This is Manish from Udaipur

This is about life and life in Udaipur. About me and about me in Udaipur.

Cloud is Good

Cloud is good! Shared computing services—whether applications or platforms—available over internet have granted unprecedented access to technology sophistication to small and medium sized businesses.

The potential inherent in information technology has been immense and the possible impacts are only getting more pronounced. Technology not only bolsters efficiencies, but also influences fundamental changes in the business models themselves. But getting technology to work for a particular business has traditionally been arduous, requiring significant expense, effort and skills. As such, access to “enterprise-class” has been limited to large businesses who can afford to invest for required application sophistication, reliable deployment and operational support.

Cloud changes this in a fundamental way. It allows the businesses access to the benefits of technology without worrying about (most of) the underpinnings—building, deploying, operating, maintaining, and investing. Thus the businesses can focus on what technology can deliver, rather than delivering technology. This is great news for small and medium businesses. Let’s see how:

Choice: The sheer ease with which businesses can explore, assess and select various options on cloud is breathtaking. Be it messaging, collaboration, accounting, CRM, or any other application—businesses have enormous choice. Compared to the traditional on-premises technologies, cloud affords the ability to try at much lesser costs and commitment. A vibrant community of users can also be quite helpful.

Costs: Cost savings could be a big advantage to SMBs as they adopt cloud. These savings accrue primarily because cloud services are charged based on usage. Thus, costs of idle resources or over-capacity are saved. Further, as cloud involves mostly op-ex rather than cap-ex, it can be much more cash flow friendly for an SMB. On demand nature of cloud services mean that the business would not need to carry costs of computing resources no longer in need.

Speed: SMBs can ill-afford large deployment or upgrade projects and cloud dramatically reduces time taken to provision, setting up services and making applications available. Also, cloud absolves businesses of intensive efforts required to upgrade to newer versions. System patches and upgrades, typically, happen in the background with user impact reduced to the minimum.

Access: SMB’s also need 24/7 access to their applications and data regardless of location or device. Increasingly, businesses rely on their mobile devices (phones or tablets) while on the move or even at the workplace. While cloud applications, by definition, are available anywhere and at all times, growing consumerization and democratization of internet access (less reliance on corporate networks) are driving cloud application providers to be more available and accessible. Thus cloud applications are much more likely to be available (or at least compatible) for a variety of devices—operating systems, browsers, or form-factors.

Scalability: It is one of the more fundamental promises of cloud. Vast computing resources shared across a variety of users enable scalability—availability of computing capacity (be it computing power, storage, number of users, etc.) on demand. From a business’s perspective, usage based pricing allows valuable flexibility. Thus making available an IT environment which is dynamic and fluid with the ability to add new businesses, spin up new services and respond to the ever changing customer needs.

Performance and support: Most cloud service providers design their offerings and are set-up to certain standards for reliability, availability and performance. In contrast, IT infrastructure and set-up at many SMBs has grown organically and thus end up being difficult to manage with clear performance expectations. Most cloud providers offer service level agreements (SLA’s) which can include parameters such as application performance, availability, datacenter uptime, host failure and migration, etc. Further, support is typically available 24×7 to assist with issues, and other such events.

Standardization and Integration: Increasingly cloud services are adopting common standards—be it for data representation, application interfaces or for underlying aspects of identification and authentication. This has led to possibilities for SMBs wherein they can leverage a diverse selection of technologies to suit their needs best, and still enjoy a level of integration, single sign-on, etc. Of course, it is considerably easy to enable integrated experience if the cloud applications belong to one platform or family, still there is a growing number of integrating services and options that may be used.

Skill Needs: Managing IT, even in an SMB, could be very effort intensive. As number of applications, users and complexity grows, a diverse and relative large set of professionals (whether outsourced or as full-time employees) may be needed. This can include administrators, database experts, network administrators, application developers, hardware technicians, support personnel, etc., apart from technology managers and architects. This could be daunting for most SMBs. The portfolio of technology skills needed with cloud adoption changes for the better. Cloud enables a business to focus on the purpose and direction of IT—whereas much of the operational, maintenance and support aspects are responsibilities of the cloud service providers.

Security: Contrary to popular perception, cloud applications can be much more secure, especially for small and medium businesses. It is a fact that ensuring security is hard. The applications and infrastructure need to be continuously monitored, maintained, patched; in general remain ahead of looming cyber threats. That requires enormous expertise and expense, which a small or medium sized business might not want to organize. Similarly, more basic threats to application and information availability like power or network outages, simple human errors, hardware failures, etc., are much better addressed when specialized cloud service providers bring together scale, skills and investments. Also, reputable cloud application providers have, in general, invested significantly in compliance to security standards, operational best practices, infrastructure redundancies and people preparedness.

Technology Innovation: Much of the new technology development is happening in the realm of cloud. Technology companies like Microsoft have adopted cloud as primary focus, whereas offerings from companies like Google or Amazon have been almost entirely cloud based. Many innovative startups who are enabling new use cases and applications are building those for cloud. Be it newer ways of connecting to customers, or more efficient collaboration with an organization—some of the most innovative tools are available as cloud only. No business regardless of its size can afford not to consider these technologies.

While there are many compelling reasons for cloud adoption by SMBs (and also by larger enterprises to a significant extent), it is important to understand that there are still important caveats. While cloud-first approach makes eminent sense, businesses must consider relevant aspects to decide if a non-cloud option might be appropriate. For example, not all cloud applications have achieved functional parity with their on-premises equivalents. This is especially true with applications involving high levels of customization and integration, like business process automation involving legacy applications. Other considerations could include regulations (location or ownership restrictions on data), bandwidth and quality of connectivity, application performance needs, etc.

It is also important to appreciate that cloud adoption can take many forms. While at times a cloud application might not fit the needs, cloud hosting with dedicated deployment may still be a right choice. Variants of cloud services—infrastructure, platform or application—can bestow a valuable choice, so as choice of going hybrid. This highlights the fact that cloud does not preclude the need for IT and architectural expertise. As such, with right expertise and adoption assistance, SMBs have indeed quite a lot to gain from cloud.

It might not be feasible for most SMBs to dedicate expertise and attention to identification, selection and deployment of technologies. Technology choices can be bewildering and would require a good understanding of the business and its context. At the same time, not acting quickly enough might jeopardize business’ competitiveness or even survival. It is also pertinent that associated risks are managed as well–so that a business can innovate confidently. Advaiya can be an organization’s virtual CIO, providing assurance and supporting innovation, thus giving the much-needed edge.

Republished from Advaiya Blog. Earlier published as an article in Business Standard.

Powerful Decision Making With BI

Being in business is being in the business of decision making. Right decisions, made at the right time, and implemented in the right manner—make all the difference. This surely has become difficult. Things change very quickly, we are far more connected, and we need to act fast while grappling with far more complexity. There always seem to be too many things to keep tab on, and too few ways to make sense of it all.

‘Gut feel’ has been a trusted guide, but it is no longer dependable. Rapidly changing contexts, with unfamiliar cause and effect networks, mean that we need to be far more equipped while making decisions. Studies show that the highest performing businesses leverage data effectively for decision making.

With speed becoming a key element of business strategy, decision making has spread temporally. We require instant access to relevant information, whether on the plane, while having a coffee or between meetings. We need to be able to analyse that in real time, with an understanding of changes that are likely to occur in the future. We have to act on these quickly as well—gather opinions, mobilize teams, align their activities.

This is not limited to just a few roles in the organization. At all levels, people need to make decisions—be accountable and confident. And if organizations can enable its employees with right tools—chances are that they will get it right!

That’s the charter for the business intelligence (BI) implementation in an organization. Employees must have access to data from all relevant sources, in a way that makes sense to them in their context. And, that should be available at all times regardless of location or device they are using. Of course, this must be done in a manner that security and access rules are not compromised.

Informed decision making relies on current and comprehensive information. Relevant information often reside in a multitude of sources—a plethora of databases, documents, spreadsheets, social networks, or web. Access to data models which bring together these sources in a meaningful manner allow decision makers to be equipped with timely information and be not blindsided.

There can be too much information, though. Only through right visualization and summarization, we can understand and analyze it well—generating insights as we draw conclusions. This happens when we are able to visualize information as relevant to the business model. Insightful tools can identify patterns, allow us to analyze scenarios, and plan better. These insights influence decisions in a powerful manner.

Making a positive impact towards our goals require that we act on our decisions effectively. BI can be a key tool making it easy to take actions, involve people, and align teams. Working with information effectively requires collaboration and involvement of relevant people. With scorecards at all levels, everyone in the organization gets aligned to the strategy and maintains focus on the goals.

Powerful decision making is about being able to be confident and accountable. Decisiveness that works comes from being informed, insightful and impactful. The confidence that arises from comprehensive information, deep understanding and ability to implement, leads to results.

(Republished from Advaiya Blog)

From Efficiency to Advantage

From efficiency to advantage. This is the story of technology, and with some lag, story of IT services industry. Doing the same thing cheaper, faster or better is no longer sufficient.

Information Technology has been a great driver of speed and efficiency. Technology ROI has traditionally been seen as a function of efficiencies and the costs. This equation drove adoption of technology by industry globally, squeezing more efficiencies as technologies improved, and reducing costs by outsourcing, consolidating, and standardizing.

The twin vectors of efficiency and costs–building and feeding on themselves–have, since a few years, landed into a new territory. The quest to squeeze more efficiencies has paled against allure of creating sustained and unique advantage for the business made possible by digital innovation. Similarly, functional cost reductions via optimizing on how activities are performed have reached limits and the specter of wholesale outsourcing via cloud, for example, disrupts the traditional cost calculus. These have become universally available and easily accessible, thus no longer are source of advantage.

This is new, and strikes at the basis of the traditional IT industry business models. Interest has waned for IT services’ pitches of providing the commoditized capabilities at a reduced cost or a more optimized setup. Businesses have a reached a point where such efficiencies have become a norm and do not provide sustained competitive advantage. They surmise that the daunting task of transforming themselves cannot be helped by mechanistic, efficiency-minded tech services companies.

There are two key frictions at play here. One is past v present, and another is present v future. And their domain is bigger than the IT services or tech outsourcing. It is impacting all areas of tech industry.

Firstly, what is valuable today is different from what was yesterday. While there is some value in getting something done in a particular way, again and again, it does not confer ‘advantage’. As technology forces a rethink of their businesses, companies try to find “advantage”, even in the supposedly mundane tasks where, till some time ago, it was all about just getting those done. That means, it is no longer relevant to assess value in terms of effort. The worth of a job must be thought in terms of “advantage” that it can garner. That’s more complicated than costs per hour, much more intimate and ephemeral. Impact of innovative technology adoption–let’s say of cloud or machine learning–cannot be assessed with frameworks of current practices. So, management techniques and business models based on selling (or saving) effort at some sort of time rate are breaking down.

Secondly, the impact of the new capabilities of technology on technology industry itself is more pronounced and profound than it has ever been. While not there yet, the asymptotic nature of technology work is starting to become visible. Algorithms are not just replacing non-tech workers, but also techies. Today’s good programmers are taking away jobs from tomorrow’s. The power shift is multi-directional with the middle getting squeezed away. This poses an existential imperative for the industry and its constituents. As it gets automated or becomes available in smart user accessible chunks, merely delivering technology would cease to be a business or a job. Instead, those who deliver ‘advantage’, via technology or otherwise, would thrive.

Moments

Happiness, and pain and despair are fleeting, but powerful feelings. In those short moments they are remarkably convincing of their permanence, their relevance and their significance. Momentary episodes as they are–they seem to aggregate up to what our lives are. The aggregate which is bigger than a mere sum of its parts, with all the complexity emerging as these simple moments come together.

Or, is it? Perhaps, these moments are significant only as individuals. These fleeting moments which assert their profoundness to the aggregate are perhaps like minions guarding the gates of their masters. The despair that so boldly convinces us of its reason and permanence can fade just as a tiny another moment happens.

Or, maybe, these moments are important and significant just by themselves–having little bearing on anything bigger, and anything else having little bearing on them. Then, wouldn’t pain and despair lose their sting, and happiness need no reason?

Elections 2013 and NOTA

Yes, it has been five years. I wrote then about anti-incumbency being a powerful force, and so has been the case again in this assembly election in Rajasthan. BJP won unprecedentedly and so on. What did not find its justified mention in all the consequent hoopla was NOTA.

NOTA or ‘none-of-the-above’ option was exercised by more than half a million voters in Rajasthan. That these many people made the effort of walking to the polling booths, standing in a long queue, and having a finger nail shabbily painted, to not select anybody, does say a lot. Interestingly, in Delhi, the NOTA voters were much fewer, possibly because AAP did cover the NOTA sentiment.

However, AAP’s significant victory in terms of number of seats won betray a subtle fallacy. Fallacy, that elections are merely to elect a government. AAP signifies a body of belief, support to that was expressed by people. Just as a significant statement was made by people selecting NOTA. We vote to express our opinion. Even if does not lead to a win, it is relevant. The opinion so expressed would reverberate and strengthen many feedback loops within the system.

NOTA was the fourth largest voted option. In many instances the number of NOTA votes was more than the winning margin. That there is this large segment of voters ready to support a candidate or a party which addresses them properly, is a fact that polity cannot ignore.

Yes, good things ahead!

Enabling Platform

The complex set of technologies enabling today’s business need not be complicated. (See http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_berlow_how_complexity_leads_to_simplicity.html for a perspective on complex v complicated.)

Our observations of enterprise technology implementations reveal a preference for a rather simplistic approach of finding the best available technology solution for any specific problem area. Somehow these blinkered views of the problem space are expected to aggregate into a superior and enabling infrastructure for running a business. But mostly, this is a recipe for a fragmented and fractured collection of technology knick-knacks barely supporting the business processes at quite a cost.

For a business, there’s rarely one primary technology piece, but the technology initiatives are often run as if the current is the killer one. Case in point is ERP. ERP as an infrastructure for handling the business transactions is, of course, a key and a critical element for business enablement – but we have always asked more from technology and to achieve the competitive advantages or higher business efficiencies many more elements need to be orchestrated. Also, it is convenient (and misguided) to think of information systems as one other piece in the business’ jig-saw, a view that completely ignores the all-permeating nature of IT and end-less dependencies that information systems have.

This is complicated, nay, complex. This quagmire is compounded by presence of immense and ever-evolving technology options and the fact that parts of business may not fathom technology impact on business as a whole. Information technology is increasingly business critical and, of course, technology is a business decision. That, business process architecture is a key success factor, cannot be ignored.

Embracing complexity is the first step leading to emergence of simple solutions. One needs to step back (and, not dive deeper) and and take an overall view. The Platform Vision model allows us to do that being a method to discern, comprehensively, the business and technology architecture components. The knowledge about various industry verticals, major technology and services vendors and the value parameters for business impact can be, thus, used to ascertainment of best mix of business process and technology components.

This can lead to a roadmap for an enabling technology platform for business as the considerations of best fit and value along with technical and business dependencies, interoperability concerns and technology futures can be adequately addressed.

For Your Information

Didn’t you know: Emperor Nero received this email “Rome is burning, this is fyi.”

We watch news, read papers and listen to radio while driving and, do nothing more than participating in an adrenalin heavy – but largely inane – discussion on ‘current affairs’ at the friendly neighborhood paanwala (or equivalent, say, office water cooler or blogosphere). That’s how we handle fyi’s.  Be it global warming or spectrum allocation scam. Be it litter-on-road or office politics.

The corporate versions of fyi include ‘reports’. Typically thousands of them. As I learnt recently, a company identified some 5000 (and still counting) different reports being produced and circulated (communicated or consumed would not have been correct words) in their corporate head-quarters, and, on review, only 40 were deemed useful, that is ‘marked’ as useful by at-least one person. The fyi malaise is eminent when one looks into corporate emails.

Let’s say you receive some fyi email. It can only mean one of the following:

  • I am not sure what can be done about this
  • its not my job, maybe its one of the 17,000 recipients on this email
  • my job is to inform you, I don’t care otherwise (the journalist)
  • don’t bother doing anything about it
  • aw, hot potato
  • just wanted to ensure that I can save my ass using the shield of collective responsibility, or you are now partner-in-crime
  • not sure, what can you do about this, uhh, wait a second, what do you do here?

There are variants of ‘fyi’, having the same import as above, like, “for necessary action” (what action, for what purpose) or, amazingly vague, “for needful” (I don’t have a freaking clue about this, so let me use this Raj-relic on you.) or “review and comment” (on the thousand page attachment).

The fyi-person has little inclination to think through or figure out. He has no intention to solve the problem, and so is loathe to articulate and argue. He is happy un-named and un-attached. He is content with cheap pleasures of cribbing and bitching. He is wary of pain of creation and is afraid of scrutiny.

A person with mission does not need fyi’s. He will figure out what’s needed and get it (maybe use RTI or Google or WikiLeaks or a fanciful business intelligence tool or not-so-fancy Excel). He will not bombard people around with vague requests (“needful”) or unsolicited updates (he will have results to show). He will ask specific person for specific help with a specific request. If he is unclear, he will build candidate clarifications and ask specifically if they stand scrutiny. (Aha, the scientific method!). He will differentiate between facts and opinions, and will have his own opinions. He will be his own beacon (atma deepo bhav – as a Sanskrit blessing goes.)

He gets (in an active sense) informed and he acts.

The bigotry of passive consumption of information is spreading, permeating and enveloping us all. I have little doubt that this is cause and symptom of institutional limbo.

How to Change the World

Two simple steps:
     1.  Be the change
     2.  Be proud of it

The first step is actually self evident. Mahatma Gandhi famously said: Be the change you wish to see in the world. Of course, easier said than done. The hard part is not ‘being’ the change but to project the change we want in the world to ourselves. Its difficult because its easier to find fault with others, blame some ‘them’, and, as I learnt sometime back, we are hard wired for ‘agentism’. So there’s always somebody else (not us) who needs to change to make our world happier, better place.

It tolls for thee. Our predisposition to suspect this somebody as source of problems leads us to find solution there. So we take ourselves out of the change equation and, send for whom the bell tolls!

The second part is really a corollary. It asks us to revolt against the tyranny of common sense. (Thanks Sir Ken Robinson for this phrase.) I believe that we fundamentally are what we desire to be. We get trained, conditioned and constrained to be something else. These constraints, conditioning, and training form the norms, the status quo. These cause us to be apologetic as we attempt to do right (whatever we think to be right, that is). And, these make us to fool ourself into rationalizing our compliant activities. Maybe we loathe to change because it would be construed as stupid. But maybe there’s a larger constituency waiting to be converts, waiting for one to change and be proud of it.

So Who Do I Blame For This

We all are wired in some quirky ways. The wiring works well in a range of situations, but the complex dynamics of modern life throw a lot of situations where our such learnt reactions are not just non-optimal, they are damaging. The research suggest a negative agency bias—negative events are more often attributed to the influence of external agents than similarly positive and neutral events, independent of their subjective probability. (Morewedge, 2009) People generally appear to suspect that the causal origin of events is a prime mover—an intentional agent that initiates the first event in a causal chain of events (Rosset, 2008; Vinokur & Ajzen, 1982).

It is important to realize that we all are victims of this bias. Maybe this awareness can lead us to question the rationality and reasonability of our reactions – which mind so passionately insists to be so. Yes, our lives aren’t perfect, but we do not have to always find somebody to blame. But, we do and when we do the little accountant in our head increments the counter. Unknown to the person being blamed, the count just gets bigger and bigger. There are situations and there are reactions. Reactions which are function not of the situation but of the count. The little accountant has a viral way of keeping itself employed and grow its clan – the reaction triggers many more counters.

Hmm… so is this why the life is how it is? Or maybe the conspiracy theorists are right.

These Eventful Five Years

We recently completed (on July 1) five years of operations as Advaiya. As we celebrated this milestone for the organization and for the team members who have travelled along this journey, we did look back through these years with nostalgia and pride. During these years, the organization has indeed seen growth, and successes and failures, but most importantly we have matured into a community of passionate professionals, working with whom is rewarding, stimulating, and fun.

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