Sunday, December 24, 2017

A visit to 43rd Annual Cake Show, Bengaluru 2017

As of December 2017, the popular 43rd Annual Cake Show is back at St.Josephs School Grounds in Bengaluru.

We decided to visit the exhibition on Christmas eve (Sunday evening) and it seems like most parents in the city had the same idea. The place was really crowded and the bouncers had a tough time managing the long queues.

Topica exibit: celebrating Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma's  wedding 

And a few more picture

So, what's a show without a family selfie

Event Date 15-Dec-2017 to 01-Jan-2018
Where : St.Josephs School Grounds
Entrance fee: Rs 60/head
Organized by : ncfexhibition 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Top 10 technology trends to watch in 2018

Emerging Digital technologies will continue to dominate technology investments in 2018. In this report, we highlight 10 technology trends likely to have the most impact on businesses in the year ahead.
  • Corporate Digitization – Technologies have continued to mature in 2017 and ‘digitization’ has moved beyond a buzzword. Business and tech executives continue to execute ‘digital transformations’ that bring greater automation, user-self-service, and enable advanced eCommerce and SMAC techniques to engage with customers.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Cognitive technologies – Tech analysts will remember 2017 as the year when business world finally started getting serious about the disruptive potential of AI. The tech Oligopoly – Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft – announced large investments in AI and began showcasing solution offerings for consumers and businesses. 2018 is also likely to see startups, tech-service firms and the academia addressing the skill shortage.
  • Big Data – Analytics, aggregation and visualization – We create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day; and over 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. As the challenges of big-data are being understood, innovative applications are highlighting potential to glean insights from the aggregated sources.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) – Internet of Things (IoT) holds a lot of promise in machine-to-machine communication enabling ‘smart’ devices. IoT is really an aggregation of technologies with sensors that gather data, machine-to-machine communication and networks to a ‘gateway,’ big-data and analytics to enable storage, analysis and review of the findings. Innovative ideas range from applications in wearables, smartphones, smart meters, vehicles, factories, machines to other places where imagination takes us.
  • Immersive Experiences, Virtual Reality and gaming – A combination of immersive and Virtual Reality technologies have been raising consumer expectations of video games. These technologies, enabled by advances in hardware and high performance computers, are beginning to blur the line between the physical, digital and simulated worlds, creating a sense of immersion.
  • Voice recognition and Voice Activated UI – Adoption of voice recognition and voice activated technologies have been advancing at a fast pace. Voice based applications in the corporate world are also continuing to make strides. Widespread adoption of Interactive voice response (IVR) at call centers and for CRM based solutions are beginning to enhance productivity by allowing computers to interact with humans through the use of voice input.
  • Blockchain – Bitcoin technology – The blockchain technology – popularized by digital currency Bitcoin – is increasingly being used to enable trust across industries. The underlying blockchain technology is a trust based protocol enabled by globally distributed, secure platform that enables a ledger or database where value could be stored and exchanged without powerful intermediaries.
  • Technologies from Self-Driving cars – Auto manufacturers, ride share and technology companies are advancing research and development of self-driving cars. 2017 also saw a lot of mergers and buyout of niche technology companies. Autonomous vehicles are the leading edge of artificial intelligence investment and development and investments in that sector is a precursor of things to come in fields like natural language processing, image recognition, and others as these technologies gain commercial momentum.
  • Robotics and automation – Automation, and use of bots aided by emerging techniques like artificial intelligence and machine learning are advancing at fast pace. Intelligent machines and ‘bots’ are already being employed in ways we never thought possible a few years ago. However, automation and robotics continues to be niche and fragmented business. Most large companies and manufacturers aggregate and integrate services from small, niche suppliers innovating on automation and robotics.
  • Enabling Digitization – Organizations are interested in solving specific problems using some of these technologies. Such corporate digitization efforts translate to opportunity for consultants, system-integrators and software product development firms.

A PDF copy of the report is available for FREE download:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Caregiving for elders and senior citizen in India - Observations and trends

Many of us take on the responsibility for parents and family members when they age. There was an interesting article in the New York Times a few weeks ago highlighting this trend "Old and Lonely in New India." However, unlike some of the people quoted in the NYT article, I decided on a different course of action and relocated back to India. 

About a year ago my wife and took the plunge and moved back from the US to take care of my aging parents. (link to my blog on the move) In the year gone by, I have been reflecting on my experiences with the growing cottage industry around elder-care in urban India.

A generation or two ago, it was quite common for joint families – three or even four – generations to live together. One would frequently come across middle class families with grandparents living with uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings with their kids. In many cases, the families would live in a large house, under one roof or in a compound with conjoint units.

Festivals and celebrations would be a joint affair, and there was an informal division of labor when it came to household chores. Some finances, resources and effort would be pooled in without much thought or effort since it was the norm and expected. The communal process was also designed to provide for care and support of children and elderly in the family. Even when families didn’t live together under one roof, they lived in close proximity – perhaps the same village or town – giving them a sense of belonging and being there for each other.

Image result for old age india
googled image

Demographic shift: two sides of a shifting coin

India is certainly a youthful country with a large population. With over 350 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world’s largest youth population; and over 70 percent of Indian population is under 35 years. Thanks to improved access to medical care and increased affluence of the population, the life expectancy of senior citizen in the country continues to rise. Many seniors are also living well into their eighties and nineties, which bodes well for elders if the earlier social support model had continued.

In the past couple of decades, the Indian society has transformed. Rapid and widespread urbanization, migration of population from villages to cities, and emigration of the younger generation to western countries has changed the social fabric considerably. Younger generation of Indians are increasingly aping western model of independence and self reliance, leaving home as soon as they are ready for college, and then continuing to pursue their jobs and careers wherever opportunities beacon.  
The logistics and expectations of senior care in India, however, has not kept pace with the change in the society. 

In the west, the fragmenting of joint families was accompanied by an emergence of senior-care system across a wide spectrum. Care giving for seniors is a serious and lucrative business. Organizations and entrepreneurs provide services ranging from senior living apartments and condos, assisted living homes to a network of hospice and terminal care systems. This has led to a large network of service providers focused on various aspects of home-healthcare to meet medical and caregiving needs. These facilities are designed to accommodate people from across social, economic and demographic segments.

Senior citizen in the west willingly – or sometimes goaded by family members – move from one stage of elder-care to the next as their physical faculties and abilities change as they age. Such changes are generally accompanied by downsizing of one’s house, assets and other amenities of life. 
One can argue that much of the senior-care is ‘outsourced’ without emotions and encumbrance by family members. The society has begun to accept this as a norm and people begin saving for their own retirement and old-age. In some western countries, personal savings are supplemented by an advanced system of social security that comes handy for a variety of senior needs.

Emergence of old-age care in India

Young, Indian nuclear families who opt to live away from extended families and hometowns still feel obligated to support their elders but are unable or unwilling to take on such responsibilities that might weigh down their lives and careers. As the society transforms, the Indian middle class is beginning to explore a wider range of elder-care facilities to accommodate their eclectic needs. This translates to an increased demand for elder-care and home-care services.

Old age homes, that in earlier generations were the last refuge for poor and destitute are starting to transform. Many “old age” homes are being designed to cater to the needs and desires of the urbane, affluent middle class and also the needs of the NRI community. Some of them advertise modern amenities, 24-hour care and security along with communal facilities including access to nursing and medical care. Some facilities in larger cities also advertise “elder day care” where one can drop off elders during the day to engage and entertain with fellow seniors.

Builders and property developers are beginning to capitalize on this opportunity to develop flats and communities for ‘senior living.’  The sweet-spot is the relatively affluent class of empty-nesters and newly retired senior citizen in their sixties who are looking to downsize from their flats and villas to planned senior communities.

Such planned senior-living communities and old-age homes address only a small segment of the needs, especially since senior citizen have unique health and other challenges. Much as we desire to maintain good health as long as we live, nature and age takes its toll. No two seniors age in the same way. Disease ranging from benign aches and pains and temporary loss of memory to more serious cancers can derail the best laid retirement plans.  Ailments that incapacitate and cripple elders can be excruciating. Such a crippling of physical faculties can affect the morale of the elders, while also draining the energy and resources of the families that unwittingly get sucked into the role of caregivers.

My father, a proud veteran of the Indian Air Force enjoyed a relatively good health well into his seventies after retiring from service. He and my mother enjoyed their golden years living alone in an independent house and frequently traveled to temple towns across South India. All this slowed down after my dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer – in itself not a life-threatening condition. However, in quick succession he was also diagnosed with Parkinsons, that began impacting his motor skills and physical movements. While he was mobile and active during the day, he needed help with diaper change at night and to escort him for his morning walks. After a few phone calls and quick research, I engaged a caregiver from an independent agent who had provided a similar service for a relative’s family.

The middle-aged lady, Kamala, would come at around 8 in the evening and spend the night at home and after the morning walk and breakfast with dad, would leave. Her temperament was well balanced and she brought in a rich background in caregiving from her previous experiences. This setup continued for about a year, before my dads’ condition abruptly took a nosedive after a mild stroke, when he was hospitalized. After a few weeks in the hospital, he was discharged and advised homecare where he continued to be bedridden.

We realized that the night-caregiver wouldn’t be sufficient and that Kamala alone wouldn’t be able to manage my father’s advanced needs. After additional word-of-mouth research, I decided to engage a live-in caregiver from another small organization.  

Bottomline: The newer generation of elders, caught between rapid urbanization and prevalence of nuclear families is realizing that they need to be more involved in planning for their own sunset years and many not have the social support previous generations enjoyed. However, without an advanced network of providers catering to needs of seniors, those who can, still fall back on their families. It still takes a village to care for an elder; though an increasingly affluent middle-class has to pay for the village! 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Here is why Enterprise Architects need a quick primer in Finance, Costs and P&L

I periodically engage in digital forums discussing the practice of Enterprise Architecture and Technology Management. Many of the conversations focus on EA building blocks, domains and on aspirations like getting a ‘seat at the table,’ closer engagement with business. However, such aspirations remain academic, unless substantiated by business fundamentals including an understanding of costs and financials.
The goal of a commercial enterprise is rather straightforward: maximize shareholder value, and increase returns for investors. Most other goals, including profit generation and operational excellence are inherent in this. However, cost and financial reviews are generally absent during Enterprise Architecture reviews. Even EA frameworks - including TOGAF, Zachman – miss the big elephant in the room or deliberately underplay it.

What is the cost of your roadmap realization?

This rather simple sounding question is likely to stump many Enterprise Architects, and leave them fumbling for a response. Even when an EA has some information on costs, s/he can easily get overwhelmed when the discussions get deeper into TCO, financials of the Business case, levers impacting the business value or a discussion on CapEx and OpEx that ultimately drive the P&L. To be fair, defining Architecture roadmaps for BDAT, functional and technical domains can be a rather involved exercise. During such Architecture reviews, practitioners might make a lot of assumptions and SWAGs and may not get down to the costs and financials. 
In an earlier blog post (link), I described the process of reconciling EA roadmaps across functional and technology domains. Such reconciliation of roadmaps and capabilities across the landscape requires the extended team to agree on a few criteria, including a common table of contents (TOC), guiding principles and capture of the requirements, assumptions, timelines and other building blocks.
During roadmap reconciliation, Architects engage with their stakeholders to validate their assumptions, drivers and timelines. This is also an opportune time to engage in conversations on the cost and benefits of capability realization since KPIs, and success factors are generally tied to financials.  
I have engaged with business partners and stakeholders at various stages of digital transformation - from ideation to the translation of such strategies into actionable programs and projects (link). In many cases, the conversations remain at a ‘ballpark’ and SWAG level and might get less ambiguous as the programs evolve. However, Enterprise Architecture inputs are required while strategies translate to programs not after that.

Case in point: Cost benefits of migrating a portfolio to the cloud

A few years ago, my organization decided to move forward with a cloud migration plan, and I took on the responsibility for assessing the portfolio of 2000+ application platforms. The ‘cloud suitability’ assessment of individual platforms unearthed unique challenges and dependencies across the landscape. The underlying cost of platforms including application support, hosting and infrastructure, and complex licensing costs were shared across the landscape. Some of the costs and licenses had been negotiated years ago. While individual application owners understood and tracked the cost of ‘their’ applications, most of the shared costs were tracked globally. A phased migration to the selected cloud options – IaaS, Paas and SaaS – would upend the status quo.
It was obvious that a summary of the transformation cost had to be communicated to the stakeholders. An early review of the TCO and an understanding of the different levers of ‘cost benefits’ would minimize a ‘sticker shock’ when the individual transformation programs began to take shape. The team began data gathering and engaged a financial analyst to help with the modelling and validation of scenarios.

Break through the silos

In many organizations, there seems to be an unintentional ‘Chinese Wall’ that separates folks with experience in technology costing - Program Managers, Delivery Managers, Business Partners etc – and the architecture community. Architects are expected to focus on the BDAT dimensions while the ‘managers’ bring in the cost/benefit perspectives. The reason for such segregation includes the need to take ‘unconstrained’ view of solutions and ideas.
There is a merit to the argument since an early cost review could sway the solution options: after all, you don’t want a city-planner designing a township for the next century to be constrained by today’s costs. You might want him to be unconstrained and futuristic. Even this city-planner analogy is a bit flawed since businesses, and even governments are constrained by costs.
Bottomline: Enterprise Architects should remain grounded, especially when most of their business stakeholders focus on the costs and financials. 

 Reposted from my linkedin Pulse blog |

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Career advice: What is cost of TOGAF 9 certification? What are the job opportunities in Bangalore?

This was an interesting question that came to me via an online forum. My response follows

The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) is a framework for enterprise architecture that provides an approach for designing, planning, implementing, and governing an enterprise information technology architecture.

Image result for cost of totaf certification bangalore

Cost of TOGAF 9 certification may include the cost of training, certification exam and training material. This can range from $500 to $1000 depending on the training institution/academy where you seek your certification from.

Employers in Indian IT fall into three categories -
  • Software service companies - Hiring managers at service firms are going to look at ‘overall marketability’ of the candidate. Certification is just one criteria. Skills and experience in functional and technical domains and platforms - e.g Cloud, infrastructure, SAP, SFDC, Java, .NET etc - matter a lot more to hiring teams.
  • Captive development centers - Hiring managers look for people who can deliver solutions for their parent organization. Candidates with a strong IS delivery or Technical design background with specific technical domains and platforms - e.g Cloud, infrastructure, SAP, SFDC, Java, .NET etc - or functional domains like finance, Supply chain, manufacturing, Insurance etc - are more likely to be screened-in for interviews
  • Startups - These are fast-paced, high-growth organizations that want folks who can roll up their sleeves and “just do it.” They may be light on processes and may downplay TOGAF.
So, why the hype over TOGAF? Multinational organizations looking to source work to India may have strong internal processes and delivery methodologies. Some of the Architecture and design principles may be based on TOGAF. The assumption is simple: Candidates who are “TOGAF certified” are more likely to have a breath of experience and a better fit for the organization. Therefore, hiring teams may be inclined to include the acronym while screening candidate resumes.

Will just a TOGAF 9 certification get you a job in Bangalore? No. It is not very likely under current market conditions. However, some employers use TOGAF as a screening criteria, in which case it is better to show you have the credentials.

Bottomline: There are very few "Enterprise Architect" roles in offshore centers. Don't be under an illusion that a TOGAF certification alone will land you an EA role… or for that matter any other IS job!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Life certificate saga: Digital India fails Veterans and senior citizen?

It is November, a month when most Central government retirees and pensioners in India need to submit a ‘life certificate.’ This enables them to continue receiving their pension without interruption. In most cases, the process is rather simple: one just walks into the local bank, meets the manager or assistant manager and signs the form and hands it off.

This ‘simple’ process can become a challenging paper chasing exercise for the unfortunate pensioner who is bedridden or unable to move out of home. Take the case of my father, a retired Indian Air Force officer who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Plus syndrome, a neural disease that gradually impairs motor skills. In previous years, he used to walk down to the local SBI branch near our house from where he draws his pension and sign the papers in person. This year, due to the progressive degeneration of his condition, he is unable to move out of home unassisted, and is unable to use his wrists to write or sign papers.

Go digital? Last mile is still the challenge !

A few weeks ago, I began researching options to help complete his "life certificate" and reviewed the option of "Jeevan Pramaan: Digital Life Certificate for Pensioners"

The intent behind the digital initiative is great and probably works for some people, especially those who are able to 'seed' the biometric data and information before they are incapacitated. I downloaded the app and tried to authenticate my father’s signature against the government’s database and failed.

Lesson: People like my father may not faced this predicament if they pre-register and verify their bio-metric data when they are young, fit-and-able. Now, when I aid his shaking thumb to record the digital-biometric data, it fails.

RBI directive ? Sorry, we don’t have a process yet!

A few weeks ago, I came across an article in the media  "Provide Doorstep Banking to Those Above 70 by December 31: RBI"

I decided to email SBI’s customer service a couple of times, requesting them to help in the matter and pointed to the RBI directive. My emails to "" went into their cyber-black-hole and I never heard back from customer service or the branch.

I stopped by the branch a few days ago and met the assistant manager asking for his suggestion. I mentioned the ‘RBI Directive’ on “Doorstep Banking” and he began laughing. The manager explained that there were a couple of challenges:

  • SBI (his bank) had got the RBI directive but had yet to formulate a ‘process’ for rollout across branches 
  • The manager and his team had their hands full. Even assuming the process were rolled-out, it would be hard to implement (meaning: his team wasnt in any urgency to oblige on this matter0

He said that since my father had been signing papers till recently, his thumb impression would have to be ‘attested’ and accompanied by a doctor’s letter stating his condition. This began my paperwork chase.

Call the doctor…  Call the doctor… just now !

My dad, as I mentioned earlier, is homebound with a catheter attached. To take him to a doctor would require an ambulance and all the stress and strain that comes with it. The other viable option was to request a doctor to come home.

We live in the heart of Bangalore, home of digital startups and entrepreneurs. There are digital services like Portea Medical and other startups that provide in-home nursing care, at a cost. On calling, a few of them, I was told that I would have to ‘register’ and ‘book’ a service to get a home-visit that would take a few days.

I asked around and a friendly doctor in our neighborhood obliged. She came home to see Dad and wrote up a letter, and didn’t even charge for it!  I also had to get my father's thumb-impression on the Life-certificate attested. So, I requested a local Notary to come home to attest the certificate.

Armed with these documents - doctor's letter and life certificate with my dad's thumb impression duly attested  - I stopped by the SBI branch this morning. After looking through the documents, the ‘Service manager’ asked me to meet the manager. The manager politely asked me to sit and looked at the documents and remarked that notarizing wasn't necessary. Any Gazetted officer’s signature would have sufficed. The irony - that my dad himself is a retired senior Gazette officer ! – was lost on him. He continued scanning the papers and asked for a copy of my dad’s Adhaar card.

I was peeved and mentioned that my dad’s bank account was already linked to his Adhaar account, but the manager still insisted on that photocopy.

After another trip back home, I returned with that piece of paper…. I sighed with relief at the end of this saga. For now.

I was left scratching my head over the media hype about "RBI directive" to banks. Even with globalization and all the cash infusion into nationalized banks, parochial managers want to continue with status-quo. Pensioners, veterans and customers be damned!

The attitude of parochial managers at nationalized banks is perhaps the main reason my primary banking needs are serviced by a responsive private bank.

Bottomline: If a tech savvy kin of an elderly veteran pensioner living in an urban metro must jump through so many hoops for a simple ‘life certificate,’ one shudders to think of the plight of hundreds of thousands of less fortunate mortals living in other cities and in rural India. 

SBI - State Bank of India
RBI - Reserve Bank of India

[ Edited original title: SBI manager laughs off RBI ‘directive’ to banks to “Provide Doorstep Banking to Those Above 70” ]

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Viewpoint: What is the future of the Indian IT sector, as most of the companies are laying people off?

This is a broad question and I will start by making a broad statement: The future of the Indian IT continues to be good. However, the future also depends on the perspectives one is coming from:
  • Employers in software services industry - Indian IT has become a $140bn industry built on a simple proposition: companies in the West can cut costs by getting tedious behind-the-scenes IT work done by cheap engineers in India. This trend and maturing of Offshoring IT Services has taken over two decades and is not going to be rolled back. Indian software service firms have become so big that the pace of growth – 20-30% year-on-year, has slowed to a more reasonable 5-8%.
  • Industry trends: IT budgets of client companies are growing steadily -as per Gartner, clients are increasing spend by about 3% a year. Clients are also increasing spending on new technologies and ‘digitization.’ Service firms are trying hard to ramp up new capabilities in emerging technologies while continuing to sustain the traditional business of application development and maintenance (ADM): this was perhaps the reason for management shakeup at Infosys (Vishal Sikka being booted).
  • Elephant in the room: Captive IT centers (link). Most of the media attention has been focused on the slowdown and layoffs at software service firms. However, multinationals continue to invest and grow their own captive IT centers. Not much data on investments and evolution in this segment are being tracked and we only have anecdotal information on growth there. Much of the experienced talent at such firms comes from software service organizations
  • For employees: Recent announcements of layoffs and slowdown at Indian software services firms indicate (link) a “survival of the fittest” trend. While this may feel a bit jarring in the short term, long term prospects continue to be good. Those with current skills and experience, especially those who can continue to be hands-on technologists will see opportunities.
Note: Links are from some of my viewpoints published in Linkedin and elsewhere

Friday, November 3, 2017

China and the US race to become world’s first AI superpower: where does it leave India?

Last week, I blogged about Tech Giants Paying Huge Salaries for Scarce A.I. Talent : Why it mattersArticles and viewpoints on artificial intelligence and its potential impact on our lives are starting to become a regular feature. Business leaders are taking note of the disruptive potential of some of these technologies, and are leaning on political leaders to build a strategic edge that the technologies can provide the nations.

A couple of widely reviewed articles are comparing the American and Chinese capabilities in the space. One was an insightful review in The Economist magazine a couple of months back (ref: Chinamay match or beat America in AI Its deep pool of data may let it lead inartificial intelligence ). This was followed by an article in The Verge “China and the US are battling to become the world’s first AI superpower

America government under its various departments including DOD, DARPA, NASA and NSF has long nurtured emerging technologies including partnering with corporate entities and startups in Silicon Valley, and actively courting academia from educational and research institutions.
Chinese political and tech learders have taken a leaf out of American playbook. These articles highlight various dimensions of China’s ambitions, supported and enabled by the government and a stated goal to become the “world’s leader in AI by 2030.”

China’s BHAG: be a global leader in Artificial Intelligence  

A policy report published last month makes China’s ambitions in this area clear.  The policy paper says that by 2020 it wants to be on par with the world’s finest; by 2025 AI should be the primary driver for Chinese industry; and by 2030, it should “occupy the commanding heights of AI technology.”

Anthony Mullen, a director of research at Gartner was quoted by The Verge saying “It’s a very realistic ambition. Right now, AI is a two-horse race between China and the US.  China has all the ingredients it needs to move into first. These include government funding, a massive population, a lively research community, and a society that seems primed for technological change. And it all invites the trillion-dollar question: in the coming AI Race, can China really beat the US?” 

China has a lot going for it in the A.I and M.L space:

  • Government funding and support – AI figures prominently in the country’s current five-year plan. Technology firms are working closely with government agencies: Baidu, for example, has been asked to lead a national laboratory for deep learning. The country has more than 40 laws containing rules about the protection of personal data, but these are rarely enforced. It is expected that the government will loosen its regulations with respect to AI firms.
  • A massive population – China has a large talent pool skilled in math’s. The country also has a tradition in language and translation research, which are basic ingredients for AI research. 
  • A lively research community - Entrepreneurs are taking advantage of China’s talent and data strengths. Many AI firms got going only a year or two ago, but plenty have been progressing more rapidly than their Western counterparts. “Chinese AI startups often iterate and execute more quickly,” explains Kai-Fu Lee, who ran Google’s subsidiary in China in the 2000s and now leads Sinovation Ventures, a venture-capital fund. (Economist)
  • Vibrant tech community - Chinese firms including giants such as Alibaba, Tencent and startups such as CIB FinTech and UCloud, are building data centers as fast as they can. 
  • A society that seems primed for technological change - A report from the White House in October 2016 noted that China now publishes more journal articles on deep learning than the US, while AI-related patent submissions from Chinese researchers have increased 200 percent in recent years.
Leaders at top American tech companies are taking note of China’s emergence in the space. Chairman of Alphabet (parent of Google company) has been most vocal  (Ref - Eric Schmidt : America needs to ‘getits act together’ in AI competition with China)

Speaking at a tech summit organized by national security think tank CNAS, Mr. Schmidt predicted that America’s lead in the field would continue “over the next five years” before China catches up “extremely quickly.” CNAS’ summit explored “technology trends, uncertainties, and possible trajectories for how AI may affect global security. Presentations and discussion panels will showcase experts on artificial intelligence, machine learning, human-machine teaming, and security policy. Furthermore, the event will help build cross-disciplinary networks between AI engineers and policymakers to design and implement together solutions to manage the challenges ahead.”

American tech companies have not been idly watching the developments: The tech oligopoly — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft (link) – has also been actively investing in Research and Development (R&D) in China. Apple is opening an R&D center in the home of China's tech boom (the verge). Likewise, Bloomberg reviewed how “Amazon and Google Change the R&D Race

Where does this leave India?

Indians led the outsourcing and offshoring IT services race, by some accounts, capturing more than half the share of global outsourcing. India continues to be a leading destination for IT, IT Enabled Services and business Process Outsourcing (BPO) which generates nearly $47 billion in revenue.

Most large Indian software services companies have announced ‘AI services’ Infosys’ former CEO Vishal Sikka was a big proponent of AI. Under him, Infosys launched ArtificialIntelligence platform Nia. Wipro also announced HOLMES, a set of cognitive computing services for the development of digital virtual agents, predictive systems, cognitive process automation, visual computing applications, knowledge virtualization, robotics and drones. TCS bet on artificial intelligence with Ignio

A Capgemini survey conducted between March and June 2017 was based on a review of nearly 1,000 companies that are using AI and have revenues of over $500 million across nine countries. The survey report titled Turning AI into concrete value: the successful implementers’ toolkit, highlights efforts of  American firms such as AccentureMicrosoft, and Adobe, that have established innovation centers in India.  

The Indian government’s Digital India initiative has a broad agenda that includes emerging technologies. However, it is not backed by the executive support or financial commitment one sees in China or America. There is probably a semi-socialistic hangover that is afraid new jobs being created will make low-skilled workers redundant.

India is ahead of many other countries when it comes to emerging digital technologies including artificial intelligence (AI). However, Indian tech community and the government are yet to gear up to take on Americans or Chinese in the quest for AI dominance.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Tech Giants Paying Huge Salaries for Scarce A.I. Talent : Why it matters

An interesting article in New York Times “Tech Giants Are Paying Huge Salaries for Scarce A.I. Talent (link)” is making rounds in social media and among the digirati.  Artificial intelligence has fascinated technologists and science fiction writers for decades, but the business world seems to be getting serious about its disruptive potential. Technologies including Deep Blue from IBM, DeepMind from Google or Microsoft’s Chatbots are going beyond press-mentions, and beginning to demonstrate value in solving real world problems.

A.I. also continues to be on “top 10 or “top 25” Digital Startup ideas. Promising AI and Machine learning focused startups are frequently being courted and acquired by the tech oligopoly — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft (link). In many cases, executives see it as an opportunity to on-board a pool of talent more than just acquiring a promising technology.

The author, Cade Metz, after discussion with “nine people who work for major tech companies or have entertained job offers from them,” explains how tech giants are paying “Huge Salaries” for AI Talent. A few key points from the article

  • In the entire world, fewer than 10,000 people have the skills necessary to tackle serious artificial intelligence research  
  • At the top end are executives with experience managing A.I. projects. Anthony Levandowski, a longtime employee who started with Google in 2007, took home over $120 million in incentives before joining Uber last year.
  • Typical A.I. specialists, including both Ph.D.s fresh out of school and people with less education and just a few years of experience, can be paid from $300,000 to $500,000 a year or more in salary and company stock
  • Costs at an A.I. lab called DeepMind, acquired by Google for a reported $650 million in 2014, when it employed about 50 people, illustrates the issue. The lab’s “staff costs” as it expanded to 400 employees totaled $138 million. That comes out to $345,000 an employee.

Some of these are broad generalizations and sound like “in the entire world, fewer than 1,000 researchers are working on the cure for XYZ cancer or ABC disease.” One can discount such hyperbole since the author got most of his inputs and figures from just “nine people.” Still, the premise of the article is still logical and rather straightforward:

“Tech’s biggest companies are placing huge bets on artificial intelligence, banking on things ranging from face-scanning smartphones and conversational coffee-table gadgets to computerized health care and autonomous vehicles. As they chase this future, they are doling out salaries that are startling even in an industry that has never been shy about lavishing a fortune on its top talent.”
Let us look at some of the implications of Why and to Whom this matters:

  • Technology Executives: In a classic case of “Airline Magazine Syndrome,” functional leaders and executives across businesses are beginning to lean on their IS Executives to demonstrate how they leverage Artificial Intelligence, big-data, visualization, robotics and other digitization techniques.  Technology vendors are sensing this opportunity and are cleverly rebranding their CRM, ERP and other products as “AI based,” sometimes by just adding cool-new chatbots to the existing platform. 
    • It is the responsibility of Enterprise Architects and technology leaders to see through the emperor’s clothes. 
    • Technology leaders can use this opportunity to engage and inform their stakeholders, and help them contextualize relevant user-stories and requirements where they will demonstrate value
  • Consulting firms: Consulting firms and System Integrators are jumping the AI bandwagon by adding offerings to ‘Digital Transformations.’  
    • It is necessary for consultants to stay abreast of emerging technologies. However, consultants must also take an objective view of their client’s requirements. While AI holds a lot of promise, in some cases it may just be a solution looking for a problem. 
  • Software Engineers: The article highlights how “companies like Google and Facebook are running classes that aim to teach “deep learning” and related techniques to existing employees.”
    • If you happen to be an engineer selected to learn “deep learning,” great. 
    • Otherwise, you can explore opportunities for self-paced learning on,  etc. Keep in mind a certification or training alone may not suffice if your organization is not embarking on an AI based initiative
  • Startups and entrepreneurs: Many startups and entrepreneurs are looking to carve out a niche in this greenfield space 
    • If you aspire to be acquired by “the tech oligopoly,” you should focus on innovative application of AI and ML. However, this is much harder than it sounds. Such real world applications of practical value are not easy to visualize. 
  • Students of Computer Science: There are several ‘hot’ and emerging technologies competing for our mindshare, though Big Data, Robotics, Automation, AI and ML stand out. 
    • As a student of Computer Science, a specialization in AI and machine learning may help you stand out from the crowd. 
    • A specialization in these technologies will certainly help you land a better job, but don’t be under pipe-dreams of “$300,000 to $500,000” payouts. Those are going to be much harder to come by. 

I’m sure this is not the last word on this topic.

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation | Reposted from my Linkedin Pulse article

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Looking at the current scenario of too many immigrations to Canada, will it create lack of employment opportunities over there?

This was an interesting question that came via an online forum. The questioner adds "The trends which I am following make it very confusing to decide upon whether to opt for Canada or not."

My Response

There is an old tale of the famous explorer Vasco da Gama (link) landing in the coast of Kerala

On hearing of the landing of ‘foreigners’ on their shores, the king of Calicut sent an emissary with a glass brimming with milk.

On receiving the glass, Vasco da Gama quickly understood the message, and asked his assistant for spoon of sugar that he deftly mixed in the glass without spilling a drop.

The emissary went back to the king with the message, and the King smiled and welcomed Vasco da Gama and his entourage with fanfare.

The message back to the king of Calicut was simple: just like the spoon of sugar mixes and devolves in a glass brimming with milk without spilling it, we too will blend in without spoiling your equilibrium.

Immigrants to Canada, US and elsewhere have traditionally taken this approach of ‘sweetening the milk’ without spilling it or messing with the existing equilibrium.
This is likely to continue as long as newcomers come in with an open mind by enriching the host nations, and are willing to carve out opportunities without spilling the existing milk.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Indian Roads: the final frontier for Autonomous and Self-Driving Cars

I happen to be among a rare breed of NRI/PIOs who are as comfortable driving in Anytown USA as they are on busy and chaotic Bangalore roads. This said, it takes a few days of ‘acclimatization’ riding on Olas, Uber and Auto Rickshaws before I gain confidence to get behind the wheels. During my current stint in Bangalore, while driving a small Maruti car, I have been musing on former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s statement that “India will be the last place to get autonomous cars.”

When Kalanick made this proclamation a few months ago, it raised a few eyebrows among the digirati, and proponents of Autonomous vehicles and AI.

The technologies behind autonomous cars are advancing at a fast pace. Billions of dollars are being poured into it by Automakers and rideshare companies. Almost every day we see news of ‘yet another’ innovation in self-steering, LIDAR, GPS, Digital Maps and related technologies including AI and robotics. (link to a couple of recent deals) Some of these ideas and technologies sound futuristic and SCI-FIish, though many of these technologies are beginning to appear in high-end automobiles.

After driving on Bangalore roads for the past few months, I will have to concur with Kalanick’s proclamation. And here are 10 reasons why Bangalore roads will be the last place on earth to get autonomous cars:

#1. Right of way? When it comes to use of roads, everything and everyone has a right of way, Including pedestrians and cows. Drivers may swear at cyclists, pedestrians or even guys riding horses ziz-zagging through traffic, but shrug it off as par for the course. Apparently the guy riding a horse has as much right to be on the road as my Maruti.
Implication for designers of autonomous cars: Any self-driving technology will have to accommodate for erratic and unpredictable presence of vehicles and non-vehicles on roads that claim an equal right-of-way.

#2. Might is right – Paraphrasing George Orwell, when it comes to Indian roads, all vehicles are equal, but some vehicles are more equal than others. Bangalore traffic follows an informal pecking order with Public buses at the top of the food chain, followed by ‘G’ plated government and police vehicles, followed by larger SUVs, yellow-plated commercial vehicles and so on. Of course, Autorickshaws and bikes seem to have a license to ziz-zag as they please.
Implication: My description of the informal pecking order is merely an empirical observation. Good luck to analysts trying to decipher and codify the complex Orwell pecking order on Indian roads!

#3. Eye-contact – At busy intersections where traffic begins to crawl, pedestrians, bike-riders and others will try to make eye-contact, wave or make other gestures to indicate their intent
Implication: There is obviously a lot more than meets the eye. LIDAR, Digital sensors and cameras will have to be smart enough to speedily decipher such human cues from a distance.

#4. Horn-OK-Please – Trucks and busses on highways routinely have “horn please” painted behind to remind drivers that honking is not only expected but a normal mode of communication. Honking on Indian roads takes an art-form and is not a precise science. Honking can range from benign expression of impatience and a subtle warning to pedestrians and bikers to more serious expression of rage.
Implication: Making sense of a honk requires contextualized interpretation: Try deciphering a single horn, and what it’s trying to communicate from among a cacophony of honks in a busy street.

#5. Streets with potholes, dug up and after monsoons, waterlogged. After the recent rains, unfortunate bikers and scooters in Bangalore trying to avoid new potholes have skid, and been fatally hit by oncoming traffic.
Implication: The challenge is not just about potholes but the unpredictability it induces, requiring split-second reflexes among motorists. LIDAR, DGPS and Digital maps may not be able to predict the next roadblock, pothole or dug-up road.

#6. Dealing with fender-benders – Driving on congested roads with bumper-to-bumper traffic will inevitably lead to fender-benders, or worse. Crowds of gawkers instantly gather around traffic accidents while some mobs are known to vent their 'fury' on helpless drivers.
Implication: One can only guess what happens when a self-driven car meets with an accident. Is it going to call on its AI driven digital assistant, and wait for the police while the other motorist invokes the mob to act?

#7. Dealing with traffic-cops –These men (and women) in uniform try hard to bring a bit of order in chaotic, overcrowded roads. Motorists flagged down by traffic-cops are generally expected to pay a ‘spot fine’ and try to ‘negotiate’ down the fine or plead their case.
Implication: What happens when a self-driven car is flagged down for a traffic violation? Does it to call its digital assistant to help with the ‘negotiation’ or just pay the fine and take the ticket? The social implications here are unclear.

#8. There are rules and then there are un-codified mores. Transport authorities have defined basic rules like ‘driving on the left side of the road,’ ‘overtaking from the right’ etc which motorists are expected to learn before getting a driver’s license. In addition, there are un-codified mores like the art of slowing at intersections and inching forward without stopping and yielding.
Implication: Obvious challenge of designing a system to decipher and work with ever changing, un-codified mores

#9. Driving towards landmarks: Directions from point-A to point-B in major localities are easy enough. It gets trickier when the destination happens to be in a small, narrow by-lanes. Even though I have my coordinates geo-tagged in Ola and Uber, the drivers invariably call to ask for a nearby ‘landmark’ that includes a dental clinic, liquor shop behind the house or the hardware-shop on the 80-feet road.
Implication: GPS and Digital Maps will need a tremendous amount of intelligence (AI ?) to identify and recognize small and large landmarks as humans understand them.

#10. Human Behavior – People in India have been learning to adapt to an increasing number of cars and automobiles on existing narrow roads and lanes. Even in a span of the past 10 years, one can see a remarkable reduction in the number of bicycles on roads and narrow roads morphing into parking spots with hardly any space left for motors to navigate.
Implication: Even the best designed system will have to continually keep up with changing human behavior, and surging population trying to adapt to the constraints.

Some of these observations may sound tongue and cheek, and can certainly be addressed with the right technologies and system design. Even in Bangalore, one might begin seeing autonomous vehicles in ‘controlled traffic’ environments in University, Defense, Governmental and Corporate campuses as the Infosys’ proof-of-concept in their campus highlights.

Perhaps the futurists eyeing the Indian market should step back from self-driving car hype, and focus on an unmet need: a relatively inexpensive electric car that can ‘idle’ smog-free in congested traffic! Wonder what will get Elon Musk to rethink his decision of bringing Teslas to India?
Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation | Reposted from Linkedin Pulse | [Images in the writeup are googled stock pictures]