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July 30, 2012

Social media: Sustainability before profitability?

Posted by Simon Towers (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:26 AM


It's one thing for a company to be socially responsible but what is the best way to communicate this activism to your customers?  You guessed it.  Facebook, Twitter, and other social media web sites are a sure path to show customers that businesses are caring, participating members of the community - whether brick and mortar or cyberspace or both.

Con Edison, the environmental award-winning utility that services the New York metropolitan area, has been very proactive in the past few years with trumpeting their green campaign.  The company has effectively used social media and numerous web sites to illustrate how they reduced the firm's carbon footprint and persuaded customers that saving electricity and using energy efficient appliances is not only the "right" thing to do but also a great way to reduce electric and gas bills.  It's a win-win arrangement.  Sporting goods manufacturer Patagonia has been a poster child for corporate responsibility from day one.  From the outset, mountaineer and founder Yvon Chouinard "tithed" the company's revenues and gave a percentage to environmental causes.  So it was only natural to talk about their policies on their web site, "The Footprint Chronicles." The site features the complete life cycle of Patagonia products - from sourcing to processing to transportation to delivery and the impact on the environment - as well as their paper procurement and consumption practices, and their approach to sustainable building design. Patagonia even gets store customers to vote on how the stores must spend some of their environmental grants budgets! 

Conversations on sustainability issues can also evolve into innovation and co-creation partnerships.  CFS, the financial co-operative from the U.K., advises customers on investing ethically. Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has set up an innovation platform focused on sustainability in partnership with some universities and research institutions. And, Pepsi has diverted its Super Bowl advertising budget into a portal where they invite people to come forward with sustainable project ideas that they're willing to execute (and Pepsi is willing to fund).  JP Morgan Chase uses Facebook to ask customers to "like" their community giving initiative.  
By facilitating transparency, communication and co-creation in social media, what companies are actually doing is improving engagement, which is core to social contract.  The upside, however, is that companies are also polishing their brand and their image.  Unfortunately, many organizations are yet to make this connection.  When firms hire a "youth" staff to use social media to connect with their customers, their first thought is commercial impact.  How can Facebook and Twitter increase revenues?  Perhaps they're doing this in the wrong order.  Why not begin with, "What can we do to show our customers how we're partners in the communities we do business?"  What do you think?

July 27, 2012

It's time for a new way of thinking about public services

Posted by Jim Havelka (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:34 AM

Government organizations have an undeserved reputation of working on less challenging business issues and being technology laggards. Yet many US Government agencies support missions which are highly complex and directly impacted by the effects of globalization, growing and aging populations, global threats and the recent US economic issues.

US Government organizations such as Veterans Affairs, National Institute of Health, Postal Service, Treasury and Department of Defense operate enterprises for example which would be classified as one of the largest global hospital groups, R&D organizations, supply chain management organizations, financial institutions and retail organizations, respectively.  Additionally, many government agencies have IT infrastructure, datacenters and data analytics applications supporting their mission that dwarf those of industry leaders such as GE, Citicorp, Google or Amazon - Treasury/Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quickly come to mind who spent a combined $16B ($USD) on IT Infrastructure and Services in 2011.   

Today, both US Federal Civilian and State governments are facing concurrent transformational challenges of modernizing large enterprise legacy systems, expanding the range of citizen services and addressing the utilization of Big Data management; challenges that are driving them to spend approximately $60B ($USD) in 2012 on IT services. 

The public services landscape has shifted over the past several years and we're seeing a new model emerge for how governments approach IT and how vendors are responding.  The financial crisis compounded some of these issues by forcing Government agencies to provide higher service levels with much more effective IT infrastructure, systems and processes to support lower operating budgets.  Government agencies are facing the same challenges we see in the private sector, including a squeeze on operating budgets, addressing inefficient operations and cost impacts due to mismanagement.  These challenges have occurred at traditional Government agencies as well as quasi-government organizations such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the US Postal Service, where the government has taken a more active role in managing these organizations. 

IT solution providers no doubt anticipate huge opportunities to solve these client challenges but the game has changed.  Quite frankly, many of the issues that governments have with their inflexible and costly legacy systems were created by entrenched IT vendors who were able to lock-up multi-year contracts and were less focused on driving cost efficiencies, let alone innovation.   Not surprisingly, government agencies are now demanding more from their vendors and looking to new high quality and innovative IT providers.  Government agencies want to reduce operating cost, free up resources, and run their technology infrastructure more efficiently so they can focus on more strategic pursuits like enterprise modernization, application innovation or adoption of disruptive technologies such as cloud, mobility and big data/data analytics. 

Successful providers will be able to capture market share by leveraging the experience, skills and innovation usually associated with the private sector, especially from lessons learned from similar disruptive changes within the financial services, healthcare and transportation industries. The new table stakes in this game include driving more value with tax-payer money and continuously demonstrating predictable outcomes on IT programs and services.  Building relationships based on performance and trust doesn't disappear either and providers will need to adopt more collaborative delivery models that drive results and co-creation while sharing operational risk. Government clients are no longer going to wait ten years to see the full benefit of their investments.

Government agencies are selecting IT vendors who can deliver cost effective, industry proven and innovative solutions with supporting best practices that reduce risk.  Being successful in the private sector requires an understanding of client needs better than the client.  The same applies to the public sector.  Infosys public services is well positioned to assist our government clients in solving their business and IT challenges.

July 25, 2012

No outage, please!

Posted by Chandra Shekar Kakal (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:34 AM


I am talking of ensuring 100% reliability and efficiency of the enterprise IT infrastructure. This is to make sure there's minimal - or better still - no outage.

While on the subject of outage, the adage 'first things first' comes to my mind.  When I was all set to move in to my new home, everyone in the family wanted to ensure that their stuff worked fine.  My wife was concerned about the refrigerator, the washing machine and the microwave having made the shift in good shape. For the kids, the TV, computer and Internet connectivity were top priorities. My builder checked the fans and air conditioners. My own focus was on something else and distracted for a minute I shut off the main power supply. In the next minute, all hell broke loose...there was pandemonium! 

It turned out that while the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) power back up although installed had not been tested for change-over connectivity.

Isn't that so much like the meticulous care enterprises take to test and validate their applications without thinking to test the base infrastructure portfolios and technologies that these applications run on? No, I am not referring to infrastructure management. I am talking about integrated enterprise-level rigorous testing of infrastructure - throughout the cycle of its acquisition, migration and operation - to ensure its business-readiness and optimal performance.

Think about it. Your enterprise leverages some of the best applications in the world, but if they are being run on a sub-par infrastructural foundation, you're not receiving all the returns you should on your investments. On the one hand, significant investment in IT infrastructure is inevitable as your business grows. But, on the other, if there isn't a structured approach to validate this burgeoning underlying IT infrastructure, there's always the threat of costly downtime.

Now, think about this. What if someone could take on single-point accountability and sole onus - not just for independent validation of applications, not just infrastructure management, but end-to-end infrastructure testing to help you manage the challenges of providing reliable and efficient infrastructure all the time, anytime. And this testing is so mature that it can address custom-mandates as well - like testing for latent risk diagnostics, back-up and recovery or even disaster recovery. And best of all, its scope covers the entire enterprise IT infrastructure - on private Cloud, public Cloud and the on-premise portfolio.

We've thought of it all on your behalf. And we've launched a first-of-its-kind integrated service to help enterprises, like yours, test and validate IT infrastructure. In other words, leveraging this service from Infosys makes infrastructure validation the closest it'll ever get to being like a happy homecoming! 

Digital goes pervasive - are you following?

Posted by Girish A. R. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:39 AM

The game of information empowerment is at half-time now. The first half clearly was about organizing information and democratizing access. What a game that was - the world wide web is almost a zetta byte now!

Game on for the second half - the action now is around the ability to serve up relevant information in bite-sized chunks. Something that aids human attention and not burden it.  So, if you see your favorite news reader app 'learn' your reading habits and bring up content that you invariably like  - you are already experiencing what I'm talking about. And, it's not just about the digital world. 

Today's digital consumers implicitly expect the combination of tactile and information experiences. (Ever found yourself in a big box store looking up your iPhone for more information about something you are considering buying?) So, how do you go about designing such experiences with empathy for human attention (more so the lack of) ? Simple. By letting the user focus on the task at hand, and getting the information appliance to be aware of the context. Going back to the big box, the ideal case would be for my iPhone to anticipate my information needs based on my shopping context. Without a need for me to  twiddle thumbs.

So, when we tried our hands at such an experiment in a nearly 100,000 square feet supermarket, we learnt a few things. And more. Chatter from over a thousand discreet wireless sensors on shopping carts, shelves and displays in the store began to make sense. These in-store digital footprints offered an unprecedented view of the sales funnel. Merchandise displays that attract highest footfall, ones that deliver highest conversions, locations that offer distinct advantage for new product launches, category adjacencies that work best - the list goes on. And an app on my phone that lets me check-in to my shopping cart. In guided sales mode, it brings up just the three things that are in my vicinity from my long shopping list. And brings up the next four anticipating my next stop. And offers me a personalized coupon on that new brand of cheerios right in front of me. 

Move over cost per click - we can now do cost per conversion! This is not only getting better than digital, but is also going to be much bigger - Wal-Mart alone attracts a billion footfalls every month!

Pervasive computing meets big data - and this is just the beginning. What's your story?

July 23, 2012

Bring on the ideas, ensure they don't stop

Posted by Sanjay Purohit (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:48 AM

When do enterprises truly dream up innovations and dare to create the new? When the organization is wired for innovations, perhaps? But, what really unleashes possibilities and the organization's passion to unthink? I am convinced that this is more likely to happen in firms where the fear of failure is mitigated. Or when a failed idea costs the enterprise so much lesser than one may have imagined, that the pressure to always "get it right" does not impede the "let's imagine-the-unimagined" process.
One way to build the "fearless thinker's enterprise" is to leverage business platforms. The business platform is premised on that heady efficiency-driving, on-demand and cost-managed concoction - Cloud computing, with Software as a Service and Business Process Outsourcing - served by a partner solely and wholly accountable for business results. This means all those great benefits of agility, cost-effectiveness and ease-of-scale are yours to enjoy. At costs that are directly commensurate with measurable business results. Of course, it's not difficult to see how this can up the velocity of innovation, bring down costs-to-create, and enable resource ramp up or ramp down at will. Suddenly, innovation engineered in this manner poses far less risk to the organization.

Really, amazing possibilities for competitive differentiation can open up with business platforms. Need more compelling reasons to take the platform plunge? Go on and click right here

July 20, 2012

How to deal with organizational complexity

Posted by Manish Srivastava (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:01 AM


I take the conversation onward from my previous blog "Simplify or have an egg on your face" that you can read  here .The next obvious question before us is - How does an organization deal with complexity - at the strategic, operational and individual levels?

At a strategic level, organizations can reduce complexity by focussing on a few things and then complementing this with key partnerships and a strong ecosystem. So, focus on a few eggs and get your friends to catch the others. Knowing what customers want, how the domain is evolving and what the organization is good at is key to identifying which eggs to catch. And more importantly, which to leave alone. Eventually, how all this comes together at the point of delivery and how clients experience it, matters.  Today, a lot of information is available but must be assimilated to understand changing needs and market conditions. That's why organizations need to invest into capabilities like analytics, simulation and modeling that can help them make sense of this information. This allows them to deliver the right products and services to customers.

In most organizations there is a lot of incentive to do more - new products, new features, new processes, new systems. There is very little incentive to eliminate what's no longer needed. This leads to accumulation of  operational complexity. Eventually, it gets to a point where it is beyond organizational capability to manage it. A fear of change sets in because changing or adding anything new causes the system to break somewhere else.  The creation of "new" must be balanced with the elimination of "old" to keep complexity in check. This means zooming into details and figuring out what's no longer useful. Maintenance must go beyond reactive support and preventive upkeep to proactive elimination of unwanted complexity - to create room for the "new". On the other hand, there is also a need to zoom out and take a more holistic view of things. Coordination across traditional departmental boundaries for instance. Often, this requires the organization to change what it measures as performance and develop a "culture of collaboration". Inability to resolve cross-departmental issues causes focus to shift away from the customer. Much like one is unable to concentrate on anything when one has a headache.

At an individual level, we experience complexity as "more systems to deal with" or "more time to get the same things done" and this leads to stress and disengagement. To deal with this, systems need to be designed to empower users for self service rather than wait in physical or digital queues. Multi-modal experiences, multi-channel availability, single point but simplified navigation and such like become important.

Einstein once said "Make things simple as possible, but not simpler." So, while on the one hand, things should be made simpler, at the same time, there is a need to accelerate learning - to raise the individual's ability and the organizational capability to deal with complexity. Traditional "one size fits all" classroom-based models need to be augmented with "personalized in place" learning. Work and workplaces  will need to be redesigned to enable people to learn and work in distributed, diverse teams. On our own part, we will need to learn to connect and share proactively and purposefully to create more meaningful experiences for ourselves, people around us and our clients. While most executives are aware that there is need to manage complexity, it continues to be on the back burner until a catastrophic failure occurs.

The challenge is to identify early indicators that point to the problem and are also easy to measure. A simple possible early indicator of rising organizational complexity could be a sudden change in any of the following:   
1. Number of change requests or good ideas waiting for resources
2. Number of exceptions
3. Ratio of build vs test effort. (doing vs compliance)
4. Number of people who join a review call
5. Number of e-mails
6. Amount of travel 
7. Number of people on leave
8. Number of clicks before one gets to the actual functionality
9. Number of "How to do this?" support requests

Can you think of more?

July 18, 2012

Business in China: An eight-point primer

Posted by Anand Prasad Arkalgud (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:55 AM


Business in China, drawing from my experience, is influenced by a set of critical variables that must be skillfully managed in order to succeed. Here are 8:

1. Talent 
Talent, in China, is fundamentally no different from any place else in the world.  But, grasping their expectations is what requires a shift in the conventional Western mindset. Born into a country that has sustained tremendous growth momentum for over 20 years, talent wants to grow at a pace that compares. And, they evaluate potential for their growth by gauging how their employers are faring in China. Quite obviously, they don't want to commit themselves to the wrong lane and risk being left behind. So, your Chinese employee is really competing with everyone in China not just others within the company or even the industry of employment. This rationale also drives talent in hordes to the big cities where opportunities are perceived to be greater. 

2. Products and Innovation 
You must be willing to make enormous effort to educate the buyer in China about how your product delivers on the "better-than-before" value proposition. With few independent industry analysts to influence purchase decisions, it falls upon brands to take on that role too.  Getting started by first assimilating expectations and focusing on simply meeting these is possibly the best way to rev up the growth machine.  Ask anyone who has spent some time in China, and they will tell you that once you set a direction, things get done.  Concentrating on healthy innovation will possibly pay off as the brand's relationship with buyers deepens. 

3. Market
For the Chinese, there is a deep-seated wariness of being cheated or overcharged. Refraining from overselling, staying focused on meeting expectations and carefully determining how far the buyer will go to opt for "better than before" will get your enterprise to measure up on this first gauge. This wariness also ties in logically with the "proximity" factor. The Chinese consumer prefers buying from a "known" supplier to mitigate the perceived buyer's risk. So, local branding, local distribution and a pronounced provincial presence, in target markets, will all stand you in good stead.  

4. Leadership 
"So, are there no leaders in China?" One look at cities like Shanghai will show how incredulous that question is!  This is less about the availability of leadership and more about grooming local leadership to meet the organization's purposes. Early and sustained exposure to global practices clearly pays off rich dividends.

5. Scale  
In China, big is equated with great. The appeal of big companies lies more in their job creation and career growth potential than in revenue and profitability. Size and brand decibel levels count during hiring, government relations, and in business deals.  Being modest-sized in China is not a good strategy as the cost of doing business is high. 

6. Government
It's logical to view the government and State Owned Enterprises as growth-enablers, and it's judicious to nurture relationships that qualify your enterprise to be considered for business by the largest employer in the land. China's corporate law is rapidly evolving, leaving an impact on business operations and profitability. While paid advisors offer "interpretation" of these laws abound, you need to wary of those with poor credentials.  

7. "Guanxi" 
Or, who you know.  The truth is that the old boys club exists everywhere. What's different in China?  Because the governance mechanism around procurement is not detailed enough, evaluators often rely on the safety net of reliable connections - Guanxi - to influence their decisions.  Important in China, and nice to have, Guanxi is certainly not a be-all and end-all to doing business there.

8. Growth
Predictability on profitability. Margins on products that translate to a foreseeable bottom line. Improved operations that translate good margins to good net income....all of these count a great deal for businesses in China. Not just market share. As a manager in China, it is very important to measure sustainability of business not by celebrating absolute growth, but by carefully measuring performance against growth of the market.

What's your take? 

July 16, 2012

A razor-thin advantage

Posted by Suketu Patel (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:48 AM

2012-GO100-logo-R.jpgIn the world of global outsourcing, the market has become incredibly competitive.  More IT service providers are battling for smaller overall deals.  And this is taking place in the face of one of the toughest global economic climates in several decades. This year, major European economies will shrink or show marginal growth. Recovery in the U.S. economy is stalled. Unemployment remains high. Growth forecasts are very muted. And it's an election year in the U.S. where messages around outsourcing are considered taboo. 

But, some factors remain very consistent and intact.  Clients tell us they want to grow, enter new markets, save more money, innovate profitably, and they want a strategic partner to make sure they succeed.  Some things will never change.

So in this age of hyper-competition, IT providers are looking for that razor-thin advantage to help win more deals.  It may be a cool new digital technology platform that captures the attention of the trade press, or the endorsement of an influential market research firm, or, it can be an optimal ranking in a prominent global outsourcing listing of companies. Infosys just earned one such ranking.

In the just-released International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) Global Outsourcing 100 list, Infosys was ranked second in the world of the leading outsourcing organizations.  An independent panel of judges compared companies against 18 criteria, such as revenue growth, market presence, executive management, employee size, and so on.  Client testimonials also played a role in the judge's selection.

So, why are rankings like this important?  A good analogy is the process of purchasing a new car.  This is a fairly significant investment for the average household, so buyers do their research to make the best decision.  You may read online reviews of different car models written by the trade press. You might check out reviews from people who have purchased the same model you're considering.  You may also review safety ratings and resale value, as well as talk to friends and family to get their inputs on which cars they like and recommend. Ultimately, you are looking to form an opinion, build confidence in that opinion and make a well-educated decision. Rankings & ratings in the outsourcing world work much the same way.  With thousands of IT partner choices, clients have to do their homework about who are trustworthy providers, who has a strategy that is consistent with what they are trying to achieve, as well as the financial stability to ensure they will be around for the long term.  Rankings, analyst endorsements, and positive press coverage provide a helpful short-cut for a client making an informed partner choice.

The IAOP ranking is also an important validation that our Infosys 3.0 strategy is gaining momentum.  In the eyes of the judges and our clients who offered references, Infosys is providing incremental value and delivering innovation to their organizations. As our executive team has met with several of the largest client organizations in the world over the last few months - many of them our clients -- we're receiving good feedback that our focus on innovation, new IP-infused platforms, and co-creation is unique.  And we can help them win in the marketplace.

It's yet another razor-thin advantage we will leverage to help us win more deals in this very competitive marketplace.

July 13, 2012

Keep your phone number. I'll take your genome instead

Posted by Sudhir Holla (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:50 AM

It's hard to spot a business, brand or service that doesn't say the "P" word. Really speaking, claims of extreme personalization still belong in the realm of wishful thinking. And will continue to do so unless businesses find a way to understand each customer uniquely. Now, that may be more possible than it sounds, thanks to the notion of a "consumer genome", which like its biological inspiration provides definitive identification of its owner. Basically, the consumer genome is a set of intrinsic characteristics - immediate need, interest, buying behavior, connections, influence and demographics - which combine uniquely to determine consumer behavior. The same principle applies to other entities - for instance, every retailer has a "retailer genome".

Using the right platform, retail businesses  can decode the consumer genome to create a "map" of not just groups of near-identical ones but the "genetic construction" of individual consumers. So, a consumer who is also an athlete would have a genome that likely reads:  needs running shoes right now - loves cross-country running - makes highly involved, repeat buys of sporting and fitness goods - consults other sportsmen while taking major decisions. Is young, single, and favours heath food joints. A scotch drinker. Avoids beers and wines. Frequents a specialized training facility a mile from his residence.

Retailers can also do the same for their own genomes, which are built on characteristics such as distribution channel, product suite, promotional offer, and so on. Now, all that remains is to superimpose the two in real time to arrive at a great, highly personalized offer for the customer, which is relevant right here and right now. (Which means, not proposing that he pick up a pair of ordinary gym shoes before stocks run out!) 

The remarkable thing is that technology is also being leveraged to make all of this work in the real world - where complete information is rarely available, and never in one place.  So, next-gen platforms apply intelligence and accumulated knowledge (just like marketers do, only the platform is more efficient) to intuitively fill in the gaps to create a likely approximation of the genome. This knowledge comprises both what is fed in by users, as well as all that's out there in the public social space. So, if our cross country runner's favorite store has only got his name, age and address in its database, the platform, upon hearing his conversations in a Facebook forum, will advise the store of his hobby. Before the next big race, guess who will approach him with an offer for running gear?

In this case, the platform got lucky. But if it hadn't found significant activity in social media, it would have done the next best thing, which is, create a "most likely" genome based on what it knows of other customers with similar characteristics, to enable the retailer make educated overtures. 
From here on, "n=1" personalization is only a little step away!

July 11, 2012

An open letter to the god of wealth!

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:53 AM

Respected one,

David Wolman, who's authored the latest Amazon-topper "The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers--And the Coming Cashless Society", says there are no unbelievers in the religion of money.  I wonder if he realizes how literally we take his figurative pronouncement.

So, like Wolman, in advocating a move to a cashless society, I'm probably blaspheming. Do, forgive me. But, even You will agree that the avatar - of not-so-crisp-SARS-spreading currency notes and mineral depleting coins - is a little outdated. Not to mention distinctly environment-unfriendly. Permit Your devotee to suggest a cashless makeover that's a little more in keeping with the times.

The thing that's really endearing about this paperless avatar is its multiplicity of options. For instance, by transforming into a no-frills bank account, on the mobile phone, You can now be received by so many more worshippers; we've coined a prosaic but effective term for this happy state - "Financial Inclusion". My country alone is home to approximately one third of the world's unbanked. It's these people, mainly rural inhabitants, who still hold your hard cash image most dear, little realizing how susceptible it is to being stolen and surreptitiously installed at another's altar. Maybe, if you let these devotees know how uncomfortable it was for You to be smothered under their mattresses, or imprisoned inside an airless "gullak" (earthen piggy bank), they might take heed and house You in the liberating environs of a bank account. Some might protest that they would have to spend time and money to travel from their village to the nearest bank branch. Or, that they have neither the documents nor the basic literacy to operate an account. No matter. To them, You can simply reveal Your multi-faceted mobile-based avatar. In Your simplest mobile banking form, You enable even the barely literate Indian located in some far flung outpost, move money easily - to a family member with another mobile account, an impatient creditor or someone he deals with for earning his livelihood. 

Let's move to the cities, where mobile banking is sprouting new wings. Some enterprising companies have struck up a partnership with equally enterprising small time businesses and tradespeople, and banking institutions to enable people deposit physical cash into their bank accounts over the mobile. Even You must admit that this switch from cash to cashless avatar is pretty impressive! 

Mobile and mobile banking have inspired many other trends. A popular mobile avatar, which You must try when in the mood, is mobile remittance. Mobile remittances came as a God-send to unbanked people, especially migrant workers, who could send money home (to another mobile phone, naturally) safely, quickly and directly. It gathered momentum as small time service providers and merchant establishments started to accept these payments as well. From those beginnings, mobile remittances have gone on to assume many forms, the latest being the digital wallet, which saves people like us the inconvenience of queuing up to withdraw cash, carrying it around safely and maintaining painstaking accounts of where it's being spent. The beauty of the digital wallet is that it is able to store even more forms of money than the physical wallet - from cash to credit cards to banking and Facebook accounts (surely, You've heard of it in Your parts of the world?). What's more, there's no need to dig inside various compartments. A quick push of a few buttons and we're done paying, and the expenses neatly filed away inside folders named by expenditure heads. In fact, Near Field Communication technology, in the developed countries where it is available, saves users even this minuscule effort. All they have to do is simply tap their mobile to pay, literally, as they go. 

While on the subject of developed countries, allow me to update You that currency notes and cash are all but disappearing there, because their people have recognized that alternate forms of money have so much more to offer. But in a backhanded tribute of sorts to hard cash, they are now trying to develop digital coins and currencies, which can be exchanged person to person, without the intermediation of banks and their charges, regulatory checks and other tiresome processes.

I sense, O exalted one, that you aren't entirely convinced by my argument. I understand... most people don't like change. Even - or shall I say especially - when it's for the better. You also have genuine concerns about how we will be able to fulfill certain "cash only" transactions, such as a tip for services received, the first gift to a newborn, donations to your places of worship, micro purchases, or all financial exchanges when - God forbid - " the network is down". 

To this, I submit that these issues are mostly in the mind.  I'm sure that when the Lydians first introduced metallic coins around 2,500-2,700 years ago, it must have made the diehard barterers pretty mad. Since then, physical cash changed repeatedly to be produced from less and less valuable materials, but our faith in it didn't diminish. It will be the same with cashless cash.

If You still haven't decided to shun Your cash avatar, then it is my painful duty to tell You about the extent to which it has lost its sheen. Currency notes are notorious germ carriers, so bad, that they had to be quarantined or restricted during an epidemic in China some years ago. Cash also breeds other systemic diseases, such as money laundering, drug dealing and terror financing.  It's both expensive and inconvenient (yes!) to handle. (You've never had to wait while your change was being counted out, have you?) And let's not even get started on the security risks and the business of counterfeiting. Banknotes crumple; they stink of chemicals and God knows what else; and in a foreign country, they simply confuse. And while Your older followers might cherish the solidity of its touch and feel, Generations Y and later feel no such attachment. Indeed their idols happen to be QQ coins, Linden dollars and Airtel Money. Since they are your emerging constituency of worshippers, don't you think, that you must play to the gallery?

Yours most sincerely,
MPIN No. 234100

July 9, 2012

Making innovation work at enterprises

Posted by Simon Towers (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:16 AM

Every time I visit a firm, one of the first things I notice is that everybody thinks they are innovating.  But, once you start talking about ideas they say, oh, we have lots of ideas, but none of them actually see the light of day. Why? I think, it's because the conventional organization is not wired to really innovate.

Because, one of the characteristics of innovation is that there is no explicitly measurable ROI at the beginning of the process.  Nobody can clearly say, let's invent something because it is going to bring in X amount of revenue.  It is hard to say, let's sit in a room, brainstorm and just come up with a blockbuster.  So then, what must funding be based on? Organizations tend to fund projects that have a clear goal in sight.  If you cannot necessarily put your finger on it - more importantly the person who is championing it cannot be measured on it - then it gets shelved.  So, if you only measure for success - a measurably successful end product or service - then innovation will take a back seat. If, however, you allow for failure, if you can see how many ideas will come out of the woodwork, you may be on to something.  Many are blue sky, but that's the point.  To truly innovate you have to do whatever it takes until you can inspire the system to invest in that pure idea. Excite it enough to put money on the table.  

So, the culture of innovation has to have people inspired to contribute. There may be five guys who will deliver 80 percent of the volume of innovation, but there is that one guy who, in two years, comes up with the one idea that becomes the blockbuster.  That idea is vitally important, so allowing for that idea to take birth is really about nurturing a culture of innovation. So, in the beginning, we are not gunning for anything cast in stone.  We are just inspiring people and we we directing them to innovate.  In fact, the best way to kill creative input and innovation is to ask if it is worth a billion dollars.

Look at startups.  They are typically unafraid to innovate, but they also ask the important fundamental questions - What is the opportunity behind this idea? How big is that opportunity? What is the addressable market? I am certainly not advocating "don't ask"; Because, it's important to go on and invest knowing that there's something substantial to be  gained from it.  One thing the organization should certainly verify  is that the innovation agenda helps accelerate the execution of its stated strategy.  Because strategy is something that you come up with after you have the basic homework done.   

Real innovators try, today, to come up with something that might otherwise happen ten years from now.  And it might be the next big thing.  But then, there's a chance it may not.  But they go on anyway. Because innovation is also about noodling - not just next quarter's profits.

July 6, 2012

Creativity versus the learning organization

Posted by Paddy Rao (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:42 AM

Think about how good your organization is at learning new things and challenging the status quo. Do you see the conflict that it can cause? Learning organizations lay a welcome emphasis on its people continually learning and sharing new knowledge. But does this make the organization smart? And, what is 'smart', anyway? In my view, a smart organization knows what it needs to know and share, and then uses this to drive efficiencies. It may sound rather obvious, but think again.

We've always struggled with finding the right balance between creative problem solving and making organizational processes more standard and efficient.  Ever since the pre-industrial age, creativity has played an important role in organizations. Tradesmen crafted masterpieces reflecting great creativity in their handiwork - all custom made for individual patrons.  These master craftsmen were the curators of knowledge, and handed it down from generation to generation.  Best practices were born.  But as automation and standardization evolved, it came at the expense of creativity.  Operations became faster, more efficient and repeatable but with less room for creativity, which can be a key differentiator.

Smarter organizations use learning as a means of generating new ideas that can help infuse creativity into business processes.  I've observed that successful smart organizations share these characteristics:
• Are willing to take a risk to build best practices - to challenge organizational beliefs and question why things are done in a certain way
• Create an environment where people are willing to share - allowing everyone to have a voice with no penalties for speaking out
• Actively encourage knowledge sharing and learning - recognizing contributions and acting upon good suggestions even if this has a short term less-than-desirable impact on operations 

I had a telling experience when I was working with a large defense contractor several years ago.  This organization was justifiably proud of its global processes that enabled pan-operation participation from design to manufacturing.  During the course of my work,  I became aware of a problem with the guidance system software under development.  After a lot of head-scratching, by several engineers, and many rounds of calculation checks, I did myself, we discovered a probable solution.  I was directed to the chief designer with my solution.  I felt honored but quickly realized that it was not a hero's welcome that awaited me... the chief designer was thought to be infallible. . . and here I was way down in the food chain...challenging this long-held organizational belief!  Fortunately for me, the chief designer turned out to be very engaging and receptive to my fix.

My little story has a happy ending but it does make me think about the challenges around building a smarter organization.  Have you had a similar experience in getting others to think differently?

July 4, 2012

Think again: Influential consumer ahead!

Posted by Sandeep Dadlani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:28 AM

My family, I think, is fairly typical. The wife. Two kids. Four iPads. And, zippy Internet that keeps us all happy and well. That's why, when a friend told me about this new lightning-fast Internet provider, he had my attention instantly.  So, imagine my disappointment when the service provider for the Internet connection told me, that given the terrain where my home is anchored, it wasn't feasible to draw the cable up to my doorstep. But a few days later, I found that a neighbor, two doors away, was using the very same service. A couple of calls and a second evaluation later, the verdict was still the same. No go.

Some years ago, that would have been the end of the matter - disgruntled customer, unconcerned supplier. But my story has a twist. 

I thought to tweet my frustration away. And I did. Just 140 little characters to sum up my thoughts about the Internet service provider in question. After all, I have 40 followers I believed would empathize. Only a couple of hours went by before a representative from a special group from the company called me to understand the exact nature of my request and grievance.  The company's staff, monitoring twitter for sentiments and disgruntled customers, was apparently doing a commendable job.  24 hours later, the terrain had miraculously sorted itself out, and I was a happy subscriber.

This story, and countless others, point to the emergence of a new market superpower - the influencer-consumer. Someone wielding significant influence over friends, followers and even acquaintances....shaping their opinions about brands and experiences. More engaged than a consumer, infinitely more powerful, impossible to ignore. Beyond merely influencing product choice and brand reputation, the influencer consumer can set mass action in motion. Like a Bank Transfer Day or Arab Spring. Disregarding this breed is rather foolhardy.

July 2, 2012

The future of TV is here, and the picture is brighter than ever

Posted by Vaibhav Bakre (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:37 AM

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Today, you can actually watch streaming television on a tablet device, thanks to the technology advancements in the last couple of years.  Cablevision was one of the first to launch it for TV watchers, and TV has worked its way into the "let's-stay-wired-experience" anywhere and all day long.

Think about the flexibility you now have.  On the one hand you can watch live TV on these applications.  So you can also toggle over to an online video or a web site that the newscaster has suggested for further information. Further, you can continue watching your favourite TV show by seamlessly shifting TV viewing from your on-the-wall TV to your handheld tablet if you have to go to your refrigerator to get a drink. The basic difference between watching something on YouTube versus watching live TV is that you can watch live TV shows while watching the program in high quality.On YouTube or other media, the quality of video that you watch is not guaranteed, but with these new apps what you get is much like real high definition live streaming videos. The other advantage is that you can actually program the DVR that is sitting at your home using the mobile devices, so for example, you might be outside somewhere and you might suddenly remember that at 8 p.m. tonight one of your favorite programs will stream.  By just clicking a button you can tell your home digital video recorder to start recording that program.  The third plus is that if you have already recorded some program on your home DVR you can actually watch that content while you are away from home. I live in Dallas, and I watch the home team Mavericks.  If I'm traveling to New York or Los Angeles, the local programming will not necessarily show me that basketball game.  With this new app the problem is solved.  No matter where I am I can enjoy the local programming that my city is enjoying.

Television is not limited to home any more, and you can literally carry it in your hand wherever you are.  If you are connected to the net you can watch TV.  We have also made interactive advertising a possibility.  Let's say a Disney Theme Park ad is on a regular commercial break, and at the bottom of your screen you get a one line message - the "crawl" -- suggestion to book a vacation there by pressing a button on your remote control.   It then basically pulls up all your profile related data, the age and number of family members, and shares it with Disney so their travel concierge can suggest vacation packages (and ultimately book the trip). Advertisers might take future spots further by micro-targeting viewers in a particular zip code where, for example, an upscale department store might want to buy time. So, I think the future is tacking on services to "anytime, anywhere TV" to tap into consumer wants.  

I think, many advances will come rapidly because we are in a classic race to develop and refine the technology.  At the end of the day, companies that come up with the most compelling user experience for the customer will win.  With the smart phone, the browser on the screen was there for a long time.  Apple captured the market because not only did they understand what the customer wanted, they developed a simple, seamless user experience.  The same thing will occur at some point with the TV screen in your jacket pocket or purse.

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