CIOs supporting a hybrid mix of in-office and remote workers, and those who float between, need to implement new tools and strategies to get it right. But they will also need to change how they think about hybrid work, which analyst firm Forrester characterizes as “messy” even as it says 51% of organizations are moving in this direction.

Hybrid work is often thought of in terms of location, according to a November Gartner report. “If leaders focus on location alone, they’ll miss much larger benefits … including flexible experiences, intentional collaboration, and empathy-based management,’’ the report cautions.

Adopting a flexible, human-centric approach that puts people at the center of work will lead to better employee performance, lower fatigue, and intent to stay, according to the firm.

“Even if skeptical leaders are less concerned about fatigue and retention of talent in today’s tight economic climate, they care about performance,” says Graham Waller, a distinguished vice president analyst at Gartner. “Leaders too often are making future of work decisions based on instincts and feelings today. This can be a big mistake as the way we used to work won’t anymore.” 

Unfortunately, when it comes to supporting hybrid workforces and anticipating how organizations will conduct work in the future, CIOs will likely make a number of mistakes before they successfully facilitate the optimal workplace for their organizations in 2023 and beyond. Here are the most likely culprits.

Shortchanging your return-to-office strategy

Remote work caused a great deal of Zoom fatigue in 2022, driven by factors such as a lack of manager coaching on how to connect with teams remotely, says Rebecca Wettemann, principal at tech analyst firm Valoir Research, not to mention the exhaustion and burn out of channeling employees’ every interaction through a screen.

But as employees have come back to the office anticipating the benefits of in-person interactions, many have been disappointed, thanks to an organization not fully prepared for their arrival, she says, despite, in many cases, mandates to do so.

“The biggest tech fail was expecting folks to come back to the office without sophisticated scheduling for knowledge workers, who found themselves commuting to the office to find there was no one there they needed/wanted to see,’’ Wettemann says.

Moving forward, leaders need to include “more presence monitoring and prediction so when people do come to the office they can meet with teams in person,’’ she says. They should also incorporate “a more data-driven approach to scheduling that ensures hybrid work supports diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a more line-of-work focused collaboration strategy rather than a one-size-fits-all-job functions approach,’’ Wettemann says.

Kim Huffman, CIO of global travel expense management platform TripActions, learned firsthand that not having a framework for what the return to the office would look like meant employees did not get the benefits of the in-person experience.

“Things get messy … when you don’t have any structure around the return to work,’’ she says, adding that having no formal construct for returning to the office was a “lesson learned’’ for her and other TripActions company leaders, and since then, “we’ve organized ourselves a little bit better.”

Eroding the culture of trust and connectedness

Kim Huffman, CIO, TripActions


Productivity questions were one “bubbling point of tension” Huffman encountered as part of TripActions’ return-to-office experience. On the one hand, workers who came back to the office felt like they were not as productive, while the people leading teams felt the same about people working remotely, Huffman says.

“It has exacerbated this phenomenon of what really is driving productivity: Is it being in the office or being at home?’’ she says. “There are varying points of view that are being hotly contested across tech companies in the Bay Area right now, and it’s going to be a very interesting journey to watch over the course of the next two quarters.”

Because some people have come back to the office, Huffman believes there is still a stubborn perception that the ones who don’t come back are not as productive. IT leaders need to anticipate this tension and get ahead of it, to ensure not only that employees can remain productive wherever they are but that the organization’s culture of trust doesn’t deteriorate.

Here, the key is ensuring a culture of connectedness, Gartner contends. “IT leaders and employees … overwhelmingly feel that culture connectedness is primarily driven by day-to-day work interactions, and not from being in the office,” according to the firm, which found that 58% of IT workers strongly believe that meaningful connections are based on day-to-day interactions, not where they are located, with only 21% of IT workers agreeing that connectedness is driven by being in the office.

Failing to level the playing field

With hybrid meetings on the rise, there’s a delicate balance to maintain between how your organization serves participants attending meetings in person and those who attend remotely.

Jamie Smith, CIO, University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix CIO Jamie Smith, for example, has seen that hybrid meetings have “deepened the chasm” between people who have been coming into the office and those who have remained remote. “We found people on the remote end felt they were less than … because they didn’t have the option to come into Phoenix,’’ he says.

To counteract that, for every meeting with an in-person option, leaders will now do a second purely remote meeting “so everyone feels they’re on the same playing field,’’ he says.

The university uses Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, but plans to deepen its use of whiteboard technology with a tool called Miro that “feels like you’re collaborating in the same room,’’ Smith says.

Smith’s IT team is always looking for tools to help the university’s employees be asynchronous, he adds, given that they now have employees in more time zones. This means “just having to live with those realities where we didn’t before,’’ which has “forced us in this asynchronous mode,” he says.

Overlooking the innovation factor

And it’s not just the employee experience that can be hindered by poorly conceived hybrid strategies. Innovation efforts can also falter when collaboration experiences are uneven.

Bess Healy, CIO, Synchrony


Early on in hybrid work at consumer finance company Synchrony, CIO Bess Healy says she and other company leaders “quickly learned that hybrid innovation requires a different level of facilitation to succeed.”

Events that had previously been all day in person felt draining to team members on video, Healy says, “so we split them up over multiple days. When we competed in events like hackathons, team members missed the camaraderie of eating together at all hours of the night, so we replicated that with meal credits wherever they are.”

Company leaders also put a higher emphasis on “planned fun” by playing games in person and taking a “brain break during an ideation event.”

“Three years in, these changes have brought more people into our innovation teams than ever before, inspiring new ideas in metaverse, payments, customer experience, and more,’’ Healy says.

Not reimagining the office to fit the new hybrid paradigm

It’s important to give people an incentive to want to come back into an office and be together. One approach some organizations are taking is to design office spaces differently instead of just rows of desks or cubicles.

“One of our offices is new and we’re trying to build space where there’s room for conversations and groups to get together, not just all desks,’’ says Huffman. Leaders should make it a priority to reimagine office layouts this year, she says.

Being slow to experiment with future tech

Virtual reality is one technology that could have an impact on the future of work, and some IT leaders are considering the benefits.

Oculus headsets from Meta, for example, are being rolled out on a trial basis at the University of Phoenix, which has made the decision to go fully remote. This was a big mindset change for Smith, who felt pre-pandemic that “face-to-face collaboration was better and high fidelity for creativity purposes,’’ he says. “Then, when everything shifted to full-time remote, it went against my core beliefs, so personally, I had to lean in.”

Smith has come to realize that staying remote has not affected IT’s ability to collaborate and teams have been able to remain productive and launch “complex new products into the marketplace.” He says that working remotely has increased his ability to access tech talent outside of the Phoenix area.

But when people were working in a hybrid model early on, there would be multiple conversations going on, and “people on the remote end were getting the short end of the stick” because they “couldn’t get a word in edgewise,’’ Smith recalls.

So he hired his first audio engineer who revamped the majority of the university’s meeting technology. The Oculus headsets are being tested by some teams in their daily standup design sessions to see whether they will help the teams work better. The idea is to understand whether “tools get in the way or do they help?’’ he says. “A lot of [collaboration] technologies are still pretty early in terms of capabilities.”

Some initial feedback is that using a physical keyboard in the headset is problematic, but Smith says the experiment will continue in early 2023. “The expense isn’t that much but the question is, Is it a toy or something that fundamentally changes the [remote work] experience?”

Not bringing IT to bear on the office of the future

In addition to rethinking the office and having a sound return-to-office strategy, IT leaders would be wise to invest in technologies tailored to facilitate better hybrid work experiences.

Robin Hamerlinck Lane, SVP and CIO, Shure


At audio electronics company Shure, leaders have “spent a significant amount of time listening to our employees about hybrid work” and subsequently developed a plan called “WorkPlace Now” based on what they learned, says Robin Hamerlinck Lane, senior vice president and CIO.

Employees are free to choose a hybrid work model, and Hamerlinck Lane says company officials have made adjustments for the future workforce by providing different tools for them to adapt.

For example, “we moved to flexible seating in our global offices, so hybrid workers could still have a space to work when they came into the office. With the iOffice app, employees can reserve their workspaces in advance or when they arrive,’’ she says.

IT has developed a ticket system where employees who work remotely can request a remote kit that includes tools to be able to work effectively outside of the office and still remain connected to others, she says.

In 2023, IT will roll out Teams in more conference rooms. “We are especially interested in leveraging camera views and panels that provide equality in our meeting experiences between offsite and onsite associates,’’ Hamerlinck Lane says.

Hybrid work is here to stay, and this also requires looking at adding new layers of security, she says. IT is also thinking about the company’s telecom needs long-term. “Associates have migrated to mobile and/or IP-based telephony, and so we need to look at evolving the traditional desk phone,” she says.

Underestimating the power of low-code/no code

Among several IT initiatives for Shure in 2023 will be prioritizing citizen development with low-code/no-code, Hamerlinck Lane says. Another is building a platform on AWS to enable the company’s development teams as software is migrated to the cloud and to support IoT products. Shure is also investing in Office 365.

“Our entire data program is built to enable data and end-user tools to allow end-user empowerment.”

Kellogg’s Senior Vice President and Global CIO Lesley Salmon agrees, saying that as the demand for apps continues to grow, citizen development will become the norm to help people work more efficiently, and they will soon start using Microsoft’s low-code Power Platform.

“We’ll enable and encourage our organization to develop their own apps by building a community approach to learning and support,” she says.

And what better way to foster the future of work than to empower employees to improve work processes themselves.

Collaboration Software, IT Leadership, Staff Management

First Tech Credit Union is a San Jose-based financial institution with more than $16 billion in assets. As the eighth largest in the country, it primarily serves tech companies and their employees, but still has a lot of manual processes in place.

“We’re very early in our automation journey,” says Mike Upton, the organization’s digital and technology officer.

First Tech had been deploying some robotic process automation, trying to replace paper forms, as well as using for other automations. But these efforts all fell short.

The first problem was many of the bank’s processes cut across organizational and technological silos. Its existing point automation solutions were often unable to do the hand-offs.

For example, the process to send a domestic wire involved 105 different manual steps. “When we started mapping all that, we realized how many touch points and hand-offs there were.”

So First Tech began a new approach last summer using a low-code automation platform from Pegasystems. The vendor was selected specifically because of its cross-silo capabilities. But having the right technology in place wasn’t enough.

In some cases, even when the processes were well documented, one department might not fully understand how their workflow impacts another team, Upton says.

“The technology is very powerful, but the way people think is very challenging,” he says. “They’re comfortable with what they know. Having to re-imagine, re-engineer and re-think processes turned out to be one of our biggest challenges.”

In addition to the hand-offs, the credit union sometimes had to get everyone’s agreement on whether to automate at all.

“There were challenges getting the different business team partners to agree on where automation could be applied and where they had to have manual controls in place,” he says.

And there were many things that could’ve derailed the project that had less to do with technology and more with business processes, change management, and controls.

“Thankfully, we were able to avoid complete catastrophe,” he says. “But we’re seeing this more frequently as we take on other RPA projects.”

Eventually, the drawn-out wire process was cut to just five steps, saving hundreds of labor hours. The bank also reduced average call handling times by 40% and eliminated all data entry errors by auto-filling forms with relevant case data. That time saving now allows employees to focus on higher-value tasks, and help the credit union grow without needing to add additional staff in a tight labor market.

But First Tech is not unique. Issues like these are common to most companies embarking on automation journeys.

The who, what, and why of automation

According to a 2022 survey by Salesforce and Vanson Bourne, demand for automation by business teams has increased over the last two years, said 91% of respondents. And according to Gartner, the RPA software market grew 19.5% last year compared to 2021, and is expected to grow 17.5% in 2023. And by 2025, 70% of organizations will implement full automation in infrastructure and operations, an increase from 20% in 2021.

But automating a bad process can make things worse as it can magnify or exacerbate underlying issues, especially if humans are taken out of the loop.

In some cases, a process is automated because the technology is there, even if automation isn’t required. For example, if a process occurs very rarely, or there’s a great deal of variation in the process, then the cost of setting up the automation, teaching it to handle every use case, and training employees how to use it may be more expensive and time-consuming than the old manual approach.

And putting the entire decision into the hands of data scientists, who may be far removed from the actual work, can easily send a company down a dead end, or to end users who might not know how automation works, says James Matcher, intelligent automation leader at Ernst & Young.

That recently happened at a company he worked with, a retail store chain with locations around the US.

The retailer approached people on the front lines, and employees and managers working on the shop floors, for suggestions about manual processes that should be automated.

“They ended up with a long list of use cases along the lines of, ‘How do I upload this Excel spreadsheet,’” says Matcher.

But these were minor issues that didn’t scale across the whole operation.

“These were little tactical things that you couldn’t repeat,” he says. “So there was no definitive value coming out the back end of the exercise.”

So they spent six months going to individual stores getting ideas, wasting thousands of hours before deciding on a different approach of putting together an internal lean team, bringing in consultants, and taking a holistic, role-based approach to automation.

“We spent about four months during the persona-based mapping,” says Matcher. “That was quite a rigorous exercise to get right.” Then came two months for designing the technology, and the first use cases went into production three months later.

After all, customers have a wide range of demands and each needs different kinds of help—and different kinds of automation to serve their needs that might involve actions by different employees or different corporate systems.

Other tasks currently handled by employees could be replaced by self-service tools. For example, a customer looking to return a product could start the process on their smartphone app, eliminating the need for excessive manual data entry.

“We went through the process of matching customer personas and employee personas, and got a huge amount of optimizations,” he says.

One key factor to set up the right automations is to match them to the right business objective. For example, companies looking to automate in order to reduce headcount or labor costs might miss the main objective: to improve customer service and grow the business.

Matcher says he recently saw this happen with another client, a manufacturing company looking to reduce the number of customer service representatives with automation.

The business unit started the automation process last spring, then went back to the CFO for additional funding to continue the project in the summer because they were able to free up several thousand person-hours.

“And the CFO says, ‘I don’t see any adjustment in your headcount in the new budget,’” says Matcher. “‘Where’s all the money I spent?’”

In fact, the customer service reps used the time they saved to cross-sell and up-sell customers, and double their revenues.

“Ultimately, the gross margin level is more beneficial to the organization,” says Matcher. “But if we hadn’t shown the bridge between the two, they probably wouldn’t have continued the automations in that domain. They would have looked at the ROI and stopped the program.”

The when and where of automation

When it comes to automation, people become more important, not less. Forgetting this can be a big mistake.

“You have to put in a lot of conscious thought,” says Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital strategist at Genpact.

By automating simple, repetitive processes, enterprises still need human experts to handle complex and unusual cases, requiring upskilling. But more than that, automation can enable new business activities. For example, someone working in accounts receivable may spend less time generating routine invoices and more on solving customer problems. But they’re also in a position to recognize that a customer is spending more than usual and may be ready to buy additional products or services than they were before. That will require a different set of skills.

“The operating model has to change, and that’s a bigger question about business management,” says Srivastava. “We all know it’s easy to get software implemented, but it’s hard to get business outcomes achieved. There’s a big journey between the two and we mustn’t fool ourselves that we’ve achieved results just because we got the software.”

There are only so many productivity gains remaining to be made, he adds. But there’s unlimited growth potential in finding new business opportunities made possible through automation.

For example, companies can use automation to improve existing service offerings. “If you improve the stickiness, you improve the durable advantage and your competitive position,” says Srivastava. “And that gives you the ability to have a more sustainable business in the long run.”

Next, you can use the improved relationships with customers to expand products and services or create new ones, and to cross-sell customers.

“Then, you’ve expanded your revenues,” he says.

In addition to that, there are also other downsides to removing humans from the loop prematurely.

Many models, for instance, require human supervision and training to fine tune and improve them, says Craig Le Clair, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research, Inc., and author of a recent report about the perils of automation.

In December, for example, Hertz agreed to pay $168 million to settle disputes related to false theft reports. Customers would return a car late, Hertz’ automated systems would report the car stolen, and the next person who rents that car would be arrested for vehicle theft.

There were more than 360 legal claims filed against Hertz by customers related to such false arrests. In one case, according to law firm Pollock Cohen LLP, a NASA employee was pulled over, surrounded by police with guns drawn, and arrested in front of co-workers.

“Here’s an area where they removed humans in the loop prematurely,” says Le Clair.

Another example of too much automation was Zillow’s plan to value homes with AI and make purchase offers they called “Zestimates.” When the offers came in too high because, say, there were undisclosed problems with leaky basements, human sellers would jump on it, and Zillow wound up with too many bad bets. When the AI erred the other way and offered payments that were too low, buyers would naturally go elsewhere to sell their house.

“If you had a crack in your foundation, the algorithm wasn’t going to pick up on that,” says Le Clair. “You certainly can solve a lot of problems by keeping humans in the loop.”

So companies can have too much confidence in data and algorithms, he says. Just look at the online chatbots without human backups.

“You don’t have an easy escalation,” he says. And when there are humans online to take over when problems arise, the systems often lose context of the conversation and the customer has to start over with the agent. “So we don’t do human well, and that’s a critical element as we move forward.”

In fields like medicine and finance, there are regulatory restrictions to automation, says John Carey, MD in the technology practice at consulting firm AArete.

“There will be a high watermark for some automation because the legal framework needs to evolve,” he says.

But even in industries without heavy regulations and compliance requirements, companies should keep an eye on ethics and standards when it comes to rolling out automation, especially when new technologies like OpenAI’s ChatGPT are making AI tools dramatically more intelligent and capable. “These smart tools are fantastic,” says Carey. “But the challenge for us is to be aware that they are double-edged swords. We have to figure out how to use and leverage them in ways that are legitimate, and build solutions that are ethical for clients and end users.”

Data Center Automation, IT Leadership

When asked about technology purchase regrets, veteran tech exec Sanjay Macwan digs deep for a classic hyped technology that has yet to pan out: smart glasses.

Nearly a decade ago, as the technology was hitting the market, Macwan and his executive colleagues were “hugely interested in leveraging the technology,” he says. So they took a leap, spending on both hardware and software products in their bid to develop augmented reality experiences. But the venture didn’t pan out.

“The technology was not mature enough at the same time the business model — how to make money making augmented reality content — wasn’t mature enough. And we had to retreat,” says Macwan, currently CIO and CISO of Vonage, adding that the experience helped him refine a four-point framework he now uses when buying technology.

Before investing, Macwan, his IT team, and other stakeholders ask four questions:

Can they articulate the capabilities they want from the technology and ensure the technology can deliver them?Do they have the necessary skills to implement the technology?Can they successfully operationalize the investment?Are there metrics to gauge whether anticipated ROI is being realized?

Macwan approves a purchase only when he and his teams can answer yes to those questions with a high degree of confidence. The framework, he adds, helps ensure all the pieces needed for success are in place before inking a deal.

He acknowledges that had he implemented this approach a decade ago, he would have recognized that the investment in the smart glasses and AR technology wasn’t a good move.

CIOs seeking to avoid similar regrets going forward would benefit from a similar approach to IT purchasing, tech leaders and industry experts say.

Tech purchase regret on the rise

Research shows that many organizations still struggle to make good IT purchases. In a recent survey, Gartner found that 56% of organizations have a high degree of “purchase regret” when it comes to their largest tech-related purchase in the prior two years. Gartner categorized a purchase as “high regret” when respondents agreed that the purchased offering is failing or failed to meet expectations and that they considered offerings that were much more ambitious than what they decided on.

The research, which was based on 1,120 respondents at the manager level and higher in North America, Western Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, determined, however, that the technology itself wasn’t the issue, says Hank Barnes, a distinguished vice president analyst and a research chief focused on enterprise buying behavior at Gartner. Rather, it’s the buying process.

“It’s much more around the decision practices,” Barnes adds.

That, though, can be fixed — as Macwan shows. There are indeed steps that CIOs can take to strengthen the buying process to limit the chances of ending up with a purchase the organization regrets. Here are five such moves.

Provide more guidance to non-IT tech buyers

Gartner’s research shows that an organization’s level of regret varies based on the processes it uses to make tech-buying decisions, as well as who and how many stakeholders are involved.

For example, the research shows that 67% of people involved in technology-buying decisions are not in IT and that non-IT buyers are more likely to regret a tech purchase when CIOs aren’t the ones making the final decision, as organizations report regret only 38% of the time when the CIO is final decision-maker compared to the overall rate of 56%.

Gartner also found that non-IT buyers are more likely to scale back their plans, which also leads to higher levels of regret.

And with tech spending on average split evenly between IT and non-IT departments, such as marketing and finance, according to’s 2022 State of the CIO survey, there is a rising risk of purchase regret at most organizations these days.

But Barnes sees an opportunity for CIOs to turn this around by offering more specific and formalized guidance on tech spend they don’t control — for example, by working with non-IT decision makers on how to scope out their planned purchase, vet vendors, review case studies, and plan for implementation.

“As buying gets distributed, CIOs and their teams have to help others recognize what they need to do to make a purchase decision,” Barnes adds. “CIOs can help [non-IT buyers] look at the integration impact, operational impact, security, and how to get those functional groups involved to help. CIOs can coach, orchestrate, enable these other groups.”

Take a strategic approach to engaging vendors

Gartner’s research also shows that sound vendor management practices can greatly impact purchase outcomes. For example, while it’s natural to take in information from vendors during the buying process, no-regret buyers take a more strategic — and selective — approach to information-gathering, Barnes says, adding that they aren’t doing deep dives with all the vendors, a move that can cause confusion, information anxiety, and the fear that they could be missing something in the deluge of details.

“Buyers today are dealing with too many choices, and it’s too many good choices,” Barnes says. “So smart buyers study; they go in-depth with vendors; then they pick a lead and go deeper.”

Macwan takes a similar approach, saying he challenges vendors to ensure they can deliver on the capabilities his company needs. “Then I’ll take the top vendors and ask their viewpoints on how to operationalize [their products] within my shop. And I’ll ask how they’d measure our success using their products. We have internal metrics, but I also want to hear from them on how best to measure. They should have a proof point to share,” he says.

If those questions sound familiar, Macwan’s approach to vendor engagement shows the advantage of being intentional about gathering the targeted information you want as part of your IT purchase assessment framework.

Buyer beware: Know what you’re getting — including hidden costs

Executives must keep in mind the dictum “caveat emptor,” or “let the buyer beware.”

More specifically, CIOs — whether purchasing technology on their own or working with colleagues — need to thoroughly understand what they’re buying: its capabilities, its integration and support requirements, its shortcomings, and so on, says Michael Spires, principal and Technology Transformation Practice lead at The Hackett Group, a consulting firm.

It sounds basic, Spires admits, but many don’t do thorough enough reviews.

“Yes, there are people who can help you and systems integrators you can hire, but if you haven’t worked with a technology before, you have blind spots. You might not realize how hard it would be to drive adoption, or change from one set of services to another, or how easy or not it is to configure, or whether there’s a standard way to do it, or if it will be too rigid to meet your needs,” he says.

Spires says organizations also often fail to perform a thorough accounting of costs related to tech purchases, so they don’t have accurate total-cost-of-ownership figures. That’s not surprising, Spires adds, given how easy it often is to be distracted by the promises a new technology investment offers.

“The benefits are sold upfront,” he says, “and the challenges are minimized or hidden. But those challenges can lead to cost surprises or those challenges for some organizations can be insurmountable, both of which leads to regrets.”

Assemble the right purchasing team

The players on your purchasing team also have a profound effect on investment outcomes, according to Gartner’s research, as buyers with no regrets were shown to have more diverse buying teams with more functional groups involved.

This finding, however, doesn’t suggest that more people in the process is the answer, Barnes says. In fact, too many can be detrimental. Rather, the key is to create a collaborative process that ensures just the right staffers with the necessary expertise are performing a more thorough assessment of possible purchases so that questions, issues, and needs are addressed in advance, he says.

Organizations that don’t assemble that expertise during the selection process often see delays as they hit requirements (such as security reviews) that they didn’t know in advance they needed to address, Barnes says. More problematic, those organizations are also more likely to realize after the buy that they missed issues that either can’t be addressed or can’t be circumvented easily, leading to a higher likelihood of buyer’s remorse, he says.

Sunil Kanchi, CIO at UST, notes that CIOs should think broadly about who may have valuable insights that could impact buying decisions when assembling their purchasing teams.

For example, Kanchi is working with his firm’s CHRO, in addition to other executives, to understand the company’s projected staffing needs to ensure new enterprise systems will work not just in the short term but can adequately scale as the workforce grows.

Be ready to pivot and move fast

When it comes to technology purchases, another regret can be not moving fast enough. Merim Becirovic, managing director of global IT and enterprise architecture at Accenture, says his clients often wonder whether they’re falling behind.

“With the level of technology maturity today, it’s a lot easier to make good decisions and not regret them. But what I do hear are questions around how to get things done faster,” he says. “We’re getting more capabilities all the time, but it’s all moving so quickly that it’s getting harder to keep up.”

A lag can mean missed opportunities, Becirovic says, which can produce a should-have-done-better reproach. “It’s ‘I wish I had known, I wish I had done,’” he adds.

Becirovic advises CIOs on how to avoid such scenarios, saying they should make technology decisions based on what will add value; shift to the public cloud to create the agility needed to keep pace with and benefit from the quickening pace of IT innovation; and update IT governance practices tailored to overseeing a cloud environment with its consumption-based fees.

“So you can fail fast through proof of concepts, so you’re not committing and finding out a year later that it’s not going to work. It’s much easier today in a cloud world to try things fast, to try things quicker; there’s no better time to do that,” he says.

His own company is doing just that. Becirovic points to ongoing tests around artificial intelligence capabilities that aren’t quite ready for prime time. “We’re trying a lot of different things and throwing them out fast or putting them on the shelf and saying we’ll come back in six or nine months when we see a little bit more capability being delivered,” he explains.

Creating the environment to take that approach, Becirovic says, helps head off both bad purchases and missed opportunities.

Budgeting, IT Leadership, IT Strategy, Vendor Management

Enterprise technology leaders are actively partnering with startups to help make their organizations more innovative and agile. Co-creating with startups can help kickstart innovation, provide CIOs with access to hard-to-find skills in emerging technologies, and round out digital transformational strategies. Their unique focus and approaches to innovation can make startups a highly advantageous partner in delivering business value in ways traditional vendors can’t offer.

“Startups often build new products and services using less cost. By working closely with them, IT leaders can become more dynamic, proactive, self-determining, self-regulated, flexible, strong, robust, and resilient,” says Dr Suresh A Shan, a technology consultant with Mumbai-based rural non-banking financial company Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services. Prior to working as a consultant with the company, Shan served as its head of digital innovation for over a decade.

But IT leaders must do more than simply embrace the innovation edge startups can offer; they must also ensure business continuity and sound operations. The rush to partner with startups can result in relationships that are not aligned to both parties’ interests, leading to significant business-technology risks for a CIO.

Here are some common traps IT leaders fall into when partnering with startups and how to steer clear of them.

Selecting startups based on technology alone

Identifying the right startup to partner with can be challenging. There are so many startups vying for IT leaders’ attention that it can be difficult to filter through the clutter. In the Indian market alone, startups have increased 90-fold over the past five years, from 726 in FY 2016-17 to 65,861 in FY 2021-22, according to Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal. The US startup market is also booming, with more than 70,000 active startups. Partnering with startups is an option for CIOs across the globe.

With startups proliferating across IT services, finance technology, technology hardware, enterprise software, and artificial intelligence, among other domains, knowing where to focus your search for an innovation partner can be overwhelming.

According to Sushant Rabra, partner for management consulting at KPMG, “A good multistage diligence process involving the startup’s founders, customers, platform, among others, is a must while shortlisting a startup. Enterprises organize hackathons to select startups based on a technical solution. While such initiatives help in evaluating the maturity of the platform, they fall short on other areas. In the absence of a multistage due diligence process, an enterprise could face third-party risks. There could be cases of IP infringement or pending claims against a startup, which can come upon an enterprise also as it uses the same IP. Similarly, digital data laws are stringent; if an enterprise partners with a startup that isn’t compliant, it too could be liable for penalty.”

This diligence doesn’t end at selection, Rabra adds.

“Even after a project has been awarded to a startup after all the checks, the due diligence process should continue in parallel,” he says. “There have been instances of startup founders and employees facing legal cases and regulatory actions. An enterprise can run into reputational and association risk if it partners with such a startup.”

Overlooking the potential volatility in startup partnerships

Startups can also introduce more volatility into your partnership portfolio. For example, a startup could function smoothly for one or two years before folding up, owing to various reasons. The founders could pivot to a new business model or new investors could come in with a different focus for the company. Also, the startup landscape is extremely competitive and when one company becomes successful in a particular area, lots of other players come in. In such a situation, if the startup doesn’t acquire customers aggressively, there could be viability issues. Any of these scenarios could result in a CIO losing capex and risking business continuity.

To hedge against such risks, CIOs should maximize their organization’s brand power to their advantage. “Startups need big logos on their resumes, but it is risky for any IT leader to engage with them as they are not known in the market and don’t carry impressive credentials. The best way, which serves well for both parties, would be to work with startups on an evaluation basis without any commercial agreement,” says Mayank Bedi, assistant executive director of IT at Dalmia Bharat Group, an Indian conglomerate with interests in cement, sugar, and power.

Recalling his engagement with a startup when he was led IT at agriculture equipment manufacturer VST Tillers Tractors, Bedi says, “We got the startup to work on attendance automation and visitor management. There was nothing to lose as we were not commercially liable to the startup and even if it left midway, there would be no impact on business as these were non-business-critical projects. Meanwhile, the startup had to prove itself else it would lose a big brand like VST Tillers Tractors. It worked hard and delivered the project.”

Once the startup passes the evaluation process, IT leaders should still take measures to guard against assuming too much continuity risk, he says.

“For enhancements and improvements to the solution, a CIO can then pay the startup based on mutual understanding. However, it will still be prudent to hold 10% to 15% of the payment lest the startup fails to deliver the complex change requirement. Also, IT leaders should have access to the source code so that they can deploy the project through another competent partner,” Bedi says.

Taking startup talent for granted

Enterprise technology leaders expect complete and proper flow, planning, and execution of a project. “Often startups make tall claims to bag an enterprise account. They showcase their revenue, customer references, and large teams. However, the real picture emerges only once the work begins,” says Bedi.

And that’s where hidden talent factors can play an outsize role when partnering with lean startups.

“Startups are often dependent on a few star performers who could be in sales or technology. If these few individuals leave, then there is a talent risk for the startup, which could impact its operations,” says Rabra.

For Bedi, it came as a rude shock when he found out a startup he was working with on a project didn’t have an internal development team and instead relied on a third party for its deliverables. “We had partnered with a startup on a customer onboarding project. A delay of 15 to 20 days is acceptable but alarm bells ring when there is a significant overrun of timelines. In our case, there was a delay of more than two months,” says Bedi. “Not only a lack of bandwidth but also the brief that the startup receives from the enterprise and passes to the third party gets lost in translation. It doesn’t help that the startup didn’t read the detailed business requirements document.”

Unfortunately, it’s tough to cut this risk altogether, Bed says. “There are few IT leaders who verify the credentials of a startup to the extent of asking the CVs of their team members. Even if some do so, some startups resort to ‘body shopping,’” he says, referring to the practice of recruiting workers to contract their services out on a tactical short- to mid-term basis.

So, what’s the way out? The best approach is to open a clear line of communication with the startup and ensure transparency. “In my case, I asked the startup what the issue was holding up the project. Once I understood the problem, I got the startup, its extended arm, and my internal team to all come to the table and discuss the project and means to complete it on time. This way one can overcome the scope creep, disintegrated approach, and delayed timelines,” says Bedi.

Assuming cybersecurity

One of the biggest risks in partnering with any organization stems from cybersecurity. More so partnering with startups, which are becoming top targets for organized crime as they are perceived as lacking robust defenses against hackers. In a connected world, this could put their clients at risk. 

According to the State of Startup Security 2022 report brought out by Vanta, only 27% of startups have a dedicated security team or person, and 75% of respondents thought they should improve their security. The study included over 500 technology leaders from startups.

“While there is lot of progress happening around cybersecurity, there is no end to it. At the end of the day, it is all about striking a balance between risk and control. For a large enterprise in a regulated industry, such as a bank, the risk appetite is very low, while a startup has a moderate risk appetite as it prioritizes nimbleness and innovation. So, it is up to CIOs to see whether their enterprises’ risk appetite matches with that of the startup they want to partner,” Rabra says.

“To ensure security, most CIOs adopt a compartmentalized approach wherein the startup works in one compartment and the other business-critical infrastructure is in another compartment and nobody is allowed to touch this core. This way, even if a cyberattack does happen, there is minimum damage to the enterprise,” he says.

Shortchanging cultural challenges

This trap has more to do with the enterprise than the startup. Enterprises culture can be tough to change. And when introducing a startup approach or mentality into the equation, projects or transformations can easily be derailed by cultures resistant to change. 

“For an organization that has been around for more than two decades, accepting something coming from a startup is not easy. People in large organizations, based at the last mile, are resistant to change. Then there is a difference in the working styles. A large enterprise moves at its own pace while a startup works nimbly,” says Shan, who has worked extensively with startups in rural India.

Here, enterprise expectations can also be a problem, Shan says.

“When it comes to the levels of customization in a project, enterprises have unrealistic expectations from their startups. For instance, in a multilingual project it is tough to bring more than 60% language clarity for any partner. However, I have seen corporates flexing their muscles and pushing startups to get it to 90%, which is next to impossible and leads to friction. Some corporates even threaten startups of a takeover,” he says.

To promote acceptability of new technology in the enterprise, Shan leverage live use cases. “We showcase case studies on how technology can enable work more efficiently. We also incentivize users, by giving them gifts, to adopt new technology,” he says.

“Enterprises should have a clear idea about its process, policy, procedures, and the purpose of the outsourcing to the startup, supported by documentation, people and processes. The clarity of dos and don’ts from the corporate’s side gives more strength to the startup to know, build, plan, and execute the project with full confidence,” Shan adds.

Innovation, Outsourcing, Startups

In spite of long-term investments in such disciplines as agile, lean, and DevOps, many teams still encounter significant product challenges. In fact, one survey found teams in 92% of organizations are struggling with delivery inefficiency and a lack of visibility into the product lifecycle.[1] To take the next step in their evolutions, many teams are pursuing Value Stream Management (VSM). Through VSM, teams can establish the capabilities needed to better focus on customer value and optimize their ability to deliver that value.

While the benefits can be significant, there are a number of pitfalls that teams can encounter in their move to harness VSM. These obstacles can stymie progress, and erode the potential rewards that can be realized from a VSM initiative. In this post, I’ll take a look at four common pitfalls we see teams encounter, and provide some insights for avoiding these problems.

Pitfall #1: Missing the value

Very often, we see teams establish value streams that are doomed from inception. Why? Because they’re not centered on the right definition of value.

Too often, teams start with an incomplete or erroneous definition of value. For example, it is common to confuse new application capabilities with value. However, it may be that the features identified aren’t really wanted by customers. They may prefer fewer features, or even an experience in which their needs are addressed seamlessly, so they don’t even have to use the app. The key is to ensure you understand who the customer is and how they define value.

In defining value, teams need to identify the tangible, concrete outcomes that customers can realize. (It is important to note in this context, customers can be employees within the enterprise, as well as external audiences, such as customers and partners.) Benefits can include financial gains, such as improved sales or heightened profitability; enhanced or streamlined capabilities for meeting compliance and regulatory mandates; and improved competitive differentiation. When it comes to crystalizing and pursuing value, objectives and key results (OKRs) can be indispensable. OKRs can help teams gain improved visibility and alignment around value and the outcomes that need to be achieved.

Pitfall #2: Misidentifying value streams

Once teams have established a solid definition of value, it’s critical to gain a holistic perspective on all the people and teams that are needed to deliver that value. Too often, teams are too narrow in their value stream definitions.

Generally, value streams must include teams upstream from product and development, such as marketing and sales, as well as downstream, including support and professional services. The key here is that all value streams are built with customers at the center.



Pitfall #3: Focusing on the wrong metrics

While it’s a saying you hear a lot, it is absolutely true: what gets measured gets managed. That’s why it’s so critical to establish effective measurements. In order to do so, focus on these principles:

Prioritize customer value to ensure you’re investing in the right activities.Connect value to execution to ensure you’re building the right things.Align the execution of teams in order to ensure things are built right.

It is important to recognize that data is a foundational element to getting all these efforts right.

It is vital that this data is a natural outcome of value streams — not a separate initiative. Too often, teams spend massive amounts of money and time in aggregating data from disparate resources, and manually cobbling together data in spreadsheets and slides. Further, these manual efforts mean different teams end up looking at different data and findings are out of date. By contrast, when data is generated as a natural output of ongoing work, everyone can be working from current data, and even more importantly, everyone will be working from the same data. This is essential in getting all VSM participants and stakeholders on the same page.

Pitfall #4: Missing the big picture

Often, teams start with too narrow of a scope for their value streams. In reality, these narrow efforts are typically really single-process, business process management (BPM) endeavors. By contrast, value streams represent an end-to-end system for the flow of value, from initial concepts through to the customer’s realization of value. While BPM can be considered a tactical improvement plan, VSM is a strategic improvement plan. Value streams need to be high-level, but defined in such a way that they have metrics that can be associated with them so progress can be objectively monitored.

Tips for navigating the four pitfalls

 Put your clients at the heart of your value streams and strategize around demonstrable and measurable business outcomes.

Value streams are often larger than we think. Have you remembered to include sales, HR, marketing, legal, customer service and professional services in your value stream?

Measure what matters and forget about the rest. We could spend our days elbow deep in measuring the stuff that just doesn’t help move the needle.

 Learn More

To learn more about these pitfalls, and get in-depth insights for architecting an optimized VSM approach in your organization, be sure to check out our webinar, “Four Pitfalls of Value Stream Management and How to Avoid Them.”

[1] Dimensional Research, sponsored by Broadcom, “Value Streams are Accelerating Digital Transformation: A Global Survey of Executives and IT Leaders,” October 2021

Devops, Software Development

Not every IT project can be completed end-to-end with in-house talent. For CIOs who lack the full-time technical resources needed for deploying a solution, such as an ERP or a CRM system, often for the first time in their organizations, an implementation partner can play a key role in the project’s success.

Implementation partners offer CIOs broad experience and expertise in deploying solutions at a range of companies. The learnings thus accrued for partners can be leveraged by CIOs for their own implementations to avoid common mistakes and save a lot of time and effort.

Moreover, implementation partners provide the all-important bandwidth needed for a successful deployment of standard applications, allowing IT leaders to focus on more critical areas of the business.

As Naresh Pathak, CIO at Gurgaon, India-based civil construction company GR Infraprojects Limited, says, “I have 15 members in my SAP team but majority of them have functional rather than technical roles. Therefore, the in-house team can make only small tweaks in the workflow. For any major change, we must seek external help from a partner. Also, it is increasingly becoming tough to retain technical talent, more so after the pandemic. If crucial resources leave in the middle of a project, filling up the position takes time as the recruitment process is long. An implementation partner provides us dedicated resources to ensure our projects continue seamlessly.”

Implementation partners strive to deliver on time as their payments are linked to the delivery of the project. Also, the partners help in documentation of the project and in retaining and transferring the knowledge within the organization — attributes that are crucial for the overall long-term success of any technology project.

But not all implementation partnerships go smoothly or end up being successful. Several issues can crop up while engaging with a partner, and it is important to identify these pitfalls lest the projects fall short on expectations or even fail miserably. Here are some strategies recommended by senior IT leaders that could help prevent you from getting burned by your implementation partners.

Complement your partner with a purpose-built team

San Francisco-based Ashish Agarwal, senior director of product management, CX, and strategic programs at ATM manufacturer Diebold Nixdorf, is well-versed in the shortcomings of implementation partnerships.

“One of the most significant challenges that companies face with implementation partners is their lack of understanding of client’s business and strategic objectives,” he says.

“I have experienced similar situations across industries that I have worked with, whether it was implementing enterprise-wide analytics at a health insurance company or automation of end-to-end onboard catering process at an airline. The technology implementation partners usually talk about technologies and toolsets but depend deeply on the customer for knowledge around their business operations,” says Agarwal, who previously worked as head of technology at IndiGo Airlines and Apollo Munich Health Insurance.

Sudip Mazumder, head-digital at Larsen & Toubro, an Indian multinational engaged in manufacturing and engineering procurement construction (EPC) projects, says due to the partners’ lack of understanding “the business processes, nuances, exceptions, mandatory items, workflow, and state models, they are unable to provide a robust business function blueprint. Instead of customizing a solution based on an organization’s specific business and technology environment, the partner implements it in a straightjacketed manner. The approach is bolt-on when it should be built-in.”

In such cases, implementation partners can be prone to poor design practices, he says, especially when it comes to modular, scalable, and extensible systems.

“In many cases I see that designers are not even starting with an ERD [entity relationship diagram], which clearly demonstrate what kinds of relationship or data structure, or usage of global variables are required. As a result, design becomes inflexible, resulting in cost and time overrun,” he says.

Agarwal says the key then is to complement your implementation partner.

“We realized this nuance ahead of our implementation and designed an internal team to complement the partner with business knowledge, solution design, and change management,” he says. “It’s important to design a team that leverages the strengths of the implementation partner and complements it with other internal or external team members to set up transformational programs for success.”

This process, Agarwal says, begins as early as the partner evaluation phase. “We must realize that to maximize the outcome, heavy lifting is on the client side as well as the implementation partner,” he says.

In assembling their team, CIOs should “employ key business analysts of adequate functional knowledge and communication skills,” Mazumder says. “IT leaders should also use good solution architects with experience of enterprise applications skills with adequate overseeing by senior designers.”

Build a foolproof contract

CIOs should also be aware that implementation partners can sometimes find loopholes in contracts and use them to their advantage.

Ashok Jade, group CIO of auto component manufacturer Spark Minda, points out that bigger partners often outsource the work to smaller players, “which leads to a CIO eventually

working with unskilled vendors. This happens when the agreement between the partner and the enterprise is not well thought through,” he says.

Pathak encountered this problem when he joined GR Infraprojects. “Before I joined, the company had decided to move from Google Cloud Platform to Azure and had engaged with an implementation partner about a year back. The project scope involved migration, capacity planning, and support,” he says.

“Migrating O365’s email and collaboration was easy but migrating the complete instance of SAP to Azure was complex. Therefore, when the project went live in April, our SAP deployment in Azure encountered a lot of performance problems. We also noticed that the support ticket was going to a third party, which is when we realized it was outsourced to it by our implementation partner,” Pathak says.

GR Infraprojects’ contract with its implementation partner didn’t prohibit the use of third parties. “The partner didn’t have the requisite technical capability to handle the project. It was good with selling licenses but not adept at handling projects of this level,” he says. To this day, the company’s Azure environment still isn’t stable, and the company is considering repatriating the workloads.

“From this experience, we learnt that it’s extremely important to draft the agreement carefully to make it foolproof,” Pathak says. “Also, a CIO should do background research in the market about the partner’s capabilities before signing up.”

When there is ambiguity in contracts, especially around goals and metrics, both parties will often have their own interpretation of the expectations, Agarwal says. “Avoid ambiguity on expectations and potential measures of success as much as possible. Also, be clear about how the two teams will handle situations that fall outside expectations.”

Avoid big bang approach

The rise of next-generation technologies such as IoT and low-code no-code has given rise to a new breed of implementation partners that focus on projects involving such technologies.

“There’s always a tradeoff between working with an established implementation partner versus a startup,” Spark Minda’s Jade says. “As compared to the credible and entrenched Tier I partners, startup partners are agile, but their processes aren’t well established. Therefore, a lot of time is spent in signing agreements and doing the paperwork.”

CIOs should be prepared to spend a lot of time hand-holding less experienced partners, he says, adding that startup partners can also end up shuttering due to management issues or financial problems, leaving CIOs in the lurch. “To take advantage of a startup implementation partner, one should ideally go ahead in a phased manner,” he says.

For example, when partnering with a stratup to integrate 100 CNC machines with IoT, Spark Minda chose to first integrate just 10 machines. “In the second phase, we covered 20 machines. The subsequent phases saw 30 and 40 machines being taken up respectively,” says Jade.

Design for change

It’s also important to plan for change. For large transformational projects, not every detail is known at the onset of the project. Plus, when deploying an agile implementation approach, programs are progressively elaborated.

“It’s important to plan for absorbing these changes from a financial, implementation, and business process perspective,” Agarwal says. “Do not lock yourself into relationships that tend to forecast outcomes over long periods of time. Change is the only constant and it’s important to ensure that you’ve set up your relationship with your implementation partner to be able to support changes that come along the way.”

Leverage standardized templates

Working with top implementation partners who have well-established processes comes with its own set of challenges.

“Established processes have their dark side,” says Jade. “It could take days and even weeks to sign an NDA as the partner’s team spends too much time on the legal language and clauses. Even a small change in the project could take two to three days as partner would follow the laid-out rules that would include referring to the card rate and having discussions at various levels, including with the project manager and the top management.”

To expedite the process, Jade says, “NDAs are fairly standardized these days. Rather than drafting one from scratch, a CIO should pick a standard template. After all, it’s the intention that matters and not the language.”

For removing the bottlenecks in the approval process from his end, Jade has delegated signing authority to the project manager. “All approvals need not come to my desk. Delegating authority helps speed up things,” he says.

Forge direct relationships with your partner’s management team

Having a strong rapport with the implementation partner’s C-suite can help a CIO wriggle out of a sticky situation.

Pathak describes one such commitment failure on the part of one of GR Infraprojects’ partners. “The company has 20,000 to 25,000 trucks, dumpers, and JCB machines. To meet the fueling needs of these vehicles, we have a tie up with Indian Oil Corp. Ltd. As we wanted to update the refueling date, quantity supplied and payment details directly into our systems, an implementation partner was roped in to bring about integration of SAP and IoT,” he says. “However, even after more than a year and a half, the project still hasn’t gone

live. This was because the implementation partner shifted its focus from the corporate sector to government, leaving the former’s projects in limbo.”

The project, which was started before Pathak joined the company, could have benefitted by a stronger relationship with the partner, he says.

“A good rapport also helps in resolving conflicts that are too common in promoter-led companies where the project scope changes often, leading to disputes,” Pathak says. “Leveraging his bonds with the partner company’s leadership, a CIO can get both sides to engage and resolve the dispute. There should not be any ego in the partner ecosystem and a CIO should have a great personal and professional relationship.”

Establish a shared vision

It’s important to share your strategic vision and business goals with your implementation partners so there can be shared clarity around the project and its measures of success.

“The implementation partner is a key contributor to business objectives and should have absolute transparency on the progress towards the program goals,” Agarwal says. “Many a times, companies do not establish a trust relationship with implementation partners and think of it as a zero-sum game. This approach leads to a relationship that is transactional and does not deliver full potential of a partnership.”

To be strategic, CIOs must ensure true partnerships with their implementation providers. Anything less can jeopardize the likelihood of delivering successful results.

Project Management

Newly minted CIOs have a wealth of guidebooks, white papers, and blogs to help set themselves up for success from day one, as the first 100 days of a new leadership role are crucial.

But theory can only take a new leader so far. Practice is how leaders are made, and as anyone who has gone through this challenging process knows, those first months on the job as a CIO are likely to be rife with mistakes.

So, to supplement your guiding material on what to do as a new leader, we thought it important to inform you of the missteps most likely to trip you up. To do so, we polled a half-dozen veteran CIOs and researchers to share what they’ve found to be the most common mistakes that rookie CIOs make — and how to avoid them.

Here are their top 10.

Trying to change too much too fast

Change is a top priority for CIOs. According to our 2022 State of the CIO report, 84% of IT leaders say CIOs are increasingly seen as a changemaker and the lead on business and technology initiatives. That, veteran IT leaders say, can put a lot of pressure on new CIOs to come in and shake things up.

Such an approach, however, can be a mistake, says Joel Schwalbe, CIO of Transnetyx, noting that first-time IT leaders are often tempted to take on too much change at one time.

“Rookie CIOs are eager to make a good impression, but this leads to potential challenges. Organizations are only capable of absorbing a certain amount of change. Setting realistic expectations is essential for rookie CIO success,” he says.

Keeping everyone on the payroll

Brian Jackson, research director in the CIO practice at Info-Tech Research Group, has studied how CIOs tackle their first 100 days in the role and has found that many new IT chiefs think there’s no need to clean house.

“They assume that there is no one who deserves to be fired, and sometimes there is,” Jackson says.

He understands the impulse to maintain the status quo when it comes to staff. New executives in general and first-time ones in particular don’t want firings to be among their first moves, he says. But it’s frequently a necessary move that must be made.

“It’s not going in and saying, ‘I’m going to fire someone,’” he says. Rather, it’s recognizing that if there is a toxic personality, they must go. “That’s your job as a leader. And if you let it linger for too long, the situation just gets so much worse and you wish you did it a lot sooner.”

Failing to assess the culture early on

Most CIOs have likely heard that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” the famous quote from management guru Peter Drucker. But rookie CIOs don’t often take that message to heart, according to both researchers and experienced CIOs.

“One of the rookie mistakes is not truly understanding your business, culture, and organizational fabric,” says Richard A. Hook, executive vice president and CIO of Penske Automotive Group and CIO of Penske. “Everyone is focused on their 100-day plan, but the reality is the pace of that plan and composite will vary between organizations. Get to know your peers, their teams, your team, and the overall organization before taking a too-aggressive approach. In the end, organizations win with the best people, be sure you know your teams and deeply understand the business before acting too harshly.”

Jackson agrees, saying new executives should assess their department’s culture and the organization’s overall culture early on. This, he explains, lets leaders know how to adjust and change so they can be most effective moving forward.

“There are different styles of leadership, and they can all be equally valid, but the culture of your organization is going to dictate what works,” he explains. “And if it’s not the culture you’d prefer, then you have work to do. There are ways to shift culture and get people to behave differently.”

Underestimating the people (and political) part of the job

C-suite executives and board members now recognize technology as an integral part of business, and they’re increasingly contributing to — and even leading — technology decisions.

Consider, for example, findings from tech research and advisory firm Gartner. It found that 53% of the organizations it surveyed reported that their directors are among the main decision-makers for emerging technology investments, coming in just behind their CIOs and chief technology officers. Gartner also found that 74% of technology purchases are at least partially funded by business units outside of IT, with only 26% of tech investments funded entirely by IT.

This may not be news to most CIOs, who have long talked about partnering with their business unit colleagues to develop the IT roadmap. Yet new CIOs sometimes still underestimate the criticality of building relationships, the importance of persuasion and the art of influence.

“Rookie CIOs underestimate the internal politics involved in a C-level role. There are often hidden agendas and initiatives that do not show up in the official company strategy,” says Jeff Stovall, an industry executive director with Oracle and former CIO for the City of Charlotte, N.C.

Schwalbe makes a similar observation: “The CIO job is a people, PR, and marketing job. Some rookie CIOs might believe it’s a technology job, which it’s not.”

Assessing only the internal landscape

CIOs are executives and must act as such. But there’s a learning curve, and Jackson says his research shows that many first-time CIOs fail to study the external landscape in which their organization operates even though that’s a key responsibility for any C-suite position.

“New CIOs are often so focused they get tunnel vision,” he says. Sure, they’re busy learning about their organization, meeting their C-suite colleagues, assessing their IT team.

“That’s all understandable. But you can get so focused [internally] that the blinders are on to the external environment. But as an executive that’s your job now, too, to know your competitors, to be aware of what they’re doing and what tech differentiators they’re using to create a competitive advantage.”

Jackson recommends CIOs join industry associations, build their professional networks, and attend executive events. That will yield market, industry, and IT strategy insights.

Leaping, without looking and listening first

Similarly, Hillary Ross, managing partner and IT practice leader at WittKieffer, an executive search and leadership advisory firm, says new CIOs may be tempted to jump right into their work without gaining a solid understanding of the waters where they’ll land.

“To be successful, you want to learn what works, what doesn’t, how to influence change in your new organization,” she says. “So it’s important for the new CIO to listen, learn, and then lead.”

Taking the time to do that, Ross explains, lets CIOs uncover pain points within the organization, prioritize projects with confidence, and identify the colleagues and employees who would make strong advocates for the IT agenda.

Building relationships only among the C-Suite

Another mistake some rookie CIOs make: talking only to senior leadership.

Ross says all new executives should be “making the rounds and talking to all levels of the organization. It’s important to get out and talk to everyone so you’re learning what they all need and what they think is really important.”

That includes front-line workers and back-office employees in finance, accounting, marketing, and so on. “They’re your customers, too,” Ross adds.

New CIOs should also prioritize building relationships with their IT vendors and suppliers, Ross says, adding that they may be among the biggest contributors to your IT department (and the IT budget) in the end.

Overlooking process and the technology itself

CIOs know it’s about people, process, and technology. But while they are getting to know their executive colleagues and talking with others throughout their organization, new CIOs should also be studying the processes and technologies that drive both IT and the larger enterprise as a whole.

Yet Ross says that work is sometimes overlooked by new IT chiefs. “It’s important to find out what’s working, how they’re doing things, and if those are the right things to be doing,” she says.

As a new CIO, Ross says it’s imperative to find all that out. Consider, for instance, what happens when a new CIO fails to do a deep dive into the technology stack that he or she inherited.

“Some things may be fragile and working with bubblegum and shoestrings. CIOs need to come in and assess the technology. Some things might seem like they’re working but they’re really not,” Ross says.

New CIOs who miss such problems early on aren’t likely to make a positive impression.

Going it alone

Studies have consistently found that mentors are effective in helping mentees do better and reach their goals. One study of mentorship in the workplace, from Olivet Nazarene University, found that 76% of the 3,000 professionals surveyed considered having a mentor important or very important, yet less than half actually were in engaged in a mentoring relationship at the time.

Ross says individuals moving into a new position can benefit immensely from having a mentor, but — like the survey indicates — too many don’t seek out a mentor. She recommends that new CIOs identify a seasoned IT leader to enlist for the role, giving them “someone to call to get honest advice and lessons learned.”

Flying solo

CIOs not only need mentors; they need allies. So says Greg Layok, who as a managing partner at consulting firm West Monroe and head of its technology practice advises CIOs. “I’ve seen new CIOs miss this one many times,” he says.

Rookie CIOs are often under the impression that they’ll succeed by bringing in the best technology and deploying top-notch solutions, Layok says. But they fail to see that “if they don’t bring everyone on the journey with them, then their good ideas might be perceived as bad ideas and they’re not going to have the business in the boat with them to craft the right solution in a way for the highest value-add.”

He says new CIOs may be bringing great ideas to their new organizations, and those ideas may indeed be truly needed to move those organizations forward. But those CIOs don’t realize that they need to persuade others that their ideas are going to reduce risk, decrease time to market, drive greater profitability, or otherwise bring value to the enterprise.

“CIOs who are in the position for the first time but who grew up in very mature organizations might do this well, but many others may [just] assume that the organization is aware of the value,” Layok says, adding that new CIOs must work at getting colleagues to back their visions.

He notes that all executives want to show their strategic impact on the business, but it’s especially challenging and important for CIOs, “because IT can’t be successful in today’s world being in a silo.”

CIO, IT Leadership

The nonsense was tucked away in a PowerPoint slide, as so much nonsense is. “We’ll help you institute best practices, followed by a program of continuous improvement,” the offending bullet said.

Now, I’m willing to shrug at a bit of harmless puffery from time to time. And maybe this puffery was harmless. But I don’t think so.

As my pappy used to say, ‘If someone sells this and someone else buys it, they have something in common: They’re both schmucks.’ Even ignoring the two-schmucks-in-a-pond aspect of the situation, the whole premise of “best practices” isn’t just flawed, it’s fraud — that should be avoided at all costs. It’s a phrase that pretends to provide value when it’s really inserting nothing but noise into the signal.

The idea of “best practices” is deeply wrong for these reasons: (1) It’s argument by assertion, not evidence and logic; (2) “best” is contextual, not absolute; and (3) it encourages stasis by precluding innovation.

Argument by assertion

When you read or are told a particular way of doing things is best practice, do you ask what the criteria are for awarding it best-practice status? Or, for that matter, who the governing body is that’s authorized to give out the award?

In the rare cases where there is a governing body — ITIL is an example — best practices aren’t what they offer. What governing bodies more often provide are “frameworks,” which are lists of practices, not actual how-to assistance.

If you have asked, you’ve probably discovered that there is no such group. What there is in its place is self-proclaimed authority. Here’s how that works out:

Imagine the situation at hand isn’t about running IT or a business — it’s about curing intense abdominal agony, for which surgically removing the vermiform appendix is, you’re told while lying in your bed of pain, best practice. An industry consultant tells you so, buttressing their argument by laying out three case studies in which appendix removal successfully eliminated the abdominal distress. It’s best practice!

Except it isn’t, because, sadly, they lost a few patients along the way. There are, as it turns out, lots of different types of intense abdominal pain, most of which aren’t appendix-related. Somehow or other these weren’t written up as case studies.

Best is contextual

As has been pointed out in this space before, processes and practices have six dimensions of possible optimization, and because they trade off you can only optimize no more than three of them.

For any given practice, different organizations need to optimize different combinations of these dimensions. A process or practice whose optimization goals are, for example, cycle time and quality will be designed quite differently from one designed to optimize for unit cost and excellence.

Which makes designing any one process or practice that’s best in all situations no more possible than designing any one anything else that’s best in all situations.

Stasis over innovation

Call me Captain Literal, but “best”? Really?

Look, if we’re supposed to take someone at their word, their word should mean what it’s supposed to mean. So a best practice should be, by definition, a practice that can’t be improved on.

As a leader and as a manager, the last thing you ought to be doing is encouraging the attitude that the way you do things, or the way you’re going to do things once you’ve installed a new practice, is that there’s no place for innovative thinking.

But that’s what the phrase tells them.

So don’t use it.

Where do you go from here?

When you decide you need to improve your organization’s practices, starting from scratch doesn’t make sense either. Surely there must be a way to learn from the experience of other organizations.

There surely is, and it’s probably obvious to you if you’ve read this far.

If you’re on the proposing side of such things, banish the phrase “best practice” from your vocabulary. When you’re tempted to use it, describe the practice you’re proposing as a “proven practice” or “well-tested practice” instead, assuming you and your teams have enough experience to justify the claim.

If you’re on the buying side of the equation and someone uses it as part of their attempt to persuade you to embrace their way of doing things, stick your fingers in your ears and sing, La la la la la! I can’t hear you! La la la la la!

It is, after all, just noise.

If you’re looking for a better way of doing things, and like the practice in question as described and are explaining why you’ve chosen to implement it, go beyond banishing the phrase.

Replace it with this dictum: There’s no such thing as best practices, only practices that fit best.

And make sure you’ve evaluated the practice in question so you’re confident it does fit your organization best.

Is that best practice for practice improvement?

Probably not.

But it’s a pretty good one.

IT Leadership, IT Strategy

The contact center has traditionally operated through on-premises servers and software, but shifting it to the cloud can help CIOs improve the customer journey. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-based contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) options now give enterprises more confidence that they can better deliver high-quality customer experiences.

However, there are potential challenges around moving contact center services, especially if the business has spent years cultivating good relationships with its customers. For many organizations, even a 1% drop in the performance of an Intelligent Voice Response (IVR) system can result in a surge of support calls for live agents, who are already under enormous pressure due to workforce shortages.

Here are the top three factors to consider before migrating your contact center to the cloud:

Avoid a rush to the cloud: Contact center software that has been optimized over the years cannot simply be rewritten and moved to a new CCaaS platform. Specific and careful planning must take place to keep optimizations intact and avoid breaking the customer experience. For example, many systems have carefully constructed call flows, routing rules, and natural language libraries featuring customer terminology. Those were refined over time and can’t be immediately replicated in a new system from day one.
Ensure portability to avoid vendor lock-in: Several CCaaS providers offer services that utilize a specific cloud host, making them inflexible. Any cost savings from moving contact center software to the cloud could be negated if an enterprise decides to change cloud providers due to market or technology changes, mergers, or other events. Choosing the right CCaaS provider means looking for options that are cloud-agnostic, as well as nimble enough to move should the need arise.
Enable AI systems that can handle demand spikes or other changes: New technologies that integrate natural language processing and machine learning algorithms can provide flexibility for companies experiencing an influx of new customer interactions. AI software that can learn with each customer engagement helps to ensure that the system recognizes the optimal action for the next customer who inquires about a new topic. For example, early in the pandemic, banking institutions needed to add messages about lobby closures and longer hold times, but many companies began receiving inquiries about stimulus check status that the system couldn’t quickly answer. A solution that can recognize new questions from customers and quickly react with answers is one of the benefits of an AI system that is constantly learning.

Careful planning combined with a strategy that continually prioritizes the customer experience will enable enterprises to achieve a smooth, optimized, and efficient transition to the cloud. IT leaders should partner with well-established experts to guarantee the best experience in that transformation.

To learn more about open, extensible, and collaborative contact center solutions, explore the Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform powered with Nuance AI, Teams, and Dynamics 365, here.

Cloud Management