Friday, June 28, 2013

Apple Designed in California! Does it matter if it was made in China (not USA)?

One cannot seem to miss Apple’s designed in California campaign this summer. It’s on TV commercials, a new film, web banner adverts and even double-page spread out in Wall Street Journal.  

Apple has long positioned the “designed in California” tag on its products but only now seems to be going to town with it. While the campaign sounds like a smart move by the tech giant to get consumers to look past the “made in china” label on iProducts, it is also a tacit acknowledgement of the reality of our times.  Chris Rawson blogs Many Americans, all the way up to the President himself, have wondered why Apple has outsourced virtually all of its manufacturing overseas. At a dinner with several top US technology executives last year, President Obama asked Steve Jobs flat out what it would take to bring those jobs back to the US. According to Jobs, there's simply no way for it to happen.

Globalized nature of business of manufacturing, supply chain and even consumerism means multinational firms find it hard (if not impossible) to manufacture in a region or country alone.  There was a time, not so long ago when "Made in USA" gave the perception that the product came with a stamp of quality. Similarly, other nations had their claim to fame: Swiss watches, cheese and chocolates, German engineering, Japanese electronics and cars and so on.  The stamp of provenience was more than a stamp of quality; it was a matter of regional or national pride

And then came the outsourcing wave with China taking the lead on manufacturing and assembling every product conceivable. And it is not just China as the recent Bangladesh clothing factory disasters brought to our attention. Offshoring IT Services to India and its impact on immigration and visas has been a hot button issue in western countries for much of the past decade.
Brand managers increasingly have very little claim to provenance or origin that they can attach to a product’s marketing. Which is probably why  those at Apple are trying to shift the focus from “made in” to “designed in.” On the surface this in itself sounds like a smart argument, a marketing coup if you will. Similar is the case with Blackberry’s claim of being a Canadian crown jewel Other firms following Apple’s marketing mantra include Noika's imitation: “Designed in Finland. Made in Korea” and the hip sneaker brand Vans claims to be "Designed in California."  
On the flip side, quintessentially Japanese car makers like Honda and Toyota are increasingly trying to look and sound American (ref: Toyota Camry beats Ford F-150 as most 'American made'). If Toyota were to start branding Toyota Camry as Designed in Fuji Technical Center, made in USA, would that stick?!
I wonder if this is why LA times is already calling “Apple's'Designed in California' TV ad flops with consumers

Monday, June 10, 2013

Big Data 101: Thinking beyond National security Agency

Federal government investments and initiatives have long shifted the needle on technology innovation and adoption. Almost every case study on government funded innovation has a mention of how internet has its genesis in defense department’s DARPA initiative.

Last week, American public woke up to the fact that NSA, CIA and other security agencies were gathering phone records of some/most/all phone-calls to and from the United states, setting off a large public debate, perhaps what the whistle blower Edward Snowden wanted in the first place. It was interesting to hear US Senators and Congressmen try to explain technical jargon like metadata and applications of big data to their constituents. About how the call records turned over to federal agencies were just metadata of calls and not actual content of calls.

Corporate IT executives and CIO’s have already begun to recognize the value that good data analysts can bring and this incident is only bringing renewed attention on the potential of big-data. An unintended consequence of this saga, perhaps the real silver lining here is for technologists. Now that the program is out in the open, I wonder if there will be argument to commercialize the “mechanics” to reverse-engineering some of the big data technologies being discussed. One can argue that similar technologies used by NSA and federal agencies to gather and analyze large volumes (“big data”) of metadata about telephone records, can be used by commercial organizations. Say to parse through large volumes of data required for in-silico research to speed drug discovery.

Big data spells big money, not just for corporations. Data Scientists are already among the hottest category of IT professionals in the market. Play this out against the immigration debate and the message to younger generation of technologists in America is clear: plan a career in data analytics and science!

Other Links of interest
  • While it is news now, the media has been talking about it for a while. NSA data center front and center in debate over liberty, security and privacy (Fox news article in April 2013)
  • NSA's Big Data Platform Faces Enterprise Test: Accumulo, the data storage software developed by the National Security Agency, has taken another step toward the enterprise market. Sqrrl, the startup launched by former NSA technologists to commercialize Accumulo, has teamed up with Apache Hadoop provider Hortonworks to combine their technologies.
  • NSA Reveals Cloud Plans, May Open-Source Some of Its Software
  • Hadoop is an Open Source Revolution: Federal Computer Week Interview "Hadoop, and a handful of open-source tools that complement it, has no equal when it comes to making gigantic and diverse datasets easily available for quick analysis using clusters of inexpensive computers"

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Indian offshoring at an inflexion point, yet again?

I try and periodically catch up on trends in offshoring. A few interesting trends in Indian offshoring seem to be shaping up pointing to an inflexion point (or maybe not)
  • Anticipating yet another debate on US immigration overhaul debate with a bated breath: Read between the lines: while analysts, political pundits and others debate the outcome, it will probably be close to status quo. H1 work visas are too sacred and lucrative a cash cow for the US IT business and government to do a fundamental tinkering on
  • Senior Indian offshoring Executive, Phanish Murthy ousted, yet again for sexual misconduct: Jury is out on whether he is being framed (again?) or just happened to follow the footsteps of former American President Clinton
  • Cognizant overtakes Wipro and Infosys to take the title of second largest Indian offshoring firm (whatever that means to most of us). Bragging rights aside, it makes industry watchers reflect on how dynamic (and precarious) even the mega Indian offshoring firms are. Read between the lines: while TCS, Cognizant, Infosys, Wipro battle for title of “largest,” other global giants – IBM, Accenture, HP et al –are growing really really big in offshoring.
  • Infosys brings back cofounder and Godfather of Indian offshoring, Mr. Narayana Murthy. Read between the lines: It may seem similar to what Steve Jobs did at Apple where there was little hope of a turnaround. By bringing back Mr Murthy, is Infosys admitting it is really in dire straits and that there is a bankruptcy of next generation leadership? (Indian media seems to be lukewarm to the idea. Ref Economic Times Why Narayana Murthy's comeback will set Infosys back)
Where all does all this leave the clients of offshoring firms? Status quo for now? And what about the masses of young Indian techies and wannabe techies in Engineering schools? Economist magazine recently had an interesting briefing on "India’s demographic challenge" summarizing "will soon have fifth of the world’s orking age population. It urgently needs to provide them with better jobs". Does the same apply to Indian offshoring segment too?