Tech & Work

Challenges and frustrations of a CIO in India

Though technology has saturated most countries, there are still various nuances to IT management and leadership in different parts of the world, as one CIO in India relates.


While the technology industry is largely based on the key platforms and principles across the globe, international CIOs still must manage through many nuances specific to their countries, according to Sunil Jalihalm, CIO of eVector Mobile, a wireless software provider in Bangalore, India.

At eVector, Jalihalm is responsible for product conceptualization, strategic roadmap creation, product development, and software engineering. He joined the firm at its inception and played a role in raising venture capital from Intel Capital, Reuters, and JP Morgan Chase. He’s also involved in strategic business development and pre-sales support for the sales and marketing team in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

The 36-year-old has worked in top management positions at both large and start-up companies—several based in the United States.

I spent time recently talking with Jalihalm about his career and management philosophy, the different management approaches that come into play, and how the India tech environment differs from the American industry.

TechRepublic: What were your goals when you were younger?
Jalihalm: When I was in college I was fascinated by the untapped technical talent and creativity that we had in India. My goal was to tap into that talent and create something new from India. But looking back on my early schooling, I also considered being an architect, interior designer, travel writer, or a gourmet chef. By the time I reached college, I knew I wanted to be a computer software engineer.

TechRepublic: Did you want to become a CIO?
Jalihalm: Not necessarily, but I definitely wanted to lead and motivate teams to create products/services in the hardware/software area.

TechRepublic: Did you plan your career?
Jalihalm: Yes and no. I did plan to be in the telecom software arena after completing an interesting telecom-related project with a friend. I entered the computer software industry working at a public-sector computer company. Since both telecom and system software were my interests, I targeted myself toward this sector. At all my jobs, I took extra initiative in creating new business opportunities (although I was in the software development arena and not in sales or marketing), and I worked towards opportunities where I would constantly be customer- or market-facing. My goal was to bring perspective to software development. I also worked towards getting exposure for telecom/software activities across the globe (North America, Europe, Asia). I did not restrict myself to the United States, which was the trend over the years.

TechRepublic: What are your current goals?
Jalihalm: I plan to help create new business opportunities for India in the software arena and be a part of helping India move up the value chain into intellectual property (product) creation and creating new and interesting service packages for the IT world. And, maybe one day, I will launch my own company.

TechRepublic: You’ve changed jobs a few times. Was it planned or did you move as a result of consolidations or layoffs?
Jalihalm: I moved for new and exciting opportunities. I also moved to get exposure and learn from different kinds of organizations and cultures. I started at CMC Ltd., a public-sector company, and then went on to Wipro Systems, which is a large private-sector Indian company. Then I joined Siemens, which is a European multinational company, and then moved to Hewlett-Packard, a large and respected American multinational company. For the last few years I have applied what I have learned at these organizations to launch high-tech start-up companies (eCapital Solutions and eVector). In the IT arena, I was involved with creating value propositions, doing strategic business development, and leading software development efforts.

TechRepublic: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Jalihalm: Several aspects are fulfilling: the telecom/datacom/IT arena with its ever-advancing technologies; opportunity to travel to different countries; making friends from around the world; guiding fresh young minds; and the opportunity to create something of value from India.

TechRepublic: What do you enjoy least?
Jalihalm: The negatives are the arrogance and lack of humility of the IT engineering community, as well as dealing with the vagaries of VCs and their failure to appreciate the time required to set up and grow a sustainable business.

TechRepublic: How does the Indian tech workforce differ from the American tech workforce?
Jalihalm: With the spread of the IT industry across the world, most of the culture in IT companies worldwide is similar. Indian engineers are as capable as any of the best in Silicon Valley in terms of creativity, eagerness to do new things, and technical knowledge. Indian engineers, however, tend to be more individualistic and emotional and are greatly influenced by the Indian philosophy of “knowledge for knowledge’s sake: don’t expect any gains from it.” They are influenced by the need for constant growth within the organization. American workers are more exposed to the latest technology; more focused and specialized; have excellent technical capabilities; are clear about what they want; and have more experience in creating world-class products. They are not as prone to being emotional as Indian engineers.

TechRepublic: How is the Indian workplace different?
Jalihalm: In terms of physical infrastructure—the way of working and tools—the two workplaces have been very similar for a few years now. Many of our overseas visitors have often commented on how close our workplaces are to the ones in Silicon Valley.

TechRepublic: Is the work ethic the same or different?
Jalihalm: Yes, the work ethic is quite similar with some fundamental differences as mentioned earlier. In Bangalore (India’s Silicon Valley), it tends to be as competitive and aggressive as the Bay Area.

TechRepublic: What is the Indian management approach?
Jalihalm: It is a combination of American/European and Japanese/Asian management styles. Neither of these management styles can be directly applied in India. There needs to be a combination of applying structured management techniques, which include driving/guiding people out of their complacency; handling the emotional side of your team; and creating and giving growth opportunities to members of your team.

TechRepublic: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Jalihalm: In spite of the near-term gloom and recessionary conditions in the IT industry, the future holds a lot of promise. Many new technologies in Voice Over IP, mobile technologies, and the advancement of small devices will get deployed over the next few years and be combined with other technologies in bio-tech, automotives, construction, etc., and make the world even more comfortable than it is today. I see myself contributing to this development, creating new businesses, building new teams to harness the vast potential of India’s high technology, and participating in making India a bigger force in the IT industry.

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