Monday, October 16, 2017

Indian Roads: the final frontier for Autonomous and Self-Driving Cars

I happen to be among a rare breed of NRI/PIOs who are as comfortable driving in Anytown USA as they are on busy and chaotic Bangalore roads. This said, it takes a few days of ‘acclimatization’ riding on Olas, Uber and Auto Rickshaws before I gain confidence to get behind the wheels. During my current stint in Bangalore, while driving a small Maruti car, I have been musing on former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s statement that “India will be the last place to get autonomous cars.”

When Kalanick made this proclamation a few months ago, it raised a few eyebrows among the digirati, and proponents of Autonomous vehicles and AI.

The technologies behind autonomous cars are advancing at a fast pace. Billions of dollars are being poured into it by Automakers and rideshare companies. Almost every day we see news of ‘yet another’ innovation in self-steering, LIDAR, GPS, Digital Maps and related technologies including AI and robotics. (link to a couple of recent deals) Some of these ideas and technologies sound futuristic and SCI-FIish, though many of these technologies are beginning to appear in high-end automobiles.

After driving on Bangalore roads for the past few months, I will have to concur with Kalanick’s proclamation. And here are 10 reasons why Bangalore roads will be the last place on earth to get autonomous cars:

#1. Right of way? When it comes to use of roads, everything and everyone has a right of way, Including pedestrians and cows. Drivers may swear at cyclists, pedestrians or even guys riding horses ziz-zagging through traffic, but shrug it off as par for the course. Apparently the guy riding a horse has as much right to be on the road as my Maruti.
Implication for designers of autonomous cars: Any self-driving technology will have to accommodate for erratic and unpredictable presence of vehicles and non-vehicles on roads that claim an equal right-of-way.

#2. Might is right – Paraphrasing George Orwell, when it comes to Indian roads, all vehicles are equal, but some vehicles are more equal than others. Bangalore traffic follows an informal pecking order with Public buses at the top of the food chain, followed by ‘G’ plated government and police vehicles, followed by larger SUVs, yellow-plated commercial vehicles and so on. Of course, Autorickshaws and bikes seem to have a license to ziz-zag as they please.
Implication: My description of the informal pecking order is merely an empirical observation. Good luck to analysts trying to decipher and codify the complex Orwell pecking order on Indian roads!

#3. Eye-contact – At busy intersections where traffic begins to crawl, pedestrians, bike-riders and others will try to make eye-contact, wave or make other gestures to indicate their intent
Implication: There is obviously a lot more than meets the eye. LIDAR, Digital sensors and cameras will have to be smart enough to speedily decipher such human cues from a distance.

#4. Horn-OK-Please – Trucks and busses on highways routinely have “horn please” painted behind to remind drivers that honking is not only expected but a normal mode of communication. Honking on Indian roads takes an art-form and is not a precise science. Honking can range from benign expression of impatience and a subtle warning to pedestrians and bikers to more serious expression of rage.
Implication: Making sense of a honk requires contextualized interpretation: Try deciphering a single horn, and what it’s trying to communicate from among a cacophony of honks in a busy street.

#5. Streets with potholes, dug up and after monsoons, waterlogged. After the recent rains, unfortunate bikers and scooters in Bangalore trying to avoid new potholes have skid, and been fatally hit by oncoming traffic.
Implication: The challenge is not just about potholes but the unpredictability it induces, requiring split-second reflexes among motorists. LIDAR, DGPS and Digital maps may not be able to predict the next roadblock, pothole or dug-up road.

#6. Dealing with fender-benders – Driving on congested roads with bumper-to-bumper traffic will inevitably lead to fender-benders, or worse. Crowds of gawkers instantly gather around traffic accidents while some mobs are known to vent their 'fury' on helpless drivers.
Implication: One can only guess what happens when a self-driven car meets with an accident. Is it going to call on its AI driven digital assistant, and wait for the police while the other motorist invokes the mob to act?

#7. Dealing with traffic-cops –These men (and women) in uniform try hard to bring a bit of order in chaotic, overcrowded roads. Motorists flagged down by traffic-cops are generally expected to pay a ‘spot fine’ and try to ‘negotiate’ down the fine or plead their case.
Implication: What happens when a self-driven car is flagged down for a traffic violation? Does it to call its digital assistant to help with the ‘negotiation’ or just pay the fine and take the ticket? The social implications here are unclear.

#8. There are rules and then there are un-codified mores. Transport authorities have defined basic rules like ‘driving on the left side of the road,’ ‘overtaking from the right’ etc which motorists are expected to learn before getting a driver’s license. In addition, there are un-codified mores like the art of slowing at intersections and inching forward without stopping and yielding.
Implication: Obvious challenge of designing a system to decipher and work with ever changing, un-codified mores

#9. Driving towards landmarks: Directions from point-A to point-B in major localities are easy enough. It gets trickier when the destination happens to be in a small, narrow by-lanes. Even though I have my coordinates geo-tagged in Ola and Uber, the drivers invariably call to ask for a nearby ‘landmark’ that includes a dental clinic, liquor shop behind the house or the hardware-shop on the 80-feet road.
Implication: GPS and Digital Maps will need a tremendous amount of intelligence (AI ?) to identify and recognize small and large landmarks as humans understand them.

#10. Human Behavior – People in India have been learning to adapt to an increasing number of cars and automobiles on existing narrow roads and lanes. Even in a span of the past 10 years, one can see a remarkable reduction in the number of bicycles on roads and narrow roads morphing into parking spots with hardly any space left for motors to navigate.
Implication: Even the best designed system will have to continually keep up with changing human behavior, and surging population trying to adapt to the constraints.

Some of these observations may sound tongue and cheek, and can certainly be addressed with the right technologies and system design. Even in Bangalore, one might begin seeing autonomous vehicles in ‘controlled traffic’ environments in University, Defense, Governmental and Corporate campuses as the Infosys’ proof-of-concept in their campus highlights.

Perhaps the futurists eyeing the Indian market should step back from self-driving car hype, and focus on an unmet need: a relatively inexpensive electric car that can ‘idle’ smog-free in congested traffic! Wonder what will get Elon Musk to rethink his decision of bringing Teslas to India?
Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation | Reposted from Linkedin Pulse | [Images in the writeup are googled stock pictures]

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Q&A on EA: What is the future of enterprise architecture? Is it good to become an enterprise architect now?

Here are a couple of questions that came to me via an online forum. My responses follow

Do you believe that demand for Enterprise Architects will keep growing over the next years?

It is well understood that the practice of EA is much broader than IS Architecture. Taking a simplistic definition from Wikipedia
“Enterprise architecture (EA) is "a well-defined practice for conducting enterprise analysis, design, planning, and implementation, using a comprehensive approach at all times, for the successful development and execution of strategy….”
What does this mean? People who can bridge the gap between strategy definition and execution will continue to be in demand. In many large organizations, these folks fill the dedicated role of “Enterprise Architects.” In smaller organization, it may not be a dedicated role but rather a senior executive or manager also taking on the role of Enterprise Architect. Some organizations may supplement the role by engaging external consultants.
Regardless of how organizations approach the role, the need for Enterprise Architects will continue to grow.


In which field should I do masters if my long term goal is to become an enterprise architect?

A very interesting question. Enterprise Architects that I have worked with come from a variety of technical, business and functional backgrounds. A few had masters degrees and some even had PhDs: An EA I worked with had a PhD in Physics and had worked an CERN before he came to the corporate world.
So, to answer you question: a strong educational background will certainly help you get your foot in the door to gain technical or functional expertise. Such experiences gained in the corporate world are going to be more valued as you try to become an EA.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Q&A: What will be the chances of immigrating to the USA in 2022-23 on a H-1B visa?

An interesting question came to me via an online forum:

What will be the chances of immigrating to the USA in 2022-23 on a H-1B visa? Currently I am in BTech 1st yr and wish to settle in the USA in about 6 years.

Thanks for asking. Let me start by admitting I don’t have a crystal ball

…. and even my wildest SWAG is not likely to be a Scientific wild-ass guess. So, let me start with the information you have given:

  1. You are in BTech 1st yr
  2. You wish to “settle in the USA in about 6 years”
  3. Are wondering “what will be the chances of getting immigrated to the USA in 2022-23 on a H-1B visa?”
As of mid 2017, the western nations and their leaders are getting to be much more vocal about nationalism and protectionism.

US Congress and President Trump are at loggerheads over a lot of issues…. but Immigration reform is one area that will be reviewed during this term. Why? Because it is about jobs and economy. Such ‘reforms’ will certainly include scrutiny of the popular H1 and L1 work Visas.

One can only guess if these visas will continue in the same shape and form till 2022 and beyond. Given all this, what would I do if I were young and impressionable youngster like you? I would seriously revisit my stated goal of trying to “settle in the USA in about 6 years on a H-1B visa” What does this mean?

  • Focus on getting the best education one can: in your case, try to graduate at the top of your class/university.
  • During the next few years, firm up your career and academic goals to pursue
Keep in mind that immigration, migrating and ‘settling in the USA’ is not a primary goal, but rather may (or may not) be a byproduct of all this!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why take up ‘sanyas’ when you are worth a fortune?

Those with large fortunes continually make headlines. Sometimes the headlines are so radical that one must do a double take.

Yesterday, I came across the news article about a “Jain couple to leave minor kid, Rs 100 crore wealth for monkhood.”  (link) This story described the intent of a well-educated Jain couple from the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh who have decided to leave behind their three-year-old daughter and property "worth Rs 100 crore" (over $ 15 million) to embrace monkhood (‘sanyas’) under the 'Shwetambar' (white clad) order of their religion.

Sumit Rathore (left) and wife Anamika with daughter. (Source: Facebook profile of Yatindra Kush Tyagi).
Sumit Rathore (left) and wife Anamika with daughter. (Source: Facebook profile of Yatindra Kush Tyagi).
So, what is 'sanyas’ in the Indian cultural context?  According to Wikipedia 
“Sannyasa (saṃnyāsa) is the life stage of renunciation within the Hindu philosophy of four age-based life stages known as ashramas, with the first three being Brahmacharya (bachelor student), Grihastha (householder) and Vanaprastha (forest dweller, retired). Sannyasa is traditionally conceptualized for men or women in late years of their life, but young brahmacharis have had the choice to skip the householder and retirement stages, renounce worldly and materialistic pursuits and dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits.” 
We have all heard of billionaires and millionaires announcing plans to give away a large part of their fortunes to charity during their lifetimes.  Notable are stories like that of "Bill Gates gives $4.6bn to charity in biggest donation since 2000."  or "Mark Zuckerberg Vows to Donate 99% of His Facebook Shares for Charity"  and Jeff Bezos taking to social media seeking ideas for his "philanthropic strategy" 

This story of Sumit Rathore and his wife Anamika, however, is a bit different. They have a net worth that most other Indians can only dream of. However, it is also different from that of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg since it is not about charity, but rather renouncing everything.

Which brings us back to the question: Why take up ‘sanyas’ when you are worth a fortune? Of course, Sanyas has little to do with high-networth but rather about one’s mindset in taking up sanyas, renouncing worldly pleasures, wealth and more importantly a young family with potential.

Their reasons for the move are unclear, and my guess is as good as yours; but it may be simply because Sumit and Anamika can!

In case you are wondering, my personal views on religion, charity and Indian culture continue to be reshaped based on my experiences. I am content being a mere ‘karma yogi,’ engaging with life and society while actively engaging in my Karma without renouncing much.
There is a phrase from Ratan Tata continues to shape my worldview  (link: The Economist

“I want to be able to go to bed at night and say that I haven't hurt anybody”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Q&A : How and why do top intellectuals go back to teaching jobs?

An interesting question came to me from an online forum: How and why is teaching in US universities so fulfilling that top intellectuals like RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and Niti Aayog vice chairman Arvind Pangariya went back to join teaching?

My response follows

 Fascinating question but one doesn’t have to think too hard about How and Why.
The names you quote Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Pangariya et al. are globalized intellectuals with impeccable credentials, stellar education backed by real world experience. Arvind Panagariya happens to be Princeton educated Indian American. He was previously Chief Economist at the Asian Development Bank. “In the past, he has been a professor of economics at the University of Maryland at College Park. He has also worked for the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He holds a Ph.D in economics from Princeton University.” Same goes for Mr. Rajan with his excellent credentials - IIT Delhi, IIM Ahmedabad, MIT Sloan School of Management (PhD)!
Having a global background like these also means they are unencumbered by trivialities like visas and immigration restriction that may apply to rest of the junta.

How do they do it (i.e make a switch)?
  • These are the guys whose phone calls will be picked up by any ivy league university Dean or multinational CEO.
  • These are the guys who are continually tracked by elite executive headhunters.

Why do they do it (i.e make a switch)? Now, this is a subjective part of the question. If you had the credentials like Raghuram or Arvind and the ability to write your own agenda, and chalk a path after every milestone, wouldn’t you do it?
Some of these people like Raghuram and Arvind have excellent academic credentials. Academics in in the US, especially in top schools/universities are well respected, and depending on seniority and tenure, the pay and perks are great too. In addition, professors get to focus on research and consulting outside the university too!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Enterprise Architecture 101: Digital Strategy Execution enabled by an ARB

A while ago, I had blogged a Pulse article about Digital Strategy Execution (ref link). This is a topic I continue to observe and reflect on since organizations continue to execute their corporate digitization strategies.

The Editor at Cutter Consortium reached out to me asking if I could expand on the topic, especially in the context of Architecture governance. This viewpoint - Digital Strategy Execution via Architecture Review Board (ARB) - was recently published as an executive update by Cutter Consortium.  I realize the report is firewalled, so for those without access to Cutter’s subscription, here is a detailed summary. I have also posted some of the diagrams from the report in a slideshare (link)
Enabling digital strategies requires CIOs, Enterprise Architects and IT leaders to engage with business stakeholders. Such engagement of IS with business stakeholders must be governed by the organization’s processes, operating model, and technology governance to ensure robust, scalable architectures. The resultant roadmaps should also be governed by a well-functioning ARB.

Digitization and Information Systems

There are lots of discussions and viewpoints on ‘digital strategies,’ and they must be contextualized for an organization. Examples of such user stories include medical insurance companies motivating consumers to video-chat with doctors, auto insurers offering “usage-based insurance” after analysis of driver data from devices on cars, and banks minimizing foot traffic at the branches while enhancing digital transactions. As an enterprise architect responsible for governance at a multinational organization, I had an opportunity to review several digital transformations. Most of them seem to fall into three distinct categories (see Figure):

  • Lights-on digitization (a.k.a IS led digitization)
  • Digital excellence
  • Customer-centric digitization

    Most lights-on digitization efforts - like migrating application platforms to cloud hosting, introducing new software as a service (SaaS), enhanced data management, automation of existing processes etc - are driven by IT leaders, who should take the opportunity to align these with other transformations.

    Technology and business leaders continually scan the external landscape for new and innovative solutions. Digital excellence initiatives include the introduction of innovative vendor solutions that can drive business growth. Examples include use of blockchain technology, tools to analyze big/unstructured data; speech recognition and interactive voice response (IVR) enabled processes, and incremental use of virtual assistants and transcription or translation services.

    Customer-centric digitization programs aim to enhance digital engagement with the company’s customers, business partners, vendors, suppliers, and other third parties. These initiatives require strong business insights and are generally sponsored and steered by senior executives. IT leaders facilitate ideation and technology foresight, and ensure seamless introduction of these solutions.

    Customer-centric digitization might also be designed to address threats from digital innovators. For instance, the travel and hospitality industry is reacting to disruptors like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb. Innovations in robotics, Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence–driven planning and modeling are beginning to disrupt the existing ways of working in manufacturing industries.
    In the report, I expand the context of Architecture Governance (figure) and execution that requires executive support and an operational cadence. Digital strategies and roadmaps continually evolve and change in response to economic conditions, changing customer preferences, competitive pressures, and external market forces. Therefore, the basic design of an ARB should be simple but extensible. Please feel free to review the references:

    Thanks for reading! 
    Please share your views on Digitization & Governance. You may Like, Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation | Reposted from my Linkedin Pulse blog |

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    30-60 Children die at Gorakhpur Hospital: Musing on the heartlessness of business, administration and politics

    Reading about the shocking incident at a hospital in the Indian city of Gorkhpur sent a shiver down my spine. Parents of the kids with various ailments who were admitted at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital allege that oxygen supply for the patients was turned off as the vendors’ bills for the supplies had not been paid by the state government.

    Initial media accounts published notifications received from vendors - Pushpa Sales Pvt Limited, the company which supplies liquid oxygen to the Hospital. According to letters from the vendor, Pushpa sales had decided to stop supply of oxygen cylinders to the hospital since its bills hadn’t beenpaid for past supplies (link):  
    # “The delay in payment is reaching six months… in case of further delay, the entire responsibility would be of BRD Medical.”
    # “We would be unable to continue supply… in case of non-payment of dues… it would not be our responsibility.”

    Pushpa’s managers probably approached this as yet another business transaction: A vendor threatening to or actually stopping supplies when past bills are overdue is a common business practice. It is shocking to imagine how the managers didn’t stop to think that the supply of the ‘goods,’ (oxygen cylinders) would literally lead to life-and-death consequences.

    The incident has generated a huge political storm with the media and digerati weighing in. While parents allege lack of oxygen supply as the root cause, the hospital administration is taking cover under obscure medical records by stating ‘each case of death is unique and different.’ (link)

    Having lived and worked in a dozen countries around the globe, I can understand - but still not empathize – with the constraints under which middle-managers operate. Unpaid bills of over 40 lakh rupees -nearly US$80,000 as the media reports indicate - is not a small amount by Indian standards. One can guess how a middle-manager at Pushpa Sales might have been under tremendous pressure to have the bills cleared. Perhaps his job was at stake too, and he decided to stop supplies to ‘threaten’ the hospital administration as a last resort.

    Similarly, hospital administrators are also business managers accountable for Profit and Loss and general operations and surely must have tried to ‘resolve’ the impasse. In all this, did they stop for a minute to think: the ‘goods and supplies’ in question are oxygen cylinders destined for a children’s ward were helpless, innocent children might actually DIE if they didn’t receive the intake of oxygen? Post mortems and review of records will eventually unearth the truth, but by then the attention of the media and digirati would have moved on. The hapless parents will be left behind trying to reconcile the loss, eventually attempt to come to grips with it.

    As a father who lost a child years ago, my heart goes out to the grieving parents. No parent should have to go through the tragedy of burying a child. It is just not right.  

    Ref: Aditya Mohan

    Human lives are too precious to be squandered because of corporate greed and ineptitude of hospital administrators.