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Transformation from CIO to a business head – Part I

After spending many years with a role of CIO, I got an opportunity to take on as a head of a new business. After running that business as a division of HCC for one and half year, around six months back we have spin it off as a separate company Highbar Technologies Ltd. This was one of the most exciting as well as the most challenging part of my career. It is my pleasure to share the experiences with you since we as a CIO community look forward to expanding our horizon into the business, which may happen in many different ways. It may not be possible to share the same in one go since the intent is not to bore you with a lengthy article. It's better to share in parts.

Drivers for the role-change

Intent here is not to discuss the drivers for HCC to start the new business in the area of Information technology. Intent however is to discuss the drivers as an individual CIO to get into the business role.

IT is a service function and hence it limits the CIO as an individual in terms of the role that he can play in the organization. In general, he is not likely to attract the value of the "revenue earner" of the organizations i.e. the business leaders. If an individual has the aspiration to reach those levels, then entry into business role is almost inevitable.

In this case, it was an entry into a completely different business that is not a core business of the group and one is required to take it up from ground-zero level. While that becomes an extremely high degree of challenge, it's also a kind of, once in a life-time opportunity and that became the key driver.

Team too was passing thru the similar frame of mind. They too felt that they have overgrown to live life just being a service provider and aspirations too demanded an entry into the business role. We all were at least partially aware of what we may be getting into; however we all were ready to throw ourselves out of the comfort zone for achieving our long-term dreams. The team gels so well together that they are not willing to pursue that dream by joining a different organization having IT as a business; however all wanted to stay together, stay with the group HCC and yet pursue our dreams. As a leader of this highly ambitious, capable and passionate team, I felt that I will be doing injustice to their abilities and the potential opportunity, if I don't take the lead to pursue the opportunity with HCC Group.

What one looses in the process?

It's thus clear that we all went into it to pursue our collective dreams and entered with at least some knowledge of what it means to throw ourselves out of the comfort zone. We all have read the famous book "Who moved my cheese" wherein the cheese disappears and the rat felt that it has disappeared suddenly although there were signals of the same happening that were getting ignored. In our case, we decided to move our cheese by ourselves, instead of someone else moving it!

Let me frankly admit that the reality was much tougher than what we had imagined! We had thought a lot about what we may end-up losing and what kind of challenges may lie ahead of us; however real challenges were much tougher!

As a CIO, we are a pampered a lot. The IT vendors keep moving around us and we sit in very authoritative chair and 'enjoy' the attention by vendor personnel. We are pampered into seminars, foreign tours, awards, recognition among the peer community etc. We kind of take this for granted. ALL this vanishes the day one enters into the business role! Over and above that, now the table turns. You are now supposed to do to your prospects what the vendors do to you, in terms of pampering. Believe me, it's a massive psychological change and takes months to digest. While our life is spent in making vendor personnel wait in our reception and conference rooms, now it's our turn to get into the same boat. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to wait for 3 -4 hours in the offices of your prospects and yet show the smile on your face when you meet them! At times, one travels 1.5 – 2 hours to attend a scheduled appointment; just to realize after reaching there that the appointment stands cancelled or postponed. One takes couple of team-members to friend's office with prior appointment; tells the team in advance how I am close to that 'friend'; and then experiences that friend too gives a cold shoulder in many ways. After a few months when one looks back one laughs at such instances and realizes that almighty was in a mood to 'induct' you into the business role!

This is even true within your own group. The moment you are a separate company providing the services on a billable basis, your own internal customers also start working as if you are any other external vendor. Good relations maintained by you while you were an internal services provider certainly help you; however whenever your invoice reaches them for payment, then it's at times easier to get collections from a 'truly external' customer compared to your own within group customers. Of course there are notable exceptions, but general phenomenon is what is mentioned above. Gartner advises that whenever IT wants to branch-out as a separate business, first they should start just be being a profit centre within your group and then only venture outside. The rationale behind their suggestion can be learnt only after going thru the experience grind. At the same time, one gets a sense of achievement when one gets the internal orders not by default but by proving your worth even by comparing with other service providers.

I always used to wonder how come business guys are much smarter. After playing that role for about two years now, I realized that the true understanding of human being is when one is in the business role and that to in a start-up phase of that business.

I think this much is enough for this article. Let's cover some other aspects of transformation in the part II.

Change Management / Transformation Management

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