Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Murthy and Son @ Infosys: what’s the big deal?

Everything that the Indian offshoring giant Infosys does comes under intense scrutiny, especially from Indian media that has been enamored with the hi-tech sector for long. Not surprisingly, the return of Infosys’ founder and godfather of Indian offshoring lead to intense analysis in media. Comparisons include to that of Steve Jobs’ return to Apple and Michael Dell’s effort to take charge of Dell’s strategy. If there was any doubt about the move by Infosys to seek the return of its founder, it was reassured by the stock market (re: Infosys Jumps Most Since January as Billionaire MurthyReturns)
Leadership changes are bound to follow major management announcements. Not surprisingly, there has been a barrage of announcements, among which has been an interesting move by Mr. Murthy: recruiting his son to be an executive assistant to the Executive Chairman. Following that announcement are reports of Murthy junior being appointed “Vice-president” at Infosys.
Analysts and the media are torn between two school of thoughts here
  • The sour grape school of thought. The thinking goes something like this: most of us have to work extra hard to survive and thrive in a crowded world of  business while a select few who happen to be born into a family with the right last name are automatically admitted to the club.
  • Acceptance school of thought. Acceptance of the reality of dynasties in business and politics. The last name Bush (Wikipedia) can get you elected as a President of America, or governor of Florida just like the Gandhi name in India. Same goes for successful business dynasties scions of which have not only proudly carried the family name but also managed to outshine their fathers and forefathers.
Back when I worked for Infosys, the grandiose sounding title of VP was something the company didn't dole out to employees lightly. This said, there were scores of “Associate” VPs, many of them senior engagement and sales managers, consulting partners who were given the title. This was done generally to signal clients and others that the title holder was empowered to negotiate a proposal or sign a SoW on the company’s behalf.

I continue to closely watch the company, wearing my shareholder hat (I still happen to hold a few shares that vested from the options I received when I joined INFY nearly a decade ago). All I see here is a storm in the teacup.  The stock price has bounced nicely since Mr. NR Murthy’s return. The news of Murthy Junior coming aboard and debate over his title has barely caused the stock to budge. There is another key fact to bear in mind: The Murthy family holds nearly a 4.5% stake in the company. And Rohan Murty, himself is a significant share holder with 7,949,782 shares (1.38% stake) has a skin in the game.

As a significant individual shareholder, Rohan's voice of course counts. And if he wants to be at the forefront and ensure ROI of his investment: Sure, by all means!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Musing on Public libraries: Vote yes to support them!

While driving to work the other day, I was listening to the NPR program “For You To Borrow, Some Libraries Have To Go Begging.” It reminded me of the recent survey request from Phoenix public library, a library I haven’t visited since I moved from Arizona a couple of years ago. It got me thinking of the significance of Public libraries, and how public libraries are trying to stay relevant, and thrive, despite the pervasiveness of digital sources of information.

Growing up in India years ago, I used to frequent the state central library in Cubbon park. This was much before the days of pervasive internet, and for me and other locals, an opportunity to read latest magazines and periodicals. Newspapers were laid out on tall tables around which patrons stood and read. Magazines, on the other hand could be enjoyed sitting around a desk and chair. Even in crowded public libraries, there was a social etiquette: it was “okay” ro invade one’s private space to "share" a newspaper but generally not a magazine. And there was a sexist element at play in public libraries too: few members of opposite sex were to be seen at libraries, and fewer still in the male dominated magazine and newspaper reading rooms.

In my travels, especially as my job moved me across countries and provinces for extended periods of time, my relocation or extended stay in a city would typically begin with a stopover at local library. Just a sampling of a few of my favorite haunts over the years

The NPR program agrees with what most of us empirically believe to be true “More than 90 percent of Americans say public libraries are important to their communities, according to the Pew Research Center. But the way that love translates into actual financial support varies hugely from state to state.” Many public libraries across western cities are morphing into community centers, attracting the digital generation with both digital tools (eBooks) and community and after-school events. The library, with story-time for preschoolers in our city has been a boon for parents, a fact my wife appreciates all the more during long days in summer months when the school is out.

A few generations ago, Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was credited with doling out funds for public libraries across the US. “A total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji.” (Wikipedia)

Now that the billionaire and digital entrepreneur, Amazon's Founder Jeff Bezos has staked his claim on marquee print publication The Washington Post, one wonders if he will follow Andrew Carnegie’s footprints with a legacy of re-funding public libraries?

Till a wealthy white knight comes around to rescue, it is for local patrons to voice their support for libraries in their communities. Perhaps take a leaf from the Troy library’s playbook on how to take on Tea Party activists targeting funding for local libraries!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Enterprise Architects and a tip for Entrepreneurs on mobile strategy

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is wetting his toes in the mobile app development space, following the time honored startup tradition by hiring a few developers proficient in mobile technologies to dream up the next killer application. The hope is: build it and they will come. Dreams of mobile entrepreneurs are buoyed by stores like “Mobile app growth exploding, and shows no signs of letting up
The conversation reminded me of the NYT article on mobile application boom from a few months ago (“Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living”) One could spend time pondering the odds of entrepreneurs beating others in the mobile gold rush, or if we are already at the tail end of one, but that's not the point here.
To seasoned industry watchers, Enterprise Architects, and those in the “buy” side of technology, there is a parallel to the mobile-world crystal-ball-gazing: the dot-com-boom and bust from over a decade ago. We are probably encountering a parallel with a torrent of news and “activity” in the space, ranging from partnerships – Microsoft (MSFT) and Nokia - to stories of market darlings imploding and struggling to survive with a fierce battle for #3 spot  (Interestingly, just this week, Blackberry board announced it is up for sale!). And if one were to draw a few lessons from the “history
1.    A few persistent – and lucky – entrepreneurs will not only survive and thrive but lead us to game changing innovations well after the bust: Amazon, Priceline, ebay are just a few examples
2.    Capturing hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, and page hits was the currency of dot.com. Parallel to this in mobile space is the quest for cool-app with hundreds of thousands of downloads from an app store
3.    Innovation in the space continues much after the bust - Facebook, twitter, istagram all came much after the dot.com bust
4.    Corporate IT catches up with entrepreneurs. Though much of the tools techniques and technologies of web-enablement are now mainstream, architecting and developing scalable corporate E-commerce portals and integrating web applications with back-end systems continue to be the holy grail of software development. (my earlier blog on the topic). The parallel between eCommerce/dot.com era, circa 2000/2001, and the dynamics of mobile ecosystem is obvious. Corporate IT is getting over the novelty of mobile hype cycle and BYOD. However, most IS shops are just starting on the long journey of mobile enabling corporate applications. 
What does it mean to Enterprise Architects? Taking a Gartner’s PACE model view, organizations without a strong mobile strategy may be considering platforms to support mobility to be a System of Innovation (SOI), at least initially. After pilot and initial rollout, these may move to being yet another System of Differentiation (SOD) and eventually when the usage matures, System of Record (SOR). The implication is on several fronts including guiding investment, need for piloting and lining up architecturally significant use cases for mobility.
My response to my entrepreneur friend? follow the money. Vendors are already converging on platforms with three letter acronyms MDM, MDS, MADP etc etc. Mobile platforms are also converging around iOS, Android, Windows mobile and/or BlackBerry 10... and so is the application ecosystem. Which leads us to the opportunity: mobile enablement of corporate applications using standardized techniques. Entrepreneurs may be able to use the learnings and skills from mobile app development ventures and turn and "sell" those skills to corporate IS departments looking to mobile enable their application ecosystem.  
Larger SI vendors are already positioning practices around “mobile enablement,” while niche players showcase their agility and skills in the space. The opportunity is for System Integrators, large and small that can help seamless transition of corporate applications to mobile devices running on multiple platforms on “any” form factor.
Bottomline: Rewards from working with corporate IT may not be as instantaneous as developing the next-killer-app-netting-million-downloads but will certainly be lucrative, especially for those who can carve a niche in this dynamic space.