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AreYouaCIO CTO

Are you a CIO / CTO?

The future of the organization will belong to a very different kind of a CIO - One who will be responsible for the organization's well-being and progress rather than just being an enabler for business functions.

Information Technology has come a long way, since the early days of computerization where institutions, especially Banks and Financial Service companies embarked on a journey to "automate repetitive tasks", "improve accuracy of information", "connect Islands of Information" and “ensuring accurate MIS" etc. But things have changed over the years - the emergence of Internet and its maturity as a transaction channel, the adoption of mobile devices as a Point of Transaction, the popularity of Social Media are a few trends that we have witnessed, in fact we are at a point in history where going
forward "things" rather than humans will generate data. There has been a shift in the purpose and nature of Information Technology from being an enabler to being a Channel, Medium and in some cases Infrastructure for Business'. All these have changed the way people view Information Technology and the people who manage IT! (Pun intended).

Information Technology has come a long way, since the early days of computerization where institutions, especially Banks and Financial Service companies embarked on a journey to "automate repetitive tasks", "improve accuracy of information", "connect Islands of Information" and “ensuring accurate MIS" etc. But things have changed over the years - the emergence of Internet and its maturity as a transaction channel, the adoption of mobile devices as a Point of Transaction, the popularity of Social Media are a few trends that we have witnessed, in fact we are at a point in history where going
forward "things" rather than humans will generate data. There has been a shift in the purpose and nature of Information Technology from being an enabler to being a Channel, Medium and in some cases Infrastructure for Business'. All these have changed the way people view Information Technology and the people who manage IT! (Pun intended).

The roles of CIO's were better defined during the days of "Automation" and "Computerization". As the pace of technology reached a certain velocity where entire industries were rendered obsolete, the role of the CIO has assumed to be one that of a "Creator" - where management expects them to craft solutions to problems likely to occur in the future, deficiency in services likely to be experienced by customers in the long run, opportunities that might crop up in the future which need to be grabbed before others can grab them rather than manage an ailing infrastructure or a roster of Vendors. The keys to the CIO's cabin will belong to a very different kind of a person someone with an altogether different mind - Entrepreneurial, Technocrat and probably every
other good trait in between. These CIO's will be at the helm of Business Leadership while the others who just manage Vendors and request for fat budgets to maintain a legacy will find it uneasy in their careers and probably end up reporting to the organization's CFO.

As a CIO if you want to thrive in this emerging conceptual environment here are a few suggestions. A change of this magnitude for a CIO is rather daunting but one that will equip her for what lies in the future.

Develop the organization's body of knowledge.
Probably the single most important responsibility of a CIO is to establish a body of Knowledge that is authoritative and available. Any fellow CIO will probably tell you how over the years as computerization creeped in, the amount of documentation has grown exponentially. Though we have had all these at our disposal we never relied on them but went back to business stakeholders when we required information on any process or method. This usually creates a mild displeasure and occasionally a riff-raff between business stakeholder and IT. The way forward is to establish a centralized body of knowledge where business stakeholders contribute. Establishing a Body of Knowledge for your organization is very important and the rest of the suggestions that follow greatly depend on this. 
Choose a method that your organization is comfortable with. You could document them in process notes and diligently index them or take the extra step ahead and put these on the corporate website. You could also consider setting up a dedicated Business Process Re-engineering Group that will be a clearing house for all process knowledge including creation of master data on any application.

Develop and standardize semantics for enterprise integration.
In the case of any medium sized financial institution there would be at least a dozen application vendors. Each of these vendors would have different method of hand-off for data to other systems. The biggest challenge for a CIO is to establish common semantics for EDI between these applications. There are several competing standards and new standards are emerging every day. While some standards are legally enforced by governments there are others like inter application communication that is left to the CIO to decide. Establishing standardized semantics allows you to tell the vendors upfront what standards are to be adhered to and thereby avoid expensive customizations later during the implementation life-cycle.

Create an environment for Unified Change Management. 
During the course of business it is likely that new government regulations and/or newer ways of doing business will require changes to some of your applications (another reason why you need to establish a body of knowledge). Without a comprehensive change management strategy in place it is nearly  impossible to determine the impact and hence the cost of propagating the change across the organization's applications at most it is a guess work of a few individuals. Guess work always leads to incorrect estimation which then leads to wrong commitments of budget and delivery dates. Unified Change Management should be first applied for propagating changes to your Body of Knowledge.

Develop reusable assets for Project and Program management.
One of the perils of scheduling is allowing vendors to take it for granted that stakeholders will contribute 100% of their time to the development, implementation or re-engineering projects of the organization only to discover that this is not the case. The results are obvious in such cases - schedule and cost overruns. As a CIO establish reusable assets for vendors to estimate the size and effort of a project. Establish a Project scheduling template for the vendor to use. Doing so ensures that all vendors use a common platform and metrics and productivity figures are comparable across similar projects. 

Identify and measure Project and Program metrics. 
As a CIO you should know if you are getting a "Bang for your Buck". It is analogous to determining if you are getting the best mileage from a Car. The best way to do is to measure Productivity of your Programming, Implementation and Support staff i.e. what would they deliver in one person month of effort is a measure you should be looking at. Relying on theapplication Vendor to provide estimates usually result in a mitigated effort and schedule accompanied by a list of risks and the responsibilities of your Organization. It is easy to derive the productivity figures and the metrics from the estimate of effort and schedule. Once you have these figures choose the realistic one and not the most optimistic or pessimistic one. Productivity figures of the staff allow the CIO to examine which team member is contributing and who is not. Most importantly it allows CIO's to measure the burn rate vs the earn rate and determine with a certain degree of accuracy the delivery dates and the overall cost of the Project. Other metrics you could consider is Project Velocity and Earned Value.

Develop a strategy for continuous integration of Software Assets.
It is a usual practice of software teams to make a big bang release after months of development efforts. The problem with this approach is that they expect the stakeholders to drop whatever they are doing and focus on evaluating the deliveries vis-a-vis the requirements. The TAT for responding to the vendor is usually three days. This hardly suits projects of today's complexity, ideally projects should be started off on a small footing and components should be progressively added till all the functionality is deployed. As a CIO, you should create an environment where deliverables are progressively added to your repository so that they can be tested when the stakeholders make time for them. In combination with the body of knowledge and unified change management, you can develop a strategic environment for  continuous integration. This will give you the necessary control of readily available (at the click of button) software assets.

Develop a content management strategy.
Developing a body of knowledge or communicating to your customers and shareholders requires a robust content management strategy. As an organization you are likely to have different artefacts -presentations, images, product videos, infographics, advertisements, mailers, flyers, presentation templates, customer action shots. If you even jot down from memory you will have an overwhelming amount of content. These content should be easily available to stakeholders for use. Any obsolete content should be flagged as such, thus indicating that it should not be used. Every piece of information that is generated whether it’s a 160 character SMS sent to customers on each transaction or a lengthy cross sell letter is content and should be catalogued and available across all your stakeholders from call center till right up to the CEO.

Develop or invest in a rule repository and rule engine.
One of the best investments a CIO can make is in investing in a "Rule Repository" and "Rule Engine". While the repository stores the rules, the engine ensures that rules are applied diligently and uniformly to your business process without manual intervention. You are required to intervene only in case of violations, waivers or change requests which, ideally, should be rare.

Refactor your application architecture - one at a time. 
Computing Science has taken several strides since the first enterprise class application was deployed. A lot has changed in application architecture over the years. But Vendors still represent architectures as a series of rectangular boxes and arrows on a presentation slide. It is time to look at refactoring application and enterprise architectures keeping in mind newer technologies like Virtualization and Containerization, two architecture patterns that are taking the world by storm. Today it is possible to spin hardware with the configuration of your choice within a few minutes without having to call the sales desk of your vendor.

Co-ordinate with Corporate communications for Social Media Strategy.
Today a social media strategy is inevitable. However publishing requires the approval of corporate communications. Establishing a method for obtaining copy and images to having the information pushed out to social networks is something that you should focus on as a CIO in conjunction with marketing. Combined with a powerful Content Management Strategy this will be one of the best investments you would ever make. Every Social Media Strategy should obviously be combined with collecting metrics throw in "metrics collection" into a Social media Strategy and you have a killer combination of a channel that is likely to annihilate every other means of communication except the spoken word.

Eleven strategies to improve your role as a CIO.

1. Create a Media Wiki for your organization.
Install media wiki and ask stakeholders to contribute their thoughts on process and procedures on their very own pages. You can start with the requirements for an application entitlement system or the requirements for password validation.
(Additional tool to consider - Xuse)

2. Get two applications to talk to each other.
Pick two of your favorite applications. If they don't need to talk to each other move to the next application.
Then pick up a standard - There are plenty to choose from - message based, file based or Object based. Then pick up a relevant notation - CSV, XML, JSON.
Now establish a set of common semantics using Apache Camel  or JBOSS Fuse. Ask the vendors to establish communication between their application and the semantics layer.This will ensure that all messaging is centralized in a repository rather than being at the application end.

3. Visualize your business process.
Remember the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words? Its time you documented requirements the way your stakeholders understand i.e. pictorially or better still move some of your process to a BPM tools like Alfresco.

4. Identify candidates for Unified Change Management
Pickup your current development or implementation project. Ask stakeholders to log all the issues they face in a tool like Bugzilla (https://www.bugzilla.org/). Ask your development / implementation team to commit changes to the code in your code repository like GIT (https://git-scm.com/) or Apache SVN (https://subversion.apache.org/) by marking each commit with the Bugzilla id. At the end of the week or month identify how many change requests have been delivered to your stakeholders and their TAT.
Want to go a step further then look at DevOps tools like Ansible or Puppet  for Provisioning and Deployment.

5. Identify reusable assets.
Dig into the deep recesses of your laptop and identify assets that can be reused - it could be Forms, Templates etc. from a memorable project, training or conference. Ask your colleagues to do the same. Then, (you guessed it) host it on the media wiki you installed. 

6. Implement Continuous Integration in your future projects.
Identify a Project candidate for Continuous Integration and deploy CI tools Jenkins or Travis. Ask development team to write automated test cases and push code to repository at the end of the day. Run the CI jobs in the night. Watch productivity of your development teams soar.

7. Upgrade from Media Wiki.
Install one of the most popular Content Management Systems like either drupal or wordpress Move the content from your laptops to the CMS. Take it to stealth mode by implementing enterprise search with Apache Solr or Alfresco

8. Create a Rule Repository.
Install RedHat JBoss BRMS  or its open source pedigree - Drools. Identify an area that requires decision making based on a chain of "if then" and "else" statements. The media wiki should be of some help, move these to your Rule Engine. Then get applications to interface with the Rule Engine, the common semantics defined earlier in this exercise will be of help.

9. Manage your Social Media engagement.
Sign-up for HootSuite or TweetDeck. Schedule posts to be posted across social networks. Do this for a month. Then measure your team’s performance, audience sentiment around your brand. 

10. Dockerise your Corporate site 
Move your corporate website to Docker. You could also consider moving the Media Wiki, Drupal and everything else mentioned to separate containers on the same hardware.

11. Attend a training on Software Architecture. 
Older methods of architecture are slowing being rendered obsolete. Newer architectures like Containerization, Kubernates, REST, Twelve Factor Applications, Service Mesh and others  have emerged and the number of implementations are rapidly increasing. To harness the power of technology you should have an understanding of today's architectures. You can find some courses at http://www.codeops.tech/

 

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About

Sastra Technologies is a technology firm that serves new age Fintech companies, Small Finance Banks, payment Banks, Banks, Non-Banking Financial Companies and Financial Institutions. Our philosophy is to develop products that are cost effective so that our clients derive value using them. For the last 7 years we have done so by embracing cloud technologies and developing unique capabilities that allow us to offer a value proposition that is unmatched in the industry today.