Friday, November 25, 2011

Klout Computing!

Yes. This is not about Cloud Computing. Post the viral adoption of social networks, analytics has picked up big time in recent months. The end result - plethora of online services available to perform analytics on social network data.

I tried Klout and Mirror Me!. Would suggest not to try those without reading further!.

While people in real world aspire for coveted titles and powerful positions, in the virtual world, the same people aspire for 'Influence'. Influence is about a person's ability to drive action in others (without power). The influential ability is called 'Clout' and Gaining this Clout is gaining lot more prominence in virtual world these days!.

A decade ago, Google tried to rank 'pages' based on their popularity. But today,the algorithms are
trying to rank the actual 'people' to assess their popularity and influence.

Klout is one such company that connects to all social network sites to evaluate your activity and come out with your Klout metric.It reports the metric in the scale of 1-100. If you are measured in the range of 70s or so, You are really really influential in the online world.

This leads to several interesting, but controversial questions:

1. Am afraid we are moving towards a celebrity culture than an inclusive one. People are literally going to compete to score and maintain a higher Klout to achieve their goals in "real" lives.

2. People who are really busy and adding value to their stakeholders may not find time to tweet/talk or network in virtual world. This doesn't mean that those people do not have enough Klout. Klout is all about Online Clout and nothing more.

3. This trend also implicitly expects that people in online world to be expressive, a post here, a tweet there, a post now, a photo later, etc. This again can not be expected from broad range of people, especially people who are conservative/introverts. This doesn't mean they do not have Clout.

4. Most of the content floating around in social networks are trivia. What is the significant business value one can get by analyzing this data?

5. No Doubt, its a competitive arsenal for Marketing. Gaining insights on current trends & influencing the influencers will greatly enhance the marketability of a product/service.  Am amazed by the capabilities of one such tool - Data Sift.  I was discussing with my ex-Colleague Paramesh that next US President election could be largely influenced by DataSift kind of tools.

6. Privacy - To compute your Klout score, the site will ask you the permission to scan your online activities even when you have not logged on. And this applies to a number of sites that you are associated with. While giving permission is a click away, revoking them may not be straightforward/easy.

7. Algorithms - What is the basis for computing the Klout? There could be various ways of measuring Clout depending on the weightage given to the nature of activities online.

8. People's persona cannot be measured only by their social network activities. Social Network is a public place where people are expected to follow certain etiquette. And People behave according to the implicit rules/norms to get associated with the larger group. However, this behavior generally arises out of their aspiration or the need for 'Personal Branding' and may not be based on what they truly are. Measuring a person's Clout purely based on their social network activity may be skewed.

9. Quantity scores more than Quality. If you have more connections in the network, you have higher chances of gaining more Clout than others.

So ,Beware of 'Klout Computing'!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Seven Billionth Baby and Corporate Dashboards!

Few days ago, Oct 31st to be precise, the news of seven billionth baby was creating lot of buzz in the media.

While I was not keen to understand the census, I was really curious to know the math behind this count. I checked with my ex-colleague and Datawarehousing/Business Intelligence Specialist Paramesh  on how this could have been possible? There is every possibility that this number could be inaccuarate because of the sheer size of the canvas. In this case, the canvas is the whole world.

We all know the practical challenges in aggregating data within a company?. And How do they do it across the globe?

Thanks to Paramesh, Today he reverted with an exact article that talks about the same challenge. It was a surprising coincidence! The article talks about - How did they count? How did they comeup with that number - 7 Billion - on that specific day?

The fact of the matter is United Nations don't know. The announcement was meant to be symbolic than to be precise. UN has confirmed there is no way it can predict at which minute of the day - 31st Oct - the 7 billionth baby was born in the world.

Howere, it is not a random number dropped just out of the hat. There is a process/method that U.N. has followed to comeup with that projection. United Nations collect country wise population data every five years and based on the system generated models, the date has been picked up at Oct 31. There is a 2% margin of error expected in the global tally, which in this case, could be huge in terms of census and the time period!

I see the corporate dashboards(BI/Reports) that take data from individual line-of-businesses within a company can take a lesson or two from this news. I have tried to list few of them:

1. There is a process and system in which the sub-system (countries) provide data to the main system (United Nations). So, Its not just about technology. We will need a process and method to coordinate the data aggregation. The systems/applications and runtime infrastructure have to implement the processes and contracts to ensure aggregation.
2. People are aware of the percentage of error and at peace with Good Enough BI. In lighter vein, What you sow is what you reap!. :-) Awareness on Data Quality and Incremental expectations are the key to successful BI implementations!
3. The focus is more on the ways in which data can be leveraged for analysis/insights and less on the precision. Often People debate about the trees that they forget to see the forests!. I have seen executive dashboards often spark controversies around numbers that the real issues get pushed to back seat!.
4. There is a model in place to predict the growth. Yes, finally BI solutions should not endup as concrete/one-off implementations. The definition of formal models that abstract the concepts in respective verticals hold the key for extensibility of the solutions.

Finally, As any BI implementation would invite disputes, Here is somebody in Asia pacific disputing that the whole seven billionth baby announcement from UN was stage managed!. :-). Again, its not just about numbers and technology! :-)

Surface takes precedence over Structure!

One of the prominent consequences of Apple iPhone phenomenon is the shift in technology buyers' focus towards Industrial Design and User Experience. This trend has caught up with every aspect of Technology - be it Consumer Technology or Enterprise Technology.

Whatsoever be the application of Technology, Consumers have started to ask - Does it activate my senses beyond just being passive and functional? - Evokes positive / Feel good emotions when you use the product, Its simple and doesn't make you think, It is asthetically designed in every little detail that I feel proud about it and talk to my social/professional circle about the technology?. Aesthatics/Meticulous design also implicitly states that the supplier has taken every effort to produce a great product.

Last but not the least, Apple also demonstrated outstanding marketing when it launched all its new generation devices. Remember, Palm has been the innovative company both in touch phones and App ecosystem long ago. Despite that fact, people queued up in hours to buy iPhones.

How does this factor influence the Architecture practice - especially Enterprise Architecture.

I should say quite a lot. It has generated a significant inequality in terms of IT investments. Earlier, the mandate to enterprise architecture was 'Show me the money'. We filled the gap with Business cases.Today, its not just 'Show me the money' but 'Show me how cool it is/Show me how it works in when it comes alive'. If a strategic initiative doesn't meet either of the criterion, its doomed for failure.

Traditionally, be it Software Architecture or Enterprise IT Architecture focused all their energies toward setting standards/specifications towards the structure of the system. The structure usually signify the skeletal framework of the system (be it a single application or the entire Enterprise IT) that defines the internal organization of the components and their evolution.

Software/Enterprise IT Architecture has it roots from Software Engineering and hence it focused more on Technology and its Quality of Service. Structure of the systems are implicit characteristics and they can be only measured by overt mechanisms like Human X-Rays.

I do want to mention the fact that these X-Ray are gaining prominence in the Software Architecture space in the last couple of years.I have personally used tools like Sonar Technical Debt that can scan the software codebase and report the health of internal structure. Result - its not just developers, the management stakeholders were able to appreciate the metrics.

The implicit structures don't manifest themselves upfront and it requires a lot of effort to understand and appreciate the Architecture. And that becomes a biggest challenge for Architecture adoption in this time-starved generation.

The challenge facing practising Enterprise Architects is - How do we make Enterprise Architecture visibly manifest its great qualities?

We have all banked upon Architecture Tools, Excels, PowerPoints Visios and Analytics/Metrics to backup. Going forward, all these tools are definitely required. However, We need a new breed of tools/techniques that takes lessons from Industrial Design and User Experience and make Enterprise Architect successful and much more productive!

The new Tools/Techniques could include - Visual Models for industry verticals, Simulations, Animated Models & Gamification. All these are interactive techniques that could help in powerful storyboarding of the strategic initiatives.

The point is - What you see on the surface makes the first impression and sometimes it takes the precedence over the internal structure of the system. The challenge is to keep the balance between both and not compromising either of the aspect. While too much of focus on surface will end up in a frothy/weak product,too much of structural focus will end up having no takers.

Have been reading 'Experience Economy' and its quite interesting though the book was written few years ago, the paradigm is more relevant in today's times than ever.

The takeaway from this book resonates with this post - Every business is turning to be an experience/show business. Hence ability to put up a good show in orchestrating various themes/elements is the key towards creating highly profitable/growing businesses.

In my view, this message applies to corporate workforce as well - Every profesison within the corporate workforce need to not only deliver but innovatively market its offerings to its stakeholders to survive and grow!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Just Enough Business Intelligence!

This post is a culmination of several aspects that I have been either reading/observing such as:

1. The book titled "The Two second advantage" - a Book by Vivek Ranadive and Kevin Maney
2. Another reputed book "Flow" - by Psychologist Mihaly. Interestingly, the Flow concepts are referred in the first book - The Two Second Advantage as well.
3. An interesting, but offensive post titled "Kill Your Datawarehouse" by Splunk. I evaluated Splunk in my previous organization and I should say its a radical departure from traditional data storage Architectures.
4. Big Data and its implications on the Enterprise.

Traditionally, DW/BI systems have been expensive, untimely and far from realizing business benefits!. In the traditional RDBMS world of DW/BI architectures, Predictive Analytics is being touted as the next big thing!. But, the reality in Enterprise IT has been the reverse. Have blogged about this state of BI in Enterprise IT few months ago.

Coupled with Big Data, Information Overload is becoming the biggest challenge being faced by Enterprises today. No amount of computational advances in the form of Cloud/Grid is going to help solve the information overload issue. It is not the question of computation, but the ability to "qualify" and "condense" the big data to formulate high-level abstract models that can be processed quickly is the key. The Two Second Advantage book calls this process as "Chunking". It further adds that chunking is the method that Human Brain uses to absorb information, learns and make the knowledge as instrinsic part of the consciousness so that it becomes a natural activity for repeated applications. (e.g. Car Driving). Learned in this way, Human brain becomes specialized, learns the ability to be reflexive/adaptive and gains the ability to predict the next few steps. And that's the key!. Only few steps not too far!

The book tries to create a link between computational science and Neuro science. It claims the next generation of Business Intelligence does not lie in long predictive analytics, but predicting just-enough, next set of actions.

For example:

1. Who is the next best talent that we can hire from market?
2. What is the in-houst best talent that is subject to attrition risks?
3. Who are the customers/partners that could default in payments?
4. Who are the promising prospects that would convert to customers?
5. What would the customer buy next?

These new business requirements call for new capabilities such as ability to to scan data from multiple sources - structured/unstructured, Internal/External, ability to condense large amount of data into abstract models, drill-down to details on demand, ability to query and navigate the data networks in quick cycles, and finally the ability to predict just enough next few actions.

This doesn't mean we will dump our traditional DW/BI systems. But, We need to be certainly prepared for hybrid new architectures that would blend the conventional data stores with new age data formats!

Would like to conclude this post with another correlation that I recently read - a poem by former Prime Minster of India VP Singh. He is a versatile personality and one of his skills is in poetry. In his poem on Astrology, the Astrologer talks about Singh's fortunes and challenges in the future, VP singh politely asks the astrologer "What is the dream that I would get in tonight's sleep?". Needless to say Astrologer goes speechless! :-)

Any predictions - What is the next topic that I would blog about?

I know it! :-). If you can predict, I promise to compliment you in my next post.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing Apps is Wrong!

Yes, this is what ZDNet Blogger Brian Sommer says!. In the post, Brian argues that 'Applications' are wrong perspective to have in todays' times. He adds businesses today don't want apps. Instead they need 'capabilities' to serve different kinds of information to a variety of users in different kind of devices.

Do I agree?. Partly, Yes - to the point that we need a different paradigm to deliver business capabilities.

Let's deep dive a little from this viewpoint.

Adding to Brian's message, my thoughts on Apps follow:

- Applications are old school of thinking.
They are good for accounting/transactional systems but not suitable for unstructured /
dynamic business scenarios.
- They are highly introverted & technical!. [No offense to Introversion! :-) ]
It simply means Apps think about themselves, their structure & data exchange rather than
connectivity to end users and their context.
- Applications are fragmented. Users need to hop-on and hop-off between applications to
accomplish tasks/processes. This gives a disjointed experience in terms of security,
profiling, etc.
- Applications are limited in their orientations - either processes or data.
[Today, we have lot more dimensions to express - social, multi-media, visual, spatial]

Despite new ages capabilities brought by mobile internet devices, We still keep developing applications and deliver in old ways. In fact, We are facing the problem of plenty where there are hundreds/thousands of apps. And We need another new range of apps called 'Helpers' which can assist in navigating the apps market place. (Guided Search).

What is the alternative?

Brian suggests delivering context-specific, Role-based, "smart" information to mobile internet devices through a common UI. He claims such a delivery would empower the end-users by enhancing their "business capabilities". Sounds convincing?. While I agree to the perspective that Apps are old-school, I dont quite agree 'Capabilities' are the way ahead. IMHO, Applications have always been capability enhancers to end users. Its just that they were not smart.

Where do I differ?

In some way, Brian's suggestion of - context-specific, role-based, common UI - reminds me another old school paradigm called 'Portals'. We all had portals in in the past, in the Web world. We have incarnations, in the mobile world as well. And there are quite a few Mobile Portal offerings that aggregate and provide context-specific, role based access to Apps. Yes, You would still have apps. But they would run behind the scenes - behind a Portal facade. And Portals came up with Single Sign-On, Context-Switching, Inter-connectivity, etc.

So, Do Portals solve the Fragementation Problem?. To certain extent, Yes. The flip side was Portals were heavy, resource-intensive and required wiring of applications. Portals were actually "Mega" Apps!.

So, What would be the new paradigm?

In my opinion, Apps and services are inevitable. They will continue to exist in near future as well, from technical implementation perspective. They are the modular units/building blocks of end user capabilities. They can be made "smart" by adding some intelligence to those applications. It is in the hands of the designers/developers to make it smart.

What we need today are - "Coherent Experiences".

For example, any user would have few limited profiles - Family, Work, Leisure, Travel, Learning. Users when login to those respective profiles, they should be able to accomplish their respective tasks/processes with much more ease - because the system proactively understands the context and prepares itself to serve smart information by leveraging the new technical capabilities such as social/video/spatial, etc. They would be inherently capable to provide a coherent experience by interoperating with various apps/services behind the scenes.

I am imagining such a solution would look wonderful on a tablet device or a Microsoft Surface kind of a device that can orchestrate various hardware/software components. Remember - You may still write apps. But the focus is more on orchestration and experience and not on 'creating' or 'building' applications.

I would like to ask - What experience are you trying to orchestrate for your customers?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Are you ready for "Grand-Renewal"?

Its interesting to hear the need for 'Grand Renewals' constantly from the Tech industry. Few years ago, it was Web 2.0, Enterprise SOA. Today, it's about Cloud, Mobility/Tablets and Analytics.

Wanted to highlight two of the "Grand Rewneal" stories that are worth watching...Will add more on the same lines in coming days.

1. SAP

One of my colleagues made a recent comment that SAP's marketing team has been working overtime to promote HANA, its latest offering - a high-performance analytic appliance that runs in-memory. In the recently concluded SAP SAPPHIRE event, its CTO Vishal Shikka made a flamboyant pitch for HANA, that makes you to believe as if HANA is the next big thing not just for SAP, but for the entire business applications & analytics space!.

It is touted as the non-intrusive platform that can boost the performance problems of existing business intelligence/analytics solutions protecting customers' existing investments. In fact, in long run, SAP even wants to migrate the SAP R3 ERP suite to HANA. In a nutshell, HANA is a new generation platform where the business applications and analytics solutions can offload their transaction processing workload for faster performance. [It reminds me old transaction monitor softwares suchas Tuxedo :-)]

In its maximum capacity, HANA has been tested with a processor of 1000 cores (yes, you read it right!!), 16 Terrabytes of RAM. SAP is also working on a cloud version of HANA.

Now, coming to the core question - What kind of problems can be solved by HANA?. Simply - Big Problems. If you have business problems that need scale - scale in data volume, scale in complex processing, Demanding expectations on high-performance and Real-Time - then HANA may be right for you. SAP's key customers have already started to experiment with HANA in their respective businesses. For example, Infosys, an IT services company having employees close to hundred thousand people has experimented with HANA to track the project-level profitability or margins. Considering the size of Infosys, Am sure it will have thousands of projects at any point of time.

The keynotes by Vishal Shikka has been interesting in the last couple of years. Unlike other CTOs, Vishal gives a philosophical/conceptual approach for SAP's Technology/Product directions. He has earlier talked about some of the key concepts like Timeless software, Pace-Layered Architecture. In the recent keynote, giving an example of paper books moving to eBooks, Vishal mentions the "content" of the book has been liberated to take advantage of the "container". In this case, the container being transitioned is the hard-bound paper medium to an electronic device. And the liberation leads to new possibilities/new experiences. Having mentioned, he further makes the case for the "content" in business applications - the actual business information - be liberated to new "containers". In SAP case, the new container is "HANA".


SalesForce's annual event Dreamforce recently concluded. In the keynote given by company's CEO Marc Benioff articulates the vision of Social Enterprise. Social Enterprise is all about democratizing the business processes, eliminating barriers for employees, customers, suppliers to collaborate and share information/ideas and thereby increasing the opportunities for high performance of the enterprise. SalesForce has been making significant investments in the past by introducing offerings such as Chatter that are aligned to Social Enterprise vision. Some of the companies have started exerimenting with Chatter to be deployed as the collaboration platform between the Service representatives and Customers.

While the vision of Social Enterprise may sound like brand new and relevant these days, I see it as the re-incarnation of Web 2.0 concepts that we saw few years ago. Again, Social Enterprise is not a pure-play technology solution. Becoming a Social Enterprise would require companies to fundamentally re-think their organizational culture, processes, Employees & Reward mechanisms. In that sense, it can also be qualifed as a 'Business Technology solution', when collaboration happens not just between people. In addition, with across enterprise information systems.

There is a similar interesting observation on Cap Gemini blog quoting becoming the new Front Office of enterprises. While positions itself as a Front Office, SAP HANA positions itself as the solid engine for Transaction Processing and Business Analytics. It would be interesting to see how other players respond these positions!.

The key takeaway is that the key technology players want you to fundamentally re-think the way business are run / think about brand new opportunities that your business can advantage of, using their innovative new technologies. They don't position their offering as 'Technology infrastructure'. In fact, SAP positions its HANA as a business-technology platform when comparing Oracle's Exadata as a Technology infrastructure.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

How do you see your profession changing?

Am referring to your profession not your job.

To set the context, Am going to talk only about functions only within Enterprise IT (CIO organization).

You may be a Project Manager, Architect, Vice-President - Operations, Compliance Officer, Quality Assurance Provider, Accountant, HR, Developer - There are chances that your stakeholders might have added new expectations to your function without your notice!.

Let me quote few examples.

1. There is no dearth of discussion around the topic of Enterprise Architecture & Enterprise Architects. People across networks keep debating about the pros and cons of this Role all the time. Recently, there was an article published from Zapthink on some of those provocative topics - What will it take for enterprise architecture to become a profession?. And Why nobody is doing enterprise architecture?.

2. Forrester has been publishing some very interesting research on Why do some Strategic Roles fail?. The roles include Enterprise Architects, PMO, Planning, Relationship Management, Vendor Management etc.

3. TechTarget predicting the future roles of Enterprise IT with the advent of Software-as-a-Service. It predicts Enterprise IT would dwindle and become a Service Broker rather than a Solution Constructor. With this change, it claims coding/development functions will become less important and eventually transition to IT Service companies/Product Companies.

4. The emergence of new roles such as Data Scientists may be a threat for some and opportunity for others.

If Strategic functions have these challenges, one may get an impression that Operational functions are safe haven! Not Really! :-)

5. Rakesh Khurana of Princeton University argues whether management itself can be considered as a profession. That's startling!. Of course, the context of this perspective is not specific to Enterprise IT. It applies to General management across industries.

What do we mean by Profession? Making a function as a Profession requires codifying the practices and enforcing the code of conduct for practitioners. (e.g. Medicine, Law). A Job provides a channel to deliver the standard functions of a Profession.

Why is this issue important for Enterprise IT? Because, its the only unit within the organization that gets continuously disrupted both with emerging technologies and changing business needs!. Enterprise IT needs to balance the expectations of being a rock-solid infrastructure provider to business enabler and innovative technology solution partner.

In progressive organizations, the disruptions in the demand/supply chains of Enterprise IT (be it business stakeholders on the demand side or IT service providers/technology vendors on the supply side) will call for profound changes in individual functions within the unit!.

Let's face it!. Functions in Enterprise IT are moving targets!. The solution is to continuously deliver "value" in current function and stay alert!. To stay alert, it is required to understand the movements/disruptions a lot more better in terms of its direction, velocity & impact and respond appropriately and timely!.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Next-Generation Wal-Mart =

This morning, I happened to read some of the technology developments happening at Wal-mart. Yes, you read it right!. Walmart has roped-in experts from Silicon valley to explore the technology improvements that can be incorporated at Walmart. Walmart's response to eCommerce has been lukewarm over the past decade or so. It has always marketed itself around stores, low-prices, communities and people. So, Investing in an online B2C experience could cannibalize its very own strengths and core business model!. That doesn't mean that Walmart has shunned itself away from Technology. In fact, it has been a great adapter of technologies in the space of supply chain integration, logistics and distribution as those technologies help the company to become lot more cost-efficient and productive!.

Of late, the company is also extending its value chain acquiring dollar stores to sell products at even more lower prices! And started a company-wide initiative called Project Impact that would redesign their stores to make them much more efficient and customer friendly!. The company CEO has also unveiled the strategy for Next Generation Walmart. Interestingly, the strategy puts more emphasis on culture, society, people/communities, stores & prices and less on Technology. The strategy to some extent talks about eCommerce, but only treated as a strategic necessity than a competitive advantage.

The WalmartLbas has been experimenting with Social Networks, Mobility, Mobile Payments and Online-Store integration. One of the interesting aspects that I observe in their experiments is to use Technology to influence the Stores' inventory so that it can serve better to its own community. (For example, Fishing may be active in one community whereas certain kind of music may be a buzz in another community. The stores can stock up those items whose demand may rise based on the trends). This way, Technology is used to predict what can sell in future based on current trends than on the past data. And I find this idea counter-intuitive as technology gets quite frequenly applied at influencing the buyer than the seller.

Considering its core strengths, Walmart may never attempt to become a No.1 Online sales mart, but it would continue to improve the online experience so that it has strong synergies with its brick-and-mortar stores.

On the contrary, has been steadily diversifying itself from a media store (books, audio, video and apps) to a General store. It has extended its merchandise to electronics, consumer goods, toys and others. In that sense, is pretty much becoming the Wal-mart on the Web. The company also positions itself as a Technology provider by offering cloud computing services and ecommerce services.

Now, the question is, Would challenge Walmart in future, in terms of overall business?. It is already challenging quite a lot from Online Sales perspective. With the current rate of growth, a firm even claims that could potentially overtake entire Walmart (not just in next 10 years. While in short term, this may sound naive, but the long term possiblity cannot be over-ruled!. And remember Amazon's history shows that it was not afraid of re-inventing itself by coming up with new business models fueled by Technology and Creativity!.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What can we learn from Google Takeout?

One of the biggest pain points of Enterprise IT is the timely access to quality data. Data is typically spread across multiple systems, organizational units, diversified platforms and technologies/products. Now, if someone needs to have a unified view of such distributed data, its going to cost them a lot!.

And Enterprise IT world typically addresses these problems with heavy-duty solutions - Enterprise Information Models / Canonical Data Models, Data Governance/Standards, Master Data Management, Service-oriented Architecture, Application Integration, Business Intelligence solutions/ETL - Feeling Tired? :-)

End users are not that patient enough to wait for these heavy-duty solutions to pay off in multi-year transformational programs. The reasons being cost is too high and time-to-value is too short. If those programs deliver late in the cycle, the data itself could become irrelvant during those times!.

So, What would be the potential solution for these problems? Consumerization solutions have a lesson to teach to Enterprise IT products. And, this time its none other than Google.

On the day when Google launched Google+, its beta social networking site, it also launched 'Google Takeout', an initiative by Data Liberation Front within Google. The objective of this initiative is to enable the user to export his personal data from a variety of Google sites, whenever he/she wants.

To test the service, I tried exporting my personal data using my Google Id and downloaded the zip file. I would encourage you as well to do so!. You will be in for a surprise!. :-). Right now, Google takeout supports exporting from a variety of Google sites, including the newly launched Google+. Google claims its a big advantage over Facebook!.

Now, the question is, Why can't we have such a simple solutions to Enterprise Information Needs?. Pls note, Google Takeout supports exporting data not just from one app, but a variety of Google applications!

The second example I would like to quote is the integration of Google Maps with SAP BI solutions where SAP's BI data can be plotted in Google Maps!. This is a clear example of consumerization!. Enterprise BI solutions can no longer afford to boast about the computing capabilities or structural complexities!. The business/IT users are no longer in interesting in those stories anymore!. Deeply influenced by consumer-intensive IT solutions, the futurstic BI solutions need to demonstrate value in terms of novelty in simple/effective user experiences!.

Bring Your Own Robots?

In next few years, the issue of 'Bring Your Own Device' in Enterprise IT could also include 'Bringing your own Robots' to the company. :-). You may not be carrying a smartphone. You may be having a mini-robot which could assist in your work!. Does it sound like a sci-fi movie?. Not really!. It could be a reality soon!. And Corporate IT would be challenged to identify the security threats attached to those scenarios! :-)

Recently, Microsoft has released the Kinect Services for Robotics. This means that one can use Kinect SDK to develop robotics applications. And like any other technology, Robotics is also being consumerized. With Kinect having entered the Guinness book of world records for becoming the World's fastest selling electronic gadget & the release of Kinect SDK early this year opened up new explorations such as - 'what does this mean for end consumers?. What does it mean for Enterprises? What kind of business/consumer applications one can develop using Kinect?'

By releasing the SDK for Robotics, Microsoft has paved the way for using Gesture-based Computing/Sensor Technologies to be applied in robotics domain. The trend would not have got enough coverage, had it been released by a non-IT company. Microsoft, being an Enterprise IT & Consumer Technology company, it has generated lots of interests!

The next few years could be the defining years for transformation from industrial robots to consumer robots. The consumer robots can assist humans by offering a variety of services such as Elderly Care, Health Care, Home Automation/Management, Training, Tourism.

With Microsoft's cash cows being Windows & Office/Business Applications, its trying to apply kinect in Collaboration scenarios. It would be interesting to see the emerging app ecosystem around Kinect & Robotics!.

Incidentally, I also happened to read a IEEE article on Robotics which talks about Robotics & its impact on overall economy [Courtesy HP Blog]. The biggest question that gets discussed was - Will Robots take away jobs?. In the interview, the Industrial robotics company Adept Technology CEO talks in detail about Robotics, its impact on overall economy and international government policies. The interesting takeway from the interview is that Robots may take away jobs in the near term, but it could lead to generation of more jobs with company expanding to new markets/services.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are you Game for Gamification?

Received a newsletter from MEGA, an enterprise architecture tools product company, today. The newsletter emphasized a lot on Gamification. Gamification means applying the mechanics of game to nongame activities to change people's behavior. Of late, its turning to be a powerful strategy for influencing and motivating groups of people. Analyst firm Gartner has been publishing a lots of positive views on this trend. It predicts that by 2016, nearly 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application. By 2016, $2.8 billion will be spent on “gamification” development in the enterprise. MEGA predicts that introducing Gaming concepts in Enterprise Architecture activities can lead to quality content contribution from the entire company.

One of the biggest influencers of Enterprise Applications in the last decade has been the collaboration features. Look at any of the multinational corporations, you will have minimum hundreds of Microsoft Sharepoint Websites, if not Thousands. Next to Outlook/Microsoft Office, Employees are used to lists, discussion forums, document repositories, and quite bit of Web 2.0 flavors -participation/commenting/rating/reviews. These collaboration features have also made inroads into business applications in scenarios such as B2C, B2B, B2E Portal solutions.

Its not just the technical ease at which these Sharepoint sites can be rolled-out alone contributes to massive proliferation, the fact that most of the business processes today are built around unstructured processes and unstructured artifacts also contributes to the adoption.

I believe the next biggest opportunity for Horizontal Portal products is to provide out-of-the-box support to introduce Gaming Mechanics and Dynamics to Collaboration Features. Similar to the way we incorporate workflow features to stitch diversified set of tasks and people to a common process, it should be possible in future to add gaming mechanics to any business process / workflows. Gaming mechanics are the various actions, behaviors and control mechanisms that are used to "gamify" an activity to create an engaging user experience. Gaming Dynamics are the desires and motivations that contribute to the mechanics. The mechanics include Points, levels, Challenges, Virtual Goods (e.g. virtual currencies). The dynamics include Rewards, status, Competition, etc.

While the idea of 'Gamification' is exciting, the use cases for applying Gamification concepts within enterprise applications should be carefully selected. The unstructured processes (like Innovation/ Ideation/ Brainstorming processes in a new product/service creation lifecycle) could be great candidates. In addition, the 'semi-boredom' activities within the company where people are not really motivated to do a good job since the nature of the job is so routine, can also be considered for Gamification.

Here is an interesting case study 'Idea Street' - Gaming mechnics applied to idea generation/development process - from UK Government.

Selecting the right use case, applying the right Gaming mechanics, Incorporating rich user interfaces - all in tandem can contribute to compelling & engaging user experiences. Engaged & Participating stakeholders in an enterprise's ecosystem can help to achieve a variety of business goals.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Telecom 2.0 & Communication Enabled Business Processes

When Amazon Cloud player was launched, I posted a note saying it doesn't make sense to store my personal music on the cloud and listen to the list by streaming over the network. I wrote, with the idea of applying cloud computing models all around the place, the biggest beneficiary is not going to be the user - but the Telecom operators!.

All new solutions target for a bigger and bigger network pipe - be it unified communications, Internet 2.0 coined by Cisco for multimedia content, real-time web, activity streaming, Audio/Video Uploads and Downloads. No doubt there is a value behind these new offerings. But, I believe 'bigger' doesn't necessarily mean 'smarter' solutions.

Its time that we demand 'smarter' pipes from our Telecom operators. We transact so much with Internet from PCs and Mobile Phones, that there is enough scope to offer 'smarter/intelligent' services over the Internet Pipe. Mobile Web is gaining lots of traction with the advent of smartphones and their PC-like capacities. Mobile Carriers have a larger role to play in rolling-out those value added services on top of their network.

When I had a chance to work with, I also realized the fact that granularity of service invocations would have an impact on your costs both from your SaaS provider and the Internet Service operator. More calls you make to the SaaS provider, the more you may end up paying on data charges!.

I had this question for a long time - Is this an Optimal design to do everything over Cloud?. If Cloud is inevitable, what more I could do leveraging the power of the underlying network?

I learned that industry is thinking on similar lines and started working on something called 'Telecom 2.0'. As part of the next generation carrier services, some of the operators have started providing APIs over their networks. So, People can develop innovative applications that can operate on their networks, as if they are interacting with application platforms. What could they do using those APIs? - For example, they can limit or expand the bandwidth availability to an application on-demand at runtime by interacting with carriers, they can communicate about their current location, they can convert voice communications to text, they can process SMS/MMS as intermediary between source and destination, they can in fact optimize the network communications (e.g. Caching the interactions with Cloud - This is my wishlist :-)).

Recently, world's third largest telecom operator Telefonica introduced network APIs called BlueVia that enables these new generation of applications.

For example, Some of the pilot applications written over those APIs include - SugarCRM customer representative receiving incoming voice mails in the form of text messages / return those calls from the application itself / another app called 'Caller ID 2.0' - providing the details of the user who calls you on your VoIP phone. That sound's really interesting!.

These apps fit in the category called 'Communication Enabled Business Processes'. I strongly believe this is going to be next biggest disruptor in business application space. Microsoft Lync and other unified communication solutions, if bundled the rightway, could become the next killer application & ubiquitous use case.

To top it all, the most interesting use case is - TaxiStop - a taxi booking and fleet management application that uses a Network APIs called BlueVia from Telefonica Corporation. The mobile application is available for Android, iPhone and Windows Phones and the core service sits in Microsoft Azure Cloud. The Cloud based service mediates the booking between the passenger and the driver in real-time and in the course of the transaction, it uses network APIs to send and receive SMS/MMS. Please note neither the passenger, nor the Taxi management company is managing the booking application. The services are all brokered via an intermediary which sits in the network. This is a classic example of multi-tenancy and innovative business model!. Apps like TaxiStop truly signal the arrival of a new paradigm - 'Network is the Platform, Network is the Data Center'. Its a significant mind shift change to rethink our business models and IT architectures!.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Who has your Social Graph?

This post is not really a mainstream topic of interest to Enterprise IT. Nevertheless, it could be of interest to observers of Social Networking tools/platforms.

Internet is abuzz with the launch of Google+. The site already started receiving lots of positive reviews from several critics. One of the key differentiators of Google+ from Facebook is said as the ability to create groups and manage the privacy within the groups. The groups in LinkedIn are pretty much public and anybody can subscribe to it provided the group moderator allows the registration. However, in Google+, as I understand, one can create groups that are specific & visible only to his profile and send messages that are visible only to certain groups. I was wondering, such a simple feature difference is a big deal?. I don't know. We'll have to wait and watch the success of Google+.

Here is another story that records an observation that users' activity in the Web is shrinking and most of the time is spent in Facebook. While the main story itself is not so noteworthy, the comments to the story are!. One of the commentor has rightly said Facebook is an American phenomenon and to succeed in emerging markets like India, Facebook needs to understand the local culture!. He also adds that Facebook must become a platform provider that would enable new players to launch value added social networking enabled services on top of the platform. I couldn't agree more!

This post is on the Indian culture and Social Networking!

Meanwhile, Yesterday I had a chance to attend a family function in my relative circle. During the occasion, I also had the opportunity to talk to several people whom I have not been in touch with, for a long time. I interacted with People of various age groups ranging from reasonably old (60+) to young (30). Certainly, it was a pleasure to talk to known people after a long time!.

One of the interesting aspect that I observed while talking to Seniors are - they are amazingly good in their memory, especially old memories. [Incidentally, this reminds me Nick Carr's comment Google makes us Stupid?]. When I enquired about someone who had joined the occasion, one of the Senior Gentlemen was able to articulate the entire "Social Graph" connecting himself and the other person. He was also able to give a "Social Graph" version connecting me and the visiting person. Remember, the Graph was like a linked list and it can be traversed from both the directions. While the Senior was able to seamlessly able to articulate the graph in few seconds, I was struggling to grasp and recall the social graph and interpret what it means to me!. A point to be noted, the Senior was highly educated and a Doctorate in one of the core sciences.

That's the Indian Culture!.

People in India, especially the previous generation who are in their 60+, educated or uneducated do not use technology for the sake of it. In their view of the world, using technology to capture certain interactions or transactions is less trustworthy!. Yes, if the trust factor is less, they need to record it!. Otherwise, if there is an interaction/transaction between two people from close networks, they would prefer the 'tacit/verbal agreement' way and that is deemed 'trustworthy' as well. That is because, People in close networks trust each other and using those networks, lots of things happen in people's lives - be it career counselling, arranged marriages, business relationships, conducting events. That was the power of the network. And all these happened without the use of technology (may be they used telephones/mobiles to certain extent)

And they accurately remember the 'social graph' of those family networks. My father used to simply surprise me by describing someone's identify in 5-6 levels of indirection in between :-). He didn't use technology!. And am sure People from India can relate to this experience quite well!.

This is just an example!. Similar to this, every country would have its own way of managing relationships and interacting them in their cultural ecosystem!. That needs to be truly understood if someone wants to build a truly social network that is valuable!.

A person's identity is not just a set of metadata!. Just because a person creates a new account in Facebook, doesn't mean that he needs to start from scratch to build his relationships!. He/She has a history behind him/her and that history holds much more powerful network than what he/she would create in his/her new account. The problem with Facebook, Google+ kind of networks assume that they need to be "told" about their relationships!. Maybe, this will appeal to 20+ who are just starting to use those social networks as hangout places to discuss movies/trivia. But, Networks are much much more powerful. They can help you accomplish a lot more in life if you know how to invest/harvest in the right way!.

Now switching to Enterprise IT...

The communication lines and information flow are restricted to lines in the Org. Chart within the company. And sometimes, the messages that flow between those lines are also based on certain org. protocols :-). And those flow lines eventually generate sparsely populated social graphs for individuals. Organizations having those cultures would have a tough task of realizing the social enterprise objectives. The Org. ecosystem should enable/support creating new information flow lines that would be productive to the individual and the overal l company.

Similar to the Indian culture, a person who works in an organization is much more than a collection of metadata. He/She has a history of experience/background/networks which could be lot more valuable to the organization if derived and codified in the right way among the corprate social networks!.

Well, then what is the right way?. Maybe, we'll need a Google ++ :-)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sailing in Data Tsunami - Part II

There was an interesting article on Open Source business models in ReadWriteWeb the had the following observation. Don't misss the presentation that discusses the topic in great detail. The article summarizes the different generations of computing and dives into detail on current generation.

"First Generation (IBM) "The money is in the hardware, not the software"
Second Generation (MSFT) "Actually, the money is in the software"
Third Generation (GOOG) "The money is not in the software, but it is differentiating"
Fourth Generation (Facebook/Twitter) "Software is not even differentiating, the value is the data" "

As we discussed in the last post, the age of Data is upon us. And competitive advantage would be gained by those who can extract unique value out of Big Data!.

One of the biggest advantages of Web 2.0/Free/Open Source Software is that it encourages end users to experiment with an open mind. When people approach with an open mind, it leads to generation of data - be it blogs, wikis, discussion forums, bookmarks. And then waves of data starts to wade through the shores of Internet all over!. People who have the skills to swim, sail through, fish around and find Pearls in the Ocean of Data are the Winners!. We saw some fine examples in the previous post. Am sure there are tons of other companies who are experimenting with Big Data Analytics in various sectors.

There are different companies taking different routes to gain the maximum advantage!. For example, while Google takes the keyword search approach for data analytics, Facebook approaches via User-Centric/Social Networking. Its interesting to see stories doing rounds on Google Vs Facebook on various sites. To me, the best is yet to happen in Targeted Advertising Technology. I firmly believe Facebook has the key and it has just not cracked it yet. And that's the biggest boon and bane for Google right now. Unless Google comes up with a breakthrough service that would outdo Facebook in near future in targeted advertising, Google would be under threat.

That's on the Open World. In the corporate world, the challenge is to generate and ensure continuous data flow that would be of value to various stakeholders. And that still remains a huge challenge and a great opportunity considering security/risk/data quality/cultural concerns within the corporate firewalls. Synonymous to Internet world, Corporates who succeed in generating useful data and extract insightful information from them would be creators of new business models in future!.

Sailing in Data Tsunami - Part I

It was interesting to watch developments at Google in the last couple of weeks. Recently, Google released an offering that is exclusively targeted for Small and Medium Enterprises in India called - Google Global MarketFinder. The tool is designed to help those indian businesses reach Global markets. When I read this statement - I said 'Wow!' what a valuable initiative by Google!. I was also curious to understand how exactly Google implements this service to its audience.

Google basically achieves the purpose by matching the demand from Global markets to Supply from Indian Small/Medium Businesses. During the course of mediating the connections, it also helps to overcome the complexities in International markets (e.g. currencies/languages). Google does all of these by connecting the 'keywords' that are being offered by the Indian businesses to 'keywords' that are being searched by overseas markets. I myself tried using the tool for certain products like coffee, Google's response was almost immediate with list of countries that has the maximum demand and offer price as well.

Its amazing to see how a simple keyword search can be a biggest influencer in International business. When this service gets traction among the businesses, what is going to happen?. Google is going to accumulate more and more data, in terms of what products/services are being imported/exported in which countries. And Google for sure can perform analytics on top of those data. It doesn't matter how Google would use those analytic insights in their future offerings. But, it would certainly influence their Ad Sense business to fine tune and optimize their advertisements for targeted segments. Google can also price the most wanted keywords in suitable regions/countries at a premium price. I see that's the power of Data!.

In the second offering, it sounds casual - not as serious as the first one!. Google Correlate - It aims to find search queries that has similar patterns over a time series. For example, if we search for 'Swine flu' keyword in correlate, it can get correlated with other keywords such as 'Sore Throat'. In this example, it indicates, Sore Throat has been associated with Swine Flu and both searches have occured in the same time series. This tool can generate interesting perspectives to different data sets. Don't forget to check out the comic book in the website that explains the tool.

I strongly believe the core competence of next generation enterprises is going to be the ability to manage and generate useful insights out of large amount of data sets!. The market developments confirm this inference to a large extent. Today, Google has acquired the social analytics company called PostRank - that has the capability to perform analytics on blogs/wikis/RSS/forums, etc.

More on this topic in next post ...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Toyota & Technology Transformation!

If you believe BFSI (Banking, Financial Services and Insurance industry) is the early adopter of emerging technologies, and Manufacturing industry is typically a laggard in those aspects, think again!. I have some very interesting and promising updates that could change this perception.

Toyota has recently signed up partnerships with two Technology companies. One with Microsoft and another with Salesforce. And that's not all - The partnership with Microsoft will leverage Microsoft Azure/Cloud Computing and SalesForce alliance will leverage its Chatter.

Along with Microsoft, Toyota is attempting to build Next Generation Telematics Platform for Cars using Windows Azure. Telematics is fusing of telecommunications and information technologies in vehicles. Telematics services helps to transmit critical vehicle information via GPS/GPRS/Communication technologies to a centralized data center where the information can be aggregated/analyzed and reported for optimization actions. Information that gets transmitted include car's health information, energy/fuel consumption data, on-call/emergency service requests. General Motors was the pioneer in this offering with its OnStar service in North America.

As automotive industry is moving towards alternate energy sources, role of Telematics is going to be critical in providing centralized energy management services.

The promising aspect is both Microsoft and Toyota are investing close to $12million in a new venture - Toyota Media Services - that would provide IT services to Toyota Automative Group of companies.

In the second update, Toyota has signed up with SalesForce to build a private Network called 'Toyota Friend'. This network will be built on SalesForce Chatter platform. Using this service, Toyota's customers will be able to connect with their own cars, the automative service company and Dealers. This private network will be integrated with the Telematics platform that Microsoft is building for Toyota. Interestingly, using Toyota friend, you car will be able to tweet to you on maintenance schedules, fuel updates, tips for driving, etc.

These two initiatives would certainly change the image of Toyota that it's no more a conservative player when it comes ot adopting emerging Technologies in their automative products/services. And from technologies perspective, Cloud Computing/Social Computing are making inroads to some of the conventional industries such a Manufacturing.

Making of Tech Bubble 2.0?

Are you ready for another Tech Bubble like the one that you experienced in late 90's and early 2000's?

Facebook valued at $76 billion [more than the value of Boeing and Ford]
LinkedIn valued at more than $3 billion [potential market valued at $30 billion, more than the value of entire beer industry in US. Remeber the biggest revenue streams for LinkedIn are thru recruitment services/advertisements]
Microsoft buys skype for $8 billion [10 times the value of skype's sales last year]
Groupon valued at $25 billion [Groupon's underlying technology is good old 'E-Mail']
Twitter valued at $7 billion

Some of the interesting questions these valuations rise:

1. Are these companies really worth the $value or Are we entering a fresh phase of a new Tech Bubble?
2. If so, Is this new bubble different from the one that we experienced during last decade?
3. What kind of impact this bubble could create globally, in case it pops?

And there are several industry observations across Economist, BusinessWeek and Wharton such as:

1. Most of these startups or start performers are consumer-centric, technology-based utility companies than creating something foundational / core technology advancing companies [e.g. Clean Tech/Life Sciences]. Simply because the VCs or Investors are not ready to fund those non-populist business proposals. So, in a way, Silicon Valley is morphing like a Hollywood business.
2. The number of startups have increased due to affordable access to computing infrastructure - Cloud Computing (Infrastructure, platform, apps) and Wannabe startups follow the easy route of social networking, recruiting and Advertising.
3. There is a tremendous uncertainty around the revenue stream of these companies. People are willing to place bets on their upside revenue potential in future.
4. These ludicrous valuations could set precedence for unrealistic valuations of startups elsewhere in the globe - be it china or India or Europe. [E.g. Finland's Rovio - Maker of angry birds game - aspires to be next Walt Disney :-) ]
5. These companies typically work around advertising / other services. Hence they dont create many jobs. Certainly, there is a loss of manufacturing or design knowhow in services, as they are built on existing platforms/technologies.
6. Investments on very few companies mean we are not diversifying our risks and we dont have options to fall back.

So, What is the Conclusion?

As Economist says - Wait and watch with caution and Have the Wisdom to sell the stocks before its gets too late! :-) - and start to Invest in companies that create 'Thick Value'. [Value that is meaningful, created authentically and sustainable]

Also for my fellow Enterprise IT colleagues, if you are investing in any of the new age solutions such as enterprise social computing/activity stream or unified communications, make sure you have identified the opportunity/need in your company. And you are not investing just because you are inspired by the stupendous success of these above mentioned web 2.0 companies.

If Techbubble 1.0 promised that dotcoms will replace brick-and-mortar enterprises, Techbubble 2.0 claims that there is goldmine behind people who lead virtual lives in online social habitats.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Mind-blowing Marketing Technologies!

When SaaS took center stage, one of the main concerns that was raised in many forums was - Is it the end of IT?. Some even argued that businesses would source line-of-business applications directly from SaaS vendors, thus making IT irrelevant. In practice, I agree this happens in pockets. In few companies, some of the complex business applications, not necessarily SaaS solutions, are directly sourced, impelemented and managed by business. But, In majority of other companies, IT still has a significant role to play.

I came across couple of interesting developments happening in Marketing Technologies space, which made me to believe that IT is nowhere near extinction.Let me elaborate what I read on Marketing Technologies space. One of the biggest trends happening in B2C companies these days is to understand their end customers like never before, listen to them for their needs and concerns, act on those feedbacks to improve the customer satisfaction. Why is it happening now?. For the simple reason being that Customers are empowered with more information. With access to relevant, timely and sometimes authentic information, Customers are empowered and they demand high-quality services from the companies. If companies need to service such demanding customers, they need to get empowered as well, in terms of access to market and customer intelligence and customer service technologies.

From customers perpsective, they have access to all public content, blogs, wikis, social networking sites/forums where they voice their opinions or read about product reviews, discuss and debate before making a purchasing decision. From companies' perspective, there are multiple dimensions in which market and customer intelligence need to be performed. There are a variety of solutions such as web analytics, click stream analysis, social media/collective intelligence based analysis, sentiment analysis/opinion mining, multi-channel analysis, Surveys, etc. Some of these solutions are available as SaaS offerings. Some of them are on-premise packages bundled with a company's existing ecommerce suites. Now, How does one apply a suitable technology solution based on the business problem at hand?. There are tons of vendors chasing this marketing technology space. How do we demistify the complexities and make some sense out of it?. Marketing is no more a calendarized activity that works on offline/past data. With customers having access to 24X7 channels like Twitter, marketing is becoming Real-Time and Companies need to deal with those emerging paradigms.

Traditionally, Marketing department has been spending their money on episodic deployments throughout the year based on the budget availability/business priorities. However, deployment of multiple/independent marketing technology solutions will not help in producing a cohesive view of customer/customer group needs. It would take good amount of integration to knit the pieces together to produce an actionable information on the company's unified brand experience. This requires IT skills such as technology planning and enterprise architecture, technology/solution architecture to knit the different silos together.

Similarly, in the SaaS space, there is a need to customize the out-of-the-box offering to suit the company's business requirements. Majority of the business requirements fall into this category and companies like also promote configurability/flexibility over standardization of business processes/business data. This trend will also re-inforce the requirement of IT skills such as System Integration, Configuration and Project Management.

While the availability of SaaS solutions certainly accelerates the adoption of business solutions, traditional IT skills are still required to deliver a complete solution!.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Enterprise IT lessons from Cisco's Earnings!

I have been following Cisco for couple of reasons - its business interests around architectures and IT services. Though the core competency of Cisco is around network equipments serving corporate/government customers, it recently ventured into direct-consumer-centric businesses such as IT services and home-networking/retail products.

In the last two years, Cisco's Leadership often talked about company's ambitions to make it big in the new businesses. Indeed it was promising and raised lots of expectations in the market!. Cisco was making audacious attempt to transform itself from being a product-in-a-box provider to end-to-end solution provider. The company launched quite a few campaigns such as smart+connected communities that would put network-centric platforms as the core to deliver new, innovative services for urban communities!. Clearly, Cisco was trying diversify beyond its core competencies!. And that was the challenge.

Have written about Cisco in my blog earlier here and here!

The challenge showed up in Cisco's earnings in the last couple of quarters and they were below market expectations!. Cisco was not delivering upto shareholder demands and its own benchmarks. Consequently, Cisco's Chairman John Chambers recently wrote an internal memo to all its employees explaining the challenges the company is facing and its future directions. The company has already initiated the organization restructuring process to bring back the focus to its core portfolios.

Couple of interesting observations - Cisco is selling its recently acquired retail video camera business (Flip) and plans to stay out of services business, especially in emerging markets. The second one was interesting. The company has said it doesn't want to compete head-on with other IT service companies like IBM/Wipro, etc. Instead it wants to partner with them to deliver the services to the market. With the new plan, it would tie up some strategic partnership with some of the system integrators/service providers and would help in delivering the core platform and together they would come up with goto-market strategies. That's a significant development!. Cisco is on back foot from directly selling to its customers especially in IT services/solutions business. There are couple of reasons behind this movement:

1. Cisco's margins in traditional network equipment businesses is challenged as it faces fierce competition from vendors like Juniper.
2. Cisco's recent interests in new services/retail products diverted its attention from focusing on its core competencies.
3. The services business / retail business is typically low margin compared to its traditional network instruments' business margins. If services has to make business sense, Cisco need to pump up the volume of those services. This could again change the portfolio mix of its core businesses.

Ok, Why are we discussing this issue in this blog?. How does it impact Enterprise IT shops?. How is this issue relevant to CIOs?

One of the emerging trends that we have been discussing in this blog as well as in the industry is that CIOs need to be business partners. They shouldn't just deliver value in contributing to the bottomline of the company but also to the topline of the company, by delivering IT-intensive services. Isn't this exactly the same Cisco tried to deliver?. Am not sure how much of Cisco's IT organization / CIO's office was involved in delivering its new consumer-direct, IT services/solutions business. But, IT has a role to play!.

There are good amount of lessons to be learnt in Cisco's journey. Cisco's Chairman himself agrees that there is nothing wrong in company's strategy or vision. Its just the execution that has failed. So, for companies that want to venture into transforming themselves from product businesses to services businesses, IT certainly can be a partner. But, delivering on the transformation doesn't look like an easy task!.

As an additional note, IBM has recently acquired a building management software company to accelerate its Smarter Planet initiative!. Would be interesting to watch the developments.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Social Media reaching a Trough of Disillusionment?

This morning my colleague shared an interesting link from Forrester that highlights some interesting insights on Social Media trends. Forrester has actually categorized the type of users who participate in social media and tracks the quantitative growth in each category. According to the report, the startling fact is that many groups in US has reached plateau, especially the Creator Group. The Creator Group is at the top of ladder who actively contributes content to the network in terms of blog posts, videos, articles, etc. At the end of the latter is the passive Group who are Inactive/Spectators.

While the number of people who join the network is increasing year-on-year, they don’t really move up in the ladder. And the number of users who are already in the top is not rising. And this observation is only applicable to US, while the Asia-Pacific continues to report growth in most of the groups.

Forrester concludes that the initial wave of social media has actually halted in US and there needs to be conscious effort in place to bring more people past early adapters.
Am glad that Forrester has reported something counter-intuitive / counter to the market hype. The hype is so much that every product vendor talks, eats and breathes social media in every other forum. I have always felt that industry has been giving undue attention to the Social media paradigm.

My perception is that online social media becomes much more powerful its complimented with offline action. In a nutshell, web 2.0 plays a vital role in maximizing choices for the participant. The increased choices influence the open markets. Maybe, the current market place is saturated or commoditized that everybody talks and sells the same thing and no new products/services to be exchanged. Once we get past Cloud and SaaS cycles, we may see new wave of creative activity.

In Enterprise 2.0, the scenario is little different. The network exists, collaboration happens – but it happens at much more tactical sense and the social network influences choices in micro issues. The reason being that macro choices are governed by the organization structure and decision framework. Here again, the online exchange needs to be complimented with offline action within the enterprise.

I don’t think the social media trend is going to saturate anytime soon. At the sametime, if we want to see some dramatic results, there needs to be lot of reinforcement on the past success and creative new content!

Open Compute & Emerging Roles for Enterprise IT

Thanks my colleague, I happened to learn about Facebook’s recent open computing initiative. It definitely caught lot of industry attention in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know what motivates Facebook to contribute to the Open World. Neverthess, it’s commendable! Rather than looking at this announcement as a specific event, I wanted to explore and see if there are any broader implications.

Like how we saw the application development platforms market got disrupted by the open source application frameworks and servers, Is Open Computing going to disrupt the infrastructure space? For the first time, am seeing someone contributing the actual architecture and design models to the open world. If you browse thru Open Computing website, you can actually download the CAD models for the data center. This is something totally new and never happened in the past! It is going to disrupt the infrastructure consulting and solution space in near future.

With this trend, I beginning to think that more and more ‘Know-How’ being open sourced and commoditized. By Know-How, I mean the actual architecture, design, application frameworks, applications, software/hardware platforms. If we segment the traditional IT into Plan, Build and Run – Run/Operations is typically outsourced, Build/Development is Hybrid with lots of contributions from Open source, Plan is typically In-House+Strategic Consulting/Architecting.

Initiatives such as Open Computing would contribute a lot to Plan function. Beyond that, if most of the functions of Enterprise IT are outsourced or Cloud enabled, what is left with the Organization? Just Plan and Govern? With some amount of Architecting? That may not be exciting! So, what else could fillip Enterprise IT? What would be future competency of IT that could enable and transform future businesses? I would vote for ‘Design’.

Yes, the ability to ‘design’ new innovative/business services to enterprise stakeholders would become one of the core competencies of Enterprise IT. I got more convinced when I read this news coverage from Technology Review magazine. It talks about a new business startup that provides simplified banking services to end customers via mobile as the only channel. The startup is only a tech-enabled white-label service company that acts like a ‘wrapper’ over a traditional bank that provides core banking services. Sounds interesting? I got excited when I read about this story, purely for the fact that this new company’s core competency is only to ‘design’ creative ways in which some of the traditional banking services can be packaged and sold to end customers. And more, Technology is one of its core competencies. I believe we would see more such innovative startups in near future. Am sure it is one of the new models where Enterprise IT could operate and add value to core business. Yeah, I said ‘one’ of the models. There is couple of other viable models as well – like being a technology broker, vendor manager, solution broker & Planner.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Amazon Cloud Player!

Amazon has introduced Cloud Player stating the complexities in personal media management. You have to download, synchronize, backup and all that with your traditional devices, PCs and the media provider. Amazon says, You don't have to do all that. Amazon itself provides a million songs to download - sorry - to listen. And you can personally add to your account and listen to those songs wherever you are and whichever device that you use. All the media files are managed from Amazon cloud. Doesn't it sound so simple?.

The emerging architecture trend is that you just need to have a net-enabled device that connects to cloud. That's it!. You would have universal access to products/services!. Amazon says that its not just media, you can pretty much manage any digital content like documents, photos, etc.

The biggest problem that I see is that, why would I need to manage my personal music on a Cloud and consume it from a Cloud. I need to unnecessarily payout the data charges to my Internet Service Provider [Unless amazon is providing Internet for free! :-) ]. Yes, I do manage my emails on cloud, because email is an inherently network-intensive application.And there were good amount of reasons for managing emails on the cloud during good old days where people didn't have access to PCs or SmartPhones.

We are dealing with a powerful dichotomy here...The Smartphone are getting better and better and more powerful competing with PCs. Cloud is becoming more mainstream and competes with mainframes in capacity. So, the kind of applications that we would want, should have an architecture that would leverage the best of both worlds. Not just one dimension!. I see amazon Cloud Player just leverages the Cloud and not the devices!. In the era of Smartphones, people would like to have immersive experiences that would take full advantage of the device's capacity, not a dumb client.

If we design our applications to be cloud intensive or rather chatty, customers are going to pay for it big time to Telcos!. I think the conversations with the cloud needs to be moderated by the application architecture!.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Warren Buffet - Technology, Business and Life!

Its Warren Buffet Week in India!. Every other newspaper in Bangalore was carrying the complete coverage of Warren Buffet's maiden visit to India and his first stop at Bangalore. Though I am not trade savvy, I happened to read Buffet's interview in almost all major dailies!. Interesting observations!.

No market jargons!. His interviews were filled with simple wisdom!.

While our Enterprise IT software product marketing constantly makes noises around the need for business agility, urgency in change, flexibility of business systems, etc - The third richest man in the world bats for long term sustainability and growth of the business that he invests in.

Look at this - He says "I don't understand technology or semiconductor business. Give me a Chewing Gum or Coca Cola business anyday. I want to invest in a business which i am familiar with so that I know it will stay stable for 10-20 years. I dont really want to be part of changing industry. In such a scenario, there is more room for failures".

"We don't look for growth sectors. We love growth when we find it but we are perfectly willing to buy businesses that are relatively slow growth. Growth does not drive our investment decisions. Competitive advantage, good management, honest management, a sensible price and the ability to see where the company will be in five or ten or twenty years, that's what drives our investment decisions. I do not rank industries by their growth potential. I am willing to go into businesses that are not growing at all if they are good, solid, fundamental businesses."

That sounds fundamental to me and a big relief that someone in the World is really talking sense and Ok with going slow and steady.

He also admits - "If you put me in charge of this plant (that he has invested in), I wouldn't know how to run it. But I do know whom to put in charge. The real skill of mine is to sorround myself with smartest people". And that's a big management lesson - The ability to have smartest people work for you.

Some more fundamental comments from him - "I just keep doing what I have been doing all my life. It's nice to have a lot of investors come to Berkshire Hathaway. I am just painting the same painting I have been doing for over 60 years and it does not change my life. I go to work at the same time, I am eating the same food, wearing the same clothes. I have a privileged life, but it's an unchanged life. I work with people I love, they make my life easy. I just have nothing to complain about. I would like to find something to complain about but I just don't know what it would be."

“I have never missed a meal in my life, never a movie. My family and I have never missed a vacation either. It is simply that I have more money than I need and which would greatly help a lot of other people if given to them".

After reading those interviews, it left me wondering - Why don't we take our business and life in such simple terms?. Pls don't get me wrong. I am not against uncertainties, discontinuities and its opportunities. But Am definitely against that becoming the way of life and dictating terms to you in business and life!

Be it Enterprise IT or the Stock Market, there is a general hysteria around Growth. Everybody wants to grow in double digits and if those ambitions result in single digits, they get upset!.Look at this article, Wipro's Growth numbers are dwindling quarter-on-quarter, and rumours doing rounds that Wipro is planning to layoff the non-billable resources!. Not just Wipro, I think the entire IT services industry is missing something!. We are in the constant pursuit of short-term gains that we almost forget there is a horizon called long-term. And everybody needs to sustain, eat the same food, drive the same car and live almost the same life.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Smart Cards & Smart Government

Its been quite sometime that I blogged. But, I was active on Twitter and LinkedIn for the past couple of months and busy preparing for Open Group India conference Chennai. It got over yesterday and I presented a topic that compares Enterprise Architecture Vs Project Portfolio Management. The session was received very well and invited good amount of questions. I wish I had more time to discuss and debate those questions.

In this post, I wanted to blog about a recent announcement that was made in Indian Budget. So far, Indian Government has been giving subsidiaries for food grains and offers them at lowest prices to people below poverty line thru public distribution systems. Now, the delivery mechanisms - Public Distribution Systems - are not that effective to pass on those benefits to poor. They are lost in transit or quality food grains are not offered to Poor due to various reasons. So, the Plan was perfect, but the execution was bad.

To solve this issue, Indian Government in the recent budget has made an announcement. In this new system, the Government would pass on cash transfers to poor people instead of provisioning subsidised food grains. so, people would be able to buy food materials at market prices (because of cash transfers). Its a change in delivery mechanism, instead of sell side, the subsidiaries are passed onto the buy-side.

Ok, Where is technology coming to picture here?

Now, the question is, How do the Government make sure that cash transfers are made to the right people/people who deserve?. It's by means of two mechanisms - one a unique identification number (UID) that Indian Government has started allocating to its citizens and second a Smart Card. A smart card would be associated with UID and the cash transfers would be made not in the form of physical cash, but in the Smart Card format. Hence, people who deserve only can make use of the scheme.

Now, the Smart Card would get used atleast two places - one at the time of credit, by the Government. And second, at the time of debit, by the retail stores/public distribution system - pretty much like a credit/debit card. And the citizens can't buy whatever they want using the virtual money. To start with, they can buy only kerosene and LPG Gas. Food Grains to follow soon...

Its interesting to see Technology is making inroads into the Social Fabric of the society. And soon, the same Smart Card could carry quite a lot of other information as well like health information, patient records, utility bills, etc. Its just the beginning!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's new in Microsoft ERP Architecture?

One of the news that caught my attention in the last couple of weeks is Microsoft Dynamics AX Technical Conference. As many of you know,Dynamics is the ERP & CRM suite from Microsoft. Though Microsoft is not having a significant pie in the ERP market, it is still pumping money in R&D and subsequent product releases.The next version of the product is due to release in 2012 and claims to have a Generational shift in ERP architecture. And that is what I was interested to know more..

One of the key features of the next version is touted as layered, model-based architecture. We discussed about Pace-Layering of SAP Architecture sometime ago. And it looks like Microsoft Dynamics follows the similar concept. Some of the key challenges in the ERP sector are:

1. How do we customize the modules without sabotaging the standard, out-of-the-box functionality?. In case, the customer wants to revert to the standard/default functionality, would it be possible to do it seamlessly?

2. In case of ERP, How do we bridge the gap between functional and technical consultants?

3. How do we manage the unused modules in a ERP suite?

4. How can we have an ERP that would enable an organization to anticpate and embrace change?
Looks like, Microsoft has tried to answer most of these challenges in tne new ERP architecture. By adopting a layered approach, the standard/default features are clearly isolated from multi-level customizations (Country level, Business Unit level, or even at Person level customizations) and the customizations are stored separately.

The key feature that got my attention was the model-based approach. Using this approach, the functional consultants would be able to model the customizations (without requiring significant coding or technical plumbing) and the models can be translated to Tech specifications/implementations.

This is a significant improvement in ERP architecture. I don't think SAP ERP follows a similar approach for functional consultants. All I know is they develop functional blueprints before the implementation. And someone needs to bridge the gap between those blueprints to tech specs. Microsoft made significant investments towards modeling when it announced Oslo initiative in 2007. But later dropped the same and pursued SQL Server based modeling repository. I believe the same has been integrated with the new ERP architecture. I do think if this model based repository is provisioned as a platform/service, it would open up to wide array of opportunities for custom development of new business applications.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

HCL Technologies - Vision 2015

Few weeks ago, I had criticized in this blog about HCL Technologies CEO Vineet Nayar's comment on Cloud Computing...

Now, its time to give a Bouquet!. In India, its Quarterly Financial Results season for the companies. And IT services companies' results are making headlines in Indian newspapers. Some are encouraging, Some are upsetting, Some are optimistic!. Overall, the Growth Story of Indian IT services companies are in good shape and continue to progress..

Ok, the reason for Bouqet is this - In an interview, Vineet has articulated the Vision for his company, HCL, in 2015. The vision for the company is to transform itself from being a services company to a utility company, that is backed by good amount of Intellectual Property. Vineet is banking big time on Cloud Computing to accomplish his vision of becoming a Utility Company!.

For the first time, I am coming across a CEO who is able to articulate a visionary statement rather than mincing words like - becoming a world class company, becoming a first class supplier of IT services, high-end value chain, outcome based services, etc...All these are mechanics or means, not the end. In Vineet's case, He is clearly able to articulate a Future State for the company. Thats'a big deal!.

When I heard the utility company lingo, it reminds me similar companies that I am aware of - my telephone service, electricity service or even water service. I often interact with Telephone / Broadband service provider and often get a compliant number to track. Usually, the services are always-on, always available, and service person turns up promptly on request. The requirements of a Utility company in my perspectives are - a Good Product, Good Customer Care/Exceptional Service, Great Tariffs/Inexpensive Rate Plans, Solid/Reliable Service Delivery Platform/Accessibility. Can we expect a similar business model from IT services company in future?

Now, some of the hard-pressed questions:

1. How much of the investments HCL is making in R&D towards achieving its vision?
2. Utility Computing, Means, Transfer of Ownership of Systems and Platforms, Not just Transfer of People (outsourcing). Utility Computing is a captial-intensive business, where the service provider is expected to own and manage the actual productized service. Is HCL ready for it?
3. What is the positive/negative impact of becoming a utility company to its stakeholders (including employees)?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Next Generation Mobile Advertising!

This particular post may not be very relevant to Enterprise IT. But I wanted to cover it more from the mobile technology perspective especially in the areas of marketing, customer analytics.

If your IT unit is working with Marketing to design Tech-enabled marketing solutions, this post is a must-read.

For the past couple of weeks, i have been watching the new ad from an Indian Telecom Service Provider AirCel on its new service offering - Blyk. Blyk is a youth-centric mobile service that brings exciting MMS and SMS on events/updates, offers, trivia and opionion polls from their favorite brands. Now, doesn't sound like a mobile advertising campaign?. Yes, it is. But, the difference is in the delivery model.

First, the service is a permission based marketing. Users need to subscribe to the service to receive the ads. Ok, Why would anyone want to receive ads on their mobile phones?. The claim is you will receive highly personalized targeted offers which will be useful to you. Ok, How would you deliver personalized messages to someone?. Know them in detail to serve them better. At the time of subscribing to the service, you will be asked for interests, like, dislikes, brands, etc. which will enable the service provider to serve targeted messages. Ok, What is the bottomline?...You will get paid to receive the ads.

Now, doesn't that sound interesting?. Yes, the operator would give bonus talk times or free text messaging service to receive ads on your phones. Blyk is also positioned in the social context. You can refer friends and get bonus talk times, etc.

In the current mobility boom in India, I strongly believe this service could catchup big time among young adults, in the age group of 16-24.

Ok, This is all about the service. What is so techie about this idea?

When Google entered into mobile business, lots of people were speculating that Google is entering only to monetize their advertising business in mobile media. But, they are proved wrong as Google is mainly focusing on Operating System, Applications, In-App Advertising, and even Mobile Phone devices (with Nexus One and Nexus S Series).

With these developments, I dont think Google is leading the mobile advertising technology.

I have an android phone and I don't think the In-app advertisements that I receive are relevant. Most of the times I get to see ads that push me to buy Galaxy Tablet, which I dont like it anyway.

Some of the interesting aspects that I observed in Blyk are:

- Permission & Profile based Marketing. The concept has evolved from getting the permission of the customer to understanding his preferences. This will eventually help build a persona or profile with the service provider so that future communication between the two will be much more useful. Unlike Print/TV media, Mobile per se is a personalized channel and understanding the preferences will make the service much more exclusive.
- Engagement based Marketing. It is not just spam. It is about co-creation, engaging with the customer segment that is interactive and responsive. Customer can answer queries, participate in polls, influence the compaigns and eventually empowers the customer.
- Mobile Advertising Analytics. Now the icing on the cake. With the profiling, targeted messaging and two-way communication, the analytics on top of these campaigns would truly reflect the customer's interests, key trends that would influence the market. This would enable creating new services/products.

Of course, there is whole lots of other issues like Data privacy that needs to be resolved on the way of next generation marketing.

Marketing is getting redefined with the advent of mobile technologies. In future, the marketing channels could evolve from being mere information providers to highly personalized service assistants for individual customers. These service assistants could either help you get things done or achieve your aspirations or be more efficient.