Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reignite the spirit of innovation by embracing Globalization!

For those of us in the vibrant field of Technology, President Obama’s question during the State of Union address this week How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges? struck a chord.   Mr. Obama’s emphasis was on rekindling the American “spirit of innovation,” but what was unsaid was the need to embrace globalization in the quest.
Perhaps to underscore the point, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was invited to be Michelle Obama’s guest at the State of the Union.  Microsoft, like most hi-tech companies, embraces ideas and people with ideas from around the globe while retaining its “American” identity.
It’s not just Microsoft. Other American tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, and firms in Silicon Valley have leveraged extensive global networks in order to retain an edge in digital technology innovations. Hubs of technology innovation also continue to grow in Ireland, Israeli and increasingly in Bangalore.
Case in point: SUVs Designed in the US but made in India
Just this week, there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that described how the Indian auto giant Mahindra was betting big on sourcing Detroit's expertise in Auto design (link)
“Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., a Mumbai-based conglomerate with a thriving tractor business and information technology operation in the U.S., quietly has amassed an engineering staff about a dozen miles north of Detroit. Plucking talent from Ford Motor Co., Tesla Motors Inc. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, the company aims to catch up with industry leaders by developing a vehicle able to meet American buyer’s demands and the nation’s tough regulatory standards. ….. The company’s senior executives say they are still intent on becoming a global force and Detroit, which Mahindra’s product planning chief Rajiv Mehtacalls “a Mecca for SUVs,” is a natural place for the company to learn how to do that.”
The article quoted an auto executive Lynn Bishop emphasizing how “Detroit isn’t outsourcing anymore, we’re being outsourced to.” Outsourcing Innovation in Automotive and other sectors is just tip of the iceberg. The trend seems to be much more pronounced in the digital startup space.
So, what does this mean?
In an election year, American leaders are bound to take a cue from Mr. Obama’s call to “Reignite the spirit of innovation.” Likewise, leaders in other countries are going to try and promote innovation within their shores: India, for instance has several initiatives like Startup India, Make in India and Digital India campaigns.
In the past, when confronted with outsourcing and offshoring, western governments began to erect protectionist barriers like visa and immigration restrictions. However, they will find it harder to erect barriers on innovation and ideation that continues to span geographic boundaries. This is a good thing for innovators and businesses that wish to benefit from the ideas.
  • Lower cost and barriers to entry. Access to ubiquitous internet in developing economies means ideation will go global. Many digital tools to aid innovation and development are on the cloud and available in the open source or free from vendors. Young entrepreneurs who dream up new ideas or digital “Apps” in their dorm-rooms or garages could do it just as easily in Bangalore, Delhi or Mysore, and not just in San Jose or Research Triangle. 
  • Smart money will follow smart ideas. Money already seems to be following innovation to their global hubs. For instance, a recent Times of India article highlights how “Over the past two years, investors have pumped in billions of dollars into hundreds of startups, many of which have grown into thriving businesses.”
  • Faster adoption. Smart ideas and skills developed in startups are being adopted in a corporate environment at a faster pace.  For example, mobile development skills honed in developing a “cool App” at a startup can easily be used to mobile-enable legacy corporate applications: an opportunity waiting to be tapped at Fortune 500 organizations. Likewise, technologies to cloud enable and virtualize IT applications and software are finding their way into corporate IT shops at a faster pace. 
  • Convergence of outsourcing and innovation: Large enterprises and corporations that source IT Operations and Business Processes and services to offshore service providers are increasingly expecting them to also tap into the innovation ecosystem. Leaders of offshoring firms like TCS, Infosys, and Wipro have long talked up the need to innovate and develop solutions, tools and automated services for global clients. They are realizing now is finally the time to walk the talk. (link TOI: What Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka wants bigger startups to do)

(Reposted from my LinkedIn Pulse)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Disney’s Magic Kingdom with Six-year-old on Christmas Day … and a few lessons learnt

A visit to Disney’s Magic kingdom is almost a rite-of-passage for contemporary families with young kids, especially those graduating from kindergarten and elementary schools. A visit to Disney or Disney Institute is also a rite-of-passage for management gurus looking to excel in customer expectations management; Disney also happens to be among the most studied case studies in Business School, especially in Marketing and Customer Management 101 courses.
I remember reading about, and discussing the intricacies of Disney Cast Members’ training and skills in managing customer and guest experiences, years ago in a Business School course. Management gurus and business executives alike make a pilgrimage to Disney Institute to learn the “D Think,” but a trip to Disney with young kids can teach one more than any textbook. This past Christmas day, many of those old lessons came flooding back during a trip to the Magic Kingdom with our six-year-old.  

Build it - really well - and they will come
Disney’s Magic Kingdom is an elaborate, well maintained theme park focused on putting up the best show possible, for the maximum number of people that can be accommodated. At Magic kingdom, all the Disney characters – not just Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Snow-White – but contemporary ones, including Frozen’s Elsa and Toy Story’s Woody and his pals come alive, and are milked for all they are worth.
Disney invests boatloads of money in dreaming, creating and buying up characters, and is perhaps rightfully, protective of their use. A recent Economist article describes “An intricate flow chart drawn by Walt in 1957 elegantly lays out the firm’s component parts and strategy, with films at the center surrounded by theme parks, merchandise, music, publishing and television.”  (link) That zeal for maximizing investments in ideas continues. Having invested four billion dollars in buying up rights to Star Wars from George Lucas, Disney is more than content to exploit the franchise: If you want Star-Wars branded paraphernalia, you’ve got to buy it from Disney or their licensee. 
Large drug companies have perhaps taken the same lesson from Disney. They spend tens or hundreds of millions developing new drugs and formulations, and make sure those are patented to ensure milking of the blockbusters.
Note to self: Successful companies and entrepreneurs create or acquire the best ideas they can, and exploit them for what they are worth.

It’s all about valuing one’s Intellectual property
Nobody knows the value of Intellectual Property better than the folks running the show at “white slavers,” as George Lucas calls Disney’s folks.   The “white slavers” know and value their intellectual property assets, and the potential is on display at the theme parks and resorts. The rides and shows are all themed in tune with the characters, and so are the expensive souvenirs, trinket and food at themed restaurants. One might think the entrance tickets to theme parks are pricy, but the thousands of folks paying hundreds of dollars to travel to Orlando to endure endless hours of wait for rides and shows think the experience is worth the price; market economics at work.
Note to self: Disney “owns” Mickey and his pals, so if you want them to come alive, come to Disney! Successful entrepreneurs and organizations to “own” and manage their IP well.

It’s all in the App, stupid!
As a technologist, I am not easily impressed by technology or User Interfaces. When it comes to user experience with technologies, large financial institutions and eCommerce sites with endless resources have set the bar quite. I must admit, “Disney World” App, with its easy-to use interface, real-time updates on ride, shows and wait times, combined with free-wifi in the theme parks is among the best use-cases using technology to connect with customers and visitors.
Many, if not most, of Disney visitors are tech savvy and seemed to be comfortable using the “Disney World” App on their mobile devices. The app combined with free-wifi has another benefit: keeping parents and teenagers glued to screens while waiting in queues. And, for those without smartphones, fast-pass kiosks are scattered throughout the park, with helpful cast members around to guide non-techie folks.
Note to self: Designing an easy-to-use App is just the first step towards user satisfaction. Focus on design of the entire eco-system that goes with it.

Delegate the dream of Magic to guests
On an average day, Magic Kingdom gets almost 53,000 guests; my guess is that on holidays, like Christmas day when we happened to visit, the parks get double that many visitors.  Keeping that many guests, most with picky, fussy kids is no mean feat.    This is a task Disney does really, really well by delegating expectation management to parents and visitors.
For instance, I had planned and “booked” several interesting rides/shows using our allotted three-fastpass bookings, prior to coming. But our six-year old chanced upon Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Fantasyland and insisted we join the queue. The smart folks at Disney have designed the serpentine queue to weave into the arcade, making it hard for a six-year old to visualize the meaning of a “120 minute” wait that the app indicated.  After waiting for an hour on this sunny Florida Afternoon, when the little one began getting restless and repeatedly asking “how much longer, dad,” it took all my wits to not reply “it was your idea to wait for this ride, dear;” but to cook up some Disney like story to keep the little one engaged.
This experience made me reflect on the oft quoted expression “explain this like you would to a six year old.” Having survived the wait, and enjoying the ride at the end, I am sure I will be able to use that skill at work too.
Note to self: Delegate customer self-service by setting customer expectations upfront.

Our Christmas break at Magic Kingdom was a memorable vacation, and the teeming crowd and endless wait at the rides just added to the experience. For Disney, crowd control is really about delegating patience and control to visitors. Having sold the ‘dream of Magic’ to parents and kids alike, Disney’s cast members just have to execute their part. But executing their part is what the Cast members do, and they do their part really, really well!

(Cross post from linkedin Pulse)