When I interviewed Sukumar, CIO at Cognizant for my book last year, he teased me with his vision of “social design,” and his quest to deliver 500 percent productivity on Cognizant projects. I wanted to profile a lot more in the book on his initiative, OneCognizant but he modestly wanted to wait and I have bugged him every few months since to write a guest column on it.
Well, in the week where OneCognizant has made it to this year’s CIO 100 nominees, he finally sent me a book’s worth! I will run it in 5 segments starting with the first below.(Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here and here is Part 4 and Part 5 )It is an invigorating story of a driven CIO who is not happy merely with tech buzzwords and on-time/on-budget performance.
“Sometime in 2010, June to be precise, I became CIO of Cognizant (Nasdaq:CTSH). Soon after starting on the new job, I checked with our top management (CEO, President, Group Chief Executive) on the primary goal of IT (Information Technology) at Cognizant. They unanimously said, IT should strive to produce “associate delight” (we call our employees associates). On behalf of the team, I accepted this goal as a key element of the IT charter – blame it on my newbie naïveté :)
When I checked with other CIOs on this, they were highly skeptical. They said it is impossible for a corporate IT department within a Fortune 500 firm to produce associate delight through software applications. It seemed impossible indeed, but we were not deterred. My team and I began our odds-against journey by discussing with associates across the globe about the state of Cognizant’s IT systems and identified five major problems:
1. Confusing navigation. There were just too many steps to reach the target screen. Developed by different groups, each application had its own multi-level menu structure. Lack of a common taxonomy further complicated usability.
2. Each screen had too many fields which frustrated users. Users had to go through several hours of training to use the key applications.
3. Some applications were slow, especially when accessed from locations far away from our data centers.
4. Each application had its own URL and required a separate login. Sometimes, one application had many URLs. Bookmarking could never keep up with this. Most importantly, new associates could never easily figure out which application was available at which URL.
5. All applications were generating huge volumes of email alerts to keep the workflow going. This resulted in tremendous e-mail overload.
Our timesheet application is a good example that illustrates the set of problems we identified. Every fortnight, associates have to fill out their timesheets.
In order to do that, they had to:
1. First log in to a URL that housed timesheet functionality.
2. Select a timesheet option from 25 alternatives listed on the landing page.
3. Then, on the next page, click on the “Create Timesheet” button, which is the only field on that screen.
4. In the next page, use a calendar control to select the period end date for the timesheet and then click “Add”.
5. Then, navigate to the “Timesheet” screen, select the projects to which they are allocated and then enter the time logged into the fields for each day of the week.
6. Hit “Submit”.
It is easy to see why associates were frustrated. Unfortunately, cumbersome usage like this was at one time common across almost all applications used by our associates.
The problems seemed insurmountable and really made us question whether associate delight was something worth chasing.
When we analyzed usability challenges more deeply, a surprising pattern started to emerge - obstacles like these were consistent across third party on-premise enterprise software and third party SaaS-based enterprise software, as well as home-grown applications.
We realized that the root cause is the fact that most IT systems were “Systems of Record” - carry-overs from the era of paper forms. What was originally a paper-based form became a software form with the same set of fields. Obviously this is an oversimplification, but you get my drift.
Our application rollout experience showed that change management costs (training, elearning, meetings, roadshows, etc.) far outweighed development expense, due to the fact that we are an organization of 140,000 people. This seriously affected our ROI forecasts, which were based on near 100% effective adoption of the software we rolled out.
Obviously we were in a pickle, big time. Around the same time, thought leaders Malcolm Frank (EVP Strategy & Marketing, Cognizant) and Geoffrey Moore (IT industry/innovation guru) were asking some provocative questions regarding the Future of Work, and the systems that power it.
My next blog post (tomorrow) will discuss how we applied their thinking to the problems at hand”