CIOs are not participants in a popularity contest

Bask Iyer, SVP and CIO, Juniper Networks, talks about the challenges of working with extremely tech-savvy employees spread across 46 countries, and ways to tackle them.

What are the biggest challenges you face, being the global CIO of a technology company?

The biggest challenge working in a technology company is that the people around you are not only well-versed with technology, but are also fascinated by it. While it is great in most aspects, the flip-side is when people start believing that everything can be solved by technology. If I had to find an analogy, I would say this is very similar to how people always want a pill but don't want to exercise or eat healthy or make lifestyle changes to counter health problems.

What most people don't realize is that IT is more about people, process, and technology. In my experience, most companies need to first improve a lot in their processes. No one likes to talk about that, because it is boring, mundane work. But buying a software or hardware is not going to help either. For a CIO, it becomes a constant struggle of how not to fall into the trap of getting tools to fix problems even if it is the short route out, and that is what the users themselves are clamoring for. For instance, implementing a social networking tool without working on the social aspect of the company or figuring out what is it that employees are going to use social networking for will not help anyone. In such situations, my biggest challenge would be donning the role of a CIO who can step into the role of a statesman and say that there is more to solving a problem than buying a tool to fix it.

Another big challenge is change management.

How do you deal with this problem of fascination with technology in your company and within users as well?

We discovered this problem at Juniper. Being a company at the cutting edge of technology meant that we always wanted the best. In that pursuit, we had accumulated every possible best-of-breed tools for each and every need over the years. I realized that in this global environment, working with 800 different applications was becoming a mess because there are inter-operability and integration issues. I am now working on rationalizing 800 different applications into one consolidated entity. We also decided to go for certain standardized tools for the "running-the-business kind" of tasks. That helps us follow certain standard processes across the organizations. We have kept the innovative tools for certain specific functions.

How tough is it dealing with super-users in the current scenario of BYOD and cloud?

Personally, I think BYOD, as a term, was marketed wrong. When we say 'bring your own device', it doesn't mean that employees can bring any device they want.

Having super-users who are not just fascinated with new technology, but also have extremely strong personal preferences around what devices and platforms they use is indeed a problem. In the end, what users need to understand is that they are still coming to work. No matter how much we would like to not come to work or want to come in casual clothes everyday, there is a work protocol that everyone needs to follow. I understand and respect employees' personal choices. But at the same time, I am a CIO, not a participant in a popularity contest.

How did you solve this problem at Juniper?

Firstly, every BYOD strategy needs to be optimized on three vectors: End-user satisfaction, cost, and security. I cannot let user satisfaction take over data security concerns. Neither will I buy every tool possible and blow out 4-5 million of my budget so that one user in India and China can bring their favorite phone. There will always be vendors and suppliers who would say anything is possible, but is that the right thing to do? It is not. Therefore, we have found out a balanced approach that's the best--both for Juniper and its employees.

So at Juniper, we give our employees a 'Choose Your Own Permitted Device' option. It includes a vast array of devices over all the major platforms, and I think that if you give the employees a wide range of devices to choose from, they won't arm-twist you about bringing only their device to work.

When people choose to bring their own devices, we tell them there would be some standards such as encryptions, password protections, and remote wipe that we would enforce. These are standard precautions because the data still belongs to the company. I don't say no to a lot of phones, I instead say that I don't know about them. There are so many Android phones; I couldn't have possibly tested my application on all these platforms.

Why is change management such a big issue in a company like yours, where most of the employees are very tech-savvy?

I agree that the digital natives take to computers better. I have been in the industry for over 25 years, yet my kids find it easier to figure out how a game or a new device works. But that expertise in technology doesn't necessarily translate into something substantial in a business environment. A complete grasp over the latest devices or even the latest technology is very different from how one manages inventory management or supply chain across an organization. There it comes to people, processes, and technology and people don't necessarily like change. Like I mentioned earlier, people don't like to work on or improve people or process-related issues because they are complicated, mundane, and time-consuming. People might be more computer-literate but they essentially don't like change.

For example, when there is a supply chain issue, the obvious suggestions that come to me are that we could use collaboration tools or social network on mobile devices to enhance collaboration among the different teams in the chain. But my question is "Have we really mapped out how the supply chain works or how our inventories come in?" People and process-related changes are boring. But those are the most critical links.

And that is where even with super-users, change management becomes a challenge, because in an organization, it's not enough to just change a technology. The change has to be preceded and complemented with a simultaneous change in people and processes.

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