Monday, December 31, 2012

Year end musing on Tablets, Notebooks and education

As we wrap up 2012, it would be an understatement to say it has been a year of tablets and mobile computing. Consumers were in the driving seat with a wide array of tablets available to them and corporations and Enterprise Architects continued to make the stride towards mobile-enablement of workforce with BYOD strategies.

As the devices become ubiquitous, manufacturers continue to look for fortunes at the Bottom of the Pyramid (apologies C.K. Prahalad). Just a small sampling:
  • Google was selling a $99 Chromebook to teachers this holiday season while also promoting its Nexus tablets 
  • Amazon’s Kindle continues to attract not just budget conscious tablet buyers but also those who want to hook into its ecosystem including Amazon prime subscriptions
  • RIMM 's PlayBook surprised analysts who had all but written off the blackberry maker (link)
  • Of course, Apple doesn’t want to be left out of the party. Not surprisingly announced iPad mini - Every inch an iPad  targeted at the budget concious
A lot more devices from a variety of players hold promise and I guess we are seeing just the tip of iceberg when it comes to innovation at the bottom of pyramid. Given this climate of euphoria, it was a bit chilling to read the NYT account of the challenges being faced by India’s answer to the BoP tablet market – Akash

After creating sufficient mindshare among consumers, marketers seem to be going after the holy grail - next generation market – namely students. A few years ago, a consortia of corporations joined together to provide One Laptop per Child. While the world awaits the laptop for each child, individual tech companies and politicians are not waiting. Manufacturers seem to have found a cash cow: Governments around the world that are pandering to citizen with promises of laptops (for votes?). A sampling from the media reports
  • The Uttar Pradesh government has started assessing the supplying capacity of Hewlett Packard (HP), which has quoted the lowest bid for supplying 15 lakh laptops that the government will distribute among students who passed Class XII in 2012 and are pursuing higher education. (Ref Times of India)
  • TN govt (India) to give free laptops to students this week: The ambitious free laptop scheme of the Tamil Nadu government, under which 68 lakh laptops are to be distributed to government-aided higher secondary school and college students, is all set to roll this week. (article)
  • North Carolina, US “We’re very excited that Orange County Schools will launch our first-ever effort to do a digital conversion (in) grades six through 12,” says Chief Academic Officer of Orange County Schools Dr. Denise Morton. “All students will have a laptop to use during the day and at home at night.” (ref article
  • Australian govt funds 141,000 laptops for schools
Just as I was beginning to wonder about the new generation of tech-saavy-laptop-tablet-wielding youngsters coming to the market, I came across an article on how Students make a quick buck off government laptops. "Many of these graduates don’t have jobs and their families are in a poor state. One father sold his laptop when his son was away, saying he was just watching movies in it with his friends.”

Paraphrasing Queen Marie Antoinette “If you cant equip them with knowledge to get ahead, equip them with tablets?” And a happy new year to rest of us!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Governments and society: Rape in Delhi and children gunned down in Connecticut

Two recent incidents, a world apart seem to be grabbing headlines and shocking communities. One is “a Brutal Gang Rape In Delhi Has Shaken India To The Core” while the other is the senseless shooting of innocent children in an elementary school that sent shock waves through the United States.

Both instances of senseless crime have received much needed spotlight from traditional media and digerati. Political leaders of all stripes have taken the stage promising constituents some action coming out of the respective tragedies. There was a slight difference, however, in the way the media reacted to statement by leaders: while the media in the US highlighted President Obama shedding some tears during his press conference, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ‘Theek Hai’ comment after his statement on the Rape had a polarizing effect at least among digirati

While the media attention on both cases slowly dwindles away from these incidents, one wonders if any action will really come of it? Probably not. And why?

Underfunded, highly overstretched, inept and sometimes corrupt bureaucracy in India. Enough said?! Anyone with some familiarity to India and Indian bureaucracy will surely have their favorite anecdote on dealing with the bureaucracy. I guess it is not just one factor at play in India, like the need to change the law as some in the media are suggesting, or just additional policing: the already overstretched police force probably has its hands full with chasing the bad guys, providing security to VIPs and of course trying hard to address the omni-present terrorist threat in India.

There is a similar Gordian Knot plaguing the government and society in the other part of the world. United States is a nation divided on the "second amendment" that protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Controlling gun violence is not as simple as having additional security checks or policing…or as the powerful American lobby group NRA has suggested: Put armed police in every school (ref: Washington Post). Literally fighting fire with fire!

Like rest of the digirati, bloggers and others voicing opinions, I would like to believe that change is around the corner. In the New Year all that legislators and bureaucrats will have to do is to wave a magic wand and pesto, we will have better, more peaceful societies!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Review of a foodie's views on agribusiness: “An Economist Gets Lunch”

Tyler Cowen’s book “An Economist Gets Lunch” was added to my 2012 Christmas reading list for one simple reason: I have been trying to keep updated on agribusiness, given my role of an Enterprise Architect working with a multinational agribusiness fierm. Here is my initial reaction on the book.

The book covers two topics. It is predominantly a foodie’s observations of “finding good places to eat” while traveling, interspersed with tips on cooking at home. The secondary topic is a brief discourse on agri-business which is restricted to two chapters (#7 and  #8).
The first section of the book reaffirmed my empirical observation from travels across continents: how a variety of meats and fish feature predominantly in menus around the world. Restaurants in most western metropolises’ have begun to offer at least a few vegetarian friendly entrée, but still cater to diets that are largely meat based. As the author observes, many meat by-products – e.g lard – are also used for cooking “vegetarian” entrée.  The vegetarian in me found the descriptions of the techniques of barbeque and the like inscrutable but I still found the narrative gripping enough to read through those sections.

In the brief analysis of agri-business, Cowen makes a few arguments on spreading modern agribusiness to more parts of the world. He observes “For all the talk about India as a great economic power on the rise, most Indian farming is still done by hand on a small scale. … The result of all these restrictions is that agriculture remains the most backward major sector of India’s economy and the rate of investment in Indian agriculture is barely increasing.” While making the argument, the  author contrasts by giving high points to Mexican agribusiness when he muses :
“What are the real reasons why Mexican food can be so much better in Mexico than in United States? I think of Mexico as a country that straddles two food worlds in a very advantageous manner. They have enough technology and modernity to manage modern food supply networks, run good restaurants, and send fair amount of diversity the way of everyday foodie. At the same time, Mexico still is in the close touch with more artisanal methods of food production. The country has agribusiness, but it doesn’t only have agribusiness. “

The right-leaning economist in Mr. Cowen also hypothesizes on benefits of genetically modifying crops, observing how corn did not originally appear in nature without human intervention: “the breeding of corn occurred over generations and from genetic tests it is identified as coming 8,990 and 8,610 years before birth of Christ.” A gist of the author’s arguments
·         GMOs increase the supply of food, thereby lowering food prices and feeding the poor
·         One of the next green revolutions may come from the direction of what are called Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  
·         The underreported story that GMOs have considerable environmental benefits is overlooked.
·         GMOs may help limit global warming through other advances
·         Rich countries do not need GMOs but poor countries do
I have been following some of the arguments on global food-security and also the role of multinational agribusiness firms in “feeding the world” And most of the arguments, when one looks at from a rational economic angle make sense. However, what is intriguing is that most discussions on food and food security focus more on crops and grains and to a much lesser extent on animals and poultry. The fact is that food-grains are just another, albeit significant “ingredient” in meat production: After all, animal meat, poultry and fish are the last leg in the “feeding the world” value chain?

Other interesting reviews of the book:

Monday, December 3, 2012

The business of Internet, Government and society

In a span of about 15 years or so, internet and wireless communication technologies have become globally ubiquitous and pervasive. And like other utilities - access to electricity, water and telephones - people in western societies have taken access to internet and wireless for granted. Even in developing countries where access to basic utilities is spotty at best, wireless and internet technologies are becoming more pervasive largely due to a combination of commercialization and a laissez faire attitude of governments.

Most consumers have come to expect that breakdown in “service,” even for a short span of time can only be due to a major force majeure - hurricane Sandy for example – nothing less

While many governments have taken a laissez faire attitude towards developing infrastructure for internet and wireless communication, they are not exactly being hands off. Government policy planners and bureaucrats, just like their counterpart business leaders and executives have come to realize the significance of “controlling” access to the infrastructures and access to these technologies.

Internet and wireless infrastructure is increasingly being viewed as a strategic asset that can impact National security. Shutting or disrupting access to wireless and internet in essence also shuts down
  • Commerce: Businesses and international commerce increasingly relies on pervasive internet technologies and access to wireless communication. Rather than develop their private LAN, WAN, MAN and area networks, corporations are more than eager to ride on top of public internet infrastructure. Public internet infrastructure is thought to be inherently more reliable since the points of failure are widely dissipated. It is also much cheaper to use than to develop private infrastructure. 
  • Communication: According to U.N. Telecom Agency report, the world has about 6 Billion cell phone subscribers. A mind boggling number when you consider the population of about 7 billion people
  • Entertainment: Entertainment, streaming movies, videos, games, music, social media etc etc all depend on pervasiveness of internet and wireless technologies. A disruption to either backbone can shut down the sources of entertainment.
Till recently, the primary risk to commerce on public internet networks was the threat to Network neutrality. However, recent incidents are making Digirati and corporate strategists reflect on broader risk to businesses that are increasingly dependent on public internet and wireless infrastructure for global commerce
  • Government’s shutting down access to internet: Censorship on the internet is just tip of the iceberg. The risk to businesses is a complete shutdown of access to the internet in a country or region! Just Last week, Syrian government briefly  managed to return its citizen to the digital dark ages. One can be certain that other governments are assessing their capabilities in this regard. (Ref Forbes article : These Are The 61 Countries Most Vulnerable To An Internet Shutdown)
  • Governments are increasingly relying on cyber-warfare as a powerful tool in their arsenals “in June 2009, someone had silently unleashed a sophisticated and destructive digital worm that had been slithering its way through computers in Iran with just one aim — to sabotage the country’s uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. (ref Wired article: Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History)
Business strategists and corporate policy makers are only starting to assess all the dimensions of the risk of leveraging public internet and wireless infrastructures. However, there a more prosaic way of looking at the risks: Much as we liked to think otherwise, risks inherent to “traditional infrastructures” (supply of water, electricity etc) apply to next generation infrastructures too. If we take this argument, traditional risk mitigation strategies should be applicable to technology infrastructure management too?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Parallels between era and mobile application gold rush

There was an interesting article in New York Times this weekend that made me reflect on mobility gold rush and takeaways from the boom-and-bust we experienced not so long ago. (#NYT: As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living)

The theme of NYT story reads almost identical to several stories chronicling the and eCommerce gold rush during late nineteen nineties. The author, David Streitfeld, picks two distinct examples of entrepreneurs in mobile app development space to highlight success and struggles. If we distill the key takeaways from that “era,” a few patterns emerge

  • era: Legions of developers joined the gold-rush but only a few entrepreneurs created blockbuster tools or websites and successfully cashed out early by selling them for multiples of million dollars (remember Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail, Pierre Omidyar of eBay?). 
  • Parallels in Mobility era: NYT Article quotes Ethan Nicholas who made more than $1 million on an artillery game mobile app. Nicholas is an early mover in the mobile era if you will. Of course, the real blockbuster in all this is Apple’s iPhone and iPads application eco-system that other technology companies are trying extremely hard to emulate.

  • era: The one burst in Year 2000 leading to a huge wipeout of investments and dreams of a generation of techies.  
  • Parallels in Mobility era: Nokia, Research in Motion continue to flounder – at least the stock market thinks they do - while even tech giants like Microsoft try to find their way around the tectonic shift to mobile computing and applications.

  • era: Despite the bubble and bust, a few really successful businesses with innovative business models – eBay, Amazon, Google, priceline et al – took off and continue to grow and thrive 
  • Parallels in Mobility era: Not sure if the story of Shawn and Stephanie Grimes in NYT article would fall into this category yet. Their efforts to develop breakthrough products have cost $200,000 in lost income and savings. Their apps have earned less than $5,000 this year. This said, the mobile-app ecosystem is huge. Apple alone claims to have paid out over $6.5 Billion in royalties to mobile app developers and entrepreneurs in the past few years.

  • era: technology globalization and offshoring boom. The gold rush was not restricted to the US alone. It continued around the world: India, China, Brazil, Europe all have their favorite boom-and-bust stories. 
  • Parallels in Mobility era: A good percentage $6.5 billion in royalty payment by Apple went to application developers overseas, a micro-offshoring boom if you will.

There are other similarities between and mobile application segments with learning’s for entrepreneurs too. eCommerce has become mainstream with most – if not all - brick-and-mortar companies and retailers embracing additional channels to reach out to service and sell to customers. Hundreds of thousands of smaller entrepreneurs, consultants and programmers continue to survive thrive servicing and e-enabling enterprises large and small. And few innovative models continue to emerge. In the past year alone, Facebook went forward with a multi-billion-dollar IPO, and went on to buy photo sharing service Instagram for $1bn.

Just like in the e-commerce gold rush boom, the gold diggers with a spade - mobile application creators - continue to struggle to make a Living, searching for the next blockbuster …. While the spade sellers like Apple who staked out the landscape early continue to thrive. Other tech majors continue to learn from and emulate Apple’s model. Google (with android ecosystem), Amazon (with its kindle ecosystem and ecommerce engine) and Microsoft (windows 8) have taken a playbook from Apple and are competing to create similar ecosystems for application developers.

Monday, November 5, 2012

May you live in interesting times

I have long tuned off to viral anything-on-the-net but the news of Bronco Bama Girl video going viral last week really struck a chord.

A few weeks ago, during the heat of election mania I casually mentioned to my wife that we would watch the first presidential debate on TV that evening. Our toddler son overheard and was all excited at the prospect of watch "something" on TV. And he was equally excited to mutter the new word, debate, all day. A couple of minutes after the evening broadcast began, he realized that the “debate” was just two men on screen standing and talking. He was so underwhelmed that he started crying. (that scene of course wasn’t as photogenic as that of Abigael Evans’s red faced brawl but it came close). Perhaps the reason why that video went viral: natives and immigrants in America alike have been overwhelmed by the election mania during the past weeks and months.

Just as the election drama was reaching a crescendo, hurricane Sandy stuck north eastern US. Stories of the tragedies and lives lost made me reflect on the power Mother Nature sways, even in the wealthiest nation in the world, with all the possible resources at its disposal. With accounts of Hurricane Sandy overwhelming newswaves, the tragic news of African dogs mauling a boy at Pittsburgh zoo didn’t get as much attention in the media.

As we come to the close of a frenzied presidential election in America, the old Chinese saying “May you live in interesting times” seems apt. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A quick look at Microsoft's Surface

There are lots of articles and reviews on Microsoft's recently launched Surface and Tablet devices so it is hard to have a "new" viewpoint.  However, here is my initial reaction to MS Surface model I have been playing with:
  • Sweet spot: A neat tablet for office workers. Familiar Windows look-and-feel retained in the “desktop” mode. Caveat: will require user-training re-learning (pinch, toggle apps etc) to run apps in the metro/tablet mode
  • Should have a seamless windows experience once we dock and use a bigger screen, mouse and regular keyboard
  • Assuming windows authentication, security, single-signon etc apply, easy to enforce current IS management policies
  • Big plus: comes with USB port: for users to transfer data and files without the need to be on the cloud/network. I could easily connect a mouse, keyboard etc to the Surface and work in a desktop mode.
Where it Surface may get challenged by other BYOD alternatives:

  • Corporations are already moving user/business applications to VDI mode. This will make other alternatives (iPADs) equally attractive in the workplace
  • Cool factor: If MS/Market positions Surface as a tablet for “grown ups.” Road-warriors may be hesitant to bring it to sales/client meetings on the road, a fate BB is suffering (ref: recent #NYT article - The BlackBerry as Black Sheep and my blog post on the topic)
  • Practical challenge: Cold boot time is over 45 seconds. iPad and Android tablets take much less time to boot up. Not cool.
  • Backward compatibility: ARM version running Windows RT is not backward compatible. Users will be unable to install oder Windows apps.  Cost benefit of x86-powered device will have to be factored in
Note : What I meant by “official alternative to BYOD” is around the thinking: if a good percentage of mobile users go for BYOD, corporate IT may rethink their llaptop upgrades and replacements (would be at a smaller scale). This is assuming iPAD/BYOD users who can access business applications using VDI wouldn’t really want a work-laptop replacement. Corporate IT will then offer an “official alternative to BYOD” (laptop replacement) only for the smaller subset of users. 

Bottomline Yes, Microsoft Surface can be "the official"  (Corporate IT) alternative to BYOD and will get the job done nicely!

Other Links:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and a bow to Mother Nature!

It is rare for the US Stock markets and federal government to declare a holiday, especially on a Monday.

With hurricane Sandy all but shutting the North Eastern United States, the stock markets and governments had to follow suite. The storm and its impact is taking over headlines, even pushing the hotly contested US presidential elections down a notch.

With all the technological advances at our disposal including mass transit and ability to telecommute, we still live in a physical world. And the world is controlled by vagaries of nature, some of which humans can predict, but not control.

The only thought comes to mind: We bow to you mother nature!

ps: Even with the mother of all storms here, American Chutzpah knows no bounds : Hurricane Sandy halts surfing in the US Atlantic coast : "Surfing and water sports will not be possible in the US mid-Atlantic coast, as Hurricane Sandy reaches the coastline. Remember …that tsunami waves and storm waves should not be surfed. " #ohreally

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cheap cars and tablets : What if those at the bottom of pyramid don’t want to be cheap?

Sometime ago, the late business guru, Prof. CK Prahlad caught the imagination of marketers by coining the term bottom of the pyramid with his seminal article in Harvard Business review, followed by the book. The idea caught on and scores of case studies were published on the topic. The technologist in me, watching the innovations in marketplace, finds it fascinating that few have cracked the holy grail of technology-BOP. A few recent examples:
  • Just last week, Ratan Tata who had captured global imagination with a two-thousand dollar (one lakh rupee) car reflected on how it was time to look beyond that vision (ref:  Ratan Tata admits to making mistakes with Nano)
  • And now the $40 tablet tries to compete in the crowded tech marketplace.
One can logically argue how marketing "cheaper" products to those who can’t afford pricier brand makes sense. However, the logic doesn’t seem to fly in the marketplace where end consumers – folks who can’t afford anything more than cheapest brands – still aspire for products perceived to be branded.

Bottomline: What if those at the bottom of pyramid don’t want to be "cheap"? I guess there is a niche for cheaper cars and tablets in developing (read “third world”) markets, but the consumers there are as savvy as those in the developed markets. It will be interesting to see how Tata’s Nano and Datawind’s Ubislate 7Ci continue to innovate in the marketplace.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shaming us away from Blackberry? Not cool!

My employer, like just about every global 2000/fortune 500 multinational is in the process of evaluating and rolling out a BYOD strategy. Nothing new here, especially in the context of the ongoing Bring your Own Device push in the marketplace.  However, what is interesting is the fact that besides technical capabilities, usability and other functional requirements, Enterprise Architects now have to contend with another subtle push in the marketplace: shaming individuals away from Blackberry.

The recent #NYT article - The BlackBerry as Black Sheep – would have us believe we should be "ashamed" to carry a blackberry in public. The article starts off quoting Rachel Crosby who "speaks about her BlackBerry phone the way someone might speak of an embarrassing relative. … “I’m ashamed of it,” said Ms. Crosby, a Los Angeles sales representative who said she had stopped pulling out her BlackBerry at cocktail parties and conferences."

Reading the article made me reflect on how our lives seem to be shifting to that of meaningless technology-for-technology-sake race for coolness:
  • I see people at restaurants or even movie halls whisk out their coolest new gadgets and begin texting, chatting and whatever while their guest/partner sits on the other side of the table doing the same. What’s more important here, impressing people in the restaurant or your guest with a cool gadget or having a cool conversation? 
  • Rachel Crosby-ies  who come to cocktail parties and conferences probably have enough jewelry, clothing and shoes etc etc on them to make sure they look “cool.” And yet they have an urge to whisk out a smartphone to text, or update their facebook page or whatever… what about being in the moment and learning at the conference or having a conversation with others?
It is interesting that the article doesn’t even talk of the real cool-factor: showing off the most expensive phones 

Cool or not, stmartphones are just tools. For a generation of business users and road-warriors, blackberries were the defacto tool of choice for basic connectivity – email, calendar and voice. Blackberries are reliable and more importantly secure, and come with a QWERTY keyboard to boot. Adding to "basic" requirements for smartphone are a few more like surfing the internet and running some office applications. Newer blackberries, like their cooler smartphone cousins support these requirements too.

And as the old adage goes, a fool with a cool tool is still a (cool?) fool.

Tags: #NYT, RIMM, #Blackberry

Monday, October 8, 2012

Architecturally significant Use Case behind a haircut

Enterprise Architects, self included, train themselves to look for "Architecturally significant use cases" that demonstrate the core functionality targeted at key users. Most of the focus of such discussions is on the design and engineering of information systems. Schools of thinking on Enterprise Architecture, notably TOGAF, attempt to bring requirements at the center of any architecture or design activity. Rightly so. While focusing on key requirements requires working closely business stakeholders, it is more important to zero in how requirements impact the end users.

Case in point, I was at a hairdresser this weekend for a periodic cut-and-trim. After being greeted and seated on the barber chair, I began musing on how far and how close information technology has come and how a simple focus on architecturally significant use cases can lead to better customer interactions.

I am sure you are going to be wondering what a visit to a hairdresser has to do with enterprise architecture and architecturally significant use cases. So here is the context. I started frequenting Great-Clips during my road-warrior days when the no-frills haircut chain with outlets all over the country gave me a sense of known “brand” while traveling to Anytown USA. Most Great Clips' outlets have a familiar "standard operating procedure"
a) A hairdresser standing closest to the front desk breaks away from a customer s/he is working and greet every new patron stepping in.
b) After a ‘welcome to great clips,” s/he asks for their phone number.
c) After the number is found on the computer, s/he will give an estimated wait time to the patron and return back to work
d) When the next available hairdresser gets free s/he will look at the computer screen and call out for customer, in this case Mohan.
e) During my visit, the hairdresser, a new girl who had never cut my hair before asked me if I wanted the “usual”: trim in the sides, above the ears and behind over the collar. With a scissors and no machine? I replied “yes” and let her go about her job.
f) The visit ended with a consistent, predictable experience for this customer
In case you are wondering what’s the big deal? Chains like Great-Clips, unlike the small-town barber shops are staffed by hair-dressers who don’t make much. This in turn leads to a high turnover of staff. Customers like me who return back to the chain expect a consistent no-nonsense service without having to explain our “usual” preferences every time.

This is the perfect use-case for a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Though I suspect behind the scenes the  Great-Clips’ CRM  is much more complicated, to me the simple act of storing my haircut preferences and the ability for any hairdresser working on my haircut to access information on my “usual” preference is a significant use case. Yet another way in which a faceless chain with transient workforce is able to leverage the wonders of databases, networks and user interfaces to provide a hometown-barber-shop-like experience to customers.

ps: the above blog post is not by any means an endorsement of Great-Clips; and I am not any closer to the design of their systems than the average Joe-customer. The Enterprise Architect in me, however spent time on the barber chair musing on the possibilities of us exploring similar use-cases that touch customers without them even having to think there is a lot more behind the scenes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Debate on Power, pollution and the Internet, Data Barns

There was a fascinating series in this Sunday’s New York Times that highlights the ugly byproduct of the digital age we live in: energy consumption driven by digitization. (“Power, pollution and the Internet” and “Data Barns in a Farm Town, Gobbling Power and Flexing Muscle”)

The author, James Glanz starts off by making an argument that "foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness." A viewpoint like this is bound to have strong critics and digirati and technologists are sharply divided over how to respond to this article. A few critiques:

Dan Woods counters the article with a Viewpoint in Forbes: Why The New York Times Story 'Power, Pollution, And The Internet' Is A Sloppy Failure. Primarily starting off with the utility argument: "Roads aren’t 100 percent utilized. The telephone system isn’t 100 percent utilized. They are there when they are needed."

Richard Fichera for Forrester Research makes a similar argument in “Data Center Power And Efficiency – Public Enemy #1 Or The Latest Media Punching Bag?” "The simple fact is that if we want to live in an information society, we need the plumbing to support it. That is perhaps the most salient observation that the New York Times has made — there really is no cloud, just more and more really big data centers."

The fact remains, most of us, even techies and geeks would be quickly out of out our depth when it comes to intricacies of calculating environmental impact of data centers. Some of the analysis is based on complex calculations and number crunching but a lot more on empirical knowledge, inputs from analysts and other closely guarded sources. I agree with James when he states “Improving or even assessing the field is complicated by the secretive nature of an industry”

Another key argument made by James in his NYT piece is on the risk aversion of data center managers. The article quotes a vendor saying, "A crash or a slow down could end a career."  Dan Woods counters "There are a number of problems here. Anyone doing a hard job that is mission critical lives in fear. The people operating the printing plants at The New York Times have the same fear as the data center operators. Data center operations don’t have a special fear, just the normal one involved in doing a good job"

It is true that most of us in hi-tech operate under the environment where "fear" of "business" in a sense afraid to say No! even to bizarre requirements. A case study from my consulting days:

A fortune 500 retailer had a disaster recovery (DR) contract with a tier-1 technology vendor. This was in addition to the contract to host their data centers in the vendor’s “cloud”. One year, the periodic DR test failed to meet the RTO, RPO objectives, and the matter quickly got escalated to the board of directors. It was decided that it was more than a business continuity risk, a market perception/reputation risk, that the retail giant couldn’t afford.

The solution? The retail giant decided to invest in their own data-center, exclusively to support disaster-recovery, while the vendor continues to host all business (IT) applications from their cloud-based data center. Power consumption and pollution be damned: Risk of failure was the driver, with the cost being just one additional constraint!

The offshoring, globalization angle

While on the topic of environmental impact of data centers, it would be interesting to review the redundancy global organizations are building while offshoring technology services and business processes. The western world has been steadily outsourcing manufacturing to China during the past few decades and is only now waking up to the impact of pollution and emissions from there. Similarly, large IT development centers and call-centers in the west are steadily being Bangalored to India, China and Philippines and elsewhere. Along goes power guzzling servers, network hubs, desktops and laptops that starting to suck scarce power from an already stretched infrastructure in third world countries. All this in addition to “production” servers to run live business applications out of data centers/cloud in native countries.

Ref my earlier post on power grid failure in India  and a recent article  One killed in Indian nuclear power plant protests Wonder how much of this is attributable to globalization, offshoring and power guzzling data centers?

Argument and counter-views aside, the discussion in NYT article is really about the environmental impact of server farms, internet data centers, corporate data centers and the cloud.  I love the way Richard Fichera summarizes “ Despite the NY Times’ sudden discovery of the problem, the IT industry has been working diligently on solving these problems for years and will continue to make progress long after the mainstream media has gone on to expose killer mimes and the hazards of the exploding population of Frisbee-playing bears. The simple fact is that if we want to live in an information society, we need the plumbing to support it. That is perhaps the most salient observation that the New York Times made — there really is no cloud, just more and more really big data centers.”

Tweets: #TalkEnergy, #"Power, Pollution and the Internet"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Books and bestsellers: If indie eBooks are the future, why are we ga-ga over Fifty shades of grey and a soldier’s diary?

In recent months, two books caught the attention of digirati, bloggers and the media: The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and the No Easy Day: firsthand account of the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden. The two books are of diagonally different genera, catering to distinct audience. However, they have one thing in common: capturing airtime, making the authors instant celebrities and possibly wealthy beyond their expectations.

Bloggers and commentators have tried dissecting the various aspects of the books, the genius behind marketing them and the timing. I have only read reviews of the books. Fifty Shades is supposedly a "gripping modern story" with a lot of erotica thrown in. No Easy Day, on the other hand, is a biography of a solider with an elite team that killed Osama Bin Laden. The decade long “war on terrorism” is fresh in the western conscience and it is natural for folks to be curious about the slaying of a most-wanted man.

Even with the success of the books, one cannot conclude that the publishing industry will be invigorated and continue to seek fresh crop of writers. More than the stories in the book, what has fascinated many writers, and aspiring writers is the marketing of the books. The success of these books is all more interesting given how independently published (indie) eBooks are also taking off (ref blog: How Amazon Saved My Life).

The big question writers continue to ask: will self-publishing continue to be a “long tail” or replace traditional publishing? If the publishing industry continues to bring forth bestsellers like Fifty Shades or No Easy Day, there is probably No Easy Answer.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Review : Offshore: India's Services Juggernaut

I began reading the book “Offshore: India's Services Juggernaut” wearing multiple hats, reflecting on my prior experience in sell side of sourcing before finding myself on the other side of the fence.

Written by a couple of veteran Infosys employees, the book attempts to take a broad view of the offshoring industry. The authors draw on their Desi heritage with several anecdotes from Ramayana, monkey god Hanuman, references from Bollywood movie Sholay etc etc. I guess this comes from years of practiced self-deprecating humor that Indian offshoring salesmen have to adopt with western clients in order to dispel the notion that India, besides being a land of sadhus and snake charmers is also a land of cyber coolies (moniker used by authors). Interestingly, the cyber coolies are also prone to use such references in regular interactions with client managers when transplanted “onsite”

The first few chapters dwell on extensive context setting. These are perhaps useful for someone landing in Bangalore straight from the nineteen eighties, but for the rest of us providing and consuming offshoring IT services, it reads as summary of news clippings from the past two decades. 

The chapter “what makes a company Indian?” is an attempt to create a case for us to view Indian software sourcing companies (primarily TCS, Infosys, Wipro) as transnationals. While making the argument, authors highlight the increasing Indian footprint of Accenture and IBM along with a brief analysis of captive offshoring (do it yourself). While the narrative in the section is presented logically, one cannot be sure if the arguments are conclusive.
Why mess with Success? The chapter “why can’t India produce a Microsoft” contains a candid assessment of variances in business models of software services and software (product) development.  “An IT services company, on the other hand, takes far fewer risks with its investments….. even if your company is not in the top twenty services companies, you will still be able to carry on with your business profitably”  To see senior executives of Infosys admit that it is not in their DNA to be a software firm is refreshing indeed.
The section on “Hard Slog for Account” gives a good glimpse into the business of sourcing through the eyes of offshoring salesmen. I love the candid assessment of the growth story: eating the elephant one byte at a time (pun intended). Of course, the hard slog is rewarded with a magic of geometric progression. The authors admit a pareto’s law at work: about 80 percent of revenues coming from about 10 percent of accounts. Given this fact, Anyone who has attended a quarter end financial status call is bound to be left scratching their heads over why analsyst and CFO’s make a big deal of announcing “addition of x new clients” every quarter.
The armchair investor in me was also interested the future potential: any radical business models that can replace the linear growth required by GDM and offshoring? The chapter “Most of the New, New things” left me feeling like I was gazing at a crystal ball while occasionally looking at a rear-view mirror. I guess technology forecast is an imprecise art and practitioners rarely share such insights in a book till they have successfully executed (and milked their ideas). And it is not as if I expected to be exposed to Infosys (author’s employer’s) emerging strategy.

The section on “quest for higher bill rates” explores several ideas to address the challenge of commoditization. Great account management, exploring new geographies and a shift towards consulting services are obvious approaches. The section on solution perhaps has more questions than answers, perhaps the reason offshoring firms continue to struggle in the utopian quest to sell solutions.
The authors conclude the book my musing about the “juggernaut” showing signs of slowing down. In the few years since I wrote my book on Offshoring IT Services, I continued to observe and learn a few things about the offshoring industry: especially the challenges facing the industry majors: weighed down by their own scale, lack of agility and responsiveness, the “usual” logistical issues of managing a maturing, mobile workforce, grappling with protectionism and visa hurdles in western markets. All topics that keep industry leaders awake at night but few with easy answers.

Bottomline: The book gives sufficient insights into the inner workings of the industry and a few ideas on way forward and should be of interest to marketers and wannabe’s
Five star for research, content and narrative. Overall Four stars for new insights. (Repost on

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Please, please buy my book…. Because I have paid reviewers to say you should

There is a fascinating article in New York Times this weekend on the growing business of self-published books. And how self-publishing has created an "industry" of hired reviewers who produce favorable reviews.  (The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy)

The article features Mr. Rutherford and the Web site, (interestingly the URL is now for sale!). A few interesting takeaways from the article
"One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, and that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.  
In 2006, before Amazon supercharged electronic publishing with the Kindle, 51,237 self-published titles appeared as physical books, according to the data company Bowker. Last year, Bowker estimates that more than 300,000 self-published titles were issued in either print or digital form.  
“I don’t know how many people have a book in them trying to get out, but if they do, all the barriers are being removed,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of Bowker Market Research. “This is a golden age of being able to make yourself more widely known.”
With the barriers to entry on self-publishing being minimal, hundreds of thousands of writers have jumped the bandwagon. And to get noticed, many are willing to pay-for-reviews!

When my book Offshoring IT Services was first published by McGraw Hill, India, it was a big deal for me. The book was not self published and  McGraw Hill dedicated resources for editing, publishing and to some extent "marketing" the book. Though the book did fairly well – sold off the first and second print run – I didn't get rich from the royalty. I also got my share of egoboo. The corporate marketing team from my then employer, Infosys, bought a lot of copies to distribute to clients. In hindsight, it was not written to be a "bestseller": the genera – offshoring  and technology management – is not one the masses are interested in. 

Now, there are over a million practitioners of the craft of offshoring but I guess the market for offshoring books hasn't grown. Most of those in the industry are happy learning on-the-job rather through formal means. For instance, there are still not many formal, university level courses in Offshoring Management though there are some MBA courses that focus on aspects of globalization or international business.

If I were to self publish Offshoring IT Services, would I be willing to spend hundreds of dollars like Mr. Rutherford’s customers to get favorable reviews on and elsewhere?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Notes from Tech news watch

Two noteworthy items in the news of interest to tech watchers

One is the one the one pertaining to my former employer and offshoring giant "Judge Throws Out Palmer Case Against Infosys" Offshoring services industry is sure to breath a sigh of relief, especially in the context of American election year focus on global sourcing.

The second is the news from Microsoft. Just when I thought curved edges in everything – cars, cellphones, logos - was cool, Microsoft flips it around and tells us square edges are in!

Microsoft’s official blog explains "It’s been 25 years since we’ve updated the Microsoft logo and now is the perfect time for a change. This is an incredibly exciting year for Microsoft as we prepare to release new versions of nearly all of our products. From Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8 to Xbox services to the next version of Office, you will see a common look and feel across these products providing a familiar and seamless experience on PCs, phones, tablets and TVs. This wave of new releases is not only a reimagining of our most popular products, but also represents a new era for Microsoft, so our logo should evolve to visually accentuate this new beginning."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Should CIO's worry over a visa fraud trial? Musing on Immigration, visas and Offshoring

Last week I was musing about Indian Outsourcing firms hiring "thousands" in U.S. I briefly touched on the visa angle in the post. Continuing the thread, there was an interesting blog post by, Joel Schectman on Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal titled "Infosys Visa Fraud Trial Should Leave CIOs 'Worried'" The blog states
"The practice of improperly using business travel visas is common for outsourcers that send workers to client sites, said Phil Fersht, CEO of HfS, an outsourcing research firm. The H1B work visa–the appropriate document for longer-term onsite work–costs companies thousands of dollars per employee and the federal government has reduced their availability in recent years. "Outsourcers are trying to get staff to work an engagement as quickly as possible and they will work the system as much as possible," Fersht said."

A few days after that Phil Fersht posted a viewpoint (perhaps clarifying his quote) "Give Infosys a break" stating
"Forgive me if I am wrong, but if an India-based expert visits a US client temporarily to support a contract process or consult on getting an onsite-offshore project working, then there really ain’t too much wrong with using said visa for said purpose."

Not surprisingly, Don Tennant who has blogged extensively on the "Infosys visa issue" had a viewpoint on this "Who Will Infosys Throw Under the Bus in Visa Fraud Case?"

Besides the sensational titles, the blog posts are perhaps a case of the same old wine in new bottles.

There are new issues/risks that a CIOs have to ponder over. Sure, CIO’s or their proxies sometimes have to sign off on invitation letters - for staffers of sourcing vendors - which are attached to visa applications. And if a vendor is indeed found culpable of systematic fraud, one would have to really dig deeper to research whether the person/s signing the invitation letters did so in good faith or was equally culpable.

Bottomline: what’s new here? Such letters have been required by immigration authorities for as long as business and work visas have been in vogue. And such requirements for invitation letters and documentation is not unique to US visa applications alone. Most western governments that have stringent work-visa policies require similar support letters and documents.

(footnote: none of what is stated above is legal opinion…. Just simple common sense!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Indian Outsourcing Firms Hire “thousands” in U.S. Really?!

I don’t have to tell you that it’s election year in the US. Politicians are making promises, and so are some business leaders. A recent wall street journal has an interesting article on "Indian Outsourcing Firms Hire in U.S." This follows articles of similar genera in mainstream media in recent times in the US, Europe and other western markets. This article states several obvious reasons why Indian oursourcing firms want to hire Americans
  • Political reason: It is election year and economy and job-creation rhetoric is bound to veer towards outsourcing, which has already started to happen. Outsourcers and their lobby has to defend a viable business model "India's outsourcing companies also have defended themselves, saying they are creating jobs in the U.S."
  • Practical consideration: With a prolonged economic slump, protectionism in western countries is bound to continue to be a stated policy. "Outsourcing companies are faced with tougher U.S. visa rules that have made it difficult to relocate Indian employees to client locations in the U.S. to carry out technology projects."
The reasons quoted in the article are obvious, but a bit aspirational. The author picks on an interesting factorid that contradicts the rhetoric; Indian firms have been hard pressed to hire locally "At the end of June, nearly 93% of TCS's 240,000 employees were based in India, compared with a little over 1% in the U.S."
In my past life working for offshoring giant Infosys, I had seen more than a few North American and European natives jumping through the hoops to get hired. The few that survived and thrived in the offshoring culture were those who brought in niche Sales and technology Consulting skills. The synergies were obvious: Those in consulting and sales are inclined to be road-warriors, willing to pack a suitcase and fly to client locations on demand: A key occupational qualification if you will. In my book (Offshoring IT Services), I had quoted the late management guru CK Prahlad who observed how the mobility of (young) Indian technologists contributed to the success of offshoring. While explaining the tenacity of Indian professionals to an audience of global managers, he alluded to the fact that the real edge of people from India and other developing economies was their cultural adaptability and ability to travel/relocate to the west to participate in global projects.

A few years ago I wrote a viewpoint on Indian technology firms hiring in North America (re: Getting Hired in a Flat World). Most of the hiring "onsite" in western regions was primarily in consulting and sales support. Not much has changed in the basic business models of offshoring firms. Consulting and sales continue to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to staffing roles at offshoring firms. The basic DNA of Indian software service firms is to offshore work from client locations in the west, to India and elsewhere where it continues to be cheaper to hire a majority of staff.

Even with continued political pressures and immigration hurdles, it is hard to picture Outsourcing Firms turning their back on offshoring. Nearsourcing - sourcing a large development or maintenance project from a fortune 500 or a global 2000 firm in a "more expensive" city in North America to another (cheaper?) development center - turns the clock back on traditional outsourcing (minus offshoring) that companies like IBM, EDS et al had practiced in the 1980s and 1990s.

This said, I would be hard pressed to bet against TCS, Infosys, Wipro and other software service firms that have been known to beat the odds before, without altering their offshoring DNA.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Musing on Mother of all blackouts and black money in India

Amid the euphoria over Olympics, news of the worst series of power blackouts in global history occurred in India, impacting millions of people, bringing renewed attention to the crumbling Indian infrastructure. There is bound to be a lot of soul searching among the digerati and political class on the recent power grid failures in India. As is to be expected, there are several angles the Fourth Estate in India and media around the world are going to be examining. Not just the media and career analysts, everyone and their cousin is bound to have their opinions on crumbling infrastructure, inept governments etc etc; Non-Resident Indians like self included.
Reading accounts of the blackout in the media and hearing debate about it on NPR, I am left to wonder if the international media is making a bigger deal of it than it really is? Growing up in different parts of India even in the seventies and eighties, we were accustomed to scheduled and unscheduled blackouts (aka load shedding), especially in summer months when the grids would get overloaded by demand! And this was in an era much before the heralded-India Shining-economic-boom with an insatiable demand for power and energy.
While all this brouhaha will probably lead to a vague call to action, there will be very little soul-searching on the role of businesses in Indian government and society. In case one is wondering why this is important, one must realize how governments around the world, including India, “make” money: they do it primarily through taxes. And herein lies the catch: businesses in India are loath to pay their “fair share” of taxes.


Business, Government and Society
Bribery, graft, tax evasion and black money is so ingrained in Indian economy that business and corporate leaders are rarely in a position to stick their neck out to “demand” infrastructure from the government, as they should rightly be doing
·         They are too bogged down by the system and are trying hard to circumvent their way around the bureaucracy to have the energy to demand what is rightfully theirs
·         Bribing their way to get their share of services from the governments at all levels is perceived to be a “competitive advantage”
·         And because they have circumvented the system to begin with, they are afraid that by standing up and demanding infrastructure, the babus will hit back at their weakness and lack of contribution to the system – tax evasion, bribery, black money. An income-tax or excise tax “raid” can cripple the business for days if not weeks or months

Aam Aadmi, Government and Society
The average aam aadmi - average Joe- in India, just like business is trying to get by, survive and thrive in a bureaucratic system. For most of those in the non-service sector, tax payment is an “evil” that must be avoided, evaded or circumvented. And the little benefits s/he needs from the government, he gets by bribing his way around. A pay-as-you-go model if you will. This means, the aam aadmi is neither vested in the system nor has the tools to hold the government and society accountable.
The complex multi-cultural layers of governance with little accountability make for an interesting implementation of “democracy” in the world’s largest democracy
If businesses and aam admi are not in a position to demand change, can media, armchair analysts, bloggers and digerati do it alone?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ongoing BYOD Watch

Technology leaders regularly scan the landscape for trends in the marketplace, seeking clues on emerging trends. Gazing the proverbial crystal ball and divining insights continues to be an art, more than a precise science. Not many industry watchers, technologists and even tech consumers could have realized game-changing influence of iDevices – iPhones and iPads that has impacted our views on usability of computing and wireless technology in a matter of years.

A couple of weeks ago I posted on Enterprise Architects and BYOD Watch and I continue musing on the topic especially as there continues to be a lot of noise and chatter among digirati on the fate of beloved corporate tools – Blackberries and laptops. For CIO’s technologists and Enterprise Architects, the market trajectory of Research in Motion (Blackberry), Microsoft, Google et al will have a strong ripple effect.

A quick extract from Finance.Yahoo from this morning (20th July) paints an interesting view from a tech investor perspective.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the graph above tells a story, which I am not going to narrate. Industry watchers and analysts however continue to have a field day exploring multiple dimensions:
  • Lost opportunity angle: Almost identical articles on Nokia and Microsoft’s lost opportunity in in smartphones and tablets appeared in popular media recently. Wall Street Journal : Nokia's Bad Call on Smartphones. Vanityfair on “Microsoft’s Downfall: Inside the Executive E-mails and Cannibalistic Culture That Felled a Tech Giant.” My two cents: The articles make for an interesting read thogh there are not many lessons to be learnt. This is similar to comparing success of Facebook to the pitfalls of most other social networking sites: it is not like a single factor stands out but a series of events. 
  • Worst case scenario planning: What if ABC-Tech goes bust? Corporate leaders and technologists have begun contingency planning for shakeup in the mobile device space. Refer to regular articles in media that seems to love scoops like XYZ &Co drops Blackberry (re: Qantas decides to drop RIM's BlackBerry news from this morning). These prompt boards and c-level executives to ask their technologies to ask about their firm’s contingency plan.
It's friday afternoon and I must get back to gazing my crystal ball.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Enterprise Architects and BYOD Watch

It has been a really interesting past few weeks in the mobile world, and to watchers of Bring your own Device (BYOD) the trends spell interesting challenges and opportunities.

A lot has been happening in the smartphones world - iPhone 4S is continues to gain popularity, increasingly price-competitive Android smartphones, improving Windows smartphones are enticing consumers. And iPad continues to be the tablet of choice for consumers. Though I am hesitant to use clichés, I think we are at a strategic inflexion point in mobile computing and BYOD. Perhaps the began in 2007-08 when the Apple iWave began upending Blackberry as the de-facto device for mobile workers. iDevices helped consumers visualize how smartphones could help mobile workers do a lot more than just read emails-on-the-go.
A few interesting happenings just in the past couple of weeks are worth analyzing in greater depth (beyond a blog like this):

  • Microsoft announcing Surface is trying to bring tablets to information workers traditionally used to working at their desk using PC’s and laptops. It promises users “Create, collaborate, and get stuff done with Office. Explore your world with fast, fluid Windows 8 apps”
  • Google’s announcement of Nexus 7 tablet yet another push by the tech giant to extend into social media and hardware
While the two tow tech giants make moves extending their reach in the hardware space, Research in Motion (RIM), maker of blackberry announces a delay in launch of BlackBerry 10 mobile OS (and other financial challenges the company is facing)

What does this mean to us? While the employee-and-tech-consumer in us wants a broader, faster corporate push towards BYOD, the Enterprise Architects are going to try and address the ROI and TCO questions around such a moves.
Several recent reports are pointing to BYOD and how it is pushing up IT costs. The question to be weighted: Is whether the increase from BYOD just another cost of doing business or a cost of convenience?!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Power of loyalty, frequent flier status, and losing it all

Listening to NPR radio last week, I heard an interesting interview with Jacques Vroom on his experience flying over 40 million miles using “unlimited first-class” travel pass.
With a transient, nomadic life, it is natural for consultants to crave the few perks available to them: the “elite” status at airlines and hotels, and the miles and points that come with the status; kind of like George Cloony’s character in the 2009 movie Up in the Air (re my blog)
Mr. Vroom’s story of travel, status and the fall-from grace fascinated me all the more since I too had enjoyed elite status with a few airlines (Platinum Medallion with Delta and United Airlines) and hotels (Platinum status with IC Group and Marriott) and rental car companies (President’s circle with Hertz last year)

There is another aspect of Mr. Vroom’s story that former-frequent-travelers including self can relate to: the abrupt end to perks when one loses the an elite status. In the past six months since transitioning from a consulting role, I have seen my travel reduce drastically. With that comes the gradual erosion of my elite status with Airlines and hotels. (graph above).

I still have hundreds of thousands of points in my accounts which are sure to fizzle away soon...

  • The frequent fliers who flew too much - LA Times
  • American Airlines' Lifetime Pass: How a Marketing Ploy Turned - The Blaze
  • American Airlines Cracks Down On Ultimate Frequent Flyers - HuffingtonPost
Blogs and links

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Facebook fizzle does not dampen Developeronomics … because not every code coolie is an Über coder

As we enter the middle of 2012, the global economy continues to stagnate and even the erstwhile darling of stock market – tech sector – begins to flounder. The butterfly effect seems to be hitting technologists at both ends of the spectrum - entrepreneurial and software services.

Last month it was the Indian software services darling (my erstwhile employer) Infosys, warning of severe headwinds in the global technology services sector. Then it was technology giant Hewlett Packard announcing massive job cuts. And then came the mother of all IPO’s of tech darling Facebook and its spectacular post-IPO-stock-fizzle, leaving most of us in the globalized IT world wonder whatsup?

While the macro-economic factors play out in the business of technology management, interesting conversations on Developeronomics continues to stir among the Digerati. The debate was triggered by Marc Andreessen’s essay in Wall Street Journal: Why Software Is Eating The World. Marc espouses the theory that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.” The techie in me loves this argument though I still wonder if we are really seeing a Technology Lead Innovation around us or Technologists playing catchup? (my earlier blog)

Marc ends his essay with key challenge facing software economy “Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high.” Although he doesn’t say it in as many words, the challenge Marc highlights is more about the dearth of Über coders, while the world – or at least the offshoring world – continues to produce thousands of code coolies.

Although the use of term code coolie may sound a bit derogatory, it really is intended to drive home the point that vast majority of coders are developing software as a means to earn a living. They do it as a vocation rather than with a passion to enable software to “change the world” in a significant way. Remember the storm in a teacup when the Indian writer Chetan Bhagat tweeted on "Narayana Murthy runs a body shop?" Of course, graduating a hundred thousand techies in a decade is no mean feat. And that is just Infosys. Add TCS, Wipro et all and one can see the challenge is really not about the ability to get a critical mass of coders.

Then there was an interesting piece on “The Rise of Developeronomics” in Forbes, which took a broader perspective on IT development and developers stating “If the world survives looming financial apocalypse dangers at all, this is the one investment that will weather the storms. It doesn’t matter whether you are an individual or a corporation, or what corner of the world you inhabit. You need to find a way to invest in software developers.”

Businesses have already taken note of the importance of software developers though many leaders are trying to crack the core problem: bridging the long tail of code coolies to the few Über coders around. To create a successful eco-system where thy can not only coexist but can also thrive. To take an anology from another domain, it is akin to identifying the right general to lead the army to battle.

This question of variance in productivity between the best programmers and average coders has been debated ad infinitum by the software community. However, it is not just about recognizing variance in productivity but to ensure the right mix. As the Joel Spolsky blogs “it's worth hiring Angelina Jolie for your latest blockbuster movie, even though she demands a high salary, because that salary can be divided by all the millions of people who see the movie solely because Angelina is so damn hot.”

What does all this mean to us?
  • For IS leaders it is a continuum of trying to find the right teams to develop the right solutions for their business stakeholders. Techniques include outsourcing, hoping the vendor will crack our business problems with a team of uber coders from across the globe (there is always hope). Hiring uber coders is always an option but it involves competing for talent with Facebook or Google (tough luck doing so!).
  • For enterprise architects - self included - it means working with technologists and business stakeholders continually tweak proposals to bridge the divide
  • And for business stakeholders: Empowering your technology leaders and Enterprise Architects to help with Developeronomics
  • And for the mass of code coolies? Try and morph into an Über coder. And if you discover that is not your calling, well we shall cover that in another post
Blogs and references