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May 28, 2012

Roses are red, violets are blue... I co-created this card just for you

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:07 AM

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Like most men I know, I always feel uncomfortable selecting greeting cards for my wife - birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines, Mother's Day, you get the idea.  Although I consider myself a sensitive, emotionally centered and caring male, I always feel inadequate standing in the aisle picking through cards written by lovelorn poets who are apparently paid by the word.   I cringe when I observe the woman beside me carefully consider each word, nod at some deeper meaning and then wipe away tears of approval.  Men are from Mars.... 

Of course I love my wife but I guess I'm too particular - why can't I design my own card, in my own (limited) words and get on my way?  Better yet, design a line of cards for guys like me who believe less is more.  Hallmark understands this and has actually gone full circle with the idea.  In 2007, the company established its first digital consumer initiatives by giving customers the capability to create their own cards from a library of assets.  Hallmark has since turned this idea around to proactively solicit ideas for new card lines created by customers including editorial and photos.  Product managers select the winners who can find their creations on store shelves with their names on the back. 

This innovative approach establishes a new relationship with customers while generating company assets at virtually no cost.  Customers get the thrill of designing their own greeting cards with Hallmark's co-creation model that's now embedded in its product development processes.

Brilliant idea!  Now I've got to get started.  Hmmm....Should I go with some flowery prose or a simple "Happy Birthday to my dearest, darling wife"? 

May 23, 2012

Why you need to befriend the Laplace Demon?

Posted by Manish Srivastava (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:26 AM


Computers are everywhere. We are entering an age where computing will be embedded everywhere - in products, in places, in things and in people. Pharma companies are testing programmable biodegradable sensors that will be embedded in medicines and will alert you on your iPhone, as per doctor's prescription. Connectivity is getting everywhere. Internet has crossed 25% adoption worldwide and mobile will soon connect every individual with each other. We are moving to an age where everything everywhere will be connected digitally.

Adoption of computers for automating business processes has led to an explosion of information. While we are still learning to manage and leverage that information, a second information big bang is already on its way - powered by sensor networks and social networks. This "new information" is opening up "new possibilities" - ability to understand customer's better, ability to better monitor supply chains and assets. Businesses who can exploit these new possibilities will dramatically alter productivity and the value chain in their favor. The availability of computing, connectivity and information is also opening up possibilities of new business models that were earlier not possible - pay per drive rental insurance, e-books, renting of digital content etc.

However, the nature of this "new information" is quite different than what we are used to - it is more real time and unstructured. In order to extract value from this, we need to learn "new techniques" to derive "new insights" from this "new information". The relational databases may not always scale to manage the volumes and speeds required. We are seeing the evolution and adoption of non-relational or non-SQL databases for managing this "new information". We need "new algorithms" to make sense of this large scale unstructured information that is now available to us. We need better algorithms to understand pictures, not just text but voice, and video as well.

Many of these "new algorithms" will require parallel processing. There have been rapid advances in multi-core, high performance and distributed computing architectures in recent years. However, in order for us to exploit these new capabilities, we will need more programmers who can design for parallel processing.

Not many will be able to scale traditional enterprise datacenters to churn such large scale of information at the required speed. Cloud can provide a much economical model to access such large scale infrastructure using on demand usage and pricing models.

Computational approaches may still prove to be insufficient to analyze this information and we may need to learn "new ways" to engage the very same social networks to sort and make sense of the volumes of information that they are churning. There are several examples of crowd intelligence like Wikipedia which demonstrate the power of such engagement platforms. This new reality is forcing many organizations to rethink how they manage information in the new world - even conservative institutions like World Bank have decided to make its information available through APIs for others to analyze and make sense of. The rise of the app store is further fueling crowd sourcing and one developer is building on top of what the other is providing. It is redefining how applications will be built and delivered in the future.

With information and computing power available, a new breed of information artist like Hans Rosling are making information dance on their fingertips. This coupled with multi-modal interactions are redefining digital experiences. I see the magic of natural interactivity playing out at my home when my kids compete on "Angry Birds". Natural interfaces and augmented reality is helping create engaging digital experiences that will accelerate learning and simulated environments for collaborative decision making. We need to learn to design these interactive experiences.

In 1814, Pierre-Simon Laplace formulated a hypothetical "Laplace's Demon" with infinite computing power that knows exact location and velocity of every particle in the universe. It was speculated that such a demon could predict the past, present and the future - all there is to know, "The Theory of Everything". Today we know that there are physical limits to computation and such a demon is only but a dream. However, with computing getting embedded everywhere, improvement in algorithms and availability of cheap scalable computing power, it may still be possible to build a substantially weaker cousin of the "Laplace's Demon". A friendly demon that can provide us an virtual mockup of the real world where in we can simulate our decisions options collaboratively before letting it play out in this increasingly complex and connected world. 

May 16, 2012

When it comes from almost nowhere, will you still see it?

Posted by Anand Prasad Arkalgud (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:46 AM

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Ashok Vemuri, Head of Americas and Global Head of Manufacturing, and Engineering Services, Infosys was recently quoted in Supply & Demand Chain Executive saying "If you look at some of the industries that make up the manufacturing sector--mining or metals or chemicals--these have traditionally stayed away from large technology spends." "But now, they're actually enforcing the consumption of technology into their core manufacturing processes--beyond customer service of a call center, for example. So there's a whole ecosystem that is coming together as a result of technology--whether it's mobility, digital marketing or supply chain optimization." You can read the whole article here: http://www.sdcexec.com/article/10714530/infosys-targets-us-manufacturing-resurgence-factors.

This, I believe, is driven by the fact that organizations cannot continue to live isolated in the belief that all the world is what they see in their sector or their product space or sub-segments, even - a two lane highway to draw an analogy- with a clear view of what's behind and what's ahead. Today's world is more like a super-highway with competition coming in from companies outside our industry and sometimes from disruptive entrants who can have a substantial impact on how our business is viewed -  it's difficult to take in the scene that's so much more nuanced. That's how it is for enterprises.  Suddenly, it's not enough to stay ahead of your industry or track your traditional rivals. Sometimes you can't even tell who they are.

Look at your consumer. There is so much information at her disposal. Her expectations are being shaped by collective experience and social interactions. Her preferences are constantly evolving through a pan-industry "expectation-spillover". As she discovers newer experiences and conveniences, as a consumer, in one sphere, she expects to enjoy the same or better experience in another. Her logic goes something like this... "If I can choose to pay only a fraction of the cost of my favorite daily to read just the lifestyle section, why can't I buy insurance, at the airport, to cover me only through that one plane journey, instead of investing on comprehensive travel insurance? If FedEx can let me track the status of my delivery in real-time, what's keeping my bank from letting me know, in real-time, the value of my investments? " Suddenly, your business is up against criss-crossing expectations shaped by consumer experiences in a vertical that you never thought to look at!

At that juncture, we have little choice but to get pervasive in our relevance to consumers and challenge the role we've played so far within our industry cocoons. And, then look for opportunities to create value and delight customers. That's why, it makes sense to take some time off NOW to see what may not be visible easily at first sight...perhaps even a second or third. Ignore this trend, and we could be in for a rude awakening. But, when we embrace it, it'll be so much easier to identify opportunities to forge ahead and differentiate ourselves in a changing landscape.

May 9, 2012

What mobile banking needs

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:51 AM


Abraham Maslow said that human beings must fulfill their (basic) need for air, food, water, sleep and other life-forces before they can move on to higher things. Actually, you can apply that logic to every aspect of life: fuel economy before interiors, fixed return before capital appreciation, home ownership before vacation...Must-have trumps nice-to-have every time.

But it looks like we lost the plot with mobile banking. In our keenness to celebrate the smartphone's success have we forgotten that 70% of mobile users don't have one? Or that of the 5 billion mobile users, only 300 million bank using their devices? What's it going to take to get them to buy into mobile banking? Not a downloadable app, I assure you. A recent Infosys survey of American consumers hints at the answer. While a large majority of respondents said that using a mobile phone for banking was both easy and convenient, less than half found it reliable, and about a third said that slow speed and concerns about data security were a dampener. What non-mobile banking users thought about the service was even more telling: 60% were not sure it was safe, 45% thought it was "experimental" and get a load of this: 38% found it scary! Here's where you can read more:
http://www.infosys.com/newsroom/press-releases/Pages/mobile-banking-survey.aspx

Instead of dismissing them with a laugh, let's tune into what these people are really saying.  Which is this: Mobile banking is convenient, it's accessible, easy, perhaps even enjoyable, but we're not biting until it gets the basics of reliability and safety right.

It's that Maslow theory playing out all over again.

Kenya's Safaricom is one that didn't lose sight of this fundamental truth. It took a very basic customer need - to remit money home safely and quickly - and built its landmark M-Pesa business on it.  Having done that, the company worked its way up the hierarchy of needs to provide bank accounts, prepaid cards, bill payments and even travel and ticketing services. It succeeded because it made utility part of the experience. Maslow would approve.

May 8, 2012

Teaching and learning in Detroit

Posted by Srikantan Moorthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:12 AM

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A few weeks ago, Infosys launched a training program jointly with Wayne County Community College and two other partners (The Workforce Development Department & The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation), to reskill Detroit's out-of-work automotive workers. Modeled on the boot camp that we run at our Mysore campus, the Detroit version aims at delivering IT skills enablement education in a tight 18-week time frame. For more details, visit our pressroom

But, the participants aren't the only ones doing the learning. The experience of designing and conducting the pilot course has been an eye-opener. Honestly speaking, when we got into this, we didn't know what to expect. Sure, we had trained tens of thousands of employees over the years, but they were either fresh graduates with a degree in engineering or employees with experience in IT. In Detroit, we were jumping in at the deep end...taking on workers with several years of experience, varying levels of education, and not much by way of technical computer knowledge, and trying to turn them into programmers in short order. Had we bitten off more than we could chew?

To say that the response took us by surprise, is putting it mildly. Here was this group of middle aged people (average age 41), with family commitments, part-time employment (if at all) and many other worries, absolutely lighting up the classroom with their enthusiasm.  And, what they lacked in technical knowledge, they more than made up for with their maturity...their soft skills. We were surrounded by a richness of talent; the question was what could we do about it.  The answer became clear soon enough. We found that broadly, there were two kinds of students - those who could potentially switch to a career in programming and others who were better suited to other non-programming roles in IT, which required some technical appreciation, but not hardcore software skills. What came next was logical - a bifurcation of the course into two streams, one for those with strong technical aptitude, and the other for those interested in pursuing a career in say Quality Assurance, Business Analysis or Project Management.

The inaugural course is still under way. We won't know how successful it is until we get feedback from potential employers, our partners, and the students themselves. I'm certain the program will evolve as it goes through successive cycles. Analysts and industry watchers have already hailed this move. They see it providing new opportunity to the crisis-hit. They say, that given scale, it will help bridge the shortage of IT workers.

But, for those of us who have been closely involved in this initiative, the experience has already made us richer.


May 4, 2012

Building tomorrow's bank, today.

Posted by Kannan Amaresh (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:46 AM

Banks are now facing the challenge that credit card companies confronted just a few years ago:  Growth is practically impossible without devising new ways to make products and services more useful and compelling for customers.

Three things are on banks' agenda to elevate themselves in today's fast-paced, high-tech world where the multi-banked customer grows more demanding by the day:
  • Newer products
  • Better services (delivered quickly, intuitively and seamlessly)
  • Smarter processes (the recipe to do both of the above)
So, here's one way banks can do it all and get ahead.  

Just a few years ago, credit card issuers realized they could encourage users to adopt their favorite "brands" on their cards and even personalize them. By offering reward points and other incentives, card use increased dramatically and business partners received a share of the transaction fees.  Everyone wins - customers, card companies, and the business partners.

Banks can also capture mindshare or market share of a multi-banked consumer by looking at other businesses as potential partners.  A great way to get their products to go beyond debits and credits and become "compulsively necessary".  

For example, banks can take a page out of the travel industry playbook.  Airlines, hotels, and rental car companies commonly "cross-market" each other's services.  Whenever customers surf the web looking for a good airfare, they can be sure there will be opportunities to rent a hotel room or a car, as well.
 
Banks can muscle into deals like these too.  If a customer is planning a vacation can a bank intuitively learn of this behavior and pitch to him a vacation loan that fits in with his holiday plans?  With sophisticated data-mining software - already in use by many large retailers - anticipating these needs without him having to first ask for it should soon be commonplace.

Here's more:  When customers log on to their accounts, smart software can add soft-sell menu choices like the following:  "It's been six months since your last vacation.  We noted you spent a week in the Caribbean.  We have an excellent deal, for our priority customers, in Antigua.  Click for details."    Customers will be surprised, and in many cases, delighted that they were asked.  This is just the beginning.  When they can book their entire trip on their smart phone on their way home from work, they'll appreciate the deal.

And, this can be extended to map to any sphere of the banking consumer's lifestyle - all those transactions she makes without ever thinking that any of her multiple banks can make a difference. Because, today her banks don't.

And there lies the growth opportunity for banks. To harness technology to woo customers who have needs that go beyond the mundane customary task of managing money.

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