It’s a general practise to do small POCs to check the viability of the technology and its acceptance within the business and user communities
This is an exclusive interview conducted by the Editor Team of CIO News with Biswajeet Mahapatra, CIO Advisor, Principal Analyst at Forrester
How did you plan your career path to be a successful technology leader?
Career planning is tough and requires a basic understanding of your core skill sets, your own preferences, future predictions, and some amount of luck. Career planning can be simple if you enlist the assistance of friends and others who understand the field you want to work in and can map it to your skill sets.
I didn’t have the luxury of some of the aspects, but I realised early in my career that IT would change the way business is done. I came from a non-IT background with a production engineering degree and an MBA in marketing and finance, but four years into my career, I realised I needed to shift to IT as it was the future, plus I had gained a lot of interest and liked it.
When I got into planning my career, I realised I needed two things to be successful in IT: 1) knowledge and understanding of technology; and 2) being ready for continuous learning.
At the same time, I knew I get easily bored doing the same thing again and again, and I could only gain mastery in a field if I knew it inside out, which in IT meant: 1) Learn new technologies. 2) Learn all the stacks or layers of technology. 3) Experience different roles in IT, be it strategy, product management, product development, or user support (internal IT teams).
This meant I needed to work on not just applications but also databases, IT management, servers, operating systems, etc., and be on both sides of the table as a developer and a user. I was lucky in that aspect in that I started my IT career as an ERP functional consultant, and then, after technical training, I got into project management, product management, product development, and other technical roles. Those were the mid- to late-90s and early 2000s, with not much talent available locally in specialised fields like product management, which helped me get into different technologies including ERP, CRM, infrastructure operations management, operating systems, backup and storage, and other core IT services.
Once I gained hands-on IT experience, I moved on to be an analyst and help CXOs across the globe adopt and implement new technologies like cloud computing, mobile apps, and other digital transformation technologies. This helped me understand and solve real-world CIO problems across the globe and build great connections as well.
With this wide experience, I went on to become CEO for a couple of start-ups in digital transformation and CTO for retail and e-commerce companies. Finally, having seen the development, end-user environment, and analyst roles, I am back as an analyst at Forrester and am helping CIOs across the globe with their various initiatives.
The core idea to keep in mind here is to build a well-rounded career before taking up CXO roles, as it’s very important to understand every aspect of business, including customers, before leading a company successfully.
What challenges you faced in your career path and how did you overcome them?
There will be lots of challenges along the way, and the idea is to remain focused and dedicated to your goal and objectives. Challenges could be in the shape of an organisation that does not promote learning and adding new skills, a very demanding manager who does not like your inquisitive mind, hostile colleagues who wait for an opportunity to pull you down, family pressures, personal distractions in terms of new offers with better packages but less learning, etc.
However, the answer to these is that if you know what you plan to achieve and remain focused, you will succeed. I can quote a personal example of mine: To understand the ERP space better, I knew I had to know more than just 1-2 ERPs. I already knew Baan (IV and V), Navison, some parts of Lindhart, Oracle, and some parts of PeopleSoft. Yet I had the urge to know the biggest ERP in those days, which was SAP. So, despite having a good job and knowing a lot of ERPs, my colleague and I used to go to Ameerpet every morning at 6:00 a.m. from my house in Madhapur, Hyderabad, to learn SAP on our own. There was no need for me to do it, but I thought it was very important for me to have a good command of the ERP space.
Personally, I have been lucky as far as my companies and managers are concerned. My biggest challenge was acquiring knowledge of new technologies and tools, and I used to overcome it with a lot of reading or, as I mentioned, by attending new classes and courses.
What are the challenges faced by technology Leaders today while implementing digital technologies?
Challenges are plenty in the digital space. Every day, the space is evolving, with a new technology replacing a very recent one in a few years’ time. If I need to shortlist the challenges, they are as follows:
- The biggest challenge: where to start
- Understanding business needs and working closely with business and management
- Frequent changes in technologies; when to start adopting a technology for maximum gains
- Too many options within a particular technology. Choosing one is difficult. For example, should I use AWS over Azure, Angular over React, and so on.
- Few businesses are successful, with 70% of all software implementations (including well-established ones) failing.
- Evolving customer, employee, and legal needs
- Cost and timeline pressures
How can technology leaders overcome the challenges they face?
Digital technologies are complex, and if they are not understood and implemented systematically, they can create a bigger mess in the environment. Hence, for technology leaders who are into implementing digital technologies, it is very clear that they must understand the business needs and map a technology to satisfy those needs. They must also examine their current architecture and conduct an impact analysis of adopting the new technology. There may be various technologies available, but choosing the best within the existing limitations and satisfying future needs is the key.
It’s a general practise to do small POCs to check the viability of the technology and its acceptance within the business and user communities. This will also help the team get their hands on the technology, which can help in the decision-making process later on.
Any best practices, industry trends, or advice you’d give to fellow technology leaders to help them succeed professionally?
Oh, there are many, but like any other advice, these would fit or vary depending on the situation. However, the common ones would be:
- Keep yourself updated with new technologies.
- Don’t be people managers; get your hands dirty and write code.
- Play with technology yourself to be successful.
- Work closely with business and other CXOs to understand business priorities.
- Don’t get hung up on one technology stack or one vendor.
- Be brave and get out of your comfort zone.
- Set a yearly target for yourself and keep monitoring it quarterly.
- Don’t equate your company and designation with your ability, and don’t use them to determine your success or failure.
- Build a dynamic, responsible, and ever-evolving team that is ready to take on new challenges.
- Network with business and other IT leaders in the company and outside to keep yourself updated with the latest innovations, changes, and best practises and build good relations as well.
Any other points that you would like to highlight?
I believe I have covered everything. Finally, I would say—and this has worked for me; I am not sure of others—that knowledge and hard work pay. Of course, you need good luck as well, like a company that promotes learning, a good and understanding boss, and a vibrant and motivating team, but it is still all about knowledge and hard work.
Also read: Technology is a field with fast evolutions
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