Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | September 6, 2011

Could The DMV Use Some Lean and Automation Techniques ?

I have roamed the breadth and depth of various cities and states across USA. From Vermont to California, from Portland to Kansas City, from Leesburg, VA to Hartford, CT. I enjoyed all the places I stayed at even though I would never go back to Vermont.

With this roaming comes the price of registering your cars in various states. I recently had a terrible experience with the same. The flow of events was something like this

Upon going to the registration window (wait was not that bad on a Saturday), I was told I had to follow a complicated process to get my car registered in CT. The Turn Around Time (TAT) for this process is approximately 45 – 60 days

I am sure every state wants to get their share of registration funds but should the process be so complicated? Imagine a simplified process like below which could cut the end to end TAT to 2 days

Well, some food for thought. Let us hope the automation happens one day and the systems are centralized.

Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | July 22, 2010

Developing a Business Architecture Strategy

Few weeks back, I had posted a tweet asking people about their opinion/thoughts on Business Architecture. When it comes to defining a solid Business Architecture strategy and organization, very few firms out there have a clear definition and a defined implementation plan/ strategy. After a little bit of research and understanding /experience with it at my current firm, Here is an attempt to define the strategy, approach, benefits and the team formation aspects of business architecture.

Developing a Business Architecture Strategy

Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | July 11, 2010

Running an Effective Assessment Workshop

Converting a lead to an opportunity requires a lot of effort from your executives, sales and delivery personnel. However, converting that opportunity into a full scale long term consulting assignment is no easy task. This is where rubber meets the road.

Most clients want to see what your company and the consultants in specific have to offer, they have heard about the skills you and your consultants bring to the table, have interacted with some of them through the sales process and they now want to see it in action. In general this leads to a 2-4 assessment engagement where you have an opportunity to understand the client’s requirements in detail, develop a comprehensive long term solution and completely win over the client.

You can learn more about the 5 key steps in running assessment workshops in my article on PSvillage here

Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | June 15, 2010

Project Contingency for Large Scale Global Delivery Projects

What do you think is the right % of contingency for a $30 mn project being delivered in a onsite /offshore global delivery model. The Project  involves

A)  Product implementation

B) Customization and massive integrations.

The project duration is 3 years in 4 phases of  8 – 14 months each.

10 – 15%

15 – 20%

20 – 30% or more.

Would appreciate your thoughts on why you think a certain % is right.

Thank You


In my 15 years of experience, I have seen organizations align their IT teams by Process and or Technology.. In pursuit of formulating perfect teams, an issue as straight forward and simple as this can get extremely complicated.

Aligning by Business process could mean formulating teams by

Sales and Marketing Process, Delivery and Operations, Finance and Accounting, Manufacturing and Inventory


Order to Cash, Procure to Pay, Hire to Retire, Financial reporting & Consolidations, Budgeting & Forecasting .

Aligning by Technology can also have various flavors. One flavor could be to align by app groups

ERP Apps, Web 2.0 Apps, DW Apps, CRM Apps, Network and Infrastructure groups


.Net teams, C and Java Technologies, Oracle technologies, Social Media technologies etc.

This can get complicated when a combination of one or more above mentioned options are utilized.

So, what are the Pros and Cons of each option?


Align by Process

Align by Technology


  • Single point of contact for end users and business process owners
  • High level of business understanding and process knowledge for the IT teams becomes the basis for true partnership
  • Enables IT team to be proactive thinkers on how technology can build a competitive advantage
  • End to end view of process issues leads to quick and effective resolution and development of technical solutions
  • Gives the team a chance to work on various technologies for a particular process. Ex: Sales and Marketing teams can work on analyzing web 2.0 impact and also work on rolling out CRM applications
  • Technical teams can provide high level of service irrespective of business process
  • Provides a clear career path to the IT teams
  • Specialized knowledge of processes in apps like ERP and CRM can make roll out of additional functionality an easy task


  • Some team members might have to undergo longer training periods/learning curve on new technologies
  • Ownership of issues/or horizontal capabilities can get fuzzy in certain situations
  • Technology teams cannot be true partners with business
  • Deprives teams working on maintaining custom or legacy applications a chance to learn new technologies
  • Ties down the IT team to a particular technology stack.


My take, in this day and age IT to be successful has to be a partner with business and hence aligning teams by process is the only way to do it. Aligning teams by technology does not provide any benefits to the business.

What have you seen work and or not work in your organization. Drop in a comment or send me a note at

Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | May 14, 2010

COTS Vendor Selection: 5 Key Factors and 10 Practical Tips.

Selecting the right Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) vendor can be a tough decision to make. Even though many organizations have gone through the process several times, it is surprising how chaotic the process of selection can be. There are certain key factors every team has to consider in the process.

Fit for your requirements: This probably ranks on the top of your list. First, the team should have a clear set of requirements identified, ask vendors to preferably do a full day or a half a day workshop with the business and IT teams. The requirements should be ranked on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being the lowest fit and 5 being a perfect fit.

Tip#1: Ask the Vendor to rank themselves and provide qualitative responses to each requirement. Do not go by the vendor ranking but have the internal team rank the mapping.

Tip#2: Never do a demo without involving business users and schedule the demo’s ahead of time.

Tip #3: Ideally the IT team should understand the requirements, relay the same to the vendor and work as a team before the presentations are done to the business. This saves a lot of time for business users and also gives a great impression about the value IT can bring to the table.

Technology Fit: Often the most ignored but a very important aspect in the grand scheme of things. If you are evaluating a Recruitment application, you have to make sure it integrates with social media. You have to make sure it is in line with IT’s stated technology strategy. For ex: if your strategy is to move to a cloud based environment, you have to understand the vendors offering in a SAAS environment.

Tip #4: Ensure the technology strategy including DB platforms, infrastructure platform and other relevant information like integration strategy are shared with the vendor ahead of time. Rank the vendors on a scale of 1-5.

Tip#5: Always involve the IT Architect early in the selection process. This cannot be an afterthought.

Market Analysts perspective: Going through the analysts reports from Gartner and Forrester can make the selection process easy for your organization. They provide a great unbiased perspective on the vendors and these days, business users also want to see the analyst perspective before they make a decision.

Tip#6: Analyst perspective is not the end of the road. Remember that the analysts also have only a limited amount of time to evaluate the vendor. They go through the dog and pony show, talk to references provided by vendor and have to make a quick evaluation.

Referencable customers in your space: Gone are the days when vendors can sell their product across verticals. These days every organization wants to see a product which has significant referencable customer base in their vertical. I think this is a sophistication to which some vendors still have to adapt. However, verticalized solutions tend to be a better fit for your requirements.

Tip #7: Do not just go by the references the vendor provides. They only give references who will have good things to say. Social media can be a great tool to identify and talk to other references.

Tip#8: While evaluating products, make sure you align it to resource availability within your organization and consulting resources. There might be a great product out there but if you cannot find good consulting or internal talent to implement it, you will run into huge roadblocks during the implementation.

Financial landscape and activity in the market: It is very important to analyze the financial landscape of the vendor. The generic questions could be a) how long have they been in the business b) Are they publicly traded or privately owned c) How profitable is the vendor d) what is their re-investment strategy to improve the product and technology stack e) Is the vendor’s space going through a phase of consolidation or integration?

Pricing and flexibility: Last but not the least, you have to make sure the vendor applications are within your price range. Software companies have a huge margin for negotiation and their final prices can vary as much as 80% to the original price.

Tip#9: Keep the competitive dialog going. Let the vendor know a range of where they stand with competition. Always have more than 1 vendor till the final selection is made.

Tip #10: Flexibility is the most important aspect in vendor selection. You want to make sure the product vendor is going to work with you throughout the process. Insist on the vendor putting their skin in the game by either making an investment in the form of a program manager or a commitment to roll critical customizations back into the product.

Which vendor is finally selected in the process might go beyond these factors and might be influenced by factors like business relationships, future growth potential etc. However, following these simple steps will make the process efficient and effective.

Traditionally, Organizational Change Management (OCM) teams were setup and managed by the CIO/Program directors when large scale ERP’s were rolled out by organizations. However, the days of rolling out large scale multimillion dollar ERP packages are long gone. So, what do the CIO’s do with the OCM team, Should they disband the OCM team? Should the teams be moved under the COO to handle other major programs?

The OCM teams can be a great asset to the CIO’s organization. They can play a key role in positioning IT as a true business partner and build much needed credibility for the IT organization. Let us examine a few areas where the OCM team plays a critical role in technology deployment and process improvements. These can be simple processes like automation of expense process to complex and in demand tools to integrate and roll out social media solutions.

Rolling out integration between various applications and automating sub processes: it might seem simple but automating a simple process like absence management or automating expense receipt submission process can have a huge impact on the organization. It is not the simplicity of the process that determines the need for change management but the impact across the organization and the number of people touched by the process that determines the need for change management. The OCM teams can play a crucial role in these process from developing and preparing a communication plan, assessing organizational readiness to effective training deployment.


Effective Utilization of the ERP applications: Consider this scenario – Your organization has deployed the financials /CRM/HR application about 6 years ago. Several changes/customizations have been made to these applications, you are not sure if the organization is getting the best value out of the applications. I think in such situations, the OCM team can make a huge difference. The OCM team and IT team can and should partner to understand the overall process changes in the organization, conduct road shows to understand the user feedback on the application ( no point in hiding or running away from the feedback) and develop a comprehensive road map for implementation of changes in applications, business processes.

Partnering with Operations in building operational efficiencies: The COO’s office is on a mission to build operational efficiencies. They want to improve utilization of resources, ensure quick turnaround of projects, reduce the overall expense spend and build stronger delivery organizations. None of this can be achieved without implementing proper tools and technology. Implementing technology alone also does not help in achieving these objectives. It needs effective management of change across the organization, training and careful planning.

Outsourcing Applications: Outsourcing of current applications and application infrastructure needs effective change management internally (within the IT Organization) and externally (to the end users of these applications). The IT team has to be educated on the benefits of outsourcing, the positive impact of outsourcing to their roles and getting a buy in from the team. The stakeholders have to be educated on the changes they are likely to see, how this will benefit their application portfolio, what does this mean to support for their applications and how it impacts their relationship matrix. All of this can be achieved by proactive planning by the OCM team.

Social Media roll out: This surely is on the top of the mind for every CIO. More so if you are an organization attracting young talent. CIO’s cannot roll out or integrate social media applications without a proper understanding of the requirements of the organization at large, balancing of policies and freedom within the organization. The OCM team can help the CIO in understanding the organizational demands, communicating the policies and effectively rolling out or integrating applications.

All in all, change management is the need of the hour. An effective IT organization has OCM activities weaved into their day to day operations. So, if your organization has built an OCM team but is not getting the maximum benefit, now is a great time to review and redefine the engagement process.

Drop in a comment or send me an email at on what you have seen work and how OCM can make a difference.

Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | April 4, 2010

5 Principles for Effective Client and Project Management

Project Managers generally have the toughest job in the entire process. They have to manage customers, manage their leadership team, ensure customer payment on invoices and above all ensure successful delivery and meet milestones. All successful project managers have to be great leaders and skilled people managers. Having the knowledge of project management tools, being a certified Project Manager are great skills to have as long as they are combined with day to day management skills.

I have found the following to be key factors in successfully managing customers, teams and the leadership team

Empathize with the customer: Customers are always demanding, they have brought in a project manager because they think they need either an outside voice or a professional voice to manage the project teams and deliverables. Successful project managers never complain about the unrealistic expectations from customers. They always empathize with the customer to understand the pressures, the environment and break down/ analyze the situation. Empathizing with the customer also helps the project manager to establish a personal relationship and gives a voice of credibility to your skill set. It makes a huge difference when you say – ” I understand the need and the pressure you are dealing with, let us sit together and try to break this down to see what is possible and what is not.”. The worst way to kick off a relationship is to start by saying – “what you are expecting is unreasonable, I have been doing this for years and I can tell you now that we cannot accomplish what you want to achieve”.

Engage your team: Irrespective of the duration of the project, it is extremely important to engage the team from day 1 and keep them engaged throughout the project duration. Dale Carnegie says – “engaged employees are 43% more productive”. In order to engage the team and each individual, you have to make sure you communicate the criticality of the project, how their contribution can make a difference to the company and the customer and most importantly, what it means to the individual success.

Show interest in understanding the customer – You might have executed on healthcare or insurance projects for 10 years, you might know the inside out of the product that is being implemented, you might be assembling a team that has completed the project several times so far. All of these are great accomplishments and might be important to land your project. However, once the project is won and you start engaging on the project, the project manager and the team have to make sure they connect with the customer, everyone has to feel part of ONE team. There cannot be a customer team and a product/project team. The only way this can happen is if the Project manager and lead consultants show genuine interest in the customer’s business process and take time to understand the unique challenges being faced by the customer. Remember, every customer thinks they are unique and have their own set of challenges and to a great extent this is true. The best way again to connect and establish a relationship with a customer is to start by saying – ” we have experience in this field and have implemented/ built the product over the years. However, every customer we go to has unique set of challenges. Once we understand more about these challenges, as a team we can come up with a plan of solving those and draw upon our experience”.

Get the customer to say “Yes” first: Irrespective of your best efforts, you are sometimes bound to face tough customers. Some customers might refuse to budge on the project scope, some might refuse to budge on the price, some might refuse to budge on the timeline and last but not the least, you will always have the customer who does not want to pay the full or partial invoice. If you are in a situation where the customer is not willing to pay an invoice that means too much water has flown under the bridge. However, the best way to tackle these situations is a) avoid arguments b) get the customer to say yes to the value they have received and then start negotiating. For ex: “You would agree that we have added value in upgrading the product and it was a successful upgrade right.. I guess the sticky point is around the exact time it took to upgrade?” in such scenarios, when you have established the value upfront, it becomes easier to manage the negotiation.

Take ownership of errors – do not duck: If you realize that you or your team member has done a mistake or has messed up certain part of the project, the first person to acknowledge the mistake with the customer should be the project manager. Being upfront in such situations does several things to the project – a) Establishes your trust worthiness b) Customer will start thinking that they can rely on you more as you are being upfront c) Makes it easy to ask for more time from the customer in case the deliverables are delayed. Yes, it might mean you have to give away 3 or 4 days of free work but this short term loss will build long term credibility and relationship.

Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | March 17, 2010

Developing an IT integration strategy for Mergers & Acquisitions

As an IT professional, if you have been through Mergers & Acquisitions so far, you know by now that not having a clear strategy/plan for integrating your IT systems can be disastrous. Effective IT/system integration strategy can have a huge impact on the actual business results of the integration.

There has been a lot of debate and discussion about how fast or slow the integration process itself should be. You can also follow the debate here . However my personal opinion is – the faster you get the integration done, the better it will be for both the parties.

  1. Categorize your applications and integrate in a phased manner: All IT organizations have several applications which have been developed over years. Some are life blood applications, some are strategic differentiators, some are essential to keep the business running and some applications have been developed to address a one off business problem. This would be a great opportunity to clean up the portfolio and develop a plan to retire the rarely used or never used applications. In general the strategy should be integrate the applications which fall into the lifeblood applications and KBR category like ERP, DW/BI, Invoicing, HR and financial applications in phase 1, integrate the applications supporting ancillary business processes like travel booking, geography specific leave applications etc in phase 2 and retire the rarely used/never used applications

The M&A IT Integration Cycle

  1. Integrate with the M&A team right upfront: IT has to be part of business growth strategy and not an afterthought. If the IT integration team is not part of the M&A team right upfront from the due diligence phase, then there is something seriously wrong with the picture. Integrating systems and processes has a huge impact on the entire process. For ex: if your organization is used to the process of Project managers/ client engagement executives sending out invoices to the customers but in the company you are trying to acquire, this process is handled by finance, it can be a major point of concern. The IT team members who work closely with the overall M&A team have to have a deep and thorough understanding of the business process the applications align with and analyze the impact. Infact, the best way to integrate is to develop a IT risk assessment document and ensure the risks /mitigation strategies are embedded into the overall M&A framework.
  2. Develop clear templates and deliverables at each phase: An effective IT integration strategy will be aligned with the overall M&A strategy. Depending on the stages your organization follows for integration like due diligence, offer, acceptance and signing and post merger, IT strategy also has to evolve with the business phases. IT can only be effectively aligned if each phase of the strategy has a clear set of activities, pre-defined documents/templates which can be used by any team member without too much of knowledge transfer and clear deliverables which articulate the key concerns/issues or measures. For ex: the IT team should highlight the major risks in the process of integration, suggest an ideal timeframe for integration based on all the factors in the due diligence phase. A clear step by step project plan for integration should be developed as part of signing and closing phase and finally templates should be in place to report weekly during the post signing and integration process and stake holders should be able to identify/ address the major challenges/concerns.
  3. Infrastructure plays a key role: Integrating IT does not start or end with integrating applications. It starts with integrating the infrastructure like networks, telephone systems and goes well beyond applications with IM and chat support, rolling out of help desk and finally the email setup. There are 2 sticky points I have faced with integration a) Size limit on emails – this can be a very difficult issue to handle especially in cases where larger organizations are taking over smaller organizations. Large / medium companies tend to have strict quotas on email whereas smaller companies are liberal with their email quotas. B) Always plan on retaining the client email client and forward emails to the new address for longer period of times. Consider this example: Let us say you lost your American express card and you call up Amex to send you a new card, Amex will send you a new card in 24 hours and will also remind you to change the card numbers in various places which put charges on your account on a recurring basis. However, it does not cut off the recurring charges going to the old card right away. They are cut off only after an extended period of time (sometimes 3-6 months only where there is a history of recurring charges from a specific vendor)and it is totally seamless to us as customers. The switch in email clients and addresses also has to be as seamless if not better than that. Especially in situations where employees are constantly interacting with customers. This is an area where PaaS can really help expedite the integration process.

The IT integration playbook for M&A like any other document is always a living and breathing document. Lessons from each integration have to be incorporated and templates have to be updated. An effective IT integration strategy can reduce the integration timeframe by 50% and save your company several million of dollars.

Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | March 8, 2010

Managing Complex Global Projects

Every Organization irrespective of their revenue, number of years in existence, for-profit or not for profit has to deal with complex global projects. The global nature of the projects can be due to presence of their organization in various locations or due to the fact that they have decided to outsource their applications or business process. Each scenario has own set of challenges and issues with delivery. Irrespective of the scenario, there are certain factors every company should take into consideration while managing complex global projects

Business Alignment & Delivery Management: In a typical setup, these are 2 different roles. The person responsible for understanding the client needs, maintaining the relationship, analyzing the priorities is different than the person responsible for the overall project delivery. Some organizations tend to have a overall program director who plays both roles. However, managing them as 2 different roles tends to yield best results. The delivery lead or the delivery director typically comes from inside the organization. He or she is good at pushing back on scope creep, they are good at identifying resources who can deliver and have got a very good working relationship with the executive sponsors. The person who is understands the business and builds business relationship can be an outsider. They have deep industry knowledge, they have the expertise to guide a varied group of people with demanding requirements, they are respected for their knowledge and are closely aligned with the delivery teams. In lay man terms, the person in charge of business alignment is the so called “Good Cop” and the delivery manager generally ends up playing the “Bad cop”.

Organizational Change Management (OCM): Undertaking a complex global project requires the organization to setup a strong OCM team. Many organizations try to accomplish this task by hiring a change management consultant. In my personal opinion and experience, a Change management consultant can help drive the process, define a methodology to handle change and coach the team on various tools and techniques but they cannot own the complete process and drive the change. The ownership has to lie with an experienced person who has been in the organization for a long time, is respected and knows all the key players and the internal politics.


Integration Landscape: In typical large projects, integration between systems is extremely important. The lead for integration is someone who is technically strong, can think on his or her feet, can come up with alternatives and knows the lay of the land. Another important aspect for the integration lead is to understand the requirements of the subscriber of the data. They should challenge the status quo, stop providing information for the sake of providing information, have great knowledge of the architecture and understand the usage of technology. In my mind, the Integration lead is almost like a CTO position. If the organization has the right person, they can really change the landscape of the application environment.

Collaboration Tools & Techniques: A very important factor in managing global projects. Organizations have to make sure they have the right combination of collaboration tools (Chat, Telepresence, webex, audio conference etc) combined with the skill set. There is no substitute to meeting in person. Projects where the delivery teams meet once every 3-6 months tend to be more successful. Collaboration has become so important that Organizations now even have metrics and incentives for effective and efficient collaboration among project team members.

Executive Sponsorship: So much has been said about executive sponsorship that it is almost a cliché. However, this remains to be a very important factor. Organizations say they have executive sponsorship but it is actions and not words that determine the commitment from the executive team. Large successful projects have had strong participation from the executive team. In a recent project which was considered to be the backbone of the organization, the CFO of a $3bn organization participated in design validation meetings, reviewed the progress on a weekly basis, reviewed the budget on a monthly basis and participated in Executive Steering Committee presentations on a bi-monthly basis. That in my mind is true commitment. The presence of the CFO in these meetings compelled the various BU heads to actively participate and validate the decisions.

As always, what do you think are the key factors? What have you seen work and what has not worked. Drop in a comment, send me a note


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