Friday, September 14, 2018

Enterprise Architecture career Q&A : What skills to learn?

I came across an interesting question

"How do I change my career from a software developer to an enterprise architect. What skills I should learn?"

My response follows:

This is an interesting question though a lot will depend on your interests and background.
A “software developer” is a very broad term and can range from a core Java/Web developer to include folks configuring and customizing COTS products like SFDC or Oracle Fusion.
There is no indication of the business domain or industry you come from so I will assume you have a basic degree in IS or IT and have a few years of software development experience as a Java or .NET developer.
If you have identified an opening within the EA group in your organization, you will have to evaluate an your understanding of basic EA concepts; for example TOGAF’s ADM (link)

As a software developer you may be aware of some aspects of Information Systems and Technology Architecture, primarily by developing and deploying code to meet business requirements. As an Enterprise Architect, you will have to broaden your horizon to other BDAT dimensions too. Some of it can be done by attending training sessions on EA topics. You should also seek mentoring from EA’s in your organizations or your network.

Note: This is a rather short answer to a question that requires a lot more context about your background and long term goals. My response to similar questions on my blog - How important is it for an Enterprise Architect to have business domain knowledge?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Asymmetric information on jobs and Hiring on LinkedIn: and how to stay ahead

A while ago, I updated my Linkedin profile to indicate I had relocated and taken on a new opportunity. A few in my network noticed and messaged me. Nothing new here. People switch jobs all the time. However, a few also noticed that I had relocated back to Bangalore, the ‘Silicon Valley of Asia,’ and were curious especially about my experiences in exploring opportunities here. Rather than respond individually, I thought I would blog this piece about my observations.

My relocation was prompted by a personal need, to be around to support my aging parents. With the safety net of a job with a multinational, I initially tried commuting between my home in North Carolina and Bengaluru. However, I quickly realized that it wasn’t a practical option and I couldn’t plan to ‘work remotely’ in perpetuity.

I began to explore local opportunities in the market, and leveraged this platform, LinkedIn extensively. Most headhunters will tell you, networking and social media are the primary source of leads and opportunities so I began to revive some of my dormant social media contacts, especially people I had worked with in the past.

Networking has to be contextual, which means understanding the market to have a focused engagement.

The Market and Job Segments  

The IT Enabled Services (ITES) industry has transformed in the decade since I had been here. According to NASSCOM, the Indian trade association, the IT sector generates revenues of US$160 billion, and employs over 3.1 million people. The ITES also experiences an attrition of over 20 %, which means nearly a million people are switching jobs every year. The trend is similar across the spectrum of the industry – software companies, software services firms and also captive shared services organizations. All this makes for an extremely vibrant marketplace by any account.

Most of the tech jobs are concentrated in tech belts in three or four major metros in India, and the ITES industry continues to be bottom-heavy. Although the industry continues to mature, the jobs seem to fall into distinct categories in a pyramid.

  • Hands on roles – These hands-on folks develop code, configure service and test and debug services. Those with 1 to 5 years experience are the most in demand.
  • Tech-Leads and Mangers – Generally people with 5-10 years of experience. They gather and validate requirements, manage and guide teams of hands-on developers
  • People Mangers – These professionals, with 10-15 years of experience, are generally at the top of the pyramid either as client facing leaders or delivery managers who may manage several teams. Their primary focus is on managing ‘resources’ – people and other resources needed by their teams
  • Others – This category is broad and open ended. It includes line-of-business managers who own P&L and sometimes experienced consultants

Recruiters and hiring managers are rather rigid when it comes to this ‘years and roles’ mapping. A person with 10 or 15 years’ experience is not expected to be hands-on. Therefore, a seasoned programmer or developer will find it hard to sell herself with a resume showing 15 years’ hands-on development experience. Each category in the pyramid has a distinct pay-package associated, and there is a perception that over-qualified candidates may not be tenured or stick around, even if they are willing to accept a lower package.  Recruiters automatically screen out such profiles as ‘over qualified’ citing cost constraints and tenure risks.

After a brief review of the market and vetting my understanding with a few people in my network, I began leveraging LinkedIn in my search. After all, there are anecdotal accounts to indicate that social media, especially LinkedIn is the primary networking tool used by candidates and hiring managers alike.

How does LinkedIn connect candidates with opportunities?

There are hundreds of thousands of ITES professionals on LinkedIn; some more active than others. Not surprisingly, there are different techniques candidates and hiring managers use while connecting with each other across the market and job segments.

Managers posting opportunities directly: During my search, I noticed that scores of hiring managers directly posting opportunities on LinkedIn. The reach of such posts can be amplified beyond one’s network when peers ‘like,’ and ‘share’ such posts. Such direct engagement can connect you instantly with hiring manager posting the request, especially if you have the skills and experience in the topic of interest. 

Such posts may have some limitations too. When a senior-executive with a social network of similar peers posts for a junior hands-on role, job-seekers at the bottom of the pyramid who are not connected to the said manager may not come across that post. Lost in the general cacophony – Posts announcing opportunities may get lost in the barrage of notifications in one’s landing page. A few likes that these posts generate have to compete for eyeballs against other self-serving posts. For example, ‘Yay, Here I am standing in a queue to get an autographed copy of Warren Buffet’ will generate dozens of likes, shares and comments; more than a simple “update on hiring”

Announcing ‘seeking an interesting opportunity' – Many candidates update their LinkedIn headline to indicate that they are actively seeking new opportunities. Recruitment consultants are divided on this approach. On one hand, a person who is active in LinkedIn groups whose profiles indicates they are also available may interest hiring managers or recruiters. On the other hand, recruiters are generally more interested in those who are already employed and less excited about those in between jobs.

Updating Career Interests – The ‘Career Interests’ section on Linkedin is an effective tool to announce one’s career interests. Updating that section is an effective but stealthy way for candidates to appear in searches without explicitly announcing, “I’m available”

Be active in the medium – Posting Pulse blogs, engaging with others on LinkedIn groups and answering queries on topics will get your profile noticed. You should select the mode of communication like a Pulse Blog based on your interests. For instance, not everybody has the time or inclination to post lengthy Pulse Blogs. Such engagement should also focus on specific groups like that of Salesforce, RPA, Mainframes or areas. If change in work location or geography is what you want, engage in forums where target employers and recruiters are likely to find you. Intelligent and articulate responses to queries on such forums will help you showcase your command over the topic while helping peers.

Search and Apply – LinkedIn is also turning out to be a vibrant job search engine with hundreds of thousands of new jobs posted every day. Recruiters across industry segments and geographies are actively engaged in the job portal. Many also leverage the one-click apply feature that allows candidates to automatically import from their LinkedIn profile to the employer’s Applicant Tracking Systems.

For some of us, networking on social media platforms like Linkedin can become second nature. However, navigating a platform that attracts millions of active users like you and me, may sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. Some people may find it hard to get their profiles to stand out.

The creative few may find it refreshing to go off the grid: like the Bangalore techie who recently became an internet sensation by riding a horse in busy traffic on his last day at work.

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your favorite 'trend to watch' | Reposted from my LinkedIn Pulse

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Rolling out Robotics, Automation and RPA? Prepare for the initial heavy-lifting!

I recently posted a couple of requests on my LinkedIn feed looking for people with expertise in Robotic Process Automation (#RPA link). I got a few good leads and some of my peers reached out asking what I was doing in this space. I figured it was a topic for a Pulse article, building on the theme of Digital Strategy Execution that I had blogged about earlier (link).

Automation, especially emerging tools enabled by RPA is getting a lot of attention among technology and business executives.

The Use Cases for automation using RPA tools are certainly compelling. Most organizations are likely to encounter gaps in existing processes that evolve over time. Many require users to perform repeated tasks like entering data from printed document or validating data in one system against other systems. RPA tools can help automate mundane, repetitive tasks. Putting together a business case to invest in tools and resources sounds compelling. However, the heavy lifting begins after the business buys into the promise of RPA. 

Case in Point

As an Enterprise Architect responsible for Corporate Functions, I get involved in technology transformations and reviewing new tools and technologies. The finance business unit was reviewing quick-win automation techniques while planning for a major system re-engineering.

The group receives thousands of invoices from vendors and suppliers across the globe. While they had integrated the invoice processing with a few large vendors, the long tail still involves thousands of invoices coming in as faxes and emails with attachments. The business engaged an outsourcer whose team used a semi-manual approach to process the invoices. They take inputs from the mails and reconcile the invoices against the original Purchase Order in the source system, after which the invoices are cleared for processing and payment in another financial system. The process has many variations; for example, some of the invoices are for single items while a large number have multiple line-items.

The long-term roadmap involves re-engineering the process to automate the integrations and workflow, which is likely to take more than a year. In the meantime, the team wants to reduce the manual processing that is fraught with errors.

This jumps out as a textbook-case for automation using RPA Robots (Bots); after a quick review, the business sponsors signed off on automation. RPA analysts were engaged to review the current steps, and began to work with functional SMEs to plan for automation.

And then the wait began; and some began to wonder why.

The reason was obvious. This was the first time the business unit was rolling out an RPA solution. Before the initial euphoria died down, we began reviewing the design to enable the foundational elements and infrastructure.

The details of implementing robotics lie beneath the iceberg

Our experience thus far has been in line with the data quoted in this PWC report (link), that gives a dose of reality. The report highlights how “The enterprises do not always feel that they have received sufficient information about how long time it actually takes to create just the right foundation.”

While the Business Analysts and RPA developers review the process to automate, RPA Architects and design teams need to review some of the guiding principles. Typical questions that need to be addressed include:

  • Procuring tools – How long does your procurement team take while approving a new vendor solution? If you happen to be in a large enterprise, you will have to work through your ‘procurement process’ before you acquire the first licensed copy of the chosen tool (UIPath, Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere or others) 
  • IT Governance - Does your IS policy allows system accounts for non-human users? What is the process to enable application specific access for the Bot accounts? A Bot will require a network account, user-id, application and other credentials. The first time you introduce Bot accounts in your landscape, you will have to review the policies that govern accounts used by such non-humans. 
  • Business policies – An invoice processed for payment triggered by a Bot will require it to login into the Financial system. The Bot will need credentials similar to a human triggering invoice-processing. Does your corporate compliance policy allow for non-human accounts to login and process transactions on your financial (or HR, or Legal) systems? Do you have the same level of tractability for activities performed by Bot-accounts? Do you plan to onboard and offboard Bot accounts periodically? 
  • Basic SDLC – How do you plan to test your Bots? Do you have the systems, environments and test data to validate the Bots? Most business users at enterprises require new systems and processes to be rigorously tested before it goes live. Business stakeholders will expect the same rigor in validating the operations of a Bot before you let them loose in your landscape. 
  • Managing Bots – Who is going to operate and monitor the activities of the Bots? Robots can be scheduled to run periodically or triggered by events. However, just like other systems, they will periodically fail or generate exceptions. You will need to extend the support and service model to the operations of Bots.

Some of these questions may sound trivial, and may be a non-issue in smaller organizations or startups. However, stakeholders in larger organizations may not articulate such Non Functional Requirements (NFRs) but will nevertheless expect attention to detail when it comes Bots that operate with live financial, customer, employee or other corporate data.

Bottomline: Before the first time you decide to roll-out production grade RPA solutions that begin to process your enterprise’s live financial, accounting or procurement data, you need to analyze and agree on the foundation elements of automation.
Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your experiences with AI, Automation and Bots.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

#BookReview Story of heroic women who (thankfully) downplay their feminism

During my rather long commutes, I try to drown out the cacophony of traffic by listening to audio-books. I recently downloaded an audio copy of Kristin Hannah’s ‘The Nightingale’ and finished the book during my commute in a couple of weeks.

My review from Amazon follows:

Kristin Hannah’s ‘The Nightingale’ is a bestseller for obvious reasons: strong characters who draw you in while the author weaves an interesting plot. Set in France, during the span of over two years during World War II, this is a story of two women. However, it is not just a story of strong, heroic women but the resilience of the human spirit.

Hannah’s skillfully develops the characters while keeping the story engaging and readable.

The story revolves around the lives of two sisters Viann and Isabelle who come to grips with the horrors of war in their own way. The younger sister Isabelle has moved back to their father in Paris while Viann is content with life in the French countryside. The vagaries of war throw unique changes at both sisters who facing terrifying situations and respond in their unique ways.

Spoiler alert: The ending of this saga is a bit clich├ęd but satisfying.

This book kept me engaged during my long commute during the week, and is likely to keep you engaged as well.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The digital divide: the wealth at the bottom of the pyramid ?

A interesting interview with Alana Semuels in marketplace podcast last week made me reflect on the digital divide, and on those at the bottom of the digital pyramid (apologies CK Prahalad). Ref: Your Amazon deliveries don't just magically appear at your door. The interview and Semuels’ detailed account of experiences as an Amazon Flex driver in The Atlantic (link) made for an interesting read. She recounts
My tech-economy experience was far less lucrative. In total, I drove about 40 miles (not counting the 26 miles I had to drive between the warehouse and my apartment). I was paid $70, but had $20 in expenses, based on the IRS mileage standards.

Semuels’ observations are significant since nearly $1 out of every $2 spent online in the US is going to Amazon (link).

Halfway across the globe in the Silicon-Valley of the East, life seems to be no different for those at the bottom of the digital pyramid. Motorists in Bengalurue are learning to avoid the ‘delivery boys’ in bikes with heavily laden bags crisscrossing gridlocked traffic

Photo from Author's smartphone

The e-commerce delivery-boys (yes, it is mostly guys who are into delivery) earn a minimum wage – about $200 to $300 per month, while accounting for other expenses.

 In the article, Alana Semuels highlights

All my frustration really hit when I went to the second office building on Market Street, home to a few big tech companies. One of them took up multiple floors, smelled strongly of pizza, and had dog leashes and kibble near the front door. Young workers milled around with laptops and lattes, talking about weekend plans. They were benefiting from the technology boom, sharing in the prosperity that comes with a company’s rapid growth. Technology was making their jobs better—they worked in offices that provided free food and drinks, and they received good salaries, benefits, and stock options. They could click a button and use Amazon to get whatever they wanted delivered to their offices—I brought 16 packages for 13 people to one office; one was so light I was sure it was a pack of gum, another felt like a bug-spray container

The e-commerce delivery-boys in India and China who are delivering packages to their tech-savvy brethren higher in the digital pyramid are bound to be echoing a similar sentiment.

There is perhaps a silver lining here as, Semuels writeup also acknowledges:

People are worried that automation is going to create a “job apocalypse,” but there will likely be thousands more driving and delivery jobs in upcoming years..... “We’re going to take the billion hours Americans spend driving to stores and taking things off shelves, and we’re going to turn it into jobs” 

Bottomline: The digital economy has defined invisible lines separating those at the top and bottom of the pyramid. However, such delivery jobs in developing economies like China and India are an opportunity for young, semi-educated youngsters to earn a living. Without such opportunities, scores of them might end up unemployed or remain under-employed.

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your favorite 'trend to watch' | Reposted from linkedIn Pulse blog | Also a link to an earlier blog on the topic: Digitization: Solutions to physical-world problems?!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Raise your hand if you have worked with an empathetic manager !

Business writers, academics and consultants periodically talk about the role of empathy in managing teams. Management gurus draw evidence from data and research on business leaders succeeding by demonstrating empathy, compassion, and humility. The argument is rather straightforward: organizations and teams are made up of people; and people - even high performing individuals - continually struggle for a work-life-balance.

Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, begins the first chapter of his book “Hit Refresh” (my review) by exploring how his upbringing shaped some of his personal views on management. He briefly talks about empathy, and how the birth of his son Zain, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shaped his world-view.

Such candor from an accomplished tech-leader is refreshing, but is still rather rare. Most of us in the corporate world are motivated to downplay references to personal life and challenges or risk being seen as 'soft.' While the rare business leader like Nadella might be willing to talk about 'softer' aspects of management like empathy, the business world downplays it. Business operations, efficiencies and success criteria are measured in hard numbers and not by softer criteria.

Case-in-point: reflecting on a couple of instances

Years ago, I was managing a team of developers and engineers for a large project. One day, a young engineer, Raj*, came to me and said his father had passed away. He wanted to request vacation to leave immediately for his hometown. Raj had recently completed his programming-bootcamp training and had been assigned to my team. I called our HR business partner to check on the company's policies and benefits for 'bereavement leave,' and was surprised by the answer: “sorry, we don't have a bereavement leave policy.” On probing further she replied that it was not customary for Indian companies to offer such leave, and hence our management hadn't formulated such a policy (yet).

Raj hadn't accrued a lot of vacation time, and the 'official' response was to ask him to take an unpaid-leave. I knew the guy wasn't in a state of mind to bother about policies and was going to take such leave regardless. The performance of my team's goal was measured on the success of the project delivery and client feedback. And Raj's absence did not impact our timelines or deliverables; hence I did not feel the need to seek 'help' from senior management.

While the policy around leave was rigid, I knew managers had some leeway when it came to compensating time off against overtime , which I decided to extend to Raj. I continued to voice the issue of “bereavement leave policy” in internal forums in the company till it finally got institutionalized a few years later. No brownie points for sticking my neck out or an 'Atta boy' for showing some empathy.

Years later, I worked for a multinational that was undergoing transformation in light of an impending M&A. Teams were stretched, and busy working on a number of large 'strategic' programs – a number of ERPs were being consolidated while a sizable part of the portfolio was moving to the cloud. A senior member of our team in Europe, Jack*, had a severe bout of flu, that led to other complications including pneumonia. He was hospitalized for a few weeks and was advised bed-rest for a couple of months.

Jack reached out to the line-manager, offering to work-from-home or part-time for a couple of months while he recovered. The manager was under pressure to deliver on the ambitious goals that the CIO had committed to. He worked on a plan with the HR partner, and offered Jack a 'generous' severance to enable him to 'focus on his personal life.' He reasoned that he was showing empathy for a colleague dealing with personal issues in the way he was conditioned and motivated to do so. With that baggage shed, the manager was able to on-board an un-encumbered member and 'motivated' team to deliver on the promised goals; and some.

So, why is it hard to find empathetic managers?

There is a phrase from an interview with the business leader, Ratan Tata that jumped out when I was reflecting on this topic (link: The Economist). He is quoted saying

“I want to be able to go to bed at night and say that I haven't hurt anybody”

People and managers are inherently good intention-ed, and want to contribute and be valued. However, companies are not structured to recognize or reward such 'human' attributes. Business leaders across the corporate hierarchies are measured on their performance and targets that are generally aligned with 'corporate goals';

  • The targets for Public companies are measured quarter-by-quarter, and the (stock) market rewards or punishes them by pushing up or pulling down the stock price. Most companies reward their executives, and employees of a certain cadre, with long-term-incentives tied to stocks or stock options; and such incentives are easily tracked. 
  • Executives ensure that the line of sight to corporate goals – maximize shareholder value - is generally clear down the org-chart. They work with mid-level-managers and supervisors to define production, sales or other operational measures aligned with their targets  
This topic has been especially hard for me to write about though the concepts are rather straightforward, and one can easily find a lot of management literature, backed up by research. While thinking about the topic, I could easily see how some examples in the business world are really quid-pro-quo, masked as empathy:

  • Team-members bending backwards to source an expensive gift for the boss' silver-jubilee-anniversary 
  • The vendor offering a plush guest-house for you to recover from jet-lag after a cross-continent trip 
  • The manager prompting his team members to use all their vacation time at the end of year to get back refreshed (perhaps gently nudged by leaders who don't want folks to carry forward vacation on the books) 
  • The VP of a global team stating "none of the American members will work or take calls on the 4th of July," (a week before the CEO's photo-op with Mr. Trump in Davos)
Corporate goals and targets are generally unforgiving, and don't have much room for 'softer' measures. Not surprisingly, managers who stick their neck out by trying to practice softer aspects like empathy risk being seen as soft. Those who do, might fear they will lose out in the corporate-race against their 'go-getter' peers. 

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation | Reposted from LinkedIn pulse blog

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Enterprise Architecture 101: Keep your Architecture Repositories – KISS-S

Viewpoints on Architecture repositories are topics of perennial discussion in digital forums and communities (eg link). Such discussions are the tip of the iceberg, bubbling up some of the frustration over time and energies that Architecture and Design teams spend on evaluating and managing Architecture Repositories. The focus of discussions range from What information to capture and document, to How-to manage the repositories, and includes debates on tools, technologies and platforms to use.

Architecture frameworks like TOGAF have captured the first part of the question well, explaining the need for repositories to operate mature Architecture Capabilities at large enterprises. TOGAF references (link) describe
“An Architecture Repository that allows an enterprise to distinguish between different types of architectural assets that exist at different levels of abstraction in the organization. This Architecture Repository is one part of the wider Enterprise Repository, which provides the capability to link architectural assets to components of the Detailed Design, Deployment, and Service Management Repositories.”

Why don’t organizations just adapt Frameworks like TOGAF that are obviously well documented? Just a couple of reasons why:

  • While the documentation in TOGAF is rather extensive, it is also rather generic, and needs to be tailored to meet specific requirements of your organization. Like a Swiss-Army-knife, not all aspects of architectural information may be required or applicable for all organizations. 
  • Architecture documentation and processes don’t operate in isolation. They need to exist seamlessly with your enterprise's change management and governance processes. 

In an earlier write-up (link), I highlighted my experiences in establishing and running an Architecture Review Board (ARB). To succeed, the architecture governance had to be embedded with the existing processes, and ways of working.

The same holds true for Architecture Repositories too. Architecture and design teams in large organizations spend a lot of time and energy documenting the current and future state capabilities. The translation of such strategies and ideas into workable solutions - capability realization - is enabled by business funded projects and programs. Large programs also generate a tremendous amount of documentation to adhere to existing governance processes and project management and operational frameworks.  

It is fair to assume that large organizations will have extensive collaboration and team management tools and platforms including enterprise portals, wikis, blogs and even social media tools used by teams across the organization. Therefore, it is important to keep the design of any Architecture Repositories KISS-S. 

Architects should recognize the capabilities of existing organizational tools and platforms, and either extend them to include architectural repositories, or ensure that any additional tool integrates seamlessly with existing platforms. The additional S at the end of the common acronym KISS is to emphasize the 'S'eamless integration and ‘S’earchability of the artifacts in the repository. For example, if your organization uses a Sharepoint based intranet platform, you are better off designing a simple repository and workflow extending that platform. 

Those searching for "Design document for SFDC XYZ program" or "Solution Design template" should be easily discoverable using a simple search on your enterprise’s intranet without having to search for a member of your team who can help find that document. 

Bottomline: All your relevant non-confidential architecture references should be searchable across the enterprise and not 'guarded' behind a firewalled repository. Only then they will serve the purpose: to educate, inform and influence organizational design.