Thursday, October 29, 2015

It’s raining free drones on Linkedin … but here is the catch

Attracting the attention of IT decision makers and influencers is hard. We typically get a barrage of inputs from articles in the trade press, analyst briefings and reports and many of us subscribe to RSS readers for topics of interest. To say that we are drowning in the deluge of information from which we are expected to draw insights would be an understatement. This said each of us probably has a small subset of favorite go-to sources. For me, scrolling through the LinkedIn home page to review articles, Pulse posts and topics that my peers have “liked” is among the list. This is the consumer side of the equation.

For the content producers – including tech companies, startups and others with a product to sell - standing out from the crowd and be noticed is especially hard. And it is easy to get lost in the deluge of information that typical IS executives, managers and other leaders receive every day. Therefore, it is not surprising to see creative approaches to reach out to prospects: if the number of a sponsored posts on my LinkedIn homepage is any indication, Drone giveaways seem to be it! 

Product and sample giveaways have been a favorite marketing tactic for ages. Tagging on the hype over drones and the geeky-cool factor of trying one out, this seems to be a catchy way to attract attention! So, what’s the catch, one is bound to wonder?
  • Time and effort: Even a cursory look at the ‘conditions’ that the hyperlink on the advert highlights a series of tasks one has to perform, including attending pre-sales pitches, downloading and trying software, linking back one’s network etc etc. All this translates to considerable time and effort one would have to invest to ‘earn’ the ‘Free’ drone.
  • Implicit and sometimes explicit commitment: by downloading and trying the software or engaging in the trail, one is committing oneself - and perhaps one’s employer. This may not necessarily be an issue if one was planning to evaluate such software even without the inducement of a “Free drone”.
  • Added to obscure rolodex/databases: One can expect a continuum of pre-sales calls, pitches and emails to follow after the demo, and perhaps much after the drone has outlived its novelty.
One has to evaluate if all this is worth the cost of a drone? Not for me, thanks; I am just as happy with the inexpensive Syma S111G that I bought on Amazon to play with my six-year-old 

(cross post from my LinkedIn Pulse article)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Here is why IS executives love to hate Excel Spreadsheet applications

Wrapping up an Application Portfolio Management (APM) initiative for a high-growth region for my employer, I was reflecting on the role user-developed “Applications” - including excel spreadsheets and access databases - play in supporting business processes; and what it means to IS executives and portfolio managers.

Office productivity tools like Excel spreadsheets and Access databases are enormously popular in the corporate world. Many, if not most white-collar jobs require analysis of large amounts of data and to take decisions based on ever changing parameters. Such data and information may come from corporate Applications, intranets, websites and other sources. Most reporting systems and many IS Applications also allow authorized users  to download such data or reports being reviewed. After downloading the data, tools like Excel may be used to merge it with other datasets , perform ‘what if’ analysis by varying parameters, or ‘visualize’ the results by creating charts and graphs.

It is not just corporate users who love this ability to download and analyze data on the fly. Most banks, financial institutions and brokerages enable customers to login and download their data and transactions in .cvs and other standard formats.

There is little debate over how much these tools empower ‘employee self-service’ and increase productivity. Such ESS is attractive to IS manages since there is no incremental cost or licensing involved: organizations generally license office productivity suites for the enterprise. And empowered users require lesser handholding or support.

Widespread use of local spreadsheets and user-developed scripts, and local databases may shift significant parts of the business processes to such ‘unmanaged’ tools, which by itself isn’t the challenge. However, the proliferation of data download, as the old adage goes, can be a case of too much of a good thing.  A large transformation of  a portfolio of Application systems may impact the downloaded data formats.  Here is an abstract of an observation from an APM exercise:
“Massive use of Excel Spreadsheet and Access databases to consolidate information, build report, perform calculation, simulations, process monitoring, workflow control, repository and other functional needs.”
Those of us who have worked in large enterprises will recognize that the observation is not atypical or isolated. During an APM review, those evaluating a new system or process may not be aware of all the people or processes ‘downstream’ using the data in existing/older formats. This is just one of the obvious challenges to be addressed during a larger transformation. 

The other bigger challenge with unmanaged data is the security and regulatory risk to an enterprise. Corporate users are no longer content to just download data to their corporate laptops and desktops for analysis using Excel and Access databases. Many are increasingly uploading such data to web based analytical and data visualization tools, or storing them on their personal cloud--data-drives for access from “home.” This leaves a big open door for those with malicious intent looking to access corporate data without breaking into a firewall.

Preventing download of data from corporate Application systems is not the answer; it can be counterproductive and stifle individual creativity and productivity. And so would be a policy preventing individuals or groups from developing their own Excel based ‘Applications,’ scripts or tools for data analysis.

It comes down to pragmatic policies and governance that encourages productive use of downloaded data while making users aware of the risks.

Towards the end of our APM reviews, I was walking by the offices of the consultants who had emphasized the pitfalls of Excel Spreadsheet proliferation. I was amused to see a coffee mug that read “I love spreadsheets.”

Note: I am trying to illustrate my points with Microsoft’s Office suite - Excel and Access  - but the arguments should be equally applicable to other popular Office productivity suites.

(cross post from LinkedIn Pulse)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Flood of Fire - by Amitav Ghosh

My review of "Flood of Fire: A Novel (The Ibis Trilogy)" by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh’s book is a well-researched glimpse into the history and politics of British imperialism and the business of narcotic drugs and opium, masked as a fast paced novel. Told through the eyes of colorful characters like Kesri Singh, Shireen Moddie, Captain Mee and Zachary Reid, Ghosh transports us to the life and times of the colonial era, centered on the annexation of Hong Kong and Macau by the British nearly two centuries ago.

The novel begins with an introduction to some of the main characters that initially feels a bit overwhelming and excessive. The novel is sprinkled with Hinglish and Hindustani as spoken by ‘Gora Sahib’ of the era, adding to the authenticity of the narrative.
After wading through the buildup, readers can experience the lives of the main characters who happen to come together from different parts of the globe - Zachary Reid from America who is out to explore the world, but finds himself transforming into a guileful businessman, Captain Mee from the British Army who harbors a dark secret, Kesri Singh, of East India company’s army, recruited from the Indian Hartland, who typifies brown soldier-for-hire of the era and Shireen Moddie, the widow of a prominent Parsee opium trader from Mumbai who migrates to China, who like fellow Chinese Parsees traders has a secret life that unravels after his death.

The lives of the main characters are intertwined in the ships - Ibis, Anahita and Hind - that are transporting a cargo of Opium while helping imperial British Army fight the Chinese. The characters and their travails highlight the futility and lack of moral justification for the Opium Wars.

While this is a novel about the politics of Opium, drugs and war two centuries ago, there are distinct parallels for those of us watching the news of contemporary history unfold: the “war on terror” in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan which is really about control of oil and energy.

(Cross posted from