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June 27, 2013

A Retail Giant's Top 5 Management Pointers

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:32 PM


No Noise at Selfridges [Source:Selfridges http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_BHskOcY7k]

The man who changed the face of shopping, Harry Gordon Selfridge, lived more than a century ago. His department store in London, with its dazzling window displays and helpful sales associates, made shopping - for the first time in history - less chore and more fun. His store continues to be a beloved part of the British retail scene.

There was another side to the American-born Selfridge. He is also known as a bit of a management guru. Thanks to the books he wrote about leadership and the history of the retail industry, we can continue to enjoy his wit and wisdom. Make no mistake: Selfridge's ideas are timeless and just as relevant today as they were in the early 20th century.

One of the reasons Selfridge built such a successful retail empire is that he was very much in touch with his customers and employees. He was a self-made man, so he knew what it took to build a business from the ground up. Doing so took a lot of innovation. It also took being an effective and responsive manager. Here are the best of his pointers:

1.The boss depends upon authority, the leader on goodwill. Despite his immense wealth, influence, and familiarity with members of the British aristocracy, Selfridge was known to walk the floor of his department store and chat with janitors, doormen, and stockroom workers. He enjoyed reminding them that with hard work they, too, could build a business like he had done. Such words of encouragement created a loyal and driven pool of employees.

2.People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice. This is a very Edwardian way of urging leaders to more aware of their company and the marketplace. How many executives are so aloof from those "in the trenches" that they miss out on the main issues affecting them and the market? Selfridge was never afraid to ask for criticism and commentary from all of his employees. Doing so made him very aware of what was happening in all parts of the company.

3.The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. Instead of dwelling on whom to blame for a problem, an effective business leader fixes the management chain (all while acknowledging that he or she is an integral part of it rather than floating above it) so that the same problem won't happen again.

4.The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how. In any organization, people respond to a leader who isn't afraid of taking up the reins. Part of taking up that mantle of leadership is to teach along the way. As employees learn more and become more experienced, the company's investment in them becomes more valuable.

5.The customer is always right. This is certainly the most famous saying attributed to Selfridge and also the most interesting in light of the rise of social media. Customers are more powerful than ever because like wildfire they can spread their opinions about a product on the Internet. It's great if your product gets rave reviews and quite another if a complaint goes viral. Companies have to be responsive to consumers like they've never been before. Does becoming more powerful, however, make them more right?

A friend of mine - a retired advertising executive - told me that when he pitched a book about his management philosophy to a publisher, the company's response was somewhat sobering. They told him that more than 2,500 books on leadership and creating effective organizations were published each year. What kind of management perspective, they asked, could he bring to the table that would make his book the breakout hit of the year? The more he thought about it, my friend realized that most of his pointers were old standbys that had come down through the decades as no-nonsense approaches to leadership. He decided not to write the book after all and instead concentrated on mentoring young executives.

I imagine his choice would have made Harry Gordon Selfridge, the originator of some of the best management pointers, quite happy indeed.

June 24, 2013

Tablet, Thy Time Has Come

Posted by Anup Uppadhayay (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:44 AM


Top 5 tablets and mobile phones from MWC 2013 [Source: WhichWebsite  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQZvLWyXah4]

Just when you thought your smartphone was the center of your digital life, something new comes along. This year we've officially passed the threshold into the new computing model with tablets becoming the platform of choice. Doesn't it seem like we just took delivery of our smartphones like, uh, yesterday? To be sure, the smartphone's trajectory is going up, up, up. It has enormous growth potential. But it's sobering nonetheless that the computer industry and the marketplace that drives it sometimes seem to be moving a lot faster than we are. Like a shark cutting through the ocean at breakneck speed while we're just treading water.

Mary Meeker, the former Internet analyst who's now a major player in the private equity world, outlined the exponentially rapid growth of the tablet in her annual internet trends report. First the big picture: Meeker says that global traffic of mobile devices as a percentage of global Internet traffic is unrelenting. It's been growing at 1.5 times a year for some time now and is likely to maintain that rate for the next few years. The trend line, therefore, is that mobile devices accounted for 0.9 percent of Internet traffic at the end of 2008. By the end of 2014, they could account for a quarter of all Internet traffic.

In the mobile category, Meeker compared the first 12 quarters (that is to say, three years after each launch) of cumulative unit shipments of Apple's iPad and iPhone. iPad shipments are almost three times greater than iPhone shipments at this point. Even more profound is how quickly tablets are blowing away desktop and notebook PCs including netbooks. In the first quarter of this year, after just three years on the market, consumers are buying more tablets than they are picking notebooks or desktops - both of which have been around for decades. Again, that's not to say desktops and notebooks are going the way of the dodo bird. Sales of both types of computer continue to sell millions of units worldwide. It's simply that sales of tablets are outpacing them and will most likely continue to post exponential growth for the next few years.

Those of us who use tablets have come to enjoy the fact that they combine all that's convenient in a smartphone with the substantial feel and larger screen of a notebook. Their apps are perfect for both business and personal use. Plus, the tablet is becoming increasingly diverse in its size, design, functionality, and price point. Some diehard smartphone fans have pointed out that if tablets get any smaller, they'll turn into ... smartphones. Indeed, that's part of their success story, according to Meeker. The smart phone essentially gave birth to the larger and more sophisticated tablets, which - you've probably guessed by now - will become the proud parents of the third generation of this family: the wearable computer. The reality is that the creation of this next-generation computer will be driven by a combination of higher functionality and lower cost. Meaning we'll see 10 billion computer users/units by 2020, compared with 1 billion users a decade ago and a scant 1 million users worldwide back in the mid-1970s, according to Meeker.

If history is any guide, chances are wearables will start hitting stores the moment we've all adopted the tablet and have become universally comfortable with it as our go-to computer. That's not such a bad thing. Like a bolt of lightning followed by a thunderclap, innovation usually arrives with a bit of disruption in tow.

June 21, 2013

How to Narrow the Skills Gap for More American Jobs

Posted by Sandeep Dadlani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:18 AM

Mind the gap. Those of us who have ever spent time in London know of this signage in the city's many Underground stations. It's meant to remind us not to get our feet caught between the edge of the platform and the train. As we blaze a trail into the innovative world of tomorrow, It's a good idea to mind a different gap.

The one I speak of is the skills and talent gap facing many Global 2000 companies. The irony is that these companies tend to do business in countries that boast stellar university systems. It's within the walls of these colleges and universities that a significant share of the Western world's younger population graduates. Yet large corporations have trouble finding enough qualified candidates for job openings that demand specialized, high-tech skills. I'm not here to discuss the state of higher education in the Western world. I'm here to tell companies that they need to step up and make sure they have programs in place that help hone the talents of workers for the jobs of the 21st century. In Atlanta, where I work and live, the unemployment rate hovers between 7 and 9 percent. Yet there are plenty of jobs available in the metro Atlanta region. What's going on?

Well, there's a disconnect between the positions that global companies want to fill and the general skills with which many people are searching for jobs today. It's not that their talents are bad or useless; they're simply not suitable for many of the high-tech careers being offered at these companies.

We in Infosys should know. Infosys recently announced its expansion in the metro Atlanta region and is looking to hire hundreds of new employees. The best part of these developments is that I'm confident we'll find most of this new talent pool right here in greater Atlanta. First we begin by working with area universities like Kennesaw State, Chattahoochee Technical College, Georgia Tech, and other schools in helping them refine their curriculums so that students are more prepared to work in a high-tech company. Students at these universities have a tremendous advantage because they know what kinds of skill sets are required before they graduate.

Another part of our strategy is to work with a program like QuickStart. The State of Georgia supported QuickStart, a program to help train students for various IT industry positions. We're sending our Infosys trainers to work with QuickStart in order to help get students prepared for their career after they graduate. Doing so helps us widen the talent pool because, frankly, we need highly skilled people to grow.

Having a bright future isn't limited solely to undergraduates. For instance, Infosys predicts that we might be able to fill half our positions in Atlanta through lateral hiring, not just university hiring. Therefore, experienced workers who have been away from full-time employment for the past few years because of the global economic crisis should be focusing on updating their skills.

At the internal training programs of Infosys BPO in Atlanta, which typically last between two and six weeks, we sometimes share with new employees what it means to be global. It means being comfortable about being on a conference call with China. Or discussing strategy with colleagues from Brazil. Or collaborating with a team in India. We're a very cosmopolitan, multicultural company, which is an advantage in today's marketplace. Diversity is an asset instead of something to be scared about. And we would all benefit from the heightened presence of highly skilled workers.

I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on a local Atlanta talk show during which the hostess, Keisha Lancelin, asked me about the Global Impact Award Infosys had been honored to receive by the metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. She said that she imagined many companies in the area were wondering how they could train and prepare highly skilled workers for the years to come. My advice is not to look at such programs as transactional but invest in the local society and ecosystem that eventually benefits enteprises globally.

To be sure, start local. Work with wonderful programs such as YWCA is doing with their Teen Girls in Technology program for STEM in Atlanta. Georgia's Economic Development Authority helps prepare students for high-tech careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields by partnering with companies like Infosys. But then look forward to the whole community for support. Before you know it, your organization will be thinking and acting on a global scale and attracting the best people.

June 19, 2013

Accepting the New Digital Consumer

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:03 AM


Nutella Commercial [Source : TOKENFATK1D http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThIrw_LpuRA]

A significant part of the information revolution that's unfolded rapidly over the past several years is around metadata that can be sliced, diced and interpreted in such ways that organizations gain insights about their customers. We learn about behaviors as a group of course, but companies are going deeper to get a glimpse of an individual's tastes and preferences. This development gives enormous influence to consumers. So much so that companies need to accept the fact that consumers now have most of the power in a digital marketplace.

Not convinced? Well, individuals can disrupt or even shut down a business ultimately if they leverage their brand communities and social media outlets in certain ways. That's the stark change that's come about in the digital world. Imagine for a moment if the owner of a company said today that you could buy the product his company made in whatever color you wanted so long as it's black. I reckon that he would go out of business very quickly. Yet it's hard for some companies to grasp this fact. Yesterday's all-powerful organizations can no longer dictate to consumers what they want or need. A corporation has two choices: It can draw a line in the sand and challenge this convention. Or it can accept the new reality of the digital age and engage with its consumers to influence the conversation.

One of my favorite treats is a wonderful chocolate-hazelnut spread called Nutella. I read with interest recently that one of its loyal customers organized a 'World Nutella Day'. Initially the company that owns the brand, Ferrero, was taken by surprise by the fact that the customer rally originated not in its corporate suites but rather out there among its fans. My first reaction, of course, is that every company should have this kind of problem on its hands! Wouldn't we all like to be faced with the prospect of having to deal with loyal fans who create a global day devoted to our products? Still, I understand the company's point of view. Brand management is an important, long-term effort. Left unchecked, a product's name and reputation can veer of course quite quickly. The Nutella episode, however, supports my premise that companies have two options in how they can deal with the new reality of consumer power and influence. At first, the corporation sent a cease-and-desist order to the fan who organized the online World Nutella Day. According to reports, doing so angered some fans and risked an online revolt. So the company chose the second option: It withdrew its letter to the fan, accepted the reality of its customers' collective influence, and worked with them. I'm getting hungry just thinking about that online festival.

The story about the hazelnut spread also supports my belief that companies need to be prepared for a new and potent version of a consumer perception that's as old as the hills: buyer's remorse. The minute someone has purchased something, it's human nature to feel as though he didn't get the best option or the best price because there is something better out there that he just didn't know about. Today's digital consumers are more conscious of missing out on something because of their access to data. Companies need to better understand their customers as individuals and doing away with the dangerous perception of after-purchase remorse.

One of the most important aspects of a company embracing the digital influence of consumers is how it operates its social media channels. Don't be fooled by big numbers. A million social media followers are just that - a big number. The real test is how you're segmenting that big number and building relationships with a small, valuable, core group.

June 17, 2013

Innovation: Of risks, dead-ends and success

Posted by Simon Towers (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:14 AM

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Leonardo da Vinci is best known for his paintings and frescoes. The piles of yellowed notes and diagrams he let pile up in his workshop might not be as beloved as the Mona Lisa, but they explain why multi-talented people are often referred to as Renaissance men (or women). When he wasn't painting, Leonardo was busy attempting to build helicopters, design plumbing networks, and create a host of other fascinating engineering projects. Five centuries on, we can confidently say that this famous artist never developed a workable helicopter. His drawings contain far more dead-ends and messy blueprints for never-realized projects than anything that was ever utilized. But that's part of why da Vinci's notebooks are so interesting to modern-day audiences. He's proof that innovation and creativity aren't necessarily neat, tidy, and the domain of people wearing white laboratory coats. Take another innovator, Thomas Edison. He was known to have experimented with thousands of different materials in his quest to find the optimal filament for a light bulb. His studio was always a cluttered mess. Creative types like Edison and da Vinci didn't view their efforts as searching for the right answer as much as they did searching for any answer. It's probably why, by redefining the question and becoming unbridled in their creative abilities, they were so successful in their various pursuits.

Companies that foster cultures of innovation and creativity do so at their own risks. But those are risks worth taking. To be sure, it can often be expensive and even embarrassing to report to shareholders or private equity executives that a certain program or initiative didn't shape up as quickly or as profitably as desired. The big picture, however, is that once these companies create the right culture for creativity and innovation, a lot of other things fall into place. Consider what the founder of Digital Equipment, Ken Olsen, said in 1977: "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in [his] home." Shareholders and investors at the time probably applauded what sounded like a prudent take on the computer market. Considering what a computer was in the mid-1970s, would anyone want to come home to one? Yet here we are 35 years after that comment and none of us can think of living without a computer. Not only in our homes, but in our pockets, purses, and backpacks as well.

Getting from what a computer was to what they're becoming now was worth the trip, even though the road to innovation was filled with detours, potholes, and bumps along the way. It's certainly not a superhighway where a driver can set cruise control and glide contently to his next destination. That goes for computers or any other innovation.

Sometimes payoffs aren't so visible. Yet they are just as important and enduring to a company. Fortunate are those who work in organizations where individual accountability is an essential ingredient. Indeed, innovation and creativity require accountability; sending creative people off to do a task without a clear sense of purpose usually leads to disaster. Another facet of innovation is the ability to see things that nobody else can see. So if a leader can trust and let go of hesitance, then innovation can embed itself in the culture of the organization.

From my own experience at Infosys, our culture of innovation is a direct offshoot of the creative machine that first began in a two-room apartment more than 30 years ago. Our company's founders were relentless and stood down lots of challenges. History, both ancient and recent, is filled with people who are quick to condemn new technology. No doubt da Vinci was laughed at for trying to design a helicopter. But the culture of his workshop, which is not unlike the culture of a modern corporate innovator, was so embedded with a fearless, optimistic outlook. Speaking of history, one terrific innovation trumps a notebook filled with dead-ends.

But then again, it's usually the combination of those dead-ends, scribbled on yellowed scraps of paper, that helps someone attain a creative goal in the first place.

June 14, 2013

Innovation Abounds in the Emerging Economies

Posted by Rangarajan V. R. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:11 AM

Man Of Steel - Official Teaser Trailer [Source: FilmTrailerZone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ll39CAovGrg]

An entertainment industry analyst recently said that a decade ago, when Hollywood grasped the prospect of China and Russia becoming the world's biggest movie markets, American producers settled on a global formula for their exports. Both Chinese and Russian audiences favored big, splashy action scenes over long-winded dialogue - and moviegoers in both countries couldn't get enough special effects. Little wonder that every blockbuster released over the last few years is an action thriller. Hollywood learned very quickly to recognize the unique opportunities within the two emerging markets and adapt its products. It's why American movies continue to be so successful around the globe.

Hollywood isn't alone among big American industries as it learns from markets outside its traditional comfort zone. Internet companies in China are riding the wave of mobile innovation that's getting a lot of attention and competing for local talent. Well known internet analyst, Mary Meeker, says the development of Internet-based businesses in China is going to be very different from how things played out in the West. Plus, any company wanting to grow globally over the next decade would do well to focus on these distinctions. Meeker, as many of us remember, was among the very first dot-com analysts back in the 1990s. She's now a partner at Kleiner Perkins, the venture capital firm where she recently gave her annual Internet trends report.

During the first quarter of this year, the number of Apple iOs and Android users in China surpassed those in the United States for the first time. Not exactly big news to anyone aware of China's enormous population and burgeoning middle class. What's interesting, however, is that China's population spends 55 percent of its total media consumption time on their smart phones and Internet. Compare that percentage to just 38 percent in the United States. Americans spend the bulk of their media time in the worlds of print, radio, and television. How 20th century!

Which brings up another point regarding East vs. West in redefining the transportation experience. Chinese think about cars in much different ways. Consider taxi apps in China's metropolitan areas. Riders can hail a cab by broadcasting their current location to available cabs instantly via smartphone. Or this one: During rush hour, you can bid on available taxis by offering extra tips up front, making it more likely that the driver comes and picks you up. Those of us who have ever worked in the Midtown Manhattan offices of Infosys and tried to hail a taxi during rush hour are no doubt envious of this app...

Our experiences have shown that it's better to create products and services for an emerging market based on the aspirations and needs of local consumers. Many Western companies grew accustomed to dictating to emerging markets like China what products and services they would consume instead of tailoring their products appropriately. Companies are quickly learning that when it comes to the Internet, China is a powerful innovator in its own right.

Another key observation of Infosys consultants is that it's important to exploit what we call "institutional voids." Think of these as business and innovation opportunities. In China's case, the lack of strict taxi regulations, enabled entrepreneurs to exploit the legal institutional voids to create the mobile apps described earlier. First mover advantage still holds and the ones that pounce first are usually happy they did.

True, the needs of consumers and institutional voids vary from market to market. But China is a far more complex and challenging place for Western firms because it's a growing innovation hub as well. Its home-grown talent is meeting the needs of its citizens and their appetites for apps that are often very different than those borne of Western firms.

Mary Meeker might have thought that she'd lived through it all when she chronicled the dot-com boom and bust. Today, whether Western Internet companies - savvy innovators in their own right - will be able to take on their Chinese counterparts in their home market is the great story unfolding before us. Perhaps even more exciting than the story of the dot-com era itself.

June 12, 2013

Market Dominance through Inclusivity

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:03 PM


Airtel Money, powered by Infosys WalletEdge, pushes the limits of financial inclusion in India

Google recently announced a plan to help build and maintain wireless networks across the emerging markets. Doing so could connect Google's lucrative ad-based model to billions of people who have yet to experience an Internet connection. Of course, reaching billions of people in places like South Asia and Africa may take a while. But do we really have any doubt their next market will be in outer space? I am kidding, of course. Well, just a little... What I mean is that these guys at Google have a track record of aggressively protecting and enhancing their revenue model. If you've watched their success over the last decade or two, you realize that this company defines inclusivity as more than simply reaching far and wide. It's more about maximizing market reach through new markets and services and dominating the market they're already in. Google's market is inclusive of the connected world.

In fact this concept of 'inclusivity' fits neatly into our New Commerce theme. And, we've done significant work with developing and deploying products for use and consumption in the emerging markets. After all, we were born in an emerging market country. Our heritage provides a key advantage in becoming and remaining a top global corporation that is nimble and understands the needs of every market and geographical area.

You hear a lot about the underserved. But just who are they? Well, we tend to forget that new forms of mobile banking are bringing the most basic of financial services to parts of the world that would have never been served by a conventional bank. That's where the cellular telephone - a compact, mobile computer - is now in the hands of hundreds of millions of people in the emerging economies. Whereas I might wait to get in front of my laptop to write an email or conduct online banking, several people across south Asia and Latin America have known nothing but their handhelds. That handheld device is their connection to the rest of the world. It's their economic lifeline. Many people in the emerging markets might never own a personal computer or have an Internet connection throughout the course of their lives. But the connections they possess on those cell phones can be just as potent. Statistics continue to support this view - for example, mobile phones accounted for a whopping 60.4 percent of the rural China's internet usage in 2012 and the 87 odd million mobile internet users in India are expected to double to nearly 164 million by end of March 2015.

A wonderful tale of disruptive innovation is playing out as we speak. Telecoms and banks are engaged in a fierce battle that will establish the next wave of financial services providers in emerging markets. It's all about making a connection between mobility and the market for cashless payments. We're talking about an ecosystem that encompasses millions of customers and thousands of merchants to accept mobile payments. Not to mention enabling a telecom or bank to wield a transaction platform on a mobile device that's just as sophisticated as a commercial bank. So, while mobiles help reach and un-reached, new commerce includes the un-included.

That's why we Infoscions can appreciate Google's strategy of inclusiveness. Innovative approaches to build out infrastructure in even the most remote parts of the world benefits society. Plus it protects their revenue model through expanded Internet access and online ads to be seen. Google is working with governments around the world to remove lingering barriers that prohibit access to the Internet. Undeterred by the pace of some governments, Google is even planning satellite networks and blimps to create makeshift transmission infrastructures. To those who recall Winston Churchill's ingenious wartime plans and ideas, you'd know that he would be impressed with Google's gumption if he were around today. Those blimps - Google's, not Churchill's - would only transmit wireless for a couple hundred square miles. Talking about getting to a Google customers one customer at a time! But emerging markets countries often require solutions that might seem off-beat by Western conventions.

That said, corporations stuck in an exclusively Western mindset are in danger of withering away. The coming century belongs to those organizations that think inclusively. And inclusivity means using technologies that might not be the catchall for every country and region. But by developing personalized technology solutions, companies like Google and Infosys put themselves at a tremendous advantage empowering themselves to achieve N=1 or delight the Segment of One while also achieving inclusivity.

June 11, 2013

Cost of Chasing Cool

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:18 AM

infy60.jpg

The beanbag and the red-felt billiard table - are two items that so embodied what it meant to be a hip dot-com start-up in the late 1990s. These two objects told the world that one's dot-com was all about tearing down the antiquated bricks-and-mortar business model. It also conveyed the distinct possibility that one was about to have an IPO that could potentially transform the entrepreneur and his dot-com buddies into multimillionaires. (at least on paper for a few weeks).

I'm kidding about the trappings for the most part, but not about chasing the element of cool and how that can often be a costly and futile activity. Simply being perceived as cool in the marketplace can have a low correlation to a firm's actual financial performance. Indeed, when it comes to a company's cool factor, bold, decisive actions in the marketplace tend to speak louder than the presence of beanbags in the reception area. Instead of focusing on long-term core values - to stakeholders, there's nothing cooler than that - companies sometimes get into the habit of chasing cool. When you chase something, you can place too much time and energy on differentiation for the sake of differentiation. Gains from such efforts can be fleeting.

Can companies spend too much time worrying about whether they're cool enough for today's most desirable consumers? They want to keep every youngish, highly educated, and affluent customer they can as well as attract new ones. And sometimes even drop big money to acquire a relatively small start-up in the hopes that it can win the company legitimacy among hipsters. While an acquisition is one of the best ways for a company to grow, it's not a proven method for instantly attaining an audience to make it cool again. Getting accepted by the "in" crowd takes time and effort - such a crowd usually perceives that a big company is trying to "pull a fast one" when it swallows up one of the smaller brands they cherish. So the big company's acquisition plans are quite a testament to the power of branding and reputation in today's fast-paced, data-filled world dominated by social media.

It would seem that companies would do well to develop robust platforms that give them leeway to differentiate themselves without breaking the bank. Consider two different strategies adopted by competing technology companies in this space. One is choosing the path of major acquisitions to become more relevant. The other is developing the capabilities necessary to catch-up in a market with the intent to dominate it. In both instances, having more robust platforms from the outset would have been useful. Another area where the cool factor might emerge is the combination of a company's business model and technology. It's a telling sign that a large company has to make an acquisition simply to get its hands on customer data that a start-up has accumulated over the course of just a few years. That the acquirer couldn't develop an in-house business model to achieve the same results (instead of a billion-dollar acquisition) might be a red flag to the board of directors that management needs to streamline its processes.

Certain CEOs of large, established companies are known for their management prowess because they never allow themselves to rest on their market-dominating laurels. They think and act like start-ups that have nothing to lose and the world to gain. An innovator like Jeff Bezos comes to mind. He's attained a level of cool because he doesn't allow anyone to dictate Amazon's market to him. He instead defines (and constantly evolves) what markets Amazon is in and what lines of businesses it might consider pursuing in the future.

So being cool is more about your management track record and ability to innovate than it is looking the part. If the dot-com meltdown taught us anything, it's that when a company goes bust, it's usually because it couldn't sustain its business model and couldn't even tell shareholders exactly what goods and services it delivered to the marketplace. And when that happens, the red-felt billiard tables and beanbag chairs are usually sold at a steep discount during the liquidation of the company's assets.

June 7, 2013

Creating an Educational Solution for Tomorrow's World

Posted by Franz - Josef Schuermann (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:47 AM

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Franz-Josef Schuermann, Country Head - Infosys Germany, with Aart de Geus, CEO, Bertelsmann Foundation

It's always encouraging to hear when the private sector offers hands-on solutions to the world's most pressing public problems. Take education. The Germans are well known for the unique way they structure their education system. From the time a student is enrolled in kindergarten, teachers begin assessing a child's intellectual strengths and weaknesses in order to channel them into various tracks.

One track is for the university-bound. These students will someday grow into refined, young adults reading Goethe, studying Nietzsche, and listening to Bach on Germany's ancient college campuses. Some of these college students will go on to graduate schools in various medical, legal, business, and artistic fields. Yet others are channeled into engineering schools, where they'll learn how to design and build the world's next generation of bridges, skyscrapers, and computers.

Some of the other non-university tracks in Germany's educational system are more vocational in nature. Certain students might be identified as possessing the right mindset and temperament to become master tradesmen like carpenters, welders or mechatronics.

This educational system seems to work very well in Germany. So much so that it got two important private entities thinking about how to build upon the concept's successes - and how to carry the concept even further. The Bertelsmann Stiftung - the charitable arm of one of the world's most distinguished media corporations - has teamed up with the Infosys Foundation to adopt the vocational identification and training systems used in Germany for some 500 million laborers in India.

There's a slang term in the corporate world that I enjoy using: "to up-skill." It refers to training and developing people who lack the right skills to face the challenges and demands of a modern world. By all accounts, India has a labor force of a half-billion under-skilled laborers, which, if given the proper training, could fill many unfilled vocational posts within the country. The joint venture between the Infosys and Bertelsmann foundations is notable because it addresses the need for highly skilled workers throughout India's rapidly growing industries. Just think: India's huge workforce ideally trained to meet its local demands for talent.

The reality is that global players in India as well as in the rest of the world are looking for workers with the right vocational skills who can roll up their sleeves and get to work. That's why the Bertelsmann/Infosys partnership is so exciting. Bertelsmann Stiftung brings in deep knowledge in vocational training and education curricula, is familiar with differences in local programs and is aligned with public stakeholders. Infosys is not only maintaining the world largest campus facilities but adds its experience in skilling-up a great workforce in the service and Information Technology sectors. Reflecting this, Bertelsmann and Infosys initiated a conference at the end of this year called "Vocational Education and Training in India: How can companies and public authorities can adequately tackle the skills gap?"

Infosys is inviting Indian clients as well as local subsidiaries of German enterprises maintaining plants and offices in India to the December conference that will take place on the company's Mysore campus. Together with public authorities and program stakeholder they will share their experience. The major goal of the conference is to identify companies volunteering on a pilot where education and work experience is built into one training program. Infosys will also be able to strengthen their relationships to their Indian and German clients and add value to their businesses besides our core services.

Public authorities are getting involved, too. Conference participants will define skills they're looking for in their future employees, to develop curricula around those skillsets. Because Bertelsmann is involved, it can contribute its knowledge of how to structure such programs overall given its past experience working within the German educational system. We're happy because a newly educated workforce will be ready to tackle the pressing needs of our global clients as part of the Indian economic landscape.

Society as a whole benefits from this partnership as well. Newly educated, highly skilled laborers will no doubt direct their knowledge and skills into Indian industry. That's a way of keeping the global economy humming for decades to come.

June 5, 2013

Keeping Up (Social) Appearances

Posted by Sandeep Dadlani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 2:19 PM

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One of the funniest sitcoms on British television was "Keeping Up Appearances," which chronicled the hilarious attempts of the show's main character, Hyacinth, doing everything she could to hobnob with the denizens of high society. What made the show so funny was that whenever she was about to socialize with, say, a nobleman, members of her working-class family would stumble onto the scene, embarrass her, and ruin her social aspirations.

Today's Internet is not unlike the world of the socially ambitious Hyacinth.

Organizations might spend decades carefully cultivating a certain image only to have a comment or opinion from some unhappy or rogue customer - or worse, a senior employee - go viral. Then, much like the culmination of that weekly sitcom, the organization's reputation takes a blow and much of their brand building dissipates in the wink of an eye. Just like it has for clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, stuck in a social media mess of its leadership's making. An official apology simply hasn't washed with the public, and even celebrities like Kirstie Alley and Ellen DeGeneres have piled up the criticism against the brand for its offensive exclusionary attitude.

To be sure, an open and collaborative Web is one of the greatest developments of the past decade. Social forums like Twitter and Facebook have grown so influential that they can do everything from moving financial markets to dictating fashion trends. But social media's rise has also come with the sobering fact that an enterprise's branding is now a two-way street. A firm's brand equity, built over decades can instantly vanish because of a string of comments in cyberspace - even if the comments are untrue.

What's making companies take notice is that even the most responsible, ethically upright, or legally compliant among them can fall victim to an onslaught of angry remarks on the Internet. Take the case of Applebee's, which was the target of social media outrage earlier this year. For the benefit of those who don't know why, here's the short version: A pastor refused to leave a tip, saying that she gave God 10%. She wrote this on her receipt, no less, which soon found its way to a popular social media site. In response, Applebee's sacked the employee who published the note, for violating customer privacy. The social universe wasn't amused and retaliated in the only way it knows - with protest pages on Facebook and campaigns demanding that the server be reinstated.

A recent survey of 235 corporate directors conducted by one of America's largest accounting firms revealed that their biggest concern, after financial risk, was reputational risk. Some 73 percent ranked it right on top, ahead of cyber security even. What's also interesting is that since the first survey four years ago, reputational risk has risen a whopping 19 percent among the list of concerns, which also included regulatory compliance and chief executive succession planning.

Today, a single negative news item can change a company's reputation in an instant. It used to be much easier for companies to get out ahead of the news, or should the worst happen, mount a damage control offensive through their Public Relations agency. With social media however, it's either proactive or nothing.

That realization has spawned a new category of media specialists, rather unimaginatively branded "reputational defenders", tasked with building engagement, protecting image, and guarding against reputation risk.

These professionals are more than just social media gurus; they're masters of new technologies like sentiment analysis and other Big Data mining techniques that help a company stay ahead of what's trending on the Internet. They aggregate blogs, wikis, customer call records, and just about any other structured or unstructured digital trail. And they swing into action the moment they find even a glimmer of unfavorable chatter - Did someone just question the firm's commitment to sustainability? Don't bother to talk back, announce a sweeping green initiative instead.

Organizations that are yet to plunge into social media might want to engage reputational defenders right from the start to ensure they land on their feet. Attack might have been the best form of defense in traditional media, but in social, it is just the opposite.

June 3, 2013

Innovating a Better Way Through The Checkout Line

Posted by Anup Uppadhayay (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:43 AM

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During my last London trip, a friend cajoled me to accompany her to Selfridge. "Let me show you the London you've never seen before. Let me show you what High Street shopping is all about." she said. And, as London often tempts me to do - I found myself digging into a bit of the store's history.

Back in 1909, when Harry Gordon Selfridge opened his store, he introduced to the British consumer a new idea: that the act of shopping could be a fun activity. In fact, King Edward VII, curious about everything he'd been hearing about this retail revolution, showed up at the store one evening and told Selfridge that he'd never bought anything in a store in his life - but that he would do so that evening because "that's where society seemed to be going." Bright displays, helpful salesmen, and fanciful store windows filled with merchandise: these are all staples of the modern department store. But they were quite revolutionary back in 1909.

This got me thinking that today's consumers are in the midst of a similar retail revolution. Like the British king said a century ago: Whether you know it or not, it's where the world seems to be going.

Today's consumers have heightened expectations, especially given the fact that the Internet is supposed to make everything we do easier, faster, and more efficient. Retailers have to meet a high bar for exemplary service lest disenchanted customers take to social media and complain about particular stores and salesmen.

In fact, at Infosys, we have re-thought the entire customer service proposition. Instead of creating the perception that customers are receiving faster service, we are devising ways to make their entire shopping experience more fulfilling. For instance, we focus on the point of sale (POS). Doing so shows that innovation doesn't have to be a seismic event; it can result in a combination of improving small things we experience every day.

A near-perfect shopping experience can be ruined if, at the very end of a customer's time in a store, she finds herself waiting in a long checkout line. Think about the times you've been helped by a friendly and knowledgeable salesman only to be annoyed at standing for 20 minutes in a queue. What we noticed is that a helpful salesman can often be an unused asset.

Here's what I mean. Our Mobile POS solution takes into consideration a number of factors, not the least of which are the pressures that retailers face in finding the best ways to utilize technology and serve customers. Armed with an iPad, a salesman can finish the transaction, process the credit card, print out a receipt, and bag your purchases. All without you ever having to go near a checkout counter, much less wait in line.

It's a new way of thinking about the customer experience that's not unlike what Harry Gordon Selfridge did 100 years ago. Closer to our own age, it's what the drive-through window managed to accomplish. About 30 years ago, some of the largest and most efficient fast food chains completely re-thought how they delivered their product. You could drive up to an intercom, place your order from your car, and drive up to window where the meal would be wrapped up and ready to go. What I love about the concept of the drive-through window is that it's an innovation that wasn't limited to fast food chains. The drive-through window suited financial services firms as well.

Now, what if I told you the Mobile POS solution can drive nearly half the sales in a store within the first six months of deploying it? Plus, there's no specialized training needed for the staff. If I were a storeowner I would, of course, celebrate with a trip to the drive-through: French fries for everyone!

But jokes and French fries aside, I've noticed more stores - from purveyors of luxury goods to discount clothing chains - beginning to adopt this sales approach. Old man Selfridge would no doubt be impressed.

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