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July 29, 2013

Social Business Models - The Happier, The Better

Posted by Rajesh K. Murthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:42 PM

What is DOGTV?  [Source:DOGTVWORLD http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLrAoEpyiP4]

A brilliant engineer who started and sold more companies than he could keep track of said he was in the mobile computing space because of just how quickly people have morphed into über-social beings.

I've never heard someone describe the mobile computing space as a chicken-or-egg scenario. Yet that's just what this venture capitalist did. He said he wasn't sure which came first: the urgent need to share the minutia of day-to-day life or the technology that enables us to do so. Either way, he said, it's a multibillion-dollar industry and it's growing bigger by the day.

One of his favorite investments is a company based in Israel called Glide. They offer an incredibly fun video-texting app that's being downloaded at a rate of 100,000 per day. You read that correctly. And Glide is just the beginning of a trend that's all about walking on the sunny side of the street. "Happier," for instance, is a new social network start-up that focuses on sharing moments of joy - no negativity allowed.

All this sharing means companies are finding out more about people, too. Those companies, in turn, are becoming smarter because of their ability to gather and analyze all that minutia.

Savvy venture capitalists are indeed scouring the marketplace. Their targets are entrepreneurs who create mobile apps that serve the seemingly insatiable urge to broadcast our lives as if we were contestants on a network television reality show. Anything is fair game. What comes to mind is the 24 hour-a-day cable television channel, DogTV, that plays nothing but videos of dogs barking. The target audience is supposedly your lonely pooch, sitting in front of the TV waiting for you to get home from work.

Entrepreneurs are building out these business models in fascinating ways. In India, for example, car buyers can now get a great deal on their next purchase if they allow companies to use their automobiles for advertising. If you agree to have your car covered in a vinyl "billboard" that pushes some new product or service, you stand to knock a whopping 75 percent off the sticker price. There's a transparency about this particular scheme that's very refreshing. You agree to drive around with the ad on your car and the company pays part of the bill in return. Both parties walk away thinking they got the better end of the deal.

I've even heard of students in the US trying to get companies to use their bodies (via t-shirts, hats, and even removable tattoos) for advertisements in return for footing the tuition bill. Necessity is the mother of invention, and with the outrageous cost of attending an American college these days, it was only a matter of time before some clever students offer themselves up to a corporation's marketing department. Is it really a win-win situation, however? Looking back, will the student regret the products or services he pushed, perhaps impacting his own personal brand?

We live in a world where technology enabled business models are evolving at breakneck speeds. This new level of openness can be beneficial to society. Plus, businesses now have more opportunities to connect with customers and create value. Are you listening, shareholders?

I suspect that sometimes these business models might have downright funny outcomes. Maybe the historic cities of Europe and Asia will rename themselves in order to land a lucrative deal from a frozen food company. (Häagen-Dazs, the capital of the Netherlands...) What's for certain, however, is that as individuals become more willing to share their personal moments with the public, the smarter we become as a whole. So I guess it's natural for a company to want to tap into that desire for individual promotion in order to sell its products, no matter how offbeat.

July 26, 2013

"Three Ds" Explain Mobility's Mysterious Ad Lag

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:51 AM

Apps Parents Trust and Kids Love [Source:Jennifer Jolly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMc09SwUkd4]

People my age became acquainted with computing by using clunky desktops and laptops, but today's younger generations are introduced directly to mobile and tablet computers.

Apple ingeniously removed the telephone function from its iPhone to create the iTouch, a mobile computer ideal for children. They can use it to play educational games and take photos of their siblings and school friends. The younger generation is why mobile computing is growing exponentially. Apple isn't the only company on top of this trend. Google's Larry Page maintains that today's generation of kids will be introduced to computing through mobile devices.

The mystery, however, is why this platform lags traditional platforms when it comes to corporate advertising spending and monetization. Here's my take as to why this discrepancy exists. I've distilled these reflections into what I'll call the "three Ds."

  • Distribution - Getting a million downloads ain't as impressive as it used to be. It's a pretty saturated and competitive space. Nonetheless, if you crack that magic threshold, you're doing well. One of the neat aspects of the app market is that it's still very much a meritocracy. I don't know if anyone can predict which apps will do well - the best apps are compelling or downright addictive. But good developers will make sure there are hooks from those apps to social media sites with the expectations that they go viral.

    But despite the complex social network that promotes apps, the tried and true method for finding out about a mobile app remains - in North America and Western Europe, at least - traditional media outlets like magazines, newspapers, and television. This means big consumer brands have an obvious incentive to keep at least some advertising in traditional media ad not pour every dollar into mobile directly.

  • Design - The web has long trumped mobile devices when it comes to where apps first appear. But with the growing popularity of mobile, more developers are starting with mobile apps before launching their web versions. More mobile apps should be a positive development for mobile ads but not all platforms are created equally. Apple users are known for being more willing to pay for apps, which makes them all the more attractive to advertisers and developers.

  • Dough - Money makes the social media world go 'round. So far, however, social media giants like Twitter and Facebook have treated mobility more as an afterthought than key strategic driver. Why should they focus on a platform that hadn't been inherently social? Of course, that's changing quickly. You can bet your bottom dollar that social media entrepreneurs are already figuring out ways to reap the benefits of the merging of social media and mobility. It's likely that the social sites themselves will open up their vast storage houses to make money off implied (or actual) online behavior. Simple example: a status change to "single" triggers ads to be served from dating sites.

Of course, in places like India, China, and other rapidly developing economic powerhouses, there's less of a discrepancy between corporate advertising spend and mobility. In some ways, the Western world can perhaps find the answers as to how mobility will play out by simply looking eastward.

July 24, 2013

How Sustainability Becomes a Strategy

Posted by Ankush Patel (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:00 AM

We need a Plan B because, as the former president of Costa Rica, José María Figueres, says, "there is no Planet B."

Those of you who have been fortunate to travel to Costa Rica have probably come away impressed that the country's population is working towards the tenets of sustainability. When an entire nation can proclaim its appreciation for la pura vida (being full of life), we shouldn't be making excuses for our own communities and companies not doing the same.

President Figueres has joined a group of prominent political and business leaders, including Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson, to form a global initiative called Plan B. Branson is already known for his company's Carbon War Room, which challenges his fellow entrepreneurs to begin putting their commitment to sustainability into practice.

Plan B's premise is rather simple: What's good for the environment is also good for the bottom line. Think of risk mitigation alone. Energy prices are projected to increase by 11 percent over the next decade. Insurance rates rose 10 percent in the first quarter of FY 2012. And in 2009, the corporate world spent more than $50 billion on workers' compensation claims.

The very essence of Plan B, according to Branson, is that it's not a vanity project. He is establishing a framework by which companies can reduce the carbon emissions of their various operations and put sustainable programs to work. His actions, along with those of the entire Plan B team, are a validation of the strategic importance of sustainability in the corporate world.

I head up the Sustainability Unit at Infosys, so you can imagine the kind of satisfaction I get when I hear about Plan B's advocacy for companies to make top-to-bottom overhauls. Plan B is about a lot more than just advocacy, however. It's about getting companies to move on their commitments, which isn't always easy. Depending on the company and industry, executives must cross many hurdles before they drive execution and ultimately change in the culture of their organization. If there is one single challenge that clients share with me time and again, it's about how they can bridge the gap between their vision and delivering on that vision with measurable results.

At Infosys we think that every company needs 'Sustainability Transformation'. The journey begins with understanding where a company is on the maturity curve and creating a roadmap for transformation. Then we work with enterprises to assess, plan, launch and execute initiatives that everyone can embrace. We take three issues - resource intensity, the social contract, and green innovation - and place them under a framework that combines technology with strategy.

A great example of resource intensity is Ricoh, the maker of computer printers and office copiers. After we set our private cloud strategy and emissions optimization program in place, Infosys helped them reduce their carbon dioxide output by nearly 17,000 tons. That's the equivalent of taking 3,350 cars off the road. Besides CO2, Ricoh reduced costs by 30 percent.

As part of our Digital Energy & Sustainability Solutions Campaign (DESSC) membership Infosys demonstrated its commitment to 'Social Contracts' in collaborating with the US-based non-profit organization Chesapeake Conservancy (CC) to invest in building a Stakeholder Engagement Portal. This portal will enable CC to raise awareness about the use of technology in precision conservation, a method of targeted "smart" conservation approaches to gain insights on environmental impacts from human activities in watersheds and identify the highest priorities for land conservation and ecosystem restoration.

My favorite example of green innovation is helping one of the world's leading electronics companies with product compliance by designing the foundation for full material disclosure. The solution lets them address regulatory compliance requirements so that product lines are not only free of as many toxic materials as possible, but they can launch products on time.

There's no doubt about it. Sustainable companies reduce costs and discover new revenue streams. They launch across-the-board operational efficiency initiatives and burnish their image and reputation. Ultimately a company's brand has the most enduring impact on customer loyalty and long-term growth.

By making the best-in-class solutions from Infosys part of any ecologically sensitive transformation, a company can achieve tangible results from the very outset. Consider business processes such as creating new product & packaging standards, the mapping of regulations and compliance reporting, and the management and elimination of waste - complex and time-consuming tasks without the right technology.

Companies don't transform themselves overnight. In some cases it's a five-year journey. But you have to begin by establishing a framework and sticking to it. Engaging diverse stakeholders from Boards and CEOs to employees, regulators and suppliers is the key to galvanizing action throughout the company's ecosystem. Governance will help you keep the plan on track and a data management strategy will give you the visibility you need to measure performance. If your enterprise isn't actively engaged in changing itself, then it's going to have no other option but to play catch-up at some point down the line. Investors know all too well when a company is scrambling to keep up with its peers.

By embracing 'Sustainability Transformation', you can demonstrate that it is more than just corporate bluster. 'Sustainability Transformation' becomes a set of strategic programs that deliver your vision. Your actions will send a clear message to your employees and the market that your organization views sustainability as an opportunity to align the program with its core values and strategy. Over the long term, all large global companies need to put this kind of transformation into effect. Because there is no Planet B.

July 23, 2013

How Consumers Become a Part of a Business

Posted by Sandeep Dadlani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:58 AM

uFaker [Source:uFakerTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPQp0FBhLGQ]

Have mobile device. Will work in return for special deals.

That could very well be the classified ad of the digital age. We consumers are a feisty bunch. Armed with various computing platforms and a dazzling array of apps, each of us has become a one-man consumer army of sorts. We're not shy about sharing our comments with the companies from which we buy products. In fact, we like to think we're an integral part of their supply chains.

Turns out that we are, at least in certain cases. Whether we know it or not, digitally savvy companies are leveraging people like you and me to do some of their work. In fact, companies are coming up with new business models that include giving power to consumers. They're reimbursing them for their services by offering them special deals and sales. Which means consumers become even closer to their supply chains.

Sometimes consumers are able to do the kind of work that companies wouldn't have been able to do on their own. Consider, for example, a new app that creates a business around consumers reporting potentially counterfeited goods. UFaker is an app that works on a mobile platform that allows people to take photos of items like knock-off luxury goods, food, and hardware, along with the location of their purchases. Companies that hold the patents and trademarks to those items can swoop in and investigate the claims of the consumer. Before the development of a consumer app like uFaker, companies were fighting a global counterfeiting battle they had no chance of winning. The global economy is such that it was relatively easy for a counterfeiter in, say, an East Asian workshop to remain off the radar screen of a large consumer products enterprise. But armed with smart phones and high-res cameras, suddenly there are as many consumer detectives flooding the marketplace as there are fake products.

You might be asking yourself: Does a society lady from Manhattan's Upper East Side really have that much loyalty to a luxury brand such as Hermes or Louis Vuitton to scour the storefronts of Chinatown on a hot summer day in search of knock-off handbags? Hardly. But companies that participate with the uFaker app are offering consumers who report fraudulent goods certain retail discounts to encourage their participation. If there's one characteristic about the typical digital consumer, it's that she expect deals in return for the specialized information she shares with companies. It's a two-way street.

It's that same concept that drives consumer packaged goods companies doing business in emerging markets to offer rewards to consumers. They get points for reporting when certain items are out of stock in small "mom 'n pop" stores. In the West, we've grown accustomed to the über-efficient, just-in-time inventory processes of the big box retailers. Yet most of the planet's consumers don't buy from large retail chains. It's more difficult for CPG companies in those markets to gauge consumer demand. If structured properly, the right group of consumers can supply information to a CPG company in a way not unlike the inventory manager of a Target, Kohl's, or Wal-Mart.

If consumers can be theoretical inventory managers, they can be literal car rental agents. Residents of big cities have come to appreciate the ease by which they can get a car for a day of shopping or moving. Zipcar is a club that shifts certain administrative and operational tasks onto the members. In return, they can pick up a no-frills car that's fuel-efficient in their neighborhood and return it when they're done. In other words, they don't pay by the day if they intend to use it to run to a suburban shopping mall for a few hours. Zipcar members don't mind doing some of the legwork (like leaving a clean, refueled car on a certain block for the next member) if they receive convenience in return. Plus, in large cities it can sometimes cost as much as a studio apartment rental just to keep a car in a garage. A membership club like Zipcar allows members to remain liberated from the often-outrageous costs and responsibilities of being urban car owners.

The good news is that we're at the very beginning of the digital transformation of consumers and their relationship to the enterprises that serve them. It could very well turn out that consumers end up serving them as much as they currently serve consumers.

July 19, 2013

The Secret of Silicon Valley's Success

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:35 AM

Innovation Lab: Silicon Valley | Promo [Source:Wobi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh69eFmHrkE ]

Why is there an inverse correlation between the amount of time and money a municipality spends on creating an "innovation hub" and the actual innovation that comes out of it? I have my own theories.

Among the first things we learned in Economics 101 was Adam Smith's faith in the market's "invisible hand." In some ways, Smith's perspective mirrors what I've come to learn about entities that try to replicate Silicon Valley in their own backyards. They never can seem to find the right formula, despite support from the smartest academics and think tanks on the planet. Maybe they're trying too hard. Maybe they should allow a kind of invisible hand of innovation to take over.

Every day it seems I come across a new initiative sponsored by a government agency or industry consortium somewhere in the world, intent on creating the next Silicon Valley on their own terms. I can't say I blame them - Silicon Valley start-ups attract the highest level of investment capital worldwide. And what country, state or city doesn't want an engine of innovation to jumpstart the economy, providing jobs and creating wealth? I say this because Silicon Valley is all about the people on the ground. You can make sweeping academic statements. You can mimic San Jose by building corporate campuses and universities (and even some bohemian coffee shops nearby). But without the right people, it's all just a pretty shell. If the best people are left to their own designs, they'll be the source of Silicon Valley-style innovation. It's not a model that can be forced upon on a city or district.

I came to this conclusion when I was thinking about the corporation as a microcosm of a large and sometimes unpredictable market or geographical region. Think about the best project you've ever worked on throughout your career. You might not even remember its name or its details, but you sure do remember the people who were part of your team and shared in its success. When I think back to my most satisfying project, I recall lots of late nights, heated discussions, and endless Chinese take-out. I also recall the camaraderie. We banded together and stood up to the "bean-counters" when we needed sufficient funding. We supported each other if someone was taken to task by a "suit" who demanded an unreasonable deadline. In fact, everything we did was incredibly organic in form. That's why we were so successful. You couldn't duplicate that team in the pages of a textbook or a carefully laid-out plan.

Of course, I'm not recommending that the next time you're faced with a big project that you should throw all organization and planning to the wind. What I am saying is that you should make every effort to get the right people in on the project and be amenable to let innovation take its course.

Behind the steel and glass of San Jose, California, there are teams just like the one I described. They're filled with optimism, a great attitude, and a fondness for collaboration. If you dropped these people into a heated hut in the middle of Antarctica, you'd have a new Silicon Valley. That's something that no government, industry group, or academic institution can ever copy.

July 17, 2013

Winklevoss Brothers Reveal Plans For Bitcoin Trust

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:23 PM

Winklevoss Brothers Reveal Plans For Bitcoin Trust [Source: NewsMedia24 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCgHYu1aw0U]

Nobody ever said an innovative product on Wall Street assured immediate gratification.

Warren Buffett has tried to teach us otherwise. For decades he's been expounding Graham & Dodd's value investing mantra, initially to housewives in an Omaha classroom and eventually to the better part of the world. But it's easy to grow impatient with the Oracle of Omaha's measured approach to investing. If he can't immediately grasp how a business or a financial instrument operates, he tends to stay clear of it.

Being careful and investing with a long-term outlook is a trait that doesn't seem to sit well with some consumers in the digital age. They want immediate results and have grown accustomed to lightning fast transactions and communications. Why should the practice of investing be any different? Experiences created by the retail and internet businesses are spilling over to influence expectations from banking. People cannot wait over 30 seconds for a burger at their favorite fast food joint and are pampered by the likes of Google that delivers results even before a user completes her query. Little wonder, consumers expect instant gratification from everywhere. In fact, in the U.S, the average investment holding period dropped to less than 4 months in the year 2000 in contrast to nearly 16 years in the 60s-70s.

Now the Winklevoss brothers, the twins who gained notoriety for claiming to think up Facebook, are feeding digital consumers' lust for immediate results with a new investment tool. Recently, they announced that they would launch a Bitcoin Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). It would be the first time an exchange-traded fund would track a virtual asset instead of something tangible like a basket of bonds, gold, or currencies. Upon first glance, a Bitcoin ETF appears to be really interesting. Because ETFs trade like stocks, an investor could buy a few shares of them in order to get exposure to the Bitcoin market without actually owning the so-called cyber currency.

Now just what is the Bitcoin market, you might ask? The best I can tell is that it's a global community focused on a currency that's generated by open source software and can transferred digitally from device to device without any kind of financial intermediary. There are plenty of transactions in which Bitcoins would come in handy, including (as it's been widely reported) those of the illicit variety. Think drug kingpins or off-shore gambling rackets. Because Bitcoins are not regulated by a central bank, they're accountable to nobody except those who hold them.

The Winklevoss twins reportedly reached a $65 million settlement over Facebook and have been keen to invest in innovative - or, at the very least, exotic - financial instrument ever since their windfall. They're said to own 1 percent of all Bitcoins in existence. Now, thanks to the twins, you, too, can be a part of the Bitcoin universe.

But think what you're trading in for the privilege of owning shares in a Bitcoin ETF: U.S. dollars or Indian rupees or British pounds - three currencies that are backed by the good faith of their respective governments. In theory, an investor would be handing over cold, hard cash to the Winklevoss brothers in return for bits and bytes. Sounds like a pretty good deal for them - the ability to unload a volatile and unproven cyber currency for real paper money.

You have to hand it to them - they've come up with an interesting financial innovation. It reminds me of how tantalizing innovations like mortgage backed derivatives and collateralized debt obligations sounded back when they first hit the scene not too long ago.

The financial world is always receptive to innovative new products. But financial innovations need to be more than just interesting concepts with cool names. Think of the hysteria in the late 1990s when investors were buying shares of dot-com start-ups that were little more than Web sites with no discernible business plans.

Such innovations also need to have checks-and-balances so that they don't spiral out of control. We forget that when CDOs first appeared, nothing suggested that they would contribute to a near financial meltdown. It was an innovative way for a bank to securitize debt and make some money off the new instrument. A decade later, the organizations that ended up with the CDOs had nowhere to unload them.

That's why a value investor like Warren Buffett might be very wary of a Bitcoin ETF. Even one of the Bitcoin's largest exchanges was reportedly sputtering in May because of a lack of activity. Mt. Gox, as it's known, also happens to be under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

But on purely technical points, you have to credit the Winklevoss twins for thinking outside the box.

July 15, 2013

Shed unadulterated genius

Posted by Ashok Mysore (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:12 AM

Jeffrey Tobias, GiveEasy, Winner of Community Services, Shell Innovation Challenge, The Australian

In 1948, shortly after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee declined to award a prize on the grounds that "there was no suitable living candidate" that year. Although nominated on multiple occasions, Gandhi never received the Nobel nod -- a dubious omission shared with the likes of Vaclav Havel for Peace, Leo Tolstoy for Literature and Dimitri Mendeleev for Chemistry.

Like most things, no doubt there were political issues behind these snubs. And though the Nobel Prizes still take pride of place in global awards recognizing the pinnacle of human achievement, there's no denying the symbolism of the awards being bestowed in a rarefied European court.

Perhaps it's time to give greater weight to more democratically selected achievements. For example, the X PRIZES are awarded on the basis of open public competitions that invite breakthrough technology achievements that will benefit mankind. A current X PRIZE competition offers a $10 million prize for the first team that can build a device and use it to sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days or less, within given accuracy, comprehensiveness and cost parameters. The competitions deliberately incent cross-border, cross-organisational collaboration.

Closer to home, here in Australia the government has teamed up with the country's largest national newspaper to promote the Australian Innovation Challenge. In typically Aussie unvarnished fashion, the awards seek to honor not just famous scientists but also educators, entrepreneurs and "creative geniuses inventing in their backyard sheds."

True, the $AUD 70,000 prize (about $63,000 US) doesn't rival the $10 million purse of the X PRIZE Genome challenge, or even the Nobel's $10 million Swedish krona (about $1.5 million US).

Still, a shed-inhabiting genius could probably find ways to stretch $70,000 pretty far. More importantly, the Australian Innovation Challenge awards are based on a recent achievement; increasing the chances that he or she will receive the necessary encouragement and support to continue innovating.

(Not every innovator is as patient and persistent as the astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who waited more than fifty years for his work on the evolutionary stages of massive stars to be recognized by the Nobel Committee.)

The chairman of Innovation Australia, which bestows the annual awards, commented that innovation is a driver of productivity, business growth, and employment. In other words, the awards seek to grow the innovation dividends the world needs as we continue to shake off the remnants of the GFC.

The days are still cold and long here in the middle of the Australian winter... Perhaps it's time to throw on a wooly jumper and spend some quality time innovating in that backyard shed.

July 10, 2013

Automobiles, industrialization and software

Posted by Suman Sasmal (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:57 PM

Cars Car Tech 101  What exactly is a connected car [Source: Techesty http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylBvzH8AyDQ]

It's all about me.

No, I'm not being a narcissist but rather conveying the mindset of today's digital consumers. They're demanding individualized experiences with everything they do. Even when they're behind the wheel of a car.

This demand for personalized experiences is driving a lot of innovation. And the automobile industry, which recently went through some very tough times in the U.S, is beginning to capitalize on these new all-about-me trends. Detroit's Big Three are coming to look at themselves as developing computers that are drivable instead of building cars that happen to have onboard computers. This corporate evolution could have fascinating repercussions for the American Midwest and, more specifically, Detroit. Companies like General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are exploiting technologies in telematics, mobility, and even social media. For example, a telematics enabled system can remotely unlock a car's door after one has accidentally left the keys inside. They view the connected car as the next frontier for innovation and competitive differentiation. By investing heavily in smart tools and apps that will define connected cars coming to showrooms soon, these industrial giants might re-make the rustbelt into a tech-friendly region filled with innovation hubs.

Once the fourth-largest city in America, these days Motown doesn't even come close to cracking the Top 15. Detroit's marked population decline reflects the transformation of the U.S. economy towards information and services and away from heavy manufacturing.

Old companies can also transform themselves into entities that can conquer new markets. The Detroit story is more complex, however, because it involves an entire region and three notable industrial powerhouses. Think of the sheer number of apps that a connected car could utilize and that car buyers might demand. The Big Three are taking bold steps to create app innovation factories within their respective walls. It's also why some bright, talented software developers who graduate from the University of Michigan - one of America's top schools - are doing what was once unthinkable: remaining in Michigan after graduation!
In-house applications developers at automotive companies are bent on transforming these firms into technology companies that deliver their products on four wheels.

It's not the automotive industry alone which is going through paradigm shifts and is benefiting from changes in consumer demand. Newer demand for user-centric applications is driving dramatic growth in software volumes and that is expected to accelerate industrialization. The need for higher quality, reduction in TCO, aggressive delivery cycle and improved predictability is giving birth to assembly-based development. That has been the holy grail for a while, however, it is taking firmer shape right now. The rules of the game are changing with software being delivered in very different ways.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that tech will replace handcrafted development. Cars and software are just a few channels for the world's next wave of computing innovations - only the tip of a multifaceted transformation iceberg.

July 9, 2013

Cheerleading outsourced

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:11 AM

Although it seems like eons ago, one of the most dependable ways for a company to ensure its reputation was to hire a public relations firm. The PR agents would wine and dine members of the press while selling them on the positive accomplishments of their clients. In time, these relationships would translate into favorable mentions in the pages of magazines and newspapers. Should a crisis develop, PR "flacks" would call in favors with reporters in order to lessen the blow.

Then came the time when managing a company's reputation was no longer about just developing a long-term, press-friendly strategy. In a matter of minutes, disgruntled customers could take to social media outlets to complain about a company and its products. The company, at the center of the storm, often did not have the in-house resources or a technologically competent PR firm to launch a swift and effective counter-offensive in cyberspace.

Fast forward to today where more companies are taking advantage of social media monitoring services as part of their overall brand management program. Customer comments on Facebook, twitter or any other social media platform can be analyzed in near real time giving brands new opportunities to engage with customers. In a world where cloud computing and Big Data have come to dominate how large companies relate to their markets, customer relationship management via social media doesn't seem much of a stretch.

When it comes to managing a company's reputation today, the realm of social media can, ironically, be a vast and faceless one. And who better to tackle that imposing space than a business process outsourcing (BPO) firm with expertise in harnessing the power of Big Data? I look at these developments as a validation of the concept tagged "insight as a service" that emerged several years ago as cloud based services were being conceived. Not only can a company use its BPO firm to monitor social media sites, but it can proactively make sales leads as well.

According to some experts, social media management could soon be a $50 billion business. Platforms to manage social media including sentiment analysis and trending topics will become table stakes. The real differentiator will become the expertise that helps interpret and helps companies respond quickly and effectively. Partnerships between platform providers and service organizations with brand management expertise are already in place. Leading analysts says that, in less than three years, more than half of all corporate call centers will have social media monitoring as a main component. It appears that savvy organizations are already acknowledging just how powerful digital consumers can be.

Just as we live in a multifaceted world, so, too, have multi-channel communications come to dominate how companies ensure the reputations of their brands. Better still is the recognition that they can leverage BPO firms to use social media to advantage. In the not-too-distant future, when the rants of disgruntled customers are drowned out by the musings of happy consumers, will anyone really know who's really behind all that cheerleading?

July 5, 2013

Could Anyone Be a Bank?

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:26 AM

Jimmy G's Restaurant Raising Money Through Crowdfunding [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3joIGR_1o30 ]

Too big to fail. We've heard this description uttered many times in the past few years by bankers and policy-makers alike. Some financial services institutions have become so enormous that if they were to go under, they'd pull many of us down with them.

Depending on your point of view, if a big bank is ailing then it pays to prop it up, at least until the bank can weather a financial storm or two. Another side of the argument is that the bank might operate more efficiently and need less outside assistance if it weren't so large.

Indeed, some political leaders and economists have touted the importance of smaller banks as well as the "little guy" in the global economy. One such business leader, Muhammad Yunus, won a Nobel Prize a few years ago for advocating micro-lending; that is, loaning money in small amounts to local entrepreneurs who might never see the inside of a big, global bank.

Crowd-funding is another variation on the micro-lending theme. In the United States, for example, recent legislation has allowed non-accredited investors (people with a liquid net worth of less than $1 million) to begin lending to or investing in small businesses and start-ups. This activity used to be the exclusive realm of venture capitalists and private equity shops, both of which represent investors with a lot more than $1 million to throw around. Innovations abound in this space. New financial services firms are springing up to connect small businesses with local lenders who want to invest in their communities.

Being a private equity shop, however, has obvious advantages. Besides having access to a wide array of financial resources, the firm and its accredited investors can tap into vast amounts of professional market and industry research. So the investments they make tend to be more careful and calculated than someone lending a couple thousand dollars to a local business. Crowd-funding might be where fun meets finance, but it could also open up a can of worms when it comes to the financial IQs of the investors. Remember Warren Buffett's mantra that it's best to invest in what you know.

Muhammad Yunus makes the point that as economically important as it is for money to trickle down into mainstream society because of the activities of affluent dealmakers, so, too, should money trickle upward because of the activities of local businessmen. They are building capital in their ventures one dollar at a time. In fact, my prediction is that when people look back on the dawn of the 21st century, two developments in the world of finance - micro-lending and too-big-to-fail banks - will stand out as defining the era in which we live. They seem to be opposing forces at first glance. But I think they've actually helped each other in that they create a balance in the global economy with which everyone can live.

One of the themes of a recent Infosys survey, Engaging Digital Consumers, is that customers are more empowered than ever because of the rise of social media. They are willing to share personal information with companies that can be quite valuable. But first they have to trust the company and believe that they're going to get something in return. In some ways, the popularity of crowd-funding mirrors the rise of the digital consumer. Just as social media make the sum of the parts more powerful than the individual consumer, so, too, does crowd-funding. At the end of the day, 10 small loans to a recipient are essentially the same as a single large one. The people who contribute the 10 small loans, however, are more likely to have stakes in the same communities as do the recipients.

One such crowd-funding innovator, the founder of Funding Community, recently told the business press that his portal aggregates contributions into a single loan, charges a 2.5-percent fee for doing so, and 7- to 9-percent interest, depending on the creditworthiness of the client. Another crowd-funder called Pave offers stakes in someone's potential future earnings. They're smart marketers, calling their loans "social financial contracts" that the firm says go to people who want to pay off student debt, start a non-profit, or finance a start-up. Pave charges a 3 percent origination fee and an additional 1.5 percent a year on the contract.

Crowd-funding also challenges the notion that only Western financiers with MBAs know how to spot innovation and incubate business ideas that are potentially lucrative. The emerging markets are filled with entrepreneurs who are brimming with ideas. They are inventing new products and services on relatively little money compared to their Western counterparts. Crowd-funding in the emerging markets can give these innovators the funds they need to break out and attract international investment.

You have to wonder if the big banks are even noticing these developments. As long as large corporations need financially savvy firms to investigate their capital structure, place valuations on their business lines, and arrange loans in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the world will need big banks. But I imagine they'll coexist with financial institutions that begin to look more like Yunus' Grameen Bank and the new Funding Community in America.

What crowd-funding has done is to renew the banking industry's focus on local communities. Ironically, if you trace the history of any too-big-to-fail bank far back enough, you'll discover that it began as a small, community lender itself. And, at the end of the day, what matters to national governments is if it's 'too big to bail' - whether a too-big-to-fail bank or a crowd funded one - policy decisions will depend on the impact such failures will have - resulting in bail-outs or buy-outs - using tax-payer money.

July 2, 2013

"Engaging" Survey is About Building Trust

Posted by Paul Gottsegen (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:13 AM


When Infosys last week planned to release its comprehensive survey, Engaging Digital Consumers, we could not have predicted that issues of privacy on the Internet would be front-page news across the globe.

Because of the provocative actions of an American government contractor, however, the survey's results have become very timely. Infosys polled 5,000 Web savvy adults in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Germany to probe their digital relationship to the retail, banking, and healthcare companies that serve them.

The big picture is that consumers are generally OK with providing companies with personal information if they think they're getting something in return. It might be a special deal or update - whatever. They just don't want information gathering to be for nought.

Not surprisingly, Engaging Digital Consumers has received wide attention. The columns in mainstream publications such as BusinessWeek and USA Today bring to the forefront the very nature of trust in the digital age: how companies and governments earn it and how consumers measure it.

Businesses are waking up to the realization that making sense of mountains of new data takes work. And customers remain a very human part of the endeavor. For example, most people won't get in a huff when they learn their banks analyze past transactions to form profiles of them - especially if they think doing so means greater protection from identity thieves.

The survey shows they're less comfortable when banks solicit them directly for information. The aim of directly questioning people might be the same: to build consumer profiles. But banks don't want customers to view data mining as an interrogation.

Part of the challenge for enterprises is that technology is evolving at such a rapid pace. Companies in the banking, retail, and healthcare sectors are looking to stay ahead of the curve, especially when it concerns building long-lasting relationships with their customers. The scope depends on the client. Consider the fact that 92% of consumers believe physicians should have their medical history available electronically during an appointment, yet only 42% are willing to share that information in the first place. Talk about a gap that needs fixing. Retail is perhaps the most cut-and-dried industry vertical covered in the survey. The more information customers provide, the more access they get to private sales, special offers, and discounts. Our partnerships with some of the world's most successful retailers have underscored how critical it is to engage with consumers and establish an online culture of trust.

July 1, 2013

Grassroots Innovation: Onion Transplanter

Posted by Ravi Kumar S. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:13 AM

Grassroots Innovation: Onion Transplanter, Pandharinath More [Source :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0WYreYP-B0]

You play the hand you've been dealt. Not only is this a good piece of advice for someone in the middle of a high stakes poker game, but those of us in other pursuits can live by it as well. I've listened to many competent professionals in Global 2000 companies (including my own) complain that if they only had an even larger budget they could develop better products.

Yet you don't have to look too far beyond the walls of corporate labs to see examples of amazing innovations born out of necessity and delivered on the tightest - and sometimes non-existent - budgets. The stories below validate my belief that breakthrough innovations that bring immediate and meaningful impact on peoples' lives can be found everywhere on any scale.

Showcasing the best of grassroots innovation in the emerging markets shows why they are such an exciting place to be for innovators and investors alike. If someone can invent a brilliant product or service without a multimillion-dollar head start, he or she certainly deserves our attention.

Take the story of Pandharinath More, a resident of Maharasthra, India, who demonstrates that grassroots innovation remains alive and well. Pandharinath is a 66-year-old farmer. Every year, he makes the bulk of his income during the precious couple months between November and January when he cultivates onions. It's the only time of the year this cash crop will grow, so a farmer like him wants to achieve the longest season possible. The problem Pandharinath faced was how best to plant seedlings at the beginning of each growing season. It's the most labor-intensive part of the two-month process. So he got to work creating an onion transplanter. It took him 43 days to invent and build a piece of farm machinery at a whopping total cost of $725. Pandharinath's invention has made being an onion farmer in India a far more lucrative pursuit than it was even a year ago.

Another inspirational story of agricultural innovation comes from the Hussain brothers in the Darrang district of Assam. Mohammed and Mushtaq Hussain are rice farmers who became fed up with frequent power outages that interrupted their water pumps. Rice paddies fail pretty quickly without lots of irrigated water. Sure, you can turn to diesel pumps if the electricity is spotty in your area. But diesel fuel is expensive. After watching a kite fly high into the sky from a gust of wind, the Hussains got to work assembling a windmill that could power their irrigation pump. They searched for building materials that were abundant, cheap, and strong. Their prototype was a combination of bamboo, polypropylene, iron rods, and rubber from old tires. The rotation of the windmill cranks the handle up and down, creating a continuous flow of water for their farm. Better still is that they can dismantle the entire structure in under an hour and carry it to another farm.The Hussains eventually built a windmill out of fancier materials. Farmers who are using the lightweight, portable pumps say they've reduced operating expenses by 40 percent. Something tells me we should introduce the Hussain brothers to Pandharinath More and see what they can invent together!

Grassroots innovation isn't just about farming communities. Non-farmers inspire us with their inventions on a weekly basis. I will never forget Apurv Mishra, the teenager who invented what he calls the "Glabenator." The electronic device is part hat, part collar. It picks up the subtle movements in the face muscles of a paraplegic. The 14-year-old Mishra invented the device because he wanted his grandfather, who was bound to a wheelchair, to be able to communicate better with him.

Mishra became the youngest "Ted" fellow ever and is now studying for his master's degree at Cambridge University's Judge Business School. In fact, he's the president of the Venture Capital Club at Cambridge - a sign that Western VC firms are already trolling the emerging markets for inspirational examples of grassroots innovation.

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