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 !

Fast forward 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.

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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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Career question: What are the job prospects for an international student attending a college in the US given the current H-1B scene?

Here is a recent question from an online forum:

What are the job prospects for an international student attending a college in the US given the current H-1B scene? (I am an undergraduate with a major in Finance.)

Hello! I am an Indian student and have been admitted to Binghamton University’s School of Management. I’ll be taking loans to fund my education. I’ll need a solid job to pay off these loans upon graduation. Please tell me if I should pursue education in US with the current H1-B policies.

Let us lay out a few facts:
Back to your case. Let us look at the best case scenario: A person majoring in Finance from a Top-tier school (or Ivy League), with great academic credentials gets and internship at an investment bank or tier-1 consulting firm. The firm is so impressed by her/his credentials that it agrees to sponsor a visa for the person. Alternatively, the firm agrees to hire the person and relocates them to their home-country (and later moving them to US on L1 visa)
Only you can answer if your credentials qualify for the “best case” scenario. All the best!