the business goals and expected operational benefits” - and cost reduction scenarios worked out accordingly, we are on track with innovation. So CIOs/CXOs can manage with dual strategies, or indeed combine seemingly contradictory strategies into one.
Enterprise Transformation - Experiences, and Examples
Some examples to reference, on Digital Innovation and Transformation delivered using open source platforms, while reducing costs / TCO -
- A Digital Learning Ecosystem for a Global Leader in Beauty Products, delivering ROI-Driven Enterprise Training Initiatives. An integrated platform scalable and customisable across geographies and markets delivering a 30% reduction in classroom sessions and associated costs
- An Omnichannel CMS for a Telcos Digital Stores - with a global template framework enabling client teams in 21 EMEA countries to structure pricing & product information as per regional market needs. And an infrastructure solution for the client to shift their hosting to new servers cutting annual costs by hundreds of thousands of pounds
- A Video Analytics Solution for an Industrial Cleaning Solutions Company - a machine learning solution using Amazon Sagemaker, Lambda and S3 - on a scalable, pay-as-you-go model - analyzing scraped video feed data to log time-stamped asset performance ---> delivering cost benefits in terms of reduced costs of asset recall & repair, as well as reduced IT infra costs
And again, being an Indian, I can’t help but relate to some examples of successful, ‘frugal’ innovation - ‘jugaad’ gone right (or wrong..?) so to speak -
We are yet to ‘Master the Present’ - inefficiencies still run dark and deep, many streets and lanes yet to sweep, and some more years to sow before we reap (my modest take on Robert Frost).
But we’ve made progress in ‘Pre-empting the Future’ - leaders globally in areas transformative in reach and scale - universal healthcare & insurance, digital payments and space technologies, for example. Things that might make us proud, and perhaps wake up Prince Philip from his sleep.
The views expressed in this blog are solely of the author and do not reflect, by any means, the view of Srijan Technologies.