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August 31, 2012

Is the Banking Product Truly Dead? Or is it Born Again?

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:12 AM

With Q Coins, Linden Dollars, Sainsbury's loans and Airtel Money going around, who can bet against the decimation of traditional banking products? Or the end of banks' monopoly over them? The financial crisis added fuel to this fire by highlighting the dangers of reckless product innovation, forcing banks to trim and simplify their (sophisticated) product portfolios as well as make them more transparent. Banks continue to rationalize "regular" products to eliminate variants that aren't significantly different or don't have enough takers. So, does this mean that the fate of the banking product as we know it, is sealed? Maybe. Maybe not. But what's certain is:

The end of canned products is nigh. With banking products becoming highly commoditized, they are no longer the source of competitive differentiation. A senior European banker pulled no punches and declared in an interview, "Product is dead". Banks are understandably trying to reclaim the uniqueness of their offerings by personalizing them to suit customers' individual requirements. Yes, product is out. Solution is in. The focus is on addressing a customer's requirement with a solution rather than push a pre-canned product. From 'custom-made' to 'customer-made' movement, the movement is gathering momentum. Take the example of a leading Dutch bank, which some years ago, replaced its ineffective (read irrelevant) marketing campaigns with one that was able to create personalized product offers and deliver them over multiple channels, in real time. There are too many such instances to mention.

Product distribution norms are breaking down. Consumers' banking behavior has gone multichannel. Today's customers expect their banks (and banking products and services) to be equally accessible at all times and on all channels. This has overturned the erstwhile mapping of specific transactions to specific channels (withdrawal at the ATM, loan application at the branch, balance enquiry online and complaint registration at the call center...) and also spilled over to product distribution, forcing banks to make all their products available on all their channels, as well as explore distribution through third parties like automobile dealerships and retail chains. Services are no exception. Gone are the days when the advisory practice operated inside a branch or from a relationship manager's laptop. Financial advisors have turned virtual, to be summoned by customers from a chat window or mobile application. 

Self-service is the key. Banking experts predict the demise of the bank branch. Agree or not, one thing's for sure, and that is that banking and banking products will be increasingly consumed in self-service mode. In fact, DIY (Do-It-Yourself) will drive banking product definition in the days ahead. Customers - and not tellers or overenthusiastic sales executives - will determine which financial product to buy and when. In this, they will rely increasingly on their social groups - not only for advice about financial products but in some cases for the product itself, when the product in question is, say, a Peer to Peer loan.

My opinion is that such developments don't herald the death of the banking product as much as a reincarnation, in as many avatars as there are customers. Long live all of them!

August 28, 2012

Infosys recognized as one of the Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces™ in the United States

Posted by Nandini S. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:37 AM

This annual award recognizes top employers showcasing leadership and innovation in engaging their employees. At Infosys, we've always understood that these practices are not just good for employees but the bottom line for us people managers.

In fact, just last week, when I came by Nandita's article about how Human Resources leaders can equip the department to truly deliver business value, I was particularly drawn to her views around the HR manager's role in employee engagement through periods of change management.

Just as the business invests in storyboarding a compelling corporate proposition that customers can identify with, I believe, the Human Resources organization, within enterprises, needs a great story to drive positive perceptions within the organization. This is especially critical during times of change management. In fact, companies that routinely break path and walk the road-less-taken have long since realized that it is their HR leaders who are best placed to help evangelize the transition from within.

So, what are the key steps that these HR professionals take to ensure employees are ready to embrace the organization's new strategy and add further value to the business?

  • They invest time and effort to help employees identify and appreciate the wisdom of the changed strategy, and its direct implications for them - both at the rational and emotional levels. For example, projected returns on current business strategies that will translate into bigger bonuses, or positive changes in their role profiles would have a rational appeal. Communicating near-term wins appropriately and consistently keeps the mood upbeat. In my experience, it resonates best when senior managers communicate these messages with honesty and empathy to the work force. But scripting that story that managers can confidently deliver is best done by competent HR professionals.
  • They ensure that employees - across ranks - are involved in a participative process that vests them with ownership of role-specific innovations and contributions to the execution of the new strategy. Without ownership of contribution, they won't own results either!
  • Everyone agrees it's best to "Recruit for attitude, and train for skills." Smart HR policies, especially during phases of change management, unfailingly reward both the right attitude and new skills acquired to drive the emerging new strategy.
  • Is it easy for employees to communicate with us? Do we have several listening ports instituted? Do we unfailing respond to employees with speed and sensitivity? If we can ask employees to put customers and the interests of the business first, are we not bound to put employees first? These questions have greater implications during times of change.

Finally, setting clear communication objectives and measurable outcomes not only makes the employee buy-in process clearly efficient, but helps articulate the HR organization's role and contribution in the enterprise scheme of things.

In fact, this is precisely what our business consultations advice as recipe for our clients, helping their workforce through change management, when their enterprise is in the throes of transformation.

August 27, 2012

Renewing our vows

Posted by Jan Erik Aase (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:34 AM

This month my wife and I are celebrating our 30 year anniversary .  It should go without saying that I've spent the last few months trying to think about what we will do to celebrate.   Of course, a natural place to look for reminders of that wonderful day was our wedding album. (Yes, it is an album full of printed pictures - digital pics, DVDs and personal video cams didn't exist in the early eighties).  As I looked through our wedding album, I realized how much we've changed.  Sadly the extra weight, wrinkles, grey hair and aging were pretty obvious changes...for my wife, and I just look more distinguished today (ha ha, don't let my wife see this post!!).

All joking aside, what I realized was that my wife is no longer the same person I married.  I know that I actually love and care for her more today than I did in 1982, but her needs, likes, and concerns are much different today versus when we were dating and first married. I also know that I am different; most importantly I now have a job, make more money and hopefully have much more to give to our relationship. I also discovered that many people choose to renew their vows at this point in their marriages.  It is a wonderful reminder of why you got married in the first place and hopefully it creates an appreciation for why you want to be married for another 30 years.

All of this got me thinking about renewing our vows with our clients. It got me thinking about recent conversations I've had with both Infosys clients and non-clients, and research I published while I was a principal analyst at Forrester. In that research, I'd asked clients what their concerns were about the future of offshore outsourcing. One point that was in their top 10 concerns was the need to be "re-courted or won over again" by their vendors. This sentiment echoes in what I am reading between the lines in various RFPs I've recently seen.  Clients are telling me/us that they don't know who some of their vendors are today as compared with the company they hired 8-10 years ago. They also don't believe their vendors know how they've changed, who they are, and what their needs are today. 
Rock the boat baby: If everything is going well (all my SLAs and KPIs are green) why would I rock the boat?! My wife is a creature of habit, I know her favorite meal is a medium-rare filet mignon, a loaded baked potato and a Caesar salad. But recently, I introduced her to some Latin influenced Chinese food and she loved it. She asked why I had waited so long to share those dishes with her. Often our clients don't realize we have additional services or different engagement models that we could offer that might suit them better than what we are doing for them today.  Don't wait for an RFP or for clients to ask, take a deeper look at your clients and suggest a change in their dinner choices that might just surprise them.

Location, location, location: Relationship therapists often suggest that couples experience a change of scenery to put a spark back in their marriage. Many vendors were very India-centric a dozen years ago and might still be delivering in the same manner today even though they now have delivery centers all around the world and a much more robust Global Delivery Model (GDM).  Our clients are increasingly becoming more global in their offerings and operations.  New delivery location might just be the trick to add a spark back into our client relationships and the value we provide.

What do they need?: Clothing, jewelry and perfume have always been sure hits as gifts for my wife. But she is now the mother of four very active and demanding daughters. I recently figured out that the gift she would most appreciate is a trip away from all of us!  That doesn't mean she doesn't still want those other things but she has different needs today. Our clients are also in different positions today, maybe in relation to their industry, their size, their revenue or even their stability. We might have capabilities, alliances, or even products that would be very beneficial to them today.   We won't know if we aren't offering those new capabilities to our clients.

KISS - (Keep It Simple, Stupid): One of my wife's favorite things to say to me before I embark on solving problems or giving advice. We should also keep this in mind as we look to re-court or woo our clients. Don't do a full marketing blitz on them, they won't like it.  Think long and hard about the message and only tell them relevant things about who you are today as compared to when they hired you.  Emphasize why they should want to remain "married" to us.

Impress them, care for them, win them over -the second honeymoon will be a lot more enjoyable!!!

August 24, 2012

The bank is dead. Long live banking.

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:33 AM


Are predictions about the death of bank branches or even banks, exaggerated? Likely. But there's no denying the decimation of the bank, and especially the branch, as we know it: it is estimated that branch activity in the developed world is down by 90 percent compared to what it was around 20 years ago.  In his latest book, "Branch Today, Gone Tomorrow", bestselling (and controversial) author Brett King declares that his children might never need to enter a branch when they're older. I think he has a point.

But, even as haloed banking institutions make headlines for closing down the largest number of branches (they're also cutting ATMs), banking itself is coming along just fine. With the emergence of a host of alternative financial service providers - from retail chains to mobile operators to social lending startups - the fate of banking is no longer tied to that of the bank. Indeed, going by indications such as Walmart's success with their debit card, the growth of peer-to-peer lenders like Zopa, or even the popularity of the exploitative Payday Loan, it's clear that banking, while it has broken its traditional mould, is very much alive and kicking.  Only, lending and borrowing is no longer the sole prerogative of the traditional bank. Nor is product innovation or process design.

Where does this leave the bank? In a pretty optimistic place, I'd say. In my view, by disrupting the status quo, these developments have forced banks to look at new revenue opportunities and elevating their role of financial intermediary to that of trusted financial advisor. The good news is that this is where banks have the upper hand over all their new rivals, for they are the only ones with access to rich historical data and expertise built over decades of existence. What's more, they also have a tailwind in the rising demand for advisory services among consumers who continue to search for ways to preserve their financial resources. There are options aplenty. At the top of the list are Personal Financial Management tools; tools such as financial modelers, comparators and simulators that banks are already providing to relationship managers - or their customers - to help with budgeting, expense management, retirement planning and investment decisions. Imagine the impact banks could make if they could link up these tools to their customers' accounts and thereby proactively make recommendations that are relevant up to the minute!

Thanks to advances in mobile and social technology, banks can leverage their vast structured and unstructured data resources to provide consumer friendly financial advice anytime, anywhere. Think advisory apps that customers can download for a fee from the Internet onto their smartphone or other mobile device... an example could be that of a social investment advisor application, which tells users which products their friends or social network community members have purchased recently. 

Also, starting now, banks must take their usage of analytics to a higher level, where insights are not only used to understand the past, present and future, but to actually provide financial advice to customers before they ask for it. So, yes, the old bank is dead. Long live banking in its new avatar!

August 22, 2012

A challenge. A cause. A commitment.

Posted by Krishnan Narayanan (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:51 AM

Source:USAID & National Rural Health Mission

Who can disagree - when work is a passion, every day is a joy? For some it's all about the fun at work, for others breaking a record, creating something new perhaps, or making a difference. It's a little bit of all of this that drives me.  That's why, I deem it a grand privilege to be at the forefront of the team from Infosys that's working shoulder to shoulder with MDG Health Alliance and the United Nations Foundation to end child diarrheal deaths, in support of the United Nations Secretary-General's Every Woman Every Child movement. This team works to scale up access to oral hydration therapy and zinc formulations all over the country.

Ground realities, when it comes to child mortality, in India are stark. Over 60% to 70% of the 2 million children who die in India, every year, can clearly be saved. The culprit being poor neo-natal care and healthcare protection from just 5 illnesses - including diarrhea. 235,000 children die, every year, due to diarrhea alone. In the past several weeks, I have participated in numerous round table discussions and task force meetings convened to address various aspects of this challenge. And frankly, it's been an eye-opener.

Now, I know, we must focus on 3 distinct aspects: 
• Generate consumer and health-provider demand for oral hydration therapy and zinc products
• Increase supply of oral hydration therapy and zinc products in varying formulations
• Distribute and ensure easy availability of these in the far-flung corners of India

Creating awareness about oral hydration therapy and zinc amongst consumers is critical. In several villages, in India, zinc is associated with fertilizers and hence considered unfit for consumption. Educating rural healthcare workers is so critical. To enable this, at Infosys, we've developed a mobile-based decision support system to empower healthcare workers to provide primary healthcare service accurately and efficiently.

I see some interesting possibilities for pharmaceutical and consumer goods companies, in India, to lend some muscle to the supply and distribution side of things. Of course, technology can play a significant role in enabling collaboration between various task force members of this initiative. And, strengthen the foundation for co-creation too. I see distinct scope for Infosys Labs to harness the power of technology for this initiative.

Over the years, as part of my role at Infosys Labs, I've spent days on end discussing innovation with clients - leveraging technology to create business impact, setting up co-creation programs and such like. Now, for the first ever, I find myself applying all that experience and learning to take on a grand health challenge. And a worthy cause. 
It's exhilarating. It's fulfilling. It's the stuff that radical progress is made of. 

August 20, 2012

Supply Chains: Perhaps Lean and Flexible, but are they Predictable?

Posted by Komal Jain (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:13 AM

blog18_new.jpgOne quick look down the past 20-30 years for changes in the supply chain, and you'll see straight off that organizations have been focusing on making their supply chains more efficient by reducing inventory, implementing just-in-time ideas, consolidating vendors and leveraging technologies like RFID.  On the other hand, the very nature of business has become increasingly transcontinental and so has the supplier-manufacturing base of many large enterprises.  This is clearly bringing in a "global" dimension to the efforts that several companies are making - investing to the tune of several millions of dollars to make their supply chains lean and flexible.

Lean supply chain efficiency is an acknowledged success metric for many companies, today, as enterprises strive to consolidate efforts down to a single supplier or location.  However, what's taken a backseat, in the process, is the element of risk management for supply chains.  Look at some of these telling facts:
•  Toyota's car production, in Japan, plummeted down a staggering 62.7% in March 2011 due to a parts supply crunch following the earthquake and tsunami. 
•  Intel was compelled to lower its quarterly guidance in Dec 2011 due to a hard disk shortage triggered by floods in Thailand.

Needless to say, companies must have robust strategies to address risk to the predictability of supply chains.  Some questions that must be answered are: 
•  What are the various types of supply chain risks involved?  Are these related to a location, a key supplier, Government compliance, technology obsolesce, IP Risk and such like.
•  What is the possible impact of the risk?  Impact can be measured in terms of revenues lost, time to market, market perception, loss of market share and such like 
•  What is the typical response time to react to risk?  Can the risk be contained within a matter of hours and what exactly will it take to restore normalcy?
•  What is the action plan once the disruption is apparent or imminent?  Who are the internal or external parties that need to be involved? What is the best possible way to minimize risk impact?

Having some of these answers ready and augmenting it with a comprehensive risk governance plan will help enterprises prepare to respond to natural disasters and put together a mitigation plan before the risk disrupts their supply chain. Because tomorrow's supply chains must also be smarter. And this means, not just lean and flexible, but predictable too.

August 17, 2012

The Insides of a Smarter Organization

Posted by Paddy Rao (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:39 AM


Efficient organizations are commonly mistaken for smarter organizations. But a smart organization is way beyond efficient - it can reinvent itself as and when required, without external initiatives or intervention.   Recently, I wrote here, about the first steps in the journey towards becoming a smarter organization  -  building a learning organization.  Learning organizations disseminate and leverage knowledge to generate new ideas and innovate with business processes.  A corporate culture that is both self-reinventing and sustaining are as important as best practices, efficient processes and quality-focus.

Smarter organizations are efficient organizations first, and once best practices are in place they focus on other things - such as nurturing innovation by encouraging people to think differently or challenge the norm.  Most smarter organizations share some common traits, like:
1. a culture that supports or even encourages challenges to the company's belief system
2. an ecosystem of employees willing to define and share knowledge; and
3. processes, systems and technologies that aid knowledge-share

Why is it that  most companies are yet to become smarter organizations even as they invest heavily in knowledge sharing technologies?  I think two factors come in the way - Globalization and the Wiki culture. Let me explain.

Progress can be achieved quickly when dealing with an organization operating out of a single or few discrete locations. Here, it's possible to create a fairly uniform culture that encourages knowledge sharing. Building  a uniform culture in a global organization dispersed across a large number of locations - including client sites, delivery centers, and home offices is tricky. These typically have numerous "points of service" or locations that deliver to clients. These touch points are influenced by multiple cultures, policies, and value systems. What the organization then has is a composite of the environments at all these points of service.  Add to this an even larger number of "individuals" environs  - and you get a "bubble" of policies, beliefs and convictions that individuals operate in. While the aggregated environment might still be able to operate congruently, it is virtually impossible for individuals to do so.  Merely issuing policies and guidelines  won't help their case either.  Policies can only change behavior when they can penetrate through this bubble. That's why, beyond a consistent culture and clear communication, smarter organizations encourage behavior that enables knowledge sharing.  True knowledge sharing can only be achieved when it's treated as a practice or behavior and not managed by a function. And without coherent epistemological and ontological constructs, people share whatever they want and we end up with a Wiki , rather than a knowledge management system aligned with organizational priorities.

Now for the really tough part - challenging organizational beliefs and succeeding.  It's human nature to resist change.  Ironically, the same specialists that drive organizational efficiency may not be receptive to new or disruptive ideas. Although well intentioned, these experts may - knowingly or otherwise - create a caste system which only allows "experts" to share, shutting out the larger organization.  It's critical that every individual has a stake in knowledge sharing. Many times, knowledge sharing and challenging the organization starts at the top, with leadership engaged to drive an idea through the ranks. It's important that leaders tolerate and even welcome dissent, and demonstrate openness. In the absence of such behavior, employees will always hesitate to issue a challenge for fear of repercussion. Inspiring speeches from company leadership and posters plastered on walls can sometimes backfire too.  I once had a humbling experience as a division leader at GE where I was marched into the HR director's office and admonished for driving my unit a tad too hard to achieve stretch targets.  As no one protested, my belief was that everyone was just as committed as I was to meet the near-impossible goal, but such was not the case. 

Organizations address these bottoms-up and tops-down challenges with the help of "evangelists". It is the job of those responsible for building a smarter organization to identify and recruit evangelists - people passionate about their beliefs, and brave enough to share their thoughts with an indifferent or even hostile audience. Since evangelists are driven by conviction and not personal  reward, they are willing to persist with their beliefs and challenge the organization even at personal cost. Most importantly, they don't give up easily. While evangelists don't actually share ideas or knowledge, they create openness or belief in alternate ideas. Once this is achieved, transmitting new knowledge becomes easy.  But even evangelists cannot succeed in an organization that lacks the willingness to take risks.  

Needless to say, smarter organizations must have a risk appetite for change.  But, then again that is a conversation for another day!

August 14, 2012

Balancing the Equation Between Education and Employability

Posted by Srikantan Moorthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:14 AM

Ironically even as the population of the World is reported to be growing, study after study reports a shortage of skilled talent required for the knowledge economy. While it is the constant drop in the number of students opting to further their education in math and science, in the developed world, in countries like India where numbers don't pose a challenge, the issue lies is the quality of education. For example, even as the intake capacity for engineering courses in India has soared to 1.44 lakh students year-on-year, the employability number for engineers is reported to be in the 15% to 25% range. The gap is largely around the areas of applying leant concepts in the context of the problem to be solved. Communication skills and the ability to work effectively in teams is found lacking too. 

While this has, of course, resulted in the birth of a new breed of training centers called "Finishing Schools" the question is - are these enough? What's required is deep-rooted action, on the education front, to improve not just enrolment in science-based courses, but also their quality and industry relevance. One example I can think of is the United Kingdom's decision to revamp its ICT curriculum. In India, certain organizations have proposed the introduction of "community colleges", offering two-year associate degree programs providing high intensity vocational training as a way to improve enrolment from the nation's educational backwaters (small towns/ villages / economically weak segments). The U.S. has initiated legislative action seeking the reservation of green cards for foreign students admitted to graduate level science, technology, engineering and math programs, at its institutions, to tide over its tech-talent shortfall. 

That being said, as the biggest beneficiary of improved employability, industry must also share the load. The IT industry has taken a lead in that effort. Industry bodies like The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) and enterprises like Infosys, have demonstrated that industries can indeed engage with the larger educational system to make a change. There's also a case for organizations to make much larger investments in apprenticeship programs. For example, in Detroit, a city pummeled by layoffs in the auto industry, Infosys stepped up to help establish an IT training program for displaced workers .

And yet, the question remains - will all these efforts stand up and deliver?

August 13, 2012

Open for Commerce?

Posted by Girish A. R. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:45 AM

My 5 year old daughter loves this app on her iPad - it's called Endless Closet, and essentially lets her outfit her virtual Barbie doll. She often surprises me with her creative ensembles, and her vivid explanations about her choice of colors and accessories. Her birthday's coming up, and her ask this time is simple - she wants everything from the latest look she's created on the app so that she can look just like Barbie! 

How cool it'd be if the same app would tell me that the red dress she's chosen is from the Lime Soda collection at Pumpkin Patch, and those octopus hairclips are from Gymboree and the peep toes are from Gap Kids! And, what if I could shop for all of these right there within the app, and pay for it with one click? Sadly, none of this is possible today despite the fact that there is really no technological limitation to create an experience like this. 

The problem, I think, lies in the way e-commerce businesses are modeled today - it is largely a virtual replication of their successful brick-n-mortal counterparts. And that's a shame. Every day digital experiences today provide enough opportunity to discover (not search) and indulge (not shop) in a natural way. And that is the power of the digital world. Barely harnessed. 

The Endless Closet app could very well have sourced product catalogs from various brands. By enabling a personalized visual merchandising experience, the app stands a better chance of creating a commerce opportunity. And by making it easy to checkout without having to visit three sites, the path from browse-to-buy is shortened. 

It is this kind of commerce that today's digital consumers are ready for. Are online retailers Open for Commerce yet? 

August 10, 2012

Building tomorrow's nation

Posted by C. N. Raghupathi (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:38 AM

India's growth, over the last 2 decades, has been phenomenal. For the majority of us urbanites who stand at the cusp of India's transformational journey it's a rewarding experience. And, we barely see beyond the cocoon we are ensconced in. Yet, there lies a world beyond - Rural India.  72% of India resides in villages. And a significant section of these 6,50,000 odd villages does not have a single bank branch, leaving a speculated 40% of India's population unbanked. When it comes to insurance, the situation leaves even more to desire. Only 15% of the Indian population has life insurance in any form. The Indian Government, needless to say, has initiated powerful schemes to remedy this situation but still needs a vehicle to effectively carry this forth.

That's why India Post - the Indian Department of Posts - is truly significant. We are talking of an institution  with networks that reach the heart of the nation across 154,866 branches, of which 139,040 are in the rural core of India. Think about it. Every post office serves an area of 21.23 sq km and a population of  7114 people - a distribution unmatched by any bank in the world! Its history is as interesting.  Conceived by the East India Company as "Company Mail" in 1688, banking by India Post was initiated as early as 1860 and in 1882 this "postal banking" went national - with a network covering the length and breadth of India.  

Truly, it's a moment of pride and joy, for us at Infosys, to be singled out by this hallowed institution to partner their efforts to drive radical progress in India.What truly motivates me is the joint vision we nurture - millions of hitherto under-banked Indians gaining access to financial services and insurance through an institution that's earned and retained their trust for generations.  This will also play a key role in bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots across the urban-semi urban-rural divide. And, the fact that technology  is the de facto agent ringing in this wholesome change just makes it so much more exhilarating. 

For those of us, at Infosys, working to build tomorrow's nation, the journey that began quite some while ago has been a long and multifaceted one.  We are striving, in partnership with the Indian Government, to better the Indian taxation system. We power the Indian Income Tax Department's central systems that process two thirds of India's income tax. Our energy systems are at the heart of Karnataka's (a South Indian state) power supply grid. Software from Infosys improves the productivity of milch cattle for Indian dairies. We have also recently been contracted to help author India's transport policy.  And our analytics engine plays a critical role in identifying the poorest of the poor in a concerted attempt to power rural development with the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty. 

Yes, it's a privilege to be entrusted with the task of nation building.  And, yet it is such a humbling experience to give back to the society that's nourished us with so much.

August 7, 2012

Cloud: Through the complexity.To the promise.

Posted by Vishnu Bhat (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:44 AM

A study of Cloud economics conducted, a year ago, concluded that by switching to Cloud computing, organizations could save half to two thirds of the total cost incurred on a 1,000 server setup across its lifecycle. But to view the Cloud as one more cost reduction mechanism is to miss the forest for the trees. Because, I believe, the really big leverage that the Cloud brings to enterprises is innovation acceleration - driving the execution of viable ideas. With the Cloud's promise of capacity, application and infrastructure delivery-on-demand, all enterprises need do is dream up innovative ideas for new offerings or improved processes, assured in the knowledge that the Cloud has all it takes to turn these into tangible products or delightful customer experiences. Freed from the shackles of long drawn process-cramped purchases of capex-heavy technology investments, enterprises can conveniently access capacity in incremental denominations, and then scale up (or down), at will, in response to a need - even as the business itself transforms into an infinitely smarter, and more agile entity that races to market leaving the competition behind.

But, before enterprise emerge as innovators in a happier future,  several nagging questions must be dealt with. Given that the evolved enterprise-Cloud environment is, typically, highly fragmented - comprising private, public and on-premise assets - how to provision and deploy services seamlessly, securely, at the frenzied pace that business demands and yet strike the most equitable deals? Which Cloud environment works best for a specific workload? How to ensure convenient enterprise-wide adoption? Is facilitating self-service an option even? How to manage unified governance? And most importantly, how to elevate this disparate workload-infrastructure-application mass to an integrated resource that sparks innovation-led growth?

The answer lies in bringing cohesion into the disjointed Cloud environment - translating into a single-window enterprise view of the Cloud ecosystem. (Which incidentally, is exactly what Infosys Cloud Ecosystem Hub does) CIOs can leverage this to optimize their Cloud setup by bringing clear traceability and accountability for processes - from provisioning to sustenance. Led by the CIO, the IT organization can potentially not only play a key role in enabling innovation on the Cloud, but also add ongoing value.  If indeed, a reliable single source of truth can be enabled for the enterprise Cloud environment, the CIO can gather deep performance insights, both at the aggregate and individual usage instance levels.  The technology organization can then add value to ongoing innovation projects by recommending the best Cloud-based course of action, premised on this objective evaluation. Incidentally, these interactions can also present to user-innovators - who pay for these resources - a clear picture of the yield on their Cloud investments.

There is a real possibility that the Cloud, when approached from a unified perspective - throughout its create-adopt-manage lifecycle - will bring never-before alignment between business and IT. That's because the concept is premised on seamless value creation between providers on the IT side and consumers at the business end. It is conceivable that at some time in the near future, even that differentiation will be erased to create a single entity, a Cloud user - sans business or tech affiliation - who will focus entirely on innovation. And that's the day the promise of the Cloud will be truly and fully realized.

August 6, 2012

Text mining: Digging for gold within the syntax

Posted by Akash Bhatia (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:22 AM


This post is co-authored with Chantrelle Nielsen.

Data mining is so yesterday.  Today, we're engulfed in text mining - the use of computer processing to understand patterns and trends in text - is becoming a more valuable business tool every day. Text mining technologies have developed at a rapid pace in the past decade and have become relatively sophisticated, but there is still no "out-of-the-box" text mining solution that plugs into existing business intelligence (BI) systems. That's because every business has unique discovery needs. And every business has its own internal unstructured data to consider. Most companies simply rely on software alone. The right solution is a mixture of human intelligence and effort along with software. Art and science. Thankfully, text mining can be applied to any available data source, provided it is made of or can be translated into text.

So where do you start? Analysis of customer support transcripts can not only help companies understand the details of issues that their customers face, but can help them standardize and streamline their customer support processes. For example, an online retailer might mine transcripts to identify the phrases used by the best customer support agents at resolving returns calls, and add these phrases to the standard scripts to replicate success.

We look at social media information as anything that's being said about a company outside the control of the marketing department. The most prominent venues include Facebook, Twitter, forums, blogs and media sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube. Consumers are creating an explosion of data there, and smart companies have active "Social Media Listening" teams or technologies to tap into this data stream and act on it. Many companies, especially those with intensive sales, service or support processes, are launching social networks and forums on their own sites. These forums help company personnel structure their interactions with customers, enable reuse of content, and bring down costs by enabling customers to actually support each other. Most companies start out with comprehensive human monitoring of their forums, but as the activity levels grow, this often becomes too labor-intensive to scale. While social CRM platforms typically include some data structure, such as discussion categories and contributor ratings, mining the "meat" of the discussions can be rewarding. For example, a semiconductor manufacturer might choose to monitor its engineer forums for mention of competitor products. This could help it learn about features that its customers are interested in that the company doesn't currently offer, or even about customer accounts that might be in danger of being lost to competition.

There are many other scenarios where insights can be shared across other business units to reduce costs or provide better service. For example, insights from customer support can be used to drive product lifecycle; or research from competitive intelligence can drive R&D investment. Human Resources can learn what recruits and prospective employees say about the company in social media, and it can learn why employee turnover is on the rise. Marketing can test reactions to various price increases. Product development can learn which features customers are responding most to.

With this much opportunity, there should be a clear market leader in unstructured data analysis. Instead we have a host of competing tools and vendors, making the tool and services selection difficult.In general, the tools and services fall into three main buckets - Business Intelligence, Online Analytics and Predictive Analytics. The BI market is well established and dominated by Oracle, IBM and SAP. The online analytics space has been attracting the most attention (especially social media), but the rate of innovation in this area is slowing. 

What about the Predictive Analytics space, crucial to many large businesses?  Unfortunately, there is no "ERP for analytics." So how do we approach this issue? First, companies must try to articulate the business value that unstructured data would add; most attempts at a justification will be illustrative and not grounded in facts, so beware the tyranny of numbers here. Second, companies should hone in on the functional domains to be covered and define the business scenarios that would be impacted by such analytics. It is in this phase after the business scenarios have been articulated that we recommend the choice of technology vendors. The market for service providers and vendors is confusing. Most of the investment dollars in this area usually go to the safe areas (BI) or to the areas that have the most hype (Social Media analytics). Don't be like everyone else; look at some of the emerging opportunities as a way to differentiate your data-mining program. To make this all work, you may need to assign someone with cross-functional reporting relationships to own unstructured data for the entire company, or at least groups of related functional areas.

Companies most likely to succeed in this new age of "social business" will use analytics to drive competitive differentiation and tune up HR, marketing, sales and support. They'll start small, figure out where the business value really is, and make analyzing unstructured data someone's full time responsibility.

August 3, 2012

When the parts matter the most

Posted by Komal Jain (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:25 AM

The computer industry has always tussled with the problem of forging a unique identity.  Semiconductor companies and other hardware component suppliers for consumer electronics typically lack a direct relationship with end customers.

Yet some companies have overcome this by ultimately bypassing the actual end product by marketing their innards.  Most industry pundits believe that Intel was the trendsetter, when they began their marketing campaign in PCs with the label "Intel Inside."  The message was that if you bought a computer with this label, you could trust the microprocessor, which most users vaguely knew was the brains of the machine.  Or at least as critical to the performance as the engine was in their car.   

We call this practice "ingredient branding," but the reality is that it has been around to a lesser degree and perhaps far longer with other products.  Gore Tex in clothing, NutraSweet in recipes, Teflon in cookware, Shimano gears on high-end bikes, are good examples of successful parts suppliers that have achieved a certain marketing status among end users.  Rayon and Lycra have become famous thanks to smart clothing manufacturers, and yet I'll wager that most people have no idea that DuPont, the giant chemical concern, invented them.  

Much of the ingredient marketing comes from large companies that are merely putting a huge effort in a new brand. But I think there is ample room for co-creation and partnerships where the quid pro quo is increased sales and prestige for everyone involved.  

There's no reason that co-creation and ingredient marketing can't find its way into the B2B space. For example, a leading semiconductor company can use social media and communities to co-create its next generation of microprocessors.  Beyond the few major consumer electronics manufacturers there are hundreds more smaller tech companies that have no more than 30 people in their shop.  Yet these companies - where unfettered, creative energy is often in the greatest supply -- will be the source for innovation, especially in emerging economies.  

Establishing these one-to-one relationships and incorporating the community into product development processes provides a competitive advantage and greater agility in penetrating new markets.

August 1, 2012

Supply and demand management: Optimizing the flow

Posted by Vikram Vij (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:44 AM

We've all seen headline-grabbing stories on supply chain disruptions caused by tsunamis, floods and other natural disasters. These occurrences create volatility that results in manufacturers scrambling for alternate suppliers, production delays and unhappy customers who are quite vocal.  But, I think there as large, if not greater, systemic challenges in supply chain and demand side planning, especially for smaller outfits in emerging economies.

It's all about having the right information for decision-making.  Today, businesses must be able to quickly adapt to rapid market shifts and also accommodate their customers faster than ever.  If they can't, they lose the account, no hard feelings.  On the supply side, emerging markets have lots of suppliers but imperfect information.  Companies take huge risks by switching suppliers if there's little reliable data on supplier performance or financials.  Having automated capability - to manage contracts and determine which suppliers meet the terms -provides insight on competitiveness.  Manufacturers can use this technology to reduce errors, calibrate payment cycle time, and negotiate better prices from suppliers. On the demand side, distributors lack adequate information from their downstream sellers - predominantly mom and pop stores - in emerging markets. The prevalence of small retailers in emerging markets represents a special demand side problem for distributors.  Inventory can lie around for months.  Lack of data exchange prevents retailers from knowing what's in their store inventory or warehouse.  Unsellable inventory can pile up while customers demand out-of-stock items.  
The winners will be those companies best able to leverage analytics in collaboration with their supply and demand supply-chain planning.  Data analytics plays a huge role along with predictive analytics. Changes in supply can be modeled and contextualized to understand impacts. Shop floor technicians can use one dashboard to understand production impacts.  Executives can view another to understand financial effects. Key performance indicators can be shared throughout the organization to keep everyone apprised of performance.  

With operations, let's say, you're dealing with a big machine or a tractor. The cost of the breakdown of those kinds of machines, if it catches you unaware, is huge. There's downtime costs too. Then the time and expense to ship those kinds of parts just in time to fix it. Those are not the kind of parts that you can just put in a UPS truck. What you want to do is predict when things could happen, and act proactively to prevent that kind of a negative scenario.

Empowering  the retailer to automate this information flow, or at least make it easier, will provide a big competitive advantage.   The same sophisticated systems used by large retail chains won't work.  What's needed, in emerging markets, is a simple system where shop-owners can use their mobile devices to provide inputs.   

This would put better information about the supply chain or demand planning at the fingertips of those that need it - literally!  

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