Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Techie to CEO: The First Step

I spent the better part of my career in technology function, mostly developing software.  It was exciting to write the most efficient program, design complex solutions, and manage large software projects. Even though I always thought of myself as more of a business person, I never paid much attention to the commercial side of technology. The techie inside had a simple business logic–customers will line up to buy the best software. Of course, I was entitled to be paid because I could write the best program irrespective of company’s performance. Then, I moved to presales and it changed everything!

Two years of selling complex software to fortune 1000 companies and working with sales and marketing was an eye-opening experience. The realization that it is not the best software but the best-positioned solution that sells was startling. Customers didn’t care much about algorithms in the software, but how would it solve their business problems and deliver value. Total cost of ownership, payback period and return on investment calculations didn’t factor in the most optimized program or complex design. While software features were important, it was relationships, sales presentations, product demos, and managing client expectations that were critical for a successful sale. Sales and marketing folks–often perceived as “more talk and less substance” were the front and center to close deals and bring money to keep the lights on.

I still believe that development is a very important function of a software business but now I also understand the importance of the commercial side. It doesn’t surprise me when a developer boasts of being the heart and soul of the business while thinking of sales and marketing as just the face. I was in the same boat a few years ago. It is easy for a techie to ignore the importance of sales and what it takes to acquire a client. Most software companies intentionally isolate R&D from business realities, thereby making it even more difficult for technologists to understand business realities. However, if you are a techie with entrepreneurial aspirations or an ambition to grow into senior management, then start learning about how your business sells and makes money. Your superior technical skills definitely make you indispensible for the company but your sales skills will grow you into top management ranks. A strong technical expertise coupled with great business skills is a potent combination. Remember, it is money that makes the world go and your career.

 

Are You Ready to Think “BIG” Again in Technology

One man’s dream is another man’s reality. Yesterday, I saw it in real at the Salesforce conference held in NYC. It was amazing to see so many cool applications and technologies that I could only dream about a few years ago. Have you ever imagined creating a web application without programming in less than 10 minutes, publishing it on the web by click of a button, and scaling it up or down based on the number of users through your iPhone? I witnessed it done in less than 15 minutes! Five years ago, there was no iPhone, web applications were created by expert programmers, and specialist administrators used to spend hours hosting and managing such applications. Now one person can do it all in matter of minutes, maybe hours, but still 100x better than before. Maybe I was oblivious to innovation taking place in the software world but I can’t be so much out of touch. After all, my wife complains that I read, blog and surf technical stuff all the time. What did I miss?

 Sometimes I wonder if we are driving technology or technology is driving us? The Internet changed the scene in late 90s, but with dot-com burst we thought it had reached its pinnacle. However, not only was the Internet alive but also it came back with a vengeance with web 2.0 that unleashed the second wave of innovation in terms of collaboration and social networking. In a few years, almost 700 million people started facebooking, another 100 million started tweeting, and not to mention many millions who are talking through other social networks. While Facebook and Twitter are considered consumer networks, Salesforce and the likes are bringing social networking to the corporate world. I was stunned by how far human imagination can stretch, when Salesforce chatter service announced that now your employees, clients, partners, data, reports, and dashboard- all will start chattering.  It means when you “follow” a report like you “follow” a person on Twitter, the report will start tweeting information to you. Similarly you can follow data, documents, presentations and anything you can think of in your daily work for it to chatter back to you. Wait a second, weren’t we struggling to implement that large, monolithic ERP application a few weeks ago? 

I am convinced that human will and intellect can move mountains and make impossible possible. Add crowdsourcing to it and things start to move much faster. I believe the innovation I saw at the conference is not just one company’s achievement but a culmination of many discoveries by different companies across industries. The Internet is obviously the backbone of this ecosystem offering great improvements in speed, reliability and pervasiveness. Device manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, RIM and others pushed the ball forward to make the “always connected” dream possible. Finally, the software companies completed the picture by continuously innovating technologies such as visualization, search and social networks, and streamlining the development and management of web applications.  Suddenly the world is moving much faster due to interconnected innovations and economies of scale. I can’t think of the next big thing but I can sense that we are building an “Internet” kind of revolution again. I am excited about the future and ready to dream big. Are you?

MBA – The Road to Your Ultimate Career

I just realized that MBA is the second most talked about topic after economy among my friends and acquaintances. Maybe they want to know my little secret to justify this big ticket purchase since I recently finished my MBA. However, I think some people in my age group are hit by premature mid-career crisis. It is surprising how many of us are not satisfied with our jobs and looking for a dream career. Somehow MBA seems to be the route to the ultimate destination. Is it?

I was in the same boat a few years ago. Having spent years in technology development, I found myself fascinated with business and strategy. My tryst with entrepreneurship and a year in investment banking technology further strengthened my desire to acquire a formal business education. Simple logic: I learned engineering in a technology school, so I should acquire business acumen at a b-school! Of course nobody gets the corner office and a CXO title without business acumen. The business case was made and I enrolled in a part-time MBA program‑my ticket to the world where leaders are made and all questions are answered.

Business school was a unique experience with some harsh realizations. Unlike engineering education that made me a technical expert, MBA was not going to make me a business expert. It could provide me an air cover of marketing, finance and operations concepts but business acumen cannot be taught in a class. Many of my gifted classmates were disappointed to learn that a b-school won’t simply provide them a solution to “what is my dream career” puzzle. Moreover, the tough economy didn’t help much either. However, all was not lost. I believe MBA was the best thing that happened to me. If it didn’t try to make me an expert then I didn’t bother to acquire any pseudo specialization. Business acumen cannot be taught in a class but the tools to acquire it such as negotiation, power and politics, and communication skills were the front and center of my MBA curriculum. One can learn basic finance and marketing by reading books but learning business perspectives, case studies, and teamwork requires a dedicated and enriched b-school environment. It was a great experience to be back in school and learn in a hectic but relaxed environment. Above all, discussing life, career, economy and everything else over coffee with classmates – priceless [minus student loan].

Here is my little secret folks – Go for it!

Product Manager’s Dilemma #69: Re-write or Package?

Recently I found myself in re-write vs package quagmire for one of our products. It is our market leading product that was written twenty years ago and grew big and complex over time. Hundreds of clients are happily using it and love it for its functionality and stability. However, the product failed to keep pace with technical innovation on usability side with limited ability to integrate with new age applications. Many users are asking for modern web based user interface, industry standard technology platform and an API for integration. After some deliberations we came up with two options – rewrite the product or shrink wrap the core under modern technology. For sure, I was not the first Product Manager facing this situation.

The meeting with technology and business teams was tense with different sides having conflicting agendas. Technology team wanted to rewrite as it gave them better control on the code and a clean slate to begin. Their typical reasons were no different for any other technical team:

  • Existing code is spaghetti and difficult to manage. It is our chance to fix it forever.
  • Repackage means we will be building on a weak foundation.
  • Why not start with a clean slate?

Having come from technology side, I could empathize with their situation and understood their rationale. However, my businesses alter ego and rest of the business team questioned this strategy. The business heads were thinking pricing, balance sheets and revenue goals. No wonder teams are important in business! Some key business concerns were:

  • Why will clients wait all these years to get same functionality in a different package? More so when there is a backlog of pending enhancements.
  • What is the business case for this gigantic investment? M&S alone can’t justify it. Will clients pay substantially more for old wine in new bottle?
  • How sanctimonious is this multi-year timeline when R&D struggles to deliver even regular releases on time?
  • How long will it take us to stabilize the new product to match the robustness of the current solution?

Like many situations in business, this one was also not black or white. While the rewrite option had above issues the repackage option was also marred with concerns of long term viability of the technology and client adoption. Despite a lack of clear answer the odds were clearly stacked against rewrite. Even some industry veterans have also vouched against it. We decided to go for a hybrid approach of encapsulating the core around new technology architecture and building new features using modern interfaces. The goal is to chip away at the core over a period of time. Not only it helps us meet client requirements but also continue to strengthen the product with new enhancements. So far clients have positively responded to this strategy and I am glad that sanity prevailed.

RIP re-write!

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