Saturday, June 24, 2017

Views on Infosys’ 36th Annual General Meeting (AGM)

Many years ago, during my MBA I learnt about company structures, fiduciary duties and governance, and I studied about the Annual General Meeting (AGM). Over the years I have invested in shares of many public companies in India and the US, and continue to review annual reports (link to my blog), and follow earning announcements of companies I invest in.  I also follow business news with daily updates from the Wall Street Journal and NPR’s marketplace.

However, I hadn’t attended a company’s annual general meeting - until recently. As I am currently in Bangalore, I decided to take the opportunity to attend the 36th AGM of Infosys. It was also an opportunity to hear from fellow small-shareholders in person.

So, what exactly is an AGM? Wikipedia describes it as “An annual general meeting is a meeting of the general membership of an organization.”

I had spent over 8 years at the company in the 2000s and continue to hold INFY stock.  At the time, Infosys still had a “Powered by Intellect, Driven by Values” as its corporate slogan and was a media darling. Hardly any negative news got printed. Over the years the company’s astute PR and media management have eroded and it finds itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons – corporate governance issues, visa-fraud investigations, dirty laundry being washed by co-founders in public over CxO compensation, layoffs, impact of visa protectionism etc etc.  

This AGM like many others followed the expected agenda, starting with statements from the chairman of the board, CFO and CEO. Of all the leaders, Vishal Sikka came across as an articulate Stanford professor, with his discourse on emerging technologies and their impact on ‘businesses’ of technology services that Infosys is in.  

Infosys Board members address Shareholders

After the prepared talks by members of the management, it was time for shareholders to get on stage. As expected, their perspectives and points being raised were all over the place and most of them were happy to just have their two minutes of fame under the spotlight. Many picked on a favorite Infosys anecdote from the media and paid homage to the leader from the past - Narayana Murthy – and the ‘great’ work Vishal Sikka and his team were doing (under the ‘challenging’ circumstances). 
Infosys' small-shareholders  queue to ask questions

Following were the most common themes of the questions and comments  
·         A few shareholders asked for share buybacks like what TCS and other service firms had announced recently
·         Shareholders repeatedly pointed out the management’s poor track record in Public Relationship (PR) management, musing loudly if a better PR would address the ‘noise’ coming from the media. Many sounded frustrated that the management was spending all the energy in addressing trivial media ‘concerns’ when it could be utilizing its energies more productively
·         Some pointed asked about the role of Public Relationship (PR) management is addressing communication with co-founders who no longer had a seat at the board.

In recent times, I have moved to reviewing digital copies of Annual reports. At the meeting, I picked up a printed copy of the 240-page Annual Report, taking me back in time when printed ARs were the primary source of corporate information.

We live in an age of near-instant dissemination of news and opinions. Many of the topics including the presentations by Infosys executives were common knowledge even before today’s AGM. Back in the day, the AGMs served a purpose – getting corporate stakeholders, shareholders and the board of directors to engage with each other. The reality is that much of the shareholder engagement now, especially with larger shareholders happens behind the scenes.

Bottomline: Just as the printed Annual reports have given way to digital copies, the day may not be far off in the future when these Annual General Meetings go digital and virtual. 

Some south-Indian food for thought

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Response to @JeffBezos request for ideas

Here was a recent tweet from Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com


My response follows



Mr Bezos,

I commend you for the attempt to crowdsource ideas for philanthropy.  I will focus my response on a one word suggestion:

Population


As an Indian-American who spent much of his formative years in India, I had the opportunity to experience and observe the impact of burgeoning human population on our environment. During the past decade, I had the good fortune of living and working in a dozen countries across three continents and continue to reflect on the issues surrounding the population growth

Address a growing Population: Why this issue?


With over 7.2 billion people inhabiting this planet, and over 2.5 billion concentrated in Asia, there is a tremendous pressure on mother earth.

Let us set aside academic research and empirical studies for a minute. Just land at any airport in South-east Asia and take a ride into the city and you will see teeming masses of people.



There are several solutions to address the problem, but each requires tremendous resources (which your Philanthropy can help with) and a strong collaboration between Business, Governments, and Societies.

Why right-now?


You state that for philanthropy, you are drawn to “the other end of the spectrum: the right now.” The problem of over-population and population growth can be solved ‘right now.’ Just a couple of examples to illustrate the point:
  • The mother of four or five girls being forced to ‘try’ again for a boy will be highly thankful if her in-laws and husband are educated on the potential of a girl-child.
  • Any attempt to slowing the growth of population will be visible in the short-term and benefit societies in the long term. For example, the Chinese government was able to demonstrate it with the ‘one child’ policy in a generation.


Bottomline: Philanthropy, should follow the old adage “Give a man a fish….”

Image result for give a man a fish chinese proverb

Addressing the issues surrounding a growing population will help us ‘teach humans to fish…. and feed generations to come’ 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Enterprise Architecture Q&A : How important is it for an Enterprise Architect to have business domain knowledge?

Here are a few Questions on Enterprise Architecture that I answered recently.

How important is it for an Enterprise Architect to have business domain knowledge?
There is no doubt that an Enterprise Architect must have EXCELLENT technical knowledge. Usually an Enterprise Architect is a person who has worked as Application Architect in the past, sometimes in various applications for business domains such as Telecom, Finance or Insurance. In this role, the person concentrates on using technical skill to build an application. This person is unlikely to concentrate on building business domain knowledge (also called functional knowledge) and only learning it to build the application.
Meanwhile a Business Analyst (BA) concentrates only on gaining business domain knowledge. A Business Analyst provides the business input required by the Application Architect. 
Does an Enterprise Architect need to have excellent knowledge of business domain? If so, how can this person gain it they have been working as an Application Architect in the past?

Yours is a multi-part question.
Enterprise architects could come from an IT background, in which case the EA will have “have EXCELLENT technical knowledge” (as you mentioned.) However, many Enterprise Architects also come from management consulting, Business Partnering and from business functions. Such Enterprise Architects will have extensive business domain knowledge.
Let us look at your other questions:
  • Does an Enterprise Architect need to have excellent knowledge of business domain?
Yes, a knowledge of business domain certainly helps. However, the term “excellent” is a bit of a misnomer, especially for large, complex businesses with many lines of business or operations across geographies. In such organizations, breadth of knowledge of business operations and domains will help more than an endless pursuit of depth in all domains
  • If so, how can this person gain it they have been working as an Application Architect in the past?
When I was hired as an EA for a multinational Ag-Chemical company, I had little knowledge of the complex supply chain of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides and insecticides) or the complexities in GMO or breeding of seeds. (Check out my blog on the topic)
I began attending appropriate training and 101-orientation sessions on the business -business models and continue to learn during my engagements with functional stakeholders.



Which is the best EAI tool?

If you can tell me the best Car I can buy, then I can advice you on the ‘best EAI tool’

If you think I am being cheeky, think again. Buying a car is highly context sensitive. Unless you know me and my needs, and requirements, your advise is going to highly subjective and useless!

In the same way, your adviser will need a lot of information on your context, landscape and requirements before s/he can suggest the ‘best EAI tool’ for your organization’s needs!



Can you effectively practice as a Enterprise Architect or a Solutions Architect without the ability to code?

Even my 7-year-old is ‘learning to code’ at school. So I will assume the OP implies “ability to write production ready code using the processes, tools and techniques used in the organization.” Using this assumption, my answer is simple:

  • Enterprise Architect - Yes, you can effectively practice as a Enterprise Architect without the ability to code.
  • Solutions Architect - A qualified Yes for this role too.


Why do I say this?

Enterprise Architects could come from any of the BIDAT domains and only those from an ‘A’pplication background may know to code. Even assuming an EA came from an application development background with hands-on coding experience, s/he may not be proficient in the newer languages and programming paradigms.

Executives who let their Enterprise Architects roll-up their sleeves and code are not making the best use of their (the EA’s) talent.


Solutions Architects are expected to bring a depth of the Application life cycle including development and integration. Many of them may also have a ‘coding’ background, but the ability to visualize and communicate solutions is more important than the ability to code. In smaller organizations, it is not unusual for the SA to sit with developers to prototype and validate solutions.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Why should IS executives continue to watch today’s Tech Oligopoly?

Walt Mossberg, the popular tech columnist who wrote for the Wall Street Journal, Recode and The Verge announced his retirement in a final column (link) that reflects on the significance of some of the recent technology trends. In a section titled “The oligopoly” he highlights that much of the new technology that “we and others can learn about and report about, is coming from the giant companies that make up today’s tech oligopoly — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.”

Mossberg isn’t alone in this prognosis. Farhad Manjoo in his New York Times column titled “Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us” also picks on the “frightful five” to drive home a similar point. At first glance, terms like “Oligopoly” and “Tech overlords” sound a bit strong and ominous, but they certainly make one sit back and take note.

Image from New York Times

Four out of these big-five have a stronghold on my digital life. I began thinking about this and realized that like many other consumers, a large part of my tech spend and digital-time pass through these big-five. Much of my eCommerce spend is on Amazon.com and its global sites. To be fair, I begin showrooming for purchases and actively window-shop on other sites. In many cases, I eventually find myself back at Amazon – price and service does matter! For my work and after-work digital activities, I alternate between my Microsoft Surface and iPad. Most of my personal data is backed up on Google’s cloud and my personal blogs are hosted by big-G. MS Office is still my go-to choice: I have tried other SaaS/OpenSource Office solutions, but none can come close to the real deal. I alternate my search between google and bing. I am less active on Facebook; and prefer Microsoft’s LinkedIn for my daily Dopamine fix.

Of course, like many consumers, I continue to explore digital platforms going beyond the reach of these five, for more specialized needs. Taxact has me on the hook for my federal tax returns and eBay and craigslist for niche shopping. For my travel, I start with Google Flights but switch to individual airlines, hotels and Uber.

Does the ‘Tech Oligopoly’ extend into corporate IT too?


In the late nineties, Microsoft began expanding into the corporate IT segment with its desktop, server and database solutions. Its Azure platform continues to be number-1 or number-2 in Public cloud adoption, counting many Fortune-500 and global organizations as its clients. Amazon recently began announcing its AWS cloud earnings, which at $5 billion is more than the sales of many other tech companies. And Google also continues to slowly expand its public cloud footprint in the corporate world.

Apple has been focused on consumer digitization space, but with most large organizations adopting some form of BYOD, iPhones and iPads are now part of corporate uniforms. Facebook has primarily been focused on social networking among individuals, not corporates.

These Tech-Oligopolies have also been investing billions of dollars on Research and Development (R&D) in niche technology areas. Last year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai proclaimed a move from mobile first to an AI first world. The big-five continue to lead with innovations in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR, AR), and machine learning.

The innovative startups and entrepreneurs in this space are being closely watched and many are being incubated by the-big five. And the most promising startups are being actively pursued and bought-out by big-five to feed their voracious R&D demand.

What does this all mean to corporate IT?


  • Presence of the oligarchs can reduce a consumer’s negotiating power (Business 101): This is already visible in the public cloud space where CIOs, IS executives and their procurement teams are wringing their hands over the ‘rack rates’ being offered by the big-three – AWS, Azure and Google. To be fair, the public cloud offerings are starting to look so similar – with high SLAs, geo-location and availability of vendor tools and service provider ecosystem – that discounting from standard rates may not even make sense.  
  • Not all corporate IT applications are suitable to move to the public cloud. A share of corporate portfolio will continue to be hosted in dedicated data centers or considered suitable for VPC, IaaS or PaaS hosting. This is where much of the negotiations are now focused. The lowering cost of public cloud has certainly put pressure on service providers.
  • Emerging Technologies. Review of annual reports indicates that the big-five plan an annual spend of nearly $60 Billion on R&D, much of it on emerging technologies, techniques and tools in areas like AI, VR, Big-data and analytics, and blockchain. Some of the innovations at these companies continue in stealth mode, and much of it is being used to enhance their ‘backend’ capabilities. However, researchers at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others are approaching their R&D with academic rigor by periodically publishing their findings, and collaborating actively with open source communities. (link: research out of Google, Microsoft, Facebook) They are even pushing some of their AI and analytics tools as cloud based services, hoping early adapters will contribute to the alpha/beta-testing efforts.


Corporate IT leaders and their business counterparts are observing and learning from innovations coming from the big-five. Some CIOs and their teams are proactively engaging their business stakeholders driving corporate digitization initiatives by piloting AI, VR or blockchain based use-cases.

Bottomline: Corporate Enterprise Architects and design teams should actively seek opportunities to leverage the platforms and tools from big-five for low-cost pilots and proof of concepts.

[Reposted from my LinkedIn Pulse post]

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Are the reasons Donald Trump gave for withdrawing from Paris climate deal valid?

President Trump’s decision to yank America out of Paris climate deal shouldn’t surprise many of us who have heard his election-time rhetoric.



 Whether you believe in climate change (or not), a few things to keep in mind:
  • The deal was signed by President Obama using his ‘Executive powers’ and didn’t need the support of US lawmakers and Congress.
  • President Trump, using the same ‘Executive powers’ has reversed his predecessor’s decision.
  • Such reversals of executive actions happen all the time, although they may impact a few people and smaller issues like actions on a few immigration issues.
  • Such a sweeping reversal by a major economic power can unravel the Paris climate agreement


Is this going to be the end of the war on climate-change? If you believe – like Mr. Trump – that climate change is a hoax, this reversal is no-big deal. For the rest of us believers, and for future generations on mother-earth, it is really a big deal!
Will the pullout of Paris deal lead to more American jobs? The facts on this are clear as mud
Bottomline: There is an old adage in business consulting – if you can’t convince them, confuse them.
We are surely confused and scratching our heads; but make no mistake. Mr. Trump is an extremely shrewd man. This move is sure to polarize Americans further and confuse them on issues like climate change. More importantly, it will distract us from issues like the economy, healthcare, job creation, the investigation over Russia and the firing of FBI director. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

IT Career advice from Mohan

Here is a recent question from an online forum: What would you advise to a CSE undergraduate from India in the current scenario when Indian IT companies are laying off lots of employees?

My response follows -

Having spent the past couple of decades in the vibrant field of IT, my advice to CSE undergrads is simple: Be prepared to reskill yourself while staying grounded on the fundamentals.
Advise like “re-invent yourself” and “constant reskilling” is an oft repeated mantra, so much so that it starts to sound clichéd.
For instance, I started as a Windows developer (back when computing was ‘client server’) and switched to programming on mainframes (MVS, CICS, DB2 etc), learnt EAI, Integration and TIBCO and later moved to web-servers and middlewares before I morphed into an Enterprise Architect and continue to observe and learn about ERPs (SAP) Cloud platforms, SaaS customizations, integrations etc etc.
Did I have to ‘reinvent’ myself every-time? NO. I was merely adding to my experience.
If one has strong grounding in the fundamentals of computing, most of what one continues to learn is incremental and doesn’t necessarily involve a ‘reboot.’ For instance, the database-101 skills I used in DB2 are just as relevant as I review SQL and Big-data.


What this means to you is the same: try to get a very good grounding in the fundamentals of computing because this is what you will continue to build on during your career.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Enterprise Architecture Q&A : Is Enterprise Architecture still relevant in the Digital Age?

Here are a couple of questions that on EA from an online forum that I responded to 

Is Enterprise Architecture still relevant in the Digital Age?


Let us take the overly simplistic description of EA from Wikipedia “Enterprise architecture (EA) is "a well-defined practice for conducting enterprise analysis, design, planning, and implementation, using a holistic approach at all times, for the successful development and execution of strategy.”
This need for “conducting enterprise analysis, design, planning, and implementation, using a holistic approach” continues to be relevant in the digital age.
A strong EA based approach will guide the development of a strategy and roadmap for realization. More importantly, it will guide the execution of a digital strategy[1] too.



How can I be an expert in enterprise architecture?

Let me change the premise of the question before trying to answer it. One doesn’t become an “expert in enterprise architecture” just like one doesn’t become an “expert in medicine” or “expert in law” or “expert in business”
Building on one of these examples, one becomes proficient in law, and gains expertise in a branch, say patent-law or criminal-law. After a lot of hard work and working in the trenches, one gets recognized as a good lawyer and perhaps an expert in patent filings.
Most Enterprise Architects are generalists in many of the BIDAT EA domains, while some may also be recognized as experts in a domain or sub-domain. For instance, An EA might be recognized as an ‘expert’ in Networking and Infrastructure with a strong background in virtualization and cloud hosting, while his peer in the organization may bring in expertise in transforming HR processes. By complementing their skills, they enhance the practice of EA in their enterprise.
If the question was “How do I learn more about Enterprise Architecture?” I can point you to several books, references and online forums on the topic. (ref: “Enterprise Architecture References”)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Q&A: What is the reason behind the layoffs in IT firms in India?

This was a question that came to me from an online forum. Expanding on it, the person asked: Is it related to the H-1B visa, or some other reason? What impact will this have? My response follows


Years ago, I worked for Infosys and at that time, we had an "assigned curve" based appraisal system. I think it was called ‘CRR’ (Comparative Relative Ranking) where about
  • 5% a pool of employees would get an A+
  • Next 5% would get an A
  • Another 50% would get a B (or B+)
  • Another 20% would get a B-
  • Remaining 20% would get a C (or Performance Improvement Plan – PIP)
The company had about 30-40,000 employees. At any time, few hundred employees would be under the PIP.  Many who got a ‘C’ during a cycle, strived to work hard and improve and some folks banded into PIP for two cycles in a row were asked to ‘seek other opportunities.’

No drama. No news.


Of course, the Indian IT sector was booming and many employees graded -rightly or wrongly – into the bottom rungs would voluntarily find other opportunities and resign much before being told. This was done unceremoniously, without a lot of drama.

Image result for layoff free clipart
Fast forward to current day.
  • Large software service companies employ nearly 200,000 people each. The rate of voluntary attrition is at historically low percentages.
  • Assuming some sort of a bell-curve grading continues, and companies expect 5-10% of the bottom-rung people to ‘voluntarily’ leave, we are still looking at 10-20,000 people (each) leaving. 
  • 10-20,000 people from each of the big-5 or 6 players coming into the market is a lot of churn to handle, even at the best of times.
  • The global software services market has slowed down. Most of the large software-service firms are projecting slower yearly growth.
  • Thanks to Trump’s Executive actions, Indian firms are promising to hire tens of thousands of American workers.
  • One could include other factors like increased automation and productivity gains that are being touted by IT leaders.
  • Factor in the slowdown in American work-visa (H1) issuance, protectionism in Australia, England and elsewhere that lessens global mobility of people. (2017 is not likely to see as many Indian techies moving abroad)

The media is always looking for headlines. “'Indian IT firmsto layoff up to 2 lakh engineers annually for next 3 years” is exactly the kind of headline that is bound to go viral. Simple economics at work here (more views and readership = greater advert revenue).

The stories are focused ‘layoffs’ which are just one part of the equation. They are missing the big picture – a tectonic shift in the OffshoringIT Services !



A sampling of other headlines

Monday, May 1, 2017

Parking Wars: Residents in the land of Gandhi taking up Gandhigiri ?

People in major urban cities like Bengaluru are on the edge over parking wars. Residents with bikes and cars – which most do find it an excruciating experience driving around neighborhoods looking for parking. Most gated communities and apartments have limited real-estate and deny parking for visitors.

Walking around a side-street in Malleshwaram, a nice old subdivision in Bangalore, I came across the following warning posted ominously on a house’ garage door.






I was both amused and perplexed by the warning message. Parking, especially illegal parking is certainly a nuisance in many neighborhoods, and at times I have had to ‘request’ offenders not to park in front of the gate of our house. However, I wonder if people really willing to take up law into their own hands and be uncivil and rude to their neighbors? 

Citizens are perhaps taking cues from their elected leaders and representatives who are both goading and leading with poor examples. Just a couple of cases that made headlines recently

First, there was the news of Shiv Sena Member of Parliment, Ravindra Gaikwad beatingan Air India staffer with slippers. The intelligence and middle-class were left wondering about Mr Gaikwad’s audacity in refusing to apologize and “demanding” his right to continue to fly Air India. We were also left to wonder about the impotence of fellow parliamentarians and elected representatives who barely uttered a pip against their esteemed colleague.

Image result for Ravindra Gaikwad air India staffer


Just today there was an interesting news (link) of another Minister from Madhya Pradesh gifting bats to 700 brides “to fix drunk hubbie” 

A bride with the bat gifted by an MP minister. Facebook

After reading the article, I was left scratching my head over the message to the impressionable brides: expect your hubby to turn out to be a drunkard. So, what happens to the dreams and aspirations with which youngsters tie the knot; or for that matter the silly notion of love when an esteemed minister passes on this message? Speak of starting a new life on a wrong footing.

With such messages coming from representatives, it is not surprising to see the public including denizens of Bangalore taking up arms. Many are showing willingness to be "violent" to protect the land around their property against neighbors and fellow residents who dare to park their vehicles.  


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Q&A: Most Indians think that IT in US thrives only because of smart Indian techies in US. Truth is that in a project, plan is of US managers. Isn't it?

Here is an interesting question that came up in an online forum. Most Indians think that IT in US thrives only because of smart Indian techies in US. Truth is that in a project, plan is of US managers. Isn't it?


Fascinating question. As an Indian American who has worked in IT/IS across industries in over a dozen countries in three continents, I think I can try to answer this one. But before I respond, let us refer to a legend Sugar in the Milk: A Parsi Kitchen Story
“There are many legends of how the Parsis were allowed to settle in India. The priestly leaders were brought before the local ruler, Jadi or Jadhav Rana, who presented them with a vessel "brimful" of milk to signify that the surrounding lands could not possibly accommodate any more people. The Parsi head priest responded by slipping some sugar into the milk to signify how the strangers would enrich the local community without displacing them. They would dissolve into life like sugar dissolves in the milk, sweetening the society but not unsettling it.”

At the risk of oversimplifying American IT, here is my2cents:
IT/IS enabling corporate America - Corporate sector includes companies ranging from fortune 500 to small-businesses need IT systems and platforms.
  • Many companies in a wide range of industries - Insurance, Healthcare Telcom, Banking, Finance, brokerage etc etc - had large IT systems and platforms going back several decades. Many of these IT systems go back decades before Indian IT and offshoring took off.
  • Smaller businesses manage with homegrown systems, platforms and increasingly SaaS systems
IT/IS in American Government :
  • American governments- federal and state governments, government bodies, DOD, Department of Energy (science), NASA, research bodies etc spend billions on IT. Some of it sourced from vendors and system integrator and much of it developed and integrated in-house.
  • Indians and Indian IT has a tenuous link to this sector
IT/IS in Startups and Silicon Valley:
  • Indians are visible and leading startups in Silicon Valley, and in other tech belts. However, the talent pool in the sector is not Indian alone, but rather global in nature
  • Startups that have grown beyond unicorn into Global 200 firms, including Microsoft and Google have CEOs of Indian origin. Most of these are global companies drawing on a global talent pool. Indians alone can’t claim credit here.
IT/IS in other sectors: Story is similar to that of corporate and government sectors
I don’t wish to undermine the contribution of Indians to IT in America since I too have been a part of the journey. However, just like in the Parsi legend, it is hard for one to know the provenance of “IT in US” just by a cursory look.
Bottomline: Indians certainly have sweetened the milk but it is not Indians alone.

I authored the popular book “Offshoring IT Services” more than a decade ago.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Life lessons on relocating to India: Six lessons from a six year old

About a year ago, I was at the crossroads, wondering about work-life decision I had to take. My dad, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a while ago was starting to gradually slow down. My aging parents lived alone in Bangalore, and I got the dreaded phone call from my mother on the verge of breakdown herself, asking for help.

After a rushed trip to Bangalore to assess and assist – I arranged for a caregiver to help them at night – I began to reflect on the course of action to take. I was living the American dream thousands of miles away - a well-paying job with a multinational, a cozy house in the suburbs of Anytown, USA and our pesky six-year old enjoying the early years at his elementary school.

 If this were a business decision, a simple SWOT would indicate a rather uncomplicated way forward – delegate and outsource. There exists a mushrooming, albeit unorganized cottage sector in urban Indian cities catering to such demands of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) with aging parents. With some research, I could easily find a senior-care center or nursing home that would take-in my parents and provide oncology and other day-to-day care in return for an assured sum that I could remit in dollars.

Of course, this wasn’t a simple business-outsourcing decision to abdicate my responsibility, content to monitor Service Level Agreements (SLA) of an impersonal business entity. Also, I had to come to grips with the Indian values I had grown up with: wasn’t I thinking about my parents who nurtured me and made me the man who I am now? Interviews with management gurus and business leaders generally end with a stock question : if there was a chance to relive one decision, I would …. << spend more time with my family or xyz in my personal life etc >> Very rarely it was about a business dilemma. So, here was such a decision waiting to be taken.

One evening while walking around our subdivision with my little Vijay riding along in his bike – he had just graduated from training wheels – I wondered if I was overcomplicating things here. Shouldn’t we just be thinking of this like six-year-old Vijay would? Later that night I began firming up my thoughts with my wife, Suja:

  • Keep it simple – the decision weighing on Suja and me was seemingly complex. Do I outsource and delegate the responsibility of elderly-care while remotely monitoring and managing SLAs, or insource myself by relocating to Bangalore and take on the responsibility? Management Guru, Peter Drucker was quoted saying “For every problem there is a solution that is simple, neat—and wrong …. and every solution has an alternative.” In this case, alternatives in front of us include sponsoring a green card for my parents and having them relocate and live with us in the US. Over-thinking problem, solution and alternatives are a recipe for analysis-paralysis too. 
    • Think of a simple way forward is something we can learn from a six-year-old. Suja and I had moved and lived across three continents, and we were willing and able to change. 

  • Single minded determination – if you have seen a cranky child at a fairground, chances are she wants to go on “that” ride or wants that cotton-candy. Once our mind was made up, Suja and I decided to adopt that simple and single-minded focus. Working off a simple checklist, we began palling and acting on unwinding. 
    • There were times of self-doubt and questioning but this is where a child’s dogged persistence comes to play: no time or need for self-doubt. 

  • Tell it like you would to a six-year-old  - this is a cliché one often hears in the corporate world while trying to explain a seemingly complex idea or decision. This is easier said than done. However, after our mind was made up, Suja and I had a simple message for our friends and colleagues. Interestingly enough, I began testing this message with our six-year old, who instantly got it. He had already appraised his first-grade teacher of our impending move before Suja and I met her during the PTA.  
    • At work too, the message to my manager and HR was simple: I needed to relocate to care for elderly parents, and I was going to make it happen. Negotiations for time off with manager, HR, FMLA applications etc followed, but the message was simple, and to the point. 

  • Minimalize and focus – ever seen a six-year-old with a roomful of toys focus quickly on the one toy that is going to engage him? This thinking came really handy while planning and executing our relocation and move. 
    • Questions on the impact of relocation on my job and finances and other logistics that could be emotional began to simplify with a lens of minimalism. 

  • Don’t carry excess baggage – if you have ever traveled with little ones, they are sure to let you know what is important – it may be that Teddy, Doggie, blanket or favorite pyjamas or the mobile app on the tablet – All else is replaceable and redundant. 
    • Keeping this in mind, it was easy enough to decide which of the basic essentials and a few mementoes would be packed and shipped. Much of the furniture and odds-and ends accumulated over the years were posted on Facebook groups for friends and neighbors to pick, while the rest went to Goodwill. 

  • Focus on opportunities ahead – a six-year-old with a box-full of Lego blocks doesn’t dread the eclectic colors and shapes, but rather sees a house, car, plane or robot that he can build. Some call it making lemonade when life gives you a lemon, which we forget in our daily grind.
    • Moving to Bangalore has helped me reflect on work-life beyond meetings, projects and corporate transformations aspiring to save or make a few million for yet another corporate business unit. 

A Year that was !

Fastforward a year. I have come to appreciate how those diagnosed with terminal illnesses and their caregivers quickly learn to appreciate the glass half-full. Thanks to the “extended family” being around, my parents seem much more relaxed. Little Vijay, now Seven, gets to spend quality time with his grandparents and is learning a couple of Indian languages with his new school pals. As for Suja and me, we are learning to enjoy and re-live a bit of the contemporary Indian-dream; till the winds of change blow our way again.


ps: The most recent Trip 'back home' was on Lufthansa. Submitted for #MoreIndianThanYouThink

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tips for reconciling Architecture Roadmaps across an enterprise (Enterprise Architecture 101)

"Show me the roadmap for XYZ domain" is among the first questions a new CIO or Executive asks their Enterprise / Business or Domain Architects. Questions like these, and a review of existing roadmaps can lead to a more detailed, engaging conversation on the baseline and assumptions driving the target state architecture. This can also be an opportunity for Architects to demonstrate their knowledge of the underlying capabilities enabled by processes, platforms and systems. The implicit understanding is that the Architects have validated and reconciled the roadmap in question with other dependent artifacts across the enterprise.  

So, what are Architecture Roadmaps, and why do we need them?

The intent of Architecture roadmap is rather straightforward - to inform and address strategic questions with sufficient insights and assumptions that can guide business transformations. Architects draw on their analytical, data driven thinking along with the empirical skills, stakeholder engagement and the ability to visualize a story. This process, especially for complex landscapes can involve a lot of research, reviews and stakeholder engagements. There are dozens of different graphic templates and techniques and perspectives ranging from Transformation maps (t-Maps), Gantt-charts, portfolio views, workflow charts to other block diagrams. Architects may use a variety of such lego-blocks to define roadmaps.
As per TOGAF -
The Architecture Roadmap lists individual work packages that will realize the Target Architecture and lays them out on a timeline to show progression from the Baseline Architecture to the Target Architecture. The Architecture Roadmap highlights individual work packages' business value at each stage. Transition Architectures necessary to effectively realize the Target Architecture are identified as intermediate steps.
The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of roadmap definition are rather well understood by Enterprise Architects, and a lot of references and body of knowledge exist to guide the effort. However, Roadmaps for a domain, platform or business function in an organization do not exist in isolation. Such artifacts must be reviewed alongside other viewpoints across the functional, regional and Architecture (BIDAT) domains. The process of reconciling Architecture roadmaps across an organization (‘How’) however remains nebulous.

How do we reconcile roadmaps across enterprise domains?

A few years ago, I defined and operationalized the architecture governance process at my company, and helped drive the periodic Architecture roadmap review sessions. (Ref my post on ARB) During the initial reviews, we realized that we also had to address the challenge of reconciling roadmaps across domains. Like many large organizations, we had several functional and regional domains that coexist along with Business, Information, Data, Applications and Technology (BIDAT) areas.  
Architects responsible for their domains and functional areas were passionate about their viewpoints, but no two architects represented them with similar visuals. I had to get the extended team to agree on a few basics, including a common table of contents (TOC), guiding principles, structure to capture the requirements, assumptions, timelines and other building blocks. As a precursor to reconciliation, it was assumed that Architects had engaged their stakeholders and validated their assumptions, drivers, timelines and the proposed transformations. Here is a link to the Table of Contents (TOC) of EA roadmaps

We agreed to strip the ‘metadata’ in roadmaps from their visual representation. The data thus extracted into a common XLS based template helped the team focus on the facts and figures rather than the variety of visuals. For example, a Technology Architect had assumed that the global ERP platform would be upgraded to version 5.5 by the middle of 2018. This version of the ERP came with digital invoice workflow capabilities. With this information, Finance Domain architect could recommend invoice-digitization for her business processes in the 3rd quarter of 2018. A similar process of reconciliation continued across domains and platforms.
After the reconciliation of the facts and figures, the Architects updated their roadmaps with assumptions, drivers and timelines before proposing recommendations to their stakeholders and transformation program managers.
Here is slideshare with a few slides on the process of roadmap reconciliation

A few lessons learnt while rolling out the process:
  • Focus on the basics and stay grounded – Well defined roadmaps abstract the details while highlighting significant capabilities, However, while reviewing roadmaps across an organization, Architects should examine and synch up the details.
  • Plan for a continuum of reviews – Business domains evolve, strategies get updated, and new capabilities are periodically introduced in organizations. Therefore, the roadmaps will periodically become obsolete, and must be updated and reconciled.
  • Stakeholder engagement - Reconciling roadmaps at a large organization does not happen in isolation. One must engage Architects and stakeholders from across functional and business boundaries which may present logistical challenges. Engaging teams that are geographically dispersed will require consulting and change management skills.  
  • Consultative more than directive – A roadmap review should take into account organizational (human) dynamics and organizational constraints. The reviews and reconciliation should be consultative, although some aspects - like external vendor inputs or Technology Debt (link) - may have to be directive.
My views on the topic continue to evolve, and I look forward to hearing about experiences in your organization too. 

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