Wednesday, December 31, 2014

RIP AirAsia Flight 8501 passengers and crew!

Three major airline incidents involving south Asian airlines starting with the disappearance of MH370 earlier this year, downing of another Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine and now the news of AirAsia Flight 8501. In case of this latest incident involving AirAsia flight, we have received news of bodies being recovered: What a way to end the year!

As a frequent air traveler, I take solace in the high level of safety and professionalism of  the commercial airline industry around the globe. However, as a parent who lost a child on an international flight  (link) I am also highly cognizant of risks of air-travel.
I know how hard it was for us to accept the reality of the abrupt loss of our child on board Jet Airways Flt 229 on 17th June 2008; the memory of which occasionally haunts us. And just as my wife, Sujatha and I learnt to cope with the reality and move forward, I pray that survivors of this tragedy move forward too.

My prayers and sympathies are with the surviving families of AirAsia Flight 8501 passengers and crew! 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Musing on Uber incient in Delhi : When digital sharing economy meets real world

Airbnb and Uber stand out as pioneers in discussions of cyber sharing economy (aka peer-to-peer economy - wikipedia). New businesses models go through growing pains that include regulatory hurdles and acceptance by society at large. Airbnb that created a market for individuals to share spare rooms/property/living space has continually faced regulatory hurdles. For a while, it was even ruled Illegal in New York City (Huffington post). Uber is a cyber sharing economy darling, that is shaking up taxi cab and personal transportation business

This week, it is Uber's turn to be under the gun. There is a lot of chatter in media - traditional and digital - following the reported rape of a female passenger by driver of a cab requested from her Uber app (Indian Express).

Indian digirati has learnt to take on an activist stance using social media by highlighting incidents of rapes and sexual violence on women, especially after the brutal incident in December of 2012. Twitter flooded with angry messages against Uber (link). Interestingly, some of the very same digirati in India are also consumers and proponents of peer-to-peer services. They are waking up to its limitations, especially to fast paced commercialization of digital services that can negatively impact lives in real world.

One is left wondering if services like Uber designed for sharing economy in the west can (or should) be transplanted to other geographies like India. Uber in the US targets non-commercial drivers -  the average Joe or Jane -  to partake in sharing economy by running his/her car like a "virtual" taxi. The peer-to-peer model relies on a strong foundation of credit, background and criminal checks, and an educated consumer aware of peer-rating system. In India, on the other hand, Uber seems to be merely extending a broken taxi service without fixing the fundamental flaw: non-existent system of credit and background checks. Even criminal checks on Taxi Drivers are spotty as the Delhi incident has glaringly highlighted. (link)

The case brings to fore questions that corporate leaders will also have to address, especially around liability, legal and regulatory policies on use of peer-to-peer services for businesses travel. Interestingly, just last week, a friend was excitedly describing his experience with Uber during a recent trip to Phoenix. We began discussing the lack of corporate policies of managing "liability" when employees use such service for a business trip. A case like the one in Delhi is bound to give corporate executives and lawyers around the globe pause for thought.

It will be interesting to see how Uber rides through this incident. (link:NPR's Marketplace). But it is not a question of whether Uber survives: Taking on risks of creating a new market comes with its rewards [Just recently, Uber was valued at an astounding $40 billion!  (CNN Money).

Cross post on linkedin Pulse

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Amazon's re:invent - A cloud roadmap for the Enterprise

I was at the AWS re:invent this week in sunny Las Vegas. It was an opportunity to observe and learn from experiences of other large enterprises starting on their cloud journey. A few observations that I plan to share with fellow Enterprise Architects and IS executives.

Putting together a show for a large gathering of nearly 13500+ participants is by itself a testament to the seriousness of the cloud strategy. As expected, the Amazon team put together an A-game to demonstrate their cloud roadmaps, but what was more impressive was the large contingent of product vendors and System Integrator partners joining to showcase their capabilities.

The keynote sessions were designed to drive home the point that "The cloud is the new normal," and that AWS is a significant player here. Large customers – Coke America, MLB Advanced Media, Condé Nast were out there to highlight their seriousness in the cloud journey.
Some of the deep-dive sessions highlighted the following
  • Amazon’s AWS is a large, serious public cloud platform that can enable Virtual private clouds (VPC) for enterprises looking to minimize/eliminate their hosted data center footprint.
  • Vendor ecosystem is maturing and working hard to keep up with updates on AWS offerings.
    • For instance many SI partners have ‘cloud service management’ portals and frameworks to address configuration and license key management and service catalogs – services that AWS also announced at re:invent.
  • Prepare adequately while planning a larger scale migration of a portfolio of applications.
    • Lift-and-shift may be a misnomer – legacy applications will have to be lifted-considerably-refactored before ‘shifted’ to the cloud.
  • Virtual private cloud (VPC) holds promise for enterprises looking to “shut” or minimize IS application footprint in their data centers.
    • Configuration, setup and ongoing maintenance of VPC from one’s data center is a complex and highly technical endeavor.
  • Large enterprises may not have the luxury of learning on the job.
    • Design and integrating a VPC with one’s hosted data center is not a walk in the park.
    • Rather than DIY panning to the cloud, selecting the right SI partner is a key to enable the cloud journey.
Also unsaid in the sessions
  • AWS is not the only game in town: the other software giant from Seattle has a serious proposition too.
    • As of 2014, Most large enterprises are ‘wetting their toes in the cloud’ and few are willing or able to bet the farm on a single vendor’s cloud
  • CIO’s Organizations aspire to “shut their datacenters” and move to the cloud
    • Many case studies highlighted the aspiration but only the new-startup’s highlighted operations without traditional data centers. Perhaps the reality of legacy weighs too heavily?
  • Large enterprises may opt for hybrid model
    • The future for large enterprises may well be an ecosystem of VPC’s on AWS and other cloud providers, in addition to their on-premise data centers for critical workloads
  • Architects and engineers at large enterprises need to prepare for the alphabet soup.
    • In addition to existing products, AWS announced a slew of new technologies at the conference - EC2 container, AWS Lambda, Aurora DB, Code deploy, Key management, Config etc. Other cloud vendors have other acronyms for their technologies.
    • Other vendors have other naming, branding and versioning. And it is not just keeping up with branding but versioning and capabilities
  • Cloud is yet another component, albeit a significant component, in the IS technology management mix.
    • For instance, moving 100 ‘legacy’ corporate applications to a VPC on AWS will not minimize the inherent design complexity.
    • The move may reduce cost of infrastructure hosting but not necessarily the cost and complexity of ongoing maintenance and support.
Although these notes are from the AWS re:invent this week, I am sure the other cloud guys down the road in Seattle throw an equally exiting conference to showcase their partner ecosystem, replete with vendor presentations and parties.

(stating the obvious: while thankful to my employer for the trip, and to an SI partner for a ‘free’ event pass, these views are mine alone and not an endorsement of my employer’s cloud strategy) repost from linkedin

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book review: Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy by Simon Denyer

Book Review

My Book review of "Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy" by Simon Denyer. Cross posted from

Rogue Elephant is an interesting analysis of some aspects of India's democracy. The author, who has spent the past decade or so reporting on India draws from his notes while highlighting observations.

The book begins and concludes with an analysis of the infamous gang-rape in Delhi that shocked the conscience of the nation. The author devotes several chapters to money and corruption with a brief review of the political players including Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Simon was rightly betting on one of them ascending to the role of India's Prime Minister. This ensures the book continues to be relevant in 2014 when published.

As with any political narrative, the views of the author and his biases are bound to creep in. This book is no exception. The author focuses on politics in the book while skimming economic reality of life and society. In reality both are intertwined and an analysis of one should include the other. Information Technology and Business Process outsourcing and globalization of Indian manufacturing get only a passing mention. Even the Telecommunication revolution that helped India leapfrog from obsolete land-lines to the information age gets only a passing mention. Instead, Simon focuses on corruption of telcom spectrum handouts. The fact that politicians skimmed billions from the deals is not debatable. However, the benefits of wireless revolution, getting rural Indians access to basic communication and on to information age is downplayed in the narrative.

Understanding the intricacies of India's democracy is hard, even for Indians living through the changes and more so for Non Resident Indians like self, who keep abreast of happenings digitally. Simon's readable book is sure to add to the knowledge base, and will be especially useful for those looking for a “political history” of India in the past decade.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Musing on globalization - Apple CEO Tim Cook is gay : and other sides to the story

Apple's Tim Cook made headlines today by announcing to the world that he was Gay (Tim Cook Speaks Up - surprising announcement in an opinion piece on Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

This announcement coming from a tech executive and CEO of a Fortune 500 giant made huge ripples in the business and tech media.  It is interesting to see western society not only embracing rights of LGBT but applauding outright while another leader comes "out."  Nothing surprising here, especially given how leaders in other sphere - political leader, Hollywood stars and sports stars - have been regularly making such "announcements."

The same "rights" seem to be non existent in other parts of the world. The reasons are obvious: even a decade after Tom Friedman famously proclaimed the "world is flat" in his book, historic cultural, linguistic and social variances continue to persist and thrive around the world. For instance, on the same topic of LGBT rights, there was a  news item just yesterday, from another "westernizing" country that is benefiting from offshoring and flattening world. A techie working for the offshoring giant Infosys, in Bangalore, was "slapped with Sec 377" by the Indian police after his wife caught his gay acts on spycam. Per Wikipedia "Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code dating back to 1860,[1] introduced during the British rule of India, criminalizes sexual activities "against the order of nature", arguably including homosexual acts."

One can argue whether westernization only goes so far. Countries and societies continue to selectively globalize, and only for aspects that suits them - especially when there are economic gains.

Bottomline: Societies may embrace western 'values' that are required for economic integration with global markets but will zealously continue to guard their cultural, linguistic, political and social identities. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is corporate #mobile App development too expensive?

The other day, a fellow Enterprise Architect was lamenting on how the sticker price of “mobile enabling” applications was giving pause to business stakeholders. The business partners who were queuing up with proposals for mobile enabling applications in the portfolio were assuming this capability would automatically move forward along with regular upgrade and maintenance cycle.

When presented with the cost of enabling applications for smartphones and tablets – ability to download from app store, running natively on multiple devices, form factors, securely connecting and integrating data with the corporate back end – most users were stumped. The argument from business stakeholders is understandable: if Apple store can boast of 1.2 million apps, and there are similar number in the android, Amazon and Microsoft ecosystems why can’t my corporate IS push a few hundred of our applications to myCorp-App store?

Explaining the rational for the high cost of mobile enablement cannot be easily condensed to an elevator pitch. Many of the “older” applications used by corporate users, especially the ones that came before iPhone and iPads – circa 2007+ – had not been designed for the new user experience. There is growing awareness that mobile enabling such applications will come at a cost that is not “cheap” in the corporate IS context. Part of the cost is the user interface redevelopment/refactoring. The other real, but hidden cost is the ‘technology debt’ – the need to upgrade legacy systems before they can be mobile enabled. (Those of us with a few gray hairs from our years in IT will remember preparing similar business cases a decade ago when there was a push to web-enable corporate applications.)

The good news is that we are already at a “trough of disillusionment” (apologies Gartner) when it comes to mobile enabling corporate applications. In a sense, corporate IT is already climbing the “slope of enlightenment,” especially since most new products are already being designed with mobile usability right out of the door. And for new application development, mobile enabling is not an icing on top but an integral part of the design.
Pockets of business stakeholders are also coming to grips with this slope of enlightenment and are willing to pony up the costs, especially when it comes to enabling applications required by mobile workforce – for consultants on the road, sales reps and also applications that enable field workers like UPS drivers, gate agents walking around busy airport checkin areas among others.

In many cases, where cost is a constraint, business users are accepting simpler options, say redesigning websites to be html5 compliant, that would work on “most” devices and form-factors, not necessarily with “all” the bells and whistles of an app from an apple store.

It is a matter of time before corporate IT climbs up the “Plateau of Productivity” when it comes to mobile enablement. But I am sure by then business would already be aspiring to the next cool trigger of the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” not necessarily in the usability space

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Musing on Big Data example. Not an easy recipe to follow

If a picture is worth a thousand words, as the beaten adage goes, the use of big data, creative analytics and graphics is certainly worth much more. Here is a great example of using Big Bata to explain migration from The Economist.

As with most pictures, what is depicted here is only a small slice of the big frame, the angle the author/analyst wanted to highlight. 
I like this picture for the story that it is trying to tell different audiences in a visually appealing way. A picture like this is sure to resonate with policy makers, corporate executives and even hiring managers and recruiters. If not anything else, it raises questions and follow-up actions from the information depicted.
The recipe for big data analytics might look like this:
  • Define your analysis goals and audience upfront
  • Take a lot of data from different sources
  • Filter the data and replicate, but remove redundancies
  • Add relevant metadata, tags etc
  • Use relevant indexing to navigate the data environment
  • Run a lot of filters and queries on it
  • Present actionable information
  • Turn the information into insights
As is obvious, the recipe or its variances for data analytics are not easy to follow. For one, there is a challenge of defining a problem statement. And then there is the science of gathering data, developing the engine to run the analytics. Then comes the art of visualization while presenting the information.

As one might argue, there is a secret sauce missing in the recipe above!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Nobel Peace prize for 2014 and musing on David and Goliath

It is heartening to see the Nobel Peace prize for 2014 go to two South Asians, Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban after campaigning for girls’ education.

I’ll admit, like most others living in the west would do, that Malala Yousafzai is a well known name but Kailash Satyarthi, who? I am sure this is about to  change with the announcement since most of us will not only become aware of Mr Satyarthi but also about the cause for which he stands.
Having just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller (my #amzaonreview), I was reflecting on Malala Yousafzai and her branding as the unlikely role of David she has been thrust upon to go against the Goliaths (Taliban) in Middle East and South Asia.

If I build on Gladwell’s argument in defense of “underdogs” who become unlikely heroes, Malala would certainly be on top of the list. Ever since Malala was shot by Taliban while on her way to school, her recovery has been watched, analyzed and projected larger-than life by western media. As per a recent Chicago tribune article, (link
"Yousafzai was only 11 when she began anonymously blogging for the BBC about her struggles. She was 14 when Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus, asked for her by name, and shot her in the head and neck. The girl survived and was flown to the U.K. for treatment."   And the rest, as they say, is history in the making
One can argue that in the fight against the bad guys, the Goliaths and Taliban, one has to win over the hearts of the public. A teenage girl, part of the underdog strata in the society that still oppresses women, who goes against the bad bully, Taliban is just the kind of hero one needs to win the hearts and minds of junta (public).  And by awarding a Nobel Peace prize to the teenage hero, we are doing just that: reinforce the will of Davids’ to stand up to the Goliaths!

(my #amzaonreview of David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hewlett-Packard and slices of pizza!

It is interesting to read the announcement on the split of yet another tech giant, Hewlett-Packard, coming shortly after the breakup of eBay and Paypal. Every time I read announcements on mergers and de-mergers, the image of a large pizza with different toppings on each slice comes to mind.

(Image link)

It is also interesting to note the spin with announcement of mergers and demergers.  When companies, producing different products or services merge, announcements highlight “synergies” in the “value enhancing move.”  And when a company like - Hewlett-Packard announces a demerger, it is yet another value- enhancing move that allows us to “invest in the respective asset groups without the fear of cross- subsidies and inefficiencies” (link)
The impact on people, employees and stakeholders including customers, who are left to manage the change - management speak for those left catching the falling knife – from such de-mergers, has been studied ad infinitum. And so has the impact on the groups of people who benefit from mergers and demergers: shareholders and investors, lawyers and consultants.
The footnote in the analysis of Hewlett-Packard’s Value enhancing move Planned job cuts will increase to 55,000 and costs to restructure cost will be about $600 million.” made me wonder: $600 million to slice a corporate pizza?!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Selfie generation unable to sit back and smell the roses?‏

While stepping out of the supermarket the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to see a double rainbow. Not very common; but also not something we see every day.
After standing still, watching the rainbow for a few minutes, I looked around: a mother and her teenage son quickly got their cellphone to “capture” the moment. So did another man who was walking up to his parked car. And so did a dad with an amused toddler. The only two people in the parking lot not “capturing the moment” in their cellphones were the toddler, who didn’t have one, and me standing amused by others’ selfie moment. 
The ease with which modern cellphones enable capturing pictures and videos also means that almost every moment of our lives are now worth capturing digitally, leaving little or no incentive to really enjoy the moment.
By capturing the moments digitally we hope to share them with others connected by social media. Since all of our friends and peers share “unique” moments of their lives, we don’t have an urge to resist digitally capturing a few moments.
Thankfully, our five year old doesn’t have a cellphone, and is content to enjoy the occasional double rainbow, spotting a deer or rabbit in a park and even just stopping to smell the roses (literally) while taking a walk in the park.
Note to self: resist the urge to capture these moments in my smartphone.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

My #bookreview of "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" on

Every now and then comes a book that holds a mirror to us and the society we live in. David and Goliath, is one such book with perspectives that are sure to stick in mind for a while.

The book starts with an analysis of how the underdog shepherd David really beat the giant Goliath. The story of Vivek Ranadive's team of underdog "little blond girls" from silicon valley who beat the giants in basketball to end up in Nationals is heartwarming. With Caroline Sacks' story, Gladwell highlights "relative deprivation" and the blessing of being a big fish in a small pond versus the other way around. The next chapter focuses on Dyslexia's blessing in disguise. At least for the lucky few who are able to nurture other talents like a photographic memory.

In the last section, the author builds a contrast between the stories of Mike Reynolds and Derksens which makes one reflect on the "limits of power." The contrast in the attitudes, especially at times of crisis really hit home for me. Although Gladwell paints shades of black and white while describing attitudes of Mike Reynolds and Derksens, in reality most of us end up philosophizing like Derksens with shades of gray in our minds. The author builds on this contrast with the story of Andre Trocme, just to emphasize the point!

Gladwell skillfully holds together myriad stories with his beautiful narrative and storytelling abilities.

Friday, September 19, 2014

WSJ: A Mole Inside Assad's Embassy. Double Agent or Traitor?

The article by Adam Entous in Wall Street journal made for an interesting read, but to me raised more questions on the Author’s intent. (WSJ Article “A Mole Inside Assad's Embassy Aided Syrian Rebels”)

The Article’s tone was that of projecting Mr. Bassam Barabandi a diplomat of the Syrian government in the US as a “hero” for betraying his government and also misusing his authority. The article begins by describing.
In his embassy post over the course of a year, Mr. Barabandi issued travel documents for nearly 100 Syrian activists, according to interviews with him and more than a dozen opposition leaders. Through his efforts, activists were able to flee and campaign against the same regime he officially represented.
Based on the analysis of how the diplomat issued travel documents to hundreds of “Syrian activists,” the author Mr. Entous begins to project Mr. Barabandi as a modern day robin-hood. The angle conveniently omitted by Mr. Entous in his story.
  • What if the passports issued by Barabandi went to members of the ISIS/ISIL or the other bad guys? Without any due diligence, how did Mr. Barabandi ascertain the credentials of Syrian activists?
  • The article hows it is “easy” for a rogue diplomat to issue/re-issue passports of a sovereign nation. If it were this easy to hack the system, could a rogue American diplomat in Russia re-issue travel documents for Mr. Edward Snowden? (my earlier blog post on Snowden saga)
The last paragraph in the article gives away the true intent of the WSJ article’s author:
Mr. Barabandi and his wife have been interviewed by U.S. officials reviewing their application for asylum. They now are waiting to hear a decision. If the U.S. says no, Mr. Barabandi said, maybe he will try Canada.
Those of us who have jumped through visa and immigration hoops in our lifetime will immediately realize the author’s real intent: a positive cover story in WSJ added to Mr. Barabandi US asylum application dossier is sure to grease the wheels at the USCIS!
Giving Mr. Barabandi the benefit of doubt; most of the recipients of his passport scam may be good guys, but if his act happened to also benefit a few bad guys, the effort would be in vain!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Frequent flier Miles and points: how far will they take you?

I haven’t blogged in a while. The reasons are several including procrastination during summer vacation. I hope to continue with the blog, now that I am back and refreshed.
This summer, I planned a family trip (with my wife and son) from Anytown, US to Bangalore where my parents live. While planning the trip back in Spring of 2014, I decided to explore the possibility of burning some of my accumulated airmiles.

I am not a miles junkie at least not as much as I used to be. This said, I will gladly take the small, perhaps the only, perk of business travel that comes in the form of air mile credits and hotel loyalty points.
I shall refrain from naming the carrier where I had accumulated nearly a million miles and now have a measly ‘silver-elite status (but here is a hint this airline traces its roots to the illustrious Pan Am). Not long ago, when I was a ‘road warrior’ IT consultant , it was much easier to earn a lot more air miles, and more importantly acquire and retain privileged Platinum “Elite” status with the airline. The biggest benefit of an elite status, besides the ability to change flights without additional fee was that I frequently got bumped up to first-class while traveling in the US – lots of leg space without the need to worry about knee defenders.
Of course, it is much harder to maintain such coveted status with the airline, now that I don’t travel as much; and the few cross Atlantic business trips a year don’t really cut it with them! I spent a couple of days searching options on the airline’s website with the following constraints:
  • I had to be able to book three returns tickets from Anytown, US to an airport closest to Bangalore where the airline flies
  • Ensure that the major leg of our trip could be on business class
Turns out most US carriers don’t fly directly to Bangalore. A few fly into Mumbai or Delhi. And Airlines are less generous with miles on code-share flights with partner airlines, and especially less generous with those who don’t have higher elite tiers (like I said earlier, that is a perk that makes being a road-warrior worth it).

After a few days search, I zeroed in on two options: fly from Anytown, US to Mumbai or to Dubai and book an additional return flight from DXB/BOM to BLR. The difference was the return trip to DXB would burn about 140,000 miles (per seat) versus 180,000 to Mumbai. I decided on the former and decided to extend the trip with stopover for a day-long tour of Dubai.
The trip was great, with minimal disruptions. A few lessons from this experience
  • Be flexible on airports and itinerary. As I mentioned above, we were flexible in planning a trip with a stopover in DXB instead of BOM.
  • Change fee is expensive, but may be worth paying. I booked the trip in spring and didn’t have much of the vacation planned. Work and other scheduling came in the way after booking the trip which meant I had to cough up a change fee for the itinerary. Bottomline: change fee of $150 on a cross-continent trip using miles? Worth it!
  • Free is not always free. Even free tickets issued using airmiles are taxed. One has to pay the airport tax and other fees that can add up to a tidy sum for cross-continental flights.  There are other costs and incidentals one needs to plan for, especially if you don’t have a higher elite status with the airline in question. Costs like change fee, standby fee etc can add up.
  • Be prepared for “Attitude” from (some) of the ground crew. An example: on the return leg, while getting our boarding cards, I asked the lady at the checkout counter where the business class lounge in DXB was. She gave me a ‘look’ and asked if I were eligible to enter a longue on a ticket issued with points. I had to stand my ground and insist on this simple prevlidge (DXB airport requires US airlines’ staff to endorse tickets for longue access as most don’t have their own longues)
Bottomline: The effort expended in being able to burn accumulated airmiles for a family vacation is totally worth it!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Enterprise Architecture: Musing on Buring platforms and Cycle of vendor upgrades

The recent announcement by Microsoft on discontinuing support (even paid extended, extended support) for Windows XP and the debate in the media has broader implications on burning platforms at hand. To those of us engaged in vocation of Enterprise Architecture, the topic of burning platforms (a.k.a IT Debt @Gartner) continues to manifest itself in different forms and at different times. It is an event that seems to surface with regular enough frequency.  And the issue is not just restricted to an IT vendor. On the contrary, the Microsoft XP debate just surfaces a larger issue at hand: the lack of disciplined Application Portfolio review and Management (APM).

The need to upgrade a collection of application platforms (open group definition may have a cascading effect across the ecosystem. E.g for a big bank to plan for upgrade of ATM (link) systems from XP to Windows 7 (or 8) it is not just a shift in versions of software running on the ATMs. Implications to hardware (obvious need to suddenly also upgrade hardware), networks (potential increase in bandwith), integration…. the whole nine yards. A version upgrade of OS requiring an enterprise - or at least division - wide APM exercise. Such an APM exercise focused on addressing a burning platform can generally be a knee jerk reaction that addresses “A” problem than the symptom. We don’t hear much of this topic, especially the strategic implications of burning platforms for several reasons:
One reason is because it is just not sexy to talk about issues surrounding “keeping the lights on” Many Architects would rather spend their time “architecting” and designing new systems and engage business, than in planning the upkeep of ecosystem on hand. Such upgrades are generally relegated to IT/IS service teams and generally written off as operational “cost of doing business”.
Ø  In a resource constrained environment where most organizations are looking to stretch every dollar; not taking a strategic view of vendor roadmaps and upgrade plans and its implications on one’s existing architecture is not only counterintuitive and surprisingly wasteful. 
Another reason this topic doesn’t get a lot of airtime is because many corporate Enterprise-IS/Business-Architects and IS leaders are busy reacting to individual occurrences of such burning platforms; and are busy negotiating workarounds with vendors and technology partners.
Ø  No point in rocking the boat by airing dirty laundry?
Perhaps the real reason is a clear lack of communication. There is a lack of systematic and periodic effort in trying to understand and account for the total cost of such changes. 
Ø  Without being forewarned, Business counterparts react to the challenge like a deer caught in a headlight.
An idea worth exploring: A simple dashboard that can easily show the complexity and highlight the TCO implications to a CIO’s business counterparts would be a cool tool to have


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tech Giants Struck Deals on Hiring. What deals?

The front-page article in yesterday’s WSJ (Silicon Valley Tech Giants Struck Deals on Hiring) made for an interesting read. Many of us in the IT/IS-tech industry have either suspected this kind of collusion for long, and some perhaps wished for it, when faced by high rate of attrition at critical times.

The article quotes observers who expect mediations for a settlement to reach a conclusion. Settlement on this case or not, a few reasons why we might see continuum of some form of “collusion” and informal alignments among executives of tech giants.  
  • IT resources, especially skilled and experienced resources continue to be scarce. ERP consultants, Systems Integration experts, mobile device programmers and even web developers can write their own paycheck.
  • Demand for IT resources is #Glocal. Demand for skilled personnel in micro-markets (esp tech hubs like Silicon Valley, research triangle parks and cities like Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad) translates to a bulk of the “global” demand.
  • While the world continues to flatten mobility, especially global mobility of workforce continues to reduce
  • Many techies and IT managers continue to be reluctant to adopt use of tools and technologies of collaboration. Some of the challenge is cultural but there is also a strong human dynamic issue here: nothing like being able to sit across the table or yell across a cube to have a chat.
In this instance, the bosses of big giants in Silicon Valley - Google., Apple, Intel Corp. and Adobe Systems are accused of colluding to suppress wages, by agreeing not to poach each other's employees, among other things. And more interestingly, there is some “evidence” of this which is being touted in the lawsuit filings.

What is to say the bosses of offshoring IT giants in the Asian Silicon valley in Bangalore and Hyderabad aren’t doing the same?  Yes, yes, facts seem to be pointing otherwise: Infosys Q4 attrition at 18.7%One in 4 Wipro staff to get up to 20% salary hike There again, knowing how IT management “best-practices” continue to go global; perhaps . . . . .

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Feeding 9 billion people; can it start with us going vegetarian?

The cover story in this month’s National geographic "Feedingthe World" made me reflect on its byline “by 2050 we’ll need to feed two billion more people. How can we do that without overwhelming the planet?” Food for thought, perhaps topical for the long-weekend of good-Friday, Passover and Easter ahead of us.
It is springtime in the Northern hemisphere, bringing with it a refreshing change of scenery, greening gardens, and landscape dotted with multi-colored hues. With spring coming after a long winter with its fair share of snowstorms and “polar vortexes,” it is easy to ignore the latest UN report on threats from global warming. Global warming also has direct consequences on agriculture, which is bound to accentuate the problem of feeding a growing global population.
Lies we tell our children... about modern Agriculture and food
Working for a multinational agri-business giant, I am sometimes conflicted while trying to explain to my four-year-old where food really comes from. I find it amusing to read picture-books on farming with colored illustrations of quaint family farms, grain silos and barnyards with chicken, cows and goat meandering around. Yes, we still have some of these around. If you happen to drive out of Anytown USA or ride a train out of AnyCity, EU, you can still spot the big red barns, a few paddocks with horses and cows grazing. Picturesque scenery that proponents of “locally grown” and Community supported agriculture (CSA) movement would love to continue see in the landscape. But is that where food on our table really comes from?

Living in urban and suburban areas, most of us digirati are far removed from agriculture. Perhaps the closest we come to farming is in our kitchen garden experiments where we may be content to spend a few weekend afternoons sowing pre-grown plants on bags of gardening soil from Lowes or Home Depot, spraying an assortment of “miracle grow” chemical mix of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides. And by periodically watering the lawn and plants we are “amazed” to see flowers bloom along with a few veggies for a dinner salad. 

Books like “To Eat: A Country Life” and "The Town That Food Saved" that I read recently romanticizes hobbyist farmers and attempt to take us back to the quaint age of subsistence farming. The authors explain how passionate hobbyists with a few acres of fertile land can "sustain" themselves in modern day America.

The reality, as I would like to tell my son when he grows up, is that the bulk of the food we - urbanized denizens of this planet – eat is a product of modern agriculture, a.k.a industrial agriculture.
The reality of modern food: modern agriculture

There is so much cacophony and passionate debate on food and agriculture in popular press that obscures the challenge: how do we feed a growing population?

The debates also obscure the economic reality: tools and technologies supplied by agri-business are catching up with public demand; a demand for food and meat which is being shaped by modern trends and tastes. The recent New York Times essay “A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops” made for a fascinating read. It featured a local politician in Hawaii, Greggor Ilagan, whose quest for facts on genetically modified organisms (GMO) lead to a complete u-turn in his perspectives on the topic. The article echoes the challenge faced by policy-makers around the globe who need facts to weigh in on debates on modern agriculture. Facts that are especially hard to sift through with all the noise and cacophony.

A few basic facts food and challenge we face in the quest to "Feed the World"

Production: Growing and producing “food” is hard work and labor intensive.
  • A small minority of farmers support a vast majority of us, consumers of food.  “There are over 313,000,000 people living in the United States. Of that population, less than 1% claim farming as an occupation (and about 2% actually live on farms). In 2007, only 45% of farmers claimed farming as their principal occupation and a similar number of farmers claiming some other principal occupation.” -  
  • Rural flight (Wikipedia) is an irreversible trend. The trend to leave farms continues in historically agrarian societies including China, India and Africa.
  • Subsistence farming practiced in developing economies is impractical. The periodic wave of suicides among subsistence farmers in Asia and Africa is a heartwrenching, all too common phenomena (link). Subsistence farmers in most developing nations don’t have the social security net that hobbyist farmers in the west enjoy. (wonder how many western farmers commit suicide just because the monsoon failed?)
Consumption: Changing food consumption pattern constraints production
  • For majority of humans, Meat is coveted meal. “the amount of meat eaten by each person has leapt from around 22kg in 1961 to 40kg in 2007”  (Economist: Kings of the carnivores
  • It takes anywhere from 7 to 10 pound of grains – primarily corn, soyabeans or barley – to produce a pound of meat. Ergo the need to grow millions of tonnes of grain to feed a growing population. 
  • Converting grains to meat to feed humans is not only expensive and time consuming but also environmentally unsustainable. Massive amounts Methane generated by industrial animal farms is just another side effect. Time magazine reported that FAO data indicates that 18 percent of the Earth's greenhouse gas emissions were linked to worldwide livestock farming.  
  • The trend towards increasing meat consumption for food is not just restricted to the west. China and India alone have hundreds of millions of increasingly affluent middle class citizen craving meat; consumers who equate meat rich diets with westernization. (ref: Holy cow! Who moved my meat – Economic times)
Bottomline: Increasing quantities of grains and Meat for human needs cannot come from small-scale farms. The majority of food in our world is a product of modern agriculture – mega farms spanning thousands of acres producing corn and soyabeans to supply industrial cattle farms with hundreds of thousands of heads of cattle. Mega-farms are enabled by industrial tools and techniques  including use of chemicals – pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, growth hormones – and seeds that are genetically modified (GMO) or increasingly bred using marker-assisted techniques (ref: washington post)

Growing Demand for Meat as Food 

Behind the demand for industrial/modern agriculture is an odd little reality that seems to get little attention: our food consumption pattern, especially growing demand for large quantity of meat is unsustainable.

The national geographic article hits home when it says “The spread of prosperity across the world, especially in China and India, is driving an increased demand for meat, eggs, and dairy, boosting pressure to grow more corn and soybeans to feed more cattle, pigs, and chickens. If these trends continue, the double whammy of population growth and richer diets will require us to roughly double the amount of crops we grow by 2050.”

Growing up in middle class India in the seventies and eighties, it was not uncommon to see “non vegetarian” neighbors looking forward to the Sunday mutton biryani or fried chicken. However, for the vast majority of Indians, meat was an occasional indulgence not staple food. All this has changed as India “modernizes”. Middle-class Indians can not only afford to, but are increasingly asking for meat and chicken during regular mealtimes. My Chinese-American friends agree this echoes a snapshot of their native land too.

Is vegetarianism the answer?

If vegetarianism is the answer to world hunger, why are the gurus not actively advocating it? For one, vegetarianism is not fashionable or sexy. Most hardcore proponents of CSA and organic movements don’t claim any affinity to vegetarianism. Social icons like Oprah make waves just by trying a “Vegan Diet” for 21 days.  A few stock arguments against vegetarianism
  1. Protein: Advocates of western diet, perhaps rightly, point to the abundance of protein in meat and poultry. Protein is the basic nutrient and building block for a balanced human diet. No doubt. The myth that meat diet alone is a source of protein for humans needs is hard to bust. The western intelligentsia is drilled home this from an early age. Case in point the American diplomat who created a diplomatic furor when with her facebook comments that “mocked the Indian way of life, stating that her pet dog Paco got “more protein in his diet" than their gardener's, after one of her Facebook friends noted that Paco looks bigger than the man.” (link)  
  2. Behavior. Food habits and taste are innate behavior. Dietary preferences acquired at an early age are extremely hard to change. Even after spending a good part of the past two decades in America and Europe, I haven’t taken to eating meat, perhaps because I grew up in a vegetarian family. Same argument will be made by those who have grown up eating meat! (ref: Deepak Chopra on Becoming Vegetarian)
  3. Economics of meat – analysts have long obsessed over the efficiencies’ and economics of fast food companies. There continues to be a debate on profitability of dollar menus at Mc Donald’s and Taco bell but the debate is really about how cheap meat is! (link)
  4. Meat is cheaper than Veggie: The fact is Vegetarian menu items even at fast food restaurants cost more: A veggie patty at Subway cost more than a meat-laden foot-long that sells for $5! Wonder why? A good percentage of grains grown in the US is destined for animals and poultry feed, which in turn ends up as food. If meat is this cheap, one can only imagine how cheap grains would if we could bypass a complete step in food supply chain. 
There again, hardly any serious research exists on whether vegetarianism, even part-time vegetarian diets can alleviate the global food crisis. The occasional articles – e.g the Guardian piece “Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists” – end up sounding alarmist.
If not vegetarianism, where is the answer?

Notice the tone “force world into vegetarianism” in the Guardian piece; a tone like this is bound to unnerve many of us and is likely to minimize any rational discussion or research on the topic. An American is more likely to give up his first born child before he lets you pry away his stake, hamburger or ability to barbeque in his backyard all summer long!
But then if Americans aren’t going to change their culinary habits a bit, there is little hope in rest of world following suit. In a sense, meat eating, especially in developing nations is aspirational. For many there, a Big Mac meal at a local McDonalds is a symbol of joining the global economy as much as wearing blue jeans is.
A swing towards vegetarianism need not go to the extreme to make a difference. Abstinence of meat consumption is neither practical nor necessary to make a difference. Moderation is perhaps the mantra here. Proponents of vegetarianism should perhaps switch the tone and aspire for small changes: Abstain from meat certain days of the week. Perhaps a weekly lent  or a periodic Passover like diet to motivate a bit of reduction in meat eating?
What the world really needs is for a few more influencers like Oprah Winfrey and Hollywood stars to jump to the Vegetarian camp, or perhaps resurgence of Depak Chopra’s followers?
Of course, this hypothesis begs the question: could the savings of 7-8 times grains otherwise spent in producing meat be used to feed 7-8 times humans?

A lot would have to happen before that! Perhaps a topic for another blog.

Ps: don’t have to state the obvious: The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer!