Enterprise unplugged: Riffing on failure and performance

I chatted about enterprise issues and IT failure with Naomi Bloom and Nenshad Bardoliwalla, top enterprise experts willing to openly share what they know.

My favorite part of blogging is the opportunity to learn from fascinating people who are at the top of their game. I recently chatted about enterprise issues and IT failure with Naomi Bloom and Nenshad Bardoliwalla, two articulate folks whose expertise is matched only by their willingness to share what they know.

Listen to the podcast to hear how their conversation ebbed and flowed like a great jazz improvisation.

Nenshad Bardoliwalla is a creative entrepreneur who most recently was CTO for Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) and Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) at SAP. Nenshad is author of the book, Driven to Perform, a 700-page reference on managing performance with systematic metrics. When I have questions about BI, metrics, and related topics, you can guess to whom I turn for advice.

Naomi Bloom is a top consultant, analyst, writer, and thought leader throughout the HRM delivery system (HRMDS) industry. Her specialty is the application of HR technology and innovative service delivery models to achieve breakthroughs in organizational business outcomes. Check out her formal bio--it's pretty darned impressive.

Pulling these two folks together for an IT failures podcast presents an interesting challenge because their backgrounds and areas of professional focus are so different. However, they share an abiding interest in improving business transformation with technology-related projects. In other words, these guys understand how technology and business interact to produce useful results (or not, as the case may be).

The podcast recording session was informal and fun; really, three friends getting together to chat about the drivers of business success and failure. If that means I hang around with geeky friends, then guilty as charged.

Here are a few excerpts from the podcast, just to give you a flavor of the discussion. These are notes and not meant to be a transcript.

Naomi: Business outcomes and achieving the mission matter most. In today's world, the vast majority of the work we do to accomplish these goals is technology-enabled. So, if we don't get the technology part right, then we fail.

To define success, ask people in the business whether a new system helps or hurts the day-to-day effort to accomplish their job. Looking at this way, there's a lot of failure out there.

Nenshad: The discipline of performance management is meant to align the people in an organization with the outcomes they are trying to achieve. Failure often results when an organization implements technology without first deciding on the outcomes. If you don't know the target, then it is difficult to design technology that will achieve your goals.

For example, organizations often justify CRM systems to increase efficiency -- but you can only wring so much efficiency out of the system. Cutting costs alone does not give you growth or increase effectiveness.

Before implementing any type of system or redesigning processes, first establish the business objectives and then set relevant metrics and goals.

Naomi: Define strategy, goals, and desired outcomes and then figure out the technology. An organization must have the discipline to put the right business rules into the system. if you don't plan outcomes, the technology doesn't matter.

Nenshad: Technology is inconsequential compared to people and process issues. Every single business performance outcome -- profitability, return on assets, and so on -- has both human and financial elements. Therefore, to succeed we must consider both when designing and managing. Understanding this is the new management competency of this era.

Naomi: In the best companies, every employee understands, and can articulate, the company's operating principles and the rules governing how the company makes decisions. Their own decisions therefore line up with the bigger decisions of the company. Zappos and Nordstrom's offer great examples of this.

Each person working in successful companies understands how his or her work relates to the financial outcomes of the company. Problems arise when people do not viscerally understand where they fit into the grand scheme. Likewise, disconnects across groups and information silos cause failure.

Nenshad: BI vendors sometimes forget the people angle and develop technology that is not terribly useful. Users want prescriptive answers and advice on running their business and making decisions.

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These two insightful people each have a clear, strong voice that is rooted in practical experience. Listening to them riff back and forth is like hearing great jazz musicians. You never know what's going to come next, but it's always good and leaves you wanting more.

[Image of Jazz by Henri Matisse from Wikipedia and used under Fair Use.]

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