Running a successful enterprise IT organization requires bridging the gap between longstanding expertise and an appetite for innovation. Praniti Lakhwara is such a leader. The SVP of IT at Apttus is a 25-year veteran of corporate IT with a proven track record of developing, implementing and managing a wide variety of enterprise applications to drive ERP, CRM, contract management, professional services and HR solutions.
The Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 2017 Bay Area CIO of the Year talked with SandHill.com about the hallmarks of superior IT management, the challenges of today’s CIOs, and the importance of software solutions’ ability to improve the end customer’s experience.
SandHill.com: Given your broad perspective on enterprise IT management, what do you think separates world-class IT organizations from mere contenders in today’s business world?
Praniti Lakhwara: Data. If your organization doesn’t have a head of data, you are missing the boat. Everything is linked by data. At one company I was with, IT was looking at the KPIs they wanted to report against and realized 70% of them were aspirational because they were missing key data, and this was the case across all departments. The takeaway here is that it’s so important to understand what is available and being collected in order to start working with teams to generate the necessary data by re-working apps or processes.
SH.com: Considering your long tenure as an IT executive, what challenges do you face today that you did not face in the past? And how do you think your job will become more complex in the future?
Praniti: The role of the CIO has moved far beyond just selecting, managing and maintaining internal technology. Today, IT is a strategic position with a mandate to transform the employee and customer experience and drive enterprise growth and value.
Hiring and retaining talented IT professionals is incredibly challenging and I see it as only getting harder. The best candidates – if not already at the Googles or Facebooks of the world – are in high demand and we’re all fighting for them. As IT leaders, we need to learn to nurture untapped potential and truly understand how cloud, AI, automation, etc., are forcing our staffing and talent strategy to change.
SH.com: How do you balance new applications/solutions with older legacy products?
Praniti: Supporting rapidly changing business models of today with legacy IT systems and products designed in the past is exceptionally challenging. I’ve heard many CIOs often remark that legacy systems inhibit their ability to move their company from being a cost center to profit center. Removing the constraints of legacy, homegrown or third-party application silos becomes much simpler and streamlined when enterprises and CIOs utilize a cloud-based platform, especially one that provides more options for deploying, integrating and maintaining enterprise apps.
SH.com: How do you deal with a more involved/active user base?
Praniti: Even while our users become more advanced and knowledgeable, it’s still so important to keep things simple and easy for the end user. The more convenient something is to use, the more likely they will adopt it.
Change is hard and you have to have the end goal in mind. Require your end users to utilize the new technology or software by tying it to a necessary step. Drive adoption with a carrot, not a stick! The more value you provide, the faster they will adopt.
SH.com: How do you stay one step ahead of IT needs to support your fast-growth company?
Praniti: Be involved from the beginning, define processes, create roadmaps, and plan for budgets. At the end of the day, no project is just an IT project, they’re all business initiatives. Move as fast, if not faster than the business. Don’t just govern, partner. Create and internalize a DevOps philosophy and then re-allocate resources to more strategic and value-added work. Once you have the operations nailed down and keeping in-line with focusing on the business, look towards innovation to continue to grow and transform.
SH.com: What do you do to attract and retain the best IT team members?
Praniti: You can have the most competent people, but without a foundational culture based on diversity and accountability that brings everyone together, you won’t achieve your maximum potential. Challenge your employees to innovate and not settle for the status quo. Empower them to make decisions, and take actions that lead to success and growth. EQ and IQ are both important, but empathy, getting to know your team above and beyond work, and genuinely being interested in their lives, creates an environment where most people want to be and give their best.
SH.com: What characterizes a good software/solution partner for your business? What more do you need from your software vendors today?
Praniti: We understand at Apttus that in order to grow our business we must depend on a core group of world-class partners. These partners are hand selected for their domain expertise, industry knowledge, platform experience, and commitment to customer satisfaction. We put the most weight on the customer experience – how does your software or technology solution improve customer experience through process improvements and efficiencies? Apttus recently partnered with Carahsoft to help public sector organizations evolve traditionally inefficient contract processes to smart, automated contract lifecycle management that makes government run more quickly and intelligently.
Clare Christopher is editor of SandHill.com.