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.