Thursday, January 19, 2017

What is Digital Strategy Execution? And what it means to IS Executives

There is a considerable amount of hype over Digitization. Last year, CEOs, senior executives and government leaders took it up a notch by agreeing that “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” is being driven by new technologies, and innovative processes that are blurring the boundaries between people, the internet and the physical world.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on the Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, which entailed the proliferation of computers and the automation of record keeping; but the new wave of transformation differs from its predecessors in a few key ways.
This “revolution” extends digitization with the convergence of the digital, physical and biological spheres. The continued adoption of social media tools including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to enhance customer engagement also lends a sense of urgency for business leaders to react. They are also concerned about the disruptive potential of digital technologies when leveraged with Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) strategies.
The Future of the Digital Economy and related topics continues to receive attention from global leaders at the ongoing WEF-2017 in Davos, Switzerland. Some of the trends like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality (VR), self-driving cars – may be disruptive to our current order, and might indeed usher seismic innovation and changes. However, some of the “digital innovations” are just aggregation of existing technologies and techniques that will nevertheless bring in efficiencies and better ways of working.

So, what does "Executing a Digital Strategy" entail?

Digital Transformations and programs, especially in large organizations seem to be springing up everywhere, some driven by IS leaders and many driven directly by business and functional leaders. Regardless of who is driving the transformation, CIOs and IS executives should seek opportunities to engage with their business stakeholders. During the past few years, I had an opportunity to review a number of such strategic initiatives. Engaging in such programs that are trying to execute a digital strategy requires one to eat the proverbial elephant, by breaking it down into bite size chunks.
The technology enablers for digitization incrementally build on existing design and development methodologies and EA techniques. I have reviewed this topic - “Executing Digital Strategies” - in a recently published executive update for the Cutter Consortium. The premise is rather straightforward: execution requires one to focus on distinct categories that a transformation program might fall into:

  • Lights-on digitization
  • Digital Excellence 
  • Customer-centric digitization
The architecture should also take into account the existing application platforms, infrastructure and processes. The roadmap for successful execution should focus on technology enablers including Non-Functional Requirements (NFR), Integration principles, tools and technologies, Data and analytics that will underpin successful digitization.
Bottomline: IS executives and technologists can begin planning their engagement with an empirical classification by categories of digitization. Such classification enables a more focused engagement with functional stakeholders and leaders, and may also aid in portfolio and resource planning.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Q&A: How do I reconcile with the fact that being a Hindu, I ate beef?

I was raised in a strict Hindu family where we did not eat meat. I am in North America now and I ate Hamburger while going out with some friends. RiIght now, I feel quite uneasy and am ashamed of myself. How do I get to terms with this thing? Is eating beef while you are away from home normal for Indian Hindu students?

My answer to a recent query online


Thanks for asking. Like you, I too was raised in a Hindu family where we did not eat meat. Although I have lived and worked in a dozen countries, I continue to be a Vegetarian. I have spent nearly half-decade with a multinational Agri-business company. My Musing on Food, Protein and Vegetarianism

Others have answered this question and have refereed to Vedas, Hindu scriptures etc. Let us set aside religion and scriptures for a minute and focus on personal beliefs and mores, since this is the crux of your question “How do I reconcile with the fact that being a Hindu, I ate beef?”
A simple answer. No, you don’t try and reconcile with the fact.
Have I been in a situation like you? Perhaps, the closest I came to such a “conflict” was during a corporate retreat at a resort in small-town Germany.
(indicative image)
During lunch on the first day, after the first course, I politely informed the Maitre d' of my Vegetarian preference. The Maitre d' returned back after a few minutes - after I had enjoyed the Salad - and politely explained that the salad dressing had Pork extract.
She apologized, and promised that they would arrange for vegetarian alternatives for my dinner and meals during the following days. I thanked her and joked that it would have been better if she hadn’t mentioned the ingredients of the salad dressing to me.
Did I feel “quite uneasy and ashamed of myself.” (quoting you). No, I didn’t have time to think about it that day. But I did reflect on it later; and the fact I am blogging about it means it must be in my subconscious mind.
Back to your questions
  • Is eating beef while you are away from home normal for Indian Hindu students?”
    • No, it is not the norm though some students might choose to do so. A $1 burger at McDonalds or a beef-burrito at Taco-bell may feel inexpensive compared to a $6.99 buffet at an Indian restaurant.
  • How do I get to terms with this thing?
    • It’s simple, you don’t try and come to terms with it. Life is too short and there are bigger things to worry about!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Career Q&A with Mohan - Pigeonholed into a pure Performance Testing Position

Pigeonholed into a pure Performance Testing Position  


I have started my first full time job after college 3 months ago. I was employed as a "Test Engineer". I applied for a position with a focus and creating and implementing a Java based Testing Framework for the company, in order to make the testing process of their web application more effective. I already was active in this area during my internship, creating new functions for the existing Selenium-based framework of my former company. After two weeks, the dedicated "Performance Tester" of my company quit his job. It was decided that I should take his position, working on Load Tests for running projects using the jMeter tool, by creating requests and checking the results. I did not have any knowledge in this field before and had to learn most of the thins in the two weeks this colleague was still working before leaving. Now the company has one of the biggest projects of it's history and expects the same quality of load tests and reports as before. But there is nobody here anymore that has knowledge in this field, making it necessary for to learn by mistakes, which is very frustrating. I am also forced to work on load tests for multiple projects at the same time, which creates stress situations.
Is this a normal process for a new employee? Is Performance Testing a useful skill to learn?
Would be thankful for advice.


My Response:
As an Enterprise Architect for a global 2000 company, I have worked on most of the BDAT (Business, Data, Application and Technology) domains and have experience in the entire life-cycle of delivering large systems and processes.
Why did I start with this preamble? To highlight the significance of Non Functional Requirements (NFRs) and Performance Engineering in delivering solutions. Back to your questions
  • Is this a normal process for a new employee? when you join an IS department/group of any organization, your are signing up for change, and the opportunities that come along.
  • Is Performance Testing a useful skill to learn? Absolutely. Performance testing, and Performance Engineering are valuable skills to learn.
My2Cents: Spend a year or two in this role and explore the wider market with your skills and experience!


Moving to App Development from ERP development

I have a CS degree from back in the day ('96) and been working in the ERP side (C, reports, forms etc) and looking to move into something more technically challenging as I am super bored working in the ERP industry.
I started learning app development in the last few months (Obj,Swift,ios api). I am at this point working on my App portfolio. I can spend about 3 more months working on this.
I am wondering how many apps I should develop? (thinking 3? which showcase use of different api's etc)
Most jobs that are advertised in the job boards ask for a minimum of 2 years in app development and most recruiters filter resumes on this.
Any suggestions on how I should go about this transition?
thank you.

My Response:
It is interesting to see someone switch from ERP to other software development. Although there are tremendous opportunities in ERP, I am sure you have your reasons for making the switch. A couple of suggestions on positioning yourself and getting interviews:
  • Highlight your development skills (C, reports, forms etc) in the resume
  • Highlight domain skills (developed in ERP delivery)
  • Emphasize your project and life-cycle experiences
These along with your other skills and learnability should help you get your foot in the door.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Implementing SaaS Solutions: The power of community of practice

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog “Evaluating SaaS solutions? Watch for these 5 challenges.” In that I highlighted configurations and customizations as the first and most significant challenge. Most SaaS solutions support configurations - changes to UI templates, basic workflows, role based authorization and authentication etc.  This is a double-edged sword since some configurations may make the solution more usable, while adding to cost and complexity. Even seemingly small configurations done together might cascade into a considerable effort that must be managed and orchestrated.



Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_houle/

A practical challenge with SaaS solutions is the skills and product knowledge required to enable configurations. Most organizations introducing a SaaS solution into their ecosystem wouldn’t have these skills. These technical and functional skills will need to be sourced, sometimes at a high cost. Just try searching for “workday consultant” or “salesforce project manager” on LinkedIn jobs section and see the number of hits. Technology consulting firms have sensed an opportunity, and developed entire practice areas with armies of consultants focused on specific SaaS solutions.
A recent blog by Jon Aniano from Salesforce “You're Not a Special Snowflake: 5 Reasons Why You Should Really Be Using Standard Objects” echoes this point.
your business is unique and you have some requirements and business processes that set you apart. All businesses do. This is why Salesforce has the absolute best platform for customization. This is why Salesforce lets you customize your data model by creating custom fields and custom objects. This is why Salesforce has Process Builder which lets you manage your business processes visually and easily. This is why Salesforce gives you App Builder, and Apex, and Lightning and Heroku… Anything you need to do, you can do it on Salesforce.
But sometimes you take it just a little too far.
I like the bluntness with which Jon pushes back at customizations; and the title of his article is direct. However, telling the business executive sponsoring a SaaS solution that “You're Not a Special Snowflake,” is not a way to score brownie points. Working with him and his functional teams to evaluate the the art of the possible is the key to stakeholder management. It is more about minimizing customizations - “You and the CRM are ‘Special’ Snowflakes that don’t need uniquely customized solutions”
Towards the end of his writeup, Jon emphasizes the community of practices that have evolved around SaaS solutions. He describes the concept of Salesforce’s Ohana “our family, our culture.”
 Salesforce has attracted an amazing community of smart, experienced, like-minded people all willing to help each other get the most value out of their use of Salesforce. When you use standard objects and standard functionality, you’ll be speaking the same language as this community. When you ask for help, they’ll immediately know what you’re talking about, and they’ll already have implemented a solution to your problem in the past. And, when you use standard objects and standard functionality, you’ll often come up with novel solutions that you can contribute it back to grow your own career and personal brand.
I like the way Jon describes the benefit of using standard objects and minimizing customizations in SFDC. The community of practice is perhaps the most understated tool available to technology teams. Consulting firms have long realized the power of such communities and have even formalized and incentivized “knowledge management” in many areas, not just for SaaS solutions. For instance, my former employer, Infosys, took a lot of pride in their award winning KM platform - wins The Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises (MAKE) ]
The opportunity to leverage external and internal community of practices should also appeal to functional stakeholders, and their teams. Who – business users included - wouldn’t want to have marketable skills on their resume?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Indian Military Hospitals - Not your dad’s Army hospital

One of the most remarkable benefits available to Indian defense force personnel and their families is access to universal healthcare via Military hospital system. Growing up as an Air Force officer’s son, I had on occasion visited the local clinics “MI rooms” and Military Hospitals (MH). The service personnel gamely accepted the few standardized services and preventative medication provided as a part of the system. Running jokes included the use of paracetamol for all ailments, and my earliest memory is the distinct odor of tincture of iodine that would permeate most of the clinics and MH’s. After entering adulthood, I was no longer eligible for the family medical benefits. The MH system faded from memory as I migrated to live in Europe, Canada and the US.
During the couple of decades since, I had an opportunity to visit and observe service provided by hospitals and clinics in the US, UK, Switzerland and Canada; sometimes for self, for my (then) pregnant wife and periodically after our son was born.
I began to appreciate the clinical efficiency (pun intended) with which the hospitals and clinics operated. There again, the “clinical efficiency,” with a focus on operational excellence and lowering costs comes with a rather impersonal service. Most doctors don’t spend more than 10-15 minutes with patients. It isn’t because they don’t want to but because the “process of diagnosis” is designed to maximize their valuable skills and time. Most of the screening and pre-diagnosis is done by nursing assistants and nurses before one gets to meet the doctor. The western medical system is expensive, and assumes one has good insurance coverage paid by an employer or self, and one has the means to cover the co-pay balance.
During the time I had moved west, the medical system in India had begun marching ahead. The military Hospital system I had experienced in my childhood had also transformed. As an NRI who has seen the best of global primary medical care, I am not easily impressed. However, after spending a few days visiting my dad, who was admitted to the Command Hospital in Bangalore, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the men and women in uniform, serving fellow servicemen and retired veterans.
In his late seventies, my dad is encountering old age and the myriad health afflictions which follow. He has been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, and during his regular check-up, the medical oncologist noticed some “slowness” in his movements and referred him to a neurologist. The Neurologist, Group Captain G (name omitted) whom we met for the checkup showed an inordinate patience in examining and trying to understand Dad’s history, and recommended an MRI. Later, I googled Dr. G’s profile and came away suitably impressed by his education and training – MD, MRCP, FRCS etc – and his experience in the field and consulting with top medical institutions.
In the span of over four days my dad was admitted at the hospital for checkups and examination and diagnosis. I had an opportunity to walk around the sprawling campus. Located adjacent to the busy old Airport road, the leafy campus drowns out the din of the city traffic and noise. Most buildings retain an “old world” feel of military barracks and offices. Cafeteria and canteens for visitors and kiosks for coffee and tea are located around campus.
Just like Dr. G’s courtesy and service mindset, I was equally impressed by the professionalism of the uniformed paramedics, nurses and ward attendants. Their training and knowledge gained from observing a variety of patients comes through, even in the smallest interactions with patients. Thanks to funding by the Ministry of Defense, these fine men and women have access to world class medical techniques, training and equipment.
With a large concentration of service personnel and retirees, the facilities and infrastructure at the Command Hospital are really stretched thin. Each department – including neurology, oncology, urology etc – is overflowing with patients. To manage the inflow and demand, the management has designated “receptions” at each building. While the token system and endless wait for an appointment to meet a specialist may feel overwhelming, there is a method in the madness. The system is designed to optimize the demand and (limited) supply. The modernization of medical practice at the command hospital is really evident in the people and equipment.
Many of my fellow NRIs, and even many Indians perpetually lament over the crumbling infrastructure and broken system. There is perhaps a grain of truth to it. However, when one occasionally encounters hidden gems, like my encounter at Command Hospital, one is pleasantly surprised.

(republished on my quora blog)

Recent Q&A on EA: What's the biggest challenge in creating an agile enterprise architecture?

My response to a recent query on Quora:


What's the biggest challenge in creating an agile enterprise architecture?

Mohan Babu K
Mohan Babu K, Enterprise Architect for a global 1000 company.

Let us start with a couple of definitions:
“Agile generally relates to method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans: Contrasted with waterfall.” Oxford Dictionaries
“Enterprise architecture (EA) is a discipline for proactively and holistically leading enterprise responses to disruptive forces by identifying and analyzing the execution of change toward desired business vision and outcomes. EA delivers value by presenting business and IT leaders with signature-ready recommendations for adjusting policies and projects to achieve target business outcomes that capitalize on relevant business disruptions.” Gartner IT Glossary
Can EA be realized in an agile manner? Yes. Back to the original question “challenge in creating an agile enterprise architecture? It is not very clear, but I will assume the question pertains to “go about,” which one can do:
  • By using agile techniques to realizing some of the key aspects of EA.
  • By taking a consulting-focused approach to deliver on promises.
It should be noted that realizing Enterprise Architecture, or realizing outcome of an enterprise strategy may not always be done in an Agile manner.



Monday, December 19, 2016

Why IT matters to Mr. Trump; and why he matters to the business of IT

Global businesses are tightly interwoven with governments and social policies; more so the business of IT sourcing and offshoring IT Services. Therefore, it is not surprising that Business leaders across a wide spectrum of industries are trying to read the tea-leaves and speculate on the continual stream of viewpoints emerging from tweets and media interviews of President elect Mr. Donald Trump. 
Mr. Trump’s scheduled meeting with Tech leaders on 14th December (New York Times) may or may not provide clarity to Information Technology (IT) executives and business leaders. A few facts about the global IT and global software services industry:
  • Software services industry is extremely globalized. Large companies employ teams of software professionals from across the globe, with a large percentage from India: the IT industry collectively employs over 2.5 million people in India (Wikipedia)
  • Indian services companies including TCS, Infosys, and Wipro employ over 150,000 people each. American and multinational service firms like IBM, Accenture, Deloitte and others employ over 100,000+ people (each) in India.
  • In addition, software companies like Google, Microsoft, SAP, Adobe and others employ tens of thousands of people. Many American and multinational firms have also established their captive development centers, directly employing Indians for their “shared services” and IT business units.
  • Nearly 50% of the software services business is focused on serving North American clients. Most Fortune 500 and other mid-size and small organizations across industry segments depend on these software service companies for their IT development and support needs.
  • Work Visas (e.g. H1-B), company transfers (L1) and visas for routine meetings (e.g. B1 visas) are essential to the operation of the business model.
Mr. Trump’s viewpoints on outsourcing and “Make America Great Again” have been emphasized over and over. (Trump launches Twitter blast about outsourcing of jobs - politico.com).
Does this mean a rollback of offshoring IT?
What this means, and how it will be administered is anybody’s guess. Rolling back outsourcing that has been happening for over 15-20 years, even if feasible, would be extremely expensive. Companies have been trying to minimize dependence on offshoring by experimenting with insourcing and nearshoring, but mass insourcing by larger organizations would significantly impact their bottomline. Assuming there is no attempt at a widespread rollback by corporate America, the industry is still bracing for a slowdown, which tech executives are already hinting at (Infosys CEO says Trump election may weigh on margins - Reuters)
IT companies have successfully managed through challenges in the past decades, including the downturn following Y2K and the first dot.com bust, and the global slowdown during the past decade. One of the prime reasons for the emergence of offshore outsourcing was the lack of local talent. Technology companies need to take a lead in addressing this challenge:
  • Increased hiring and training of local graduates. Software firms are beginning to make announcements on local hiring (example: IBM promises to hire Americans ahead of Trump meeting - news). The announcements should be followed by actionable change. For instance, Compuware, an American technology firm - that I worked for - had a successful practice of hiring graduates (mostly non-STEM majors). These graduates would be sent to a six-week intensive programming and systems admiration "bootcamp," before being paired to work with senior consultants and software engineers.
  • Increasing corporate scholarships to encourage STEM education, especially to motivate women and minorities to take on IT careers. (Ref : my earlier post on STEM education: need to catch them young)
  • Accelerating the hiring and training of qualified veterans who can be deployed on application development, system administration and technology support projects.
Tech sector continues to explore innovative uses of AI, robotics and machine learning in efforts to increase automation and productivity. Software companies are also trying to minimize the need for cross border travel by increased adoption of hi-definition video conferencing and tools for remote collaboration. If successful, these moves will improve productivity and business margins, but may not increase the number of jobs. Regardless of how all this plays out, status quo is not an option.