Thursday, November 15

So you want to be a CIO?

An Interview with JP Rangaswami, one of the greats of London! :) Transcript enclosed but you can watch the video on the link.

CIO BT Design: JP Rangaswami - Transcript

Description: In a CIO Sessions interview, JP Rangaswami, managing director of BT Design talks to ZDNet editor-in-chief, Dan Farber about transformation and convergence at one of the world’s largest telecommunication companies. He also discusses his visionary thoughts on enabling new technologies inside the enterprise such as social networking, SaaS and open-source.


Dan Farber: JP thanks for joining me.

JP Rangaswami: A pleasure Dan, it’s been a while since we’ve met, looking forward to having a proper conversation.

Dan Farber: I am as well

Dan Farber: JP you have a new role at BT, you were formally the global CIO, now you’re the managing director of BT design. First of all, what is BT and what is your current role?

JP Rangaswami: BT as you know is one of the world’s largest telecom companies that have been converted into a platform based, networked, IT services company. We’re in about 190 countries with maybe 150,000 people. Within that, what we have done at BT is something special, believing in the convergent stories that most telcos have been putting out, we’ve taken our networks, our IT, our products and our processes, and brought all these together so that we have a truly converged design authority. And we’ve done the same with our operate function, the idea being that if we can bring our people, our processes, our networks, and our platforms together in that shape, we really are in the right place to attack the customers changing requirements.

Dan Farber: Now you’ve been a CIO for many years, you were at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, you were the CIO at BT before you took on his role, let me just quote something you said about the role of the CIO, you warn that “the CIO role could disappear within a decade because all senior managers and board members will have to be knowledgeable about IT, and that’s almost a given in the you-tube generation”. So do you think that the role of the CIO, that you’re a dinosaur if you’re a CIO today?

JP Rangaswami: Perhaps not today, although believe it or not, at BT we’ve done away with the CIO title at our levels. We call ourselves MDs because we’re fundamentally managing directors of certain businesses and the head of BT design overall is actually called a CEO which reflects what the person does. Part of the reason to get rid of the CIO title was effectively to say that we represent disciplines far beyond just was in IT in the past or in IS, that we represent networks, we represent products, we represent processes. What we represent is design so it made sense for us to come together and converge on that title.

Dan Farber: What kind of results are you seeing from doing this kind of reorganization, this kind of re-thinking of how you structure the organization?

JP Rangaswami: First and foremost we go beyond just thinking about just the technology and the systems to really include the networks, the people and the processes. It really gives us a different perspective because we can concentrate on the customer experience much more easily, you can really look at the end to end from how the customer touches anything we do to how we return that service to him when we can concentrate on the cycle time we take on the number of times we get it right so we can look at right first time levels. All these are disciplines which we feel we are better empowered to deal with because the role transcends the traditional IT role.

Dan Farber: Now let me also quote you on something that might be related to what you’ve been talking about which is you say “our future business is to teach our customer to fish rather than to sell them fishes” is the way you’ve been describing your role as managing directors rather than CIOs and this notion of convergence a different way of saying that?

JP Rangaswami: Well yes, what I actually said was, in the past we used to say “instead of giving a man a fish we teach him how to fish”. Today we’re building hurricanes and windmills, capturing energy that the customer creates and our role really is to expose our assets in such a way that that customer can create new value for himself and for his customers by the provision of our assets as usable tools and services, and that is as much a design construct as anything else. It is way beyond what we traditionally called IT.

Dan Farber: Well let’s talk a little bit about what’s inside the construct that you have. I know that you’re a big fan of open source and how does that play a role within your company?

JP Rangaswami: Well believe it or not, even in the last week we’ve had a couple of detail sessions articulating our open source policy. My personal views have never changed and I’m delighted to find that at BT, the views are strongly supported. So much so that we actually bought an open source company while keeping the assets available to the marketplace, we bought tiddlywiki a couple of months ago. The way we look at open source is simple: if the problem is truly generic, then we use open source to be able to solve it because that’s where the market tends to persist at the highest quality. If the problem is contained to a limited marketplace, we use closed source because the economics of finding such solutions work best for a firm that has N customers, N being a relatively small number. And if the problem is unique to us as BT, that is the place where we put all the focus of our best resources our internal guys, those are scarce, rare resources and we’d like to apply them on to scarce rare problems.

Dan Farber: Does software as a service play a role at BT?

JP Rangaswami: Absolutely. Part of why we built BT design the way we have is to realize that the past of having networks and products is really not where we’re going. We’re a platform based software driven networked IT services company. That’s what the transformation requires us to be, that’s what we’re shooting for, and that’s the way we believe we’re going to provide the customer the experience he wants. That means delivering services to the customer where he wants it, how he wants it, when he wants it, with whatever device whatever form of connect, whatever time of day. These constructs are not easy to apply unless you think of software as a service in being able to expose the assets as services not as products, and then to be able to expose them in such a way that the customer can actually create other services out of them, whitelabeling, mashing, the creation of managed mashable networks. All of this is only possible if you take the software as a service mindset.

Dan Farber: Now as part of that environment that you’re talking about, the software as a service and exposing the assets to the customer and letting them build upon it, obviously that might deal to some extent with the web 2.0 type technologies, how are you investing in those types of approaches?

JP Rangaswami: Well as you would expect, I don’t think I could have joined a firm that didn’t believe in collaborative tools and techniques and at BT it’s pretty much part of our DNA. Collaboration is right at the heart of what we do, we have very very large internal use of blogs and wikis, we have considerable use of IM techniques. We also have a growing ability for ourselves to be able use various forms of, I mean if you look at facebook, I think we’re probably up to 6000 people just on the visible BT.

Dan Farber: Let me ask you about facebook for a moment. Many companies today are banning facebook, myspace and other social networking services from their corporations, and your approach is to let them in. How do you justify that?

JP Rangaswami: Well I would ask the question the other way around and ask how the other companies justify what they’re doing. But fundamentally, what does facebook look like to me within an institution? It allows me to form groups of interest which is no different from arranging a meeting or creating a center of competence. It allows me to send messages to other people in an efficient way rather than blasting people with email based spam. It gives me the opportunity for people to subscribe to things their interested in, it gives me a newsfeed for what people are doing in a sharable consumable fashion, it allows me the opportunity even to publish the interests of different people in such a way I can look at what my colleagues are doing, what my subordinates are doing. In fact if you look at what I’m doing with facebook, what I’m really achieving, what any of us who wants to use it in an enterprise environment achieves, is to say that you’ve taken what happened t at the water cooler or at the coffee shop and made it persistent, made it shareable, made it teachable, made it learnable. That’s a huge win because we’ve spent years talking about the value of the water cooler conversations, of the coffee shops, of the more amorphous softer discussions. Now we have the ability to actually understand what these relationships are, how information and decision making migrates horizontally, laterally through an organization, rather than through the published hierarchies, how people really work, and what people do as part of that work. It’s time we broke the assembly line mindset, I think social networking tools give us an opportunity to look at the relationship graphs, to look at the people who form the malcolm, gladwell, mavens and connectors and salesmen. To look at the flows that matter rather than the flows of the politics, and these are immense tools.

Dan Farber: When you’re using facebook today, how are you able to look at that graph and utilize it for the company given that it’s beyond corporate control, there’s no compliance, there’s no archiving of anything within the corporate network?

JP Rangaswami: Well effectively you start by solving the small things, if you look at the way Bloomberg started as a community, then first and foremost you’ve got the liquidity of the community and they existed for some common purpose. They introduced chat, and chat certainly became a very efficient way of people being able to communicate with each other. There were network effects as the number of participants grew, and there were also regulatory concerns. As a result, people started creating policy to be able to implement those concerns, manage around them. The same cannon will happen with facebook, but it’s not gonna happen if we put our heads in the sand. It’s only going to happen through usage, through adoption, and through improvement. And by the way, it’s not just about facebook, it’s about social networks in general, facebook is just a very good construct to look at. So we use tools that are remarkably similar to facebook because they don’t have the only game in town.

Dan Farber: Let me ask you a final question, you’ve been talking about lots of very innovative strategies and technologies and tools. How do you actually create a culture in which all of that can really flower?

JP Rangaswami: I think first and foremost, what we appear to have done here at BT is to have taken away a blame culture. You get in trouble not for what you do, but for not trying. And then by having learning embedded within what you do, people are able to actually able to make something of mistakes, you really get into the “I have not failed, I have found 10,000 ways that do not work”. The challenge has been to make sure that we have to tools and techniques to capture that learning then to implement the lessons. So we spend a lot of time actually looking at lessons learned, so we can make sure that we prevent recurrent of the core issue, we look for root causes and then we prevent recurrence. I think if you get into that mindset of closed loop control, analysis of root cause, and prevention of recurrence, automatically you create a very high performance creative culture.

Dan Farber: JP, thanks so much for joining me today.

JP Rangaswami: A pleasure Dan, always a pleasure talking to you.

Dan Farber: I’ve been speaking with JP Rangaswami who is the managing director of BT design. For CIO sessions I’m Dan Farber, thanks for listening and watching.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

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