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October 31, 2013

Taming the Cloud: The need for standardization and a governing framework

Posted by Vishnu Bhat (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:57 AM

ODCA Forecast 2013 Trailer [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=wJ3I6W9f-I0&feature=c4-overview&list=UUvjxNtT770xVH4ES-mKcU2Q]

In September 2011, the National Institute of Standards and Technology - under the U.S. Department of Commerce - put out their 16th definition of Cloud Computing, with the declaration that it would be the last. It met with a divided house. On one side there were those who hailed this definition as the "gold standard"; at the other extreme, experts who pronounced it suitable for humble government objectives, but not for lofty business ambitions. Forget formal definitions, even the simple question of what constitutes Cloud Computing, and what does not, elicits an equally ambiguous answer. Look beyond SaaS, IaaS and PaaS at Storage, Database, Information, Process, Application, Integration, Security, Management and Testing-as-a-Service. Seriously?

One thing's for sure though. The Cloud is indeed living up to its name - it's amorphous, gigantic, awe inspiring, ever changing. And takes a variety of forms. Consequently, practically no two organizations have taken the same approach to the Cloud. It's doubtful if they even see it in the same perspective.

At the beginning of this month, the world's leading IT research and advisory firm announced that nearly one in two large enterprises would have moved to a hybrid Cloud environment by 2017. With the market for public Cloud services expected to top US$ 131 billion this year itself, the lack of standardization is serious cause for concern.

A proactive industry has been working to find a solution since the past few years. Beginning 2010, 300 IT companies came together in a consortium called the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA), to articulate their Cloud Computing and data center requirements in a unified manner. The vision: to hasten Cloud adoption by gearing the ecosystem to support a high degree of interoperability and adherence to the highest standards. The objective: Prioritize Cloud adoption by speaking in a unified voice; Deliver solution testing and deployment based on a common foundation; and Share collective learning. The path: Drive new levels of IT agility through delivery of unified customer requirements for Cloud Computing enabling secure federation of Cloud services, automation of IT infrastructure, common management and policy for data center resources, and transparency in Cloud service capability and metrics.

The ODCA aims to focus attention on the crying need for a dependable framework to progress the evolution of organizational standards, which would facilitate and streamline enterprises' journey to the Cloud. Lending it direction is a Steering Committee - comprising global IT leaders - which is responsible for charting out the ODCA's roadmap, providing visible leadership in promoting the Alliance, and offering keen insights gleaned through interactions with other IT leaders across Alliance groups. The Committee is supported by the ODCA's multi-tiered membership base of Contributing Members, who decide how and where to apply standardization; Solution Providers, who create offerings conforming to such standards; and Adopter Members who commit to adhere to these policies and standards in their Cloud initiatives. Several members of the Alliance have already marched ahead. And several more are positive. Responding to a membership value survey in the third quarter of 2012, each and every member affirmed their desire to maintain or increase their level of engagement with the ODCA. What binds them to the Alliance is the opportunity to network with and learn from peers and leaders, resolve technical issues and influence the vendor feature set.

We, at Infosys - among those leading the ODCA charge - are taking a wider ranging and forward looking view.

Today, specific concerns like Cloud integration and unification, vendor management, and governance in an environment that is going increasingly hybrid, plagues early adopters. Ensuring data security and usage of best practices on a Big Data scale; and enabling Cloud compliance with a plethora of industry, national and international regulations are top concerns too. We have leveraged the opportunity to partner with the ODCA to usher in a new phase of standardization and governance in Cloud Computing adoption, specifically addressing these concerns.

So, the day is not far when the Cloud's untold promise will finally be fulfilled by impeccable and fully predictable delivery.

October 30, 2013

How To Make Convergence Work For You

Posted by Vaibhav Bakre (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:09 AM

The Convergence of Business and IT [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzP6pO_jzyk]

Time. The Rolling Stones sang about it ..."It's on my side...". And most of us wish we had more of it.

Thanks to strides in technology and a rapidly evolving marketplace, the word stands for a lot more these days. In fact, TIME is an acronym that experts use to describe the convergence of the telecommunications, information technology, media, and entertainment industries.

That the TIME acronym has become generally accepted is a fascinating development, indeed. The four industries that are covered by the word were, at first, separate and distinct. Now, because of convergence, they've morphed into a completely new marketplace.

From the hallowed halls of academia comes a study that investigates the effects of convergence. What happens, for instance, when companies that were once in separate industries suddenly become rivals? Well, the first thing to do is to acknowledge that times have changed and that your company is part of a new marketplace. Getting past denial is tougher than you might think. Who wants to have dedicated his or her career to being number one in a particular industry, only to find that this industry doesn't really exist anymore?

It pays to know how your ecosystem works. Not knowing or acknowledging can cost your company untold millions. There are certainly tremendous opportunities for those companies that can recognize the effects of convergence. In fact, experts say there are four characteristics of successful companies in converging industries.

The first is the technology pioneer. If you're going to be one of these enterprises, you need to get into the newly converged market early. Once you're there, take control of it. Make the intellectual property yours and dominate the market for early customer adoption. The study suggests that as a pioneer, your company must be the "technology of choice." It also doesn't hurt to negotiate plenty of nonexclusive licenses.

The second characteristic is that of market attacker. These enterprises approach an established technology and ask themselves how many ways they can capitalize on it through commercial applications. One suggestion is to team up with an aforementioned technology pioneer and collaborate in the value chain in a vertical manner. There are three steps to achieving this sort of collaboration, according to the study: striking up a relationship with a business partner, then consolidating the engagement model, and, finally, extending the partnership. In other words, your organization needs to devise ways to expand both the partnership's scale and reach.

Sometimes, there are established players who recognize the forces of convergence and decide to capitalize on the resulting wave of technologies. These companies are known as ecosystem aggregators. The secret to becoming one of these companies is to create a platform of innovation that focuses on offering complementary services to the technologies. The study speaks of a new phenomenon among rapidly converging industries: network effects. Ecosystem aggregators are best at riding the waves of network effects with their enhanced products and services.

Finally, there's what's known as the business remodeler. These enterprises are typically big, entrenched players that nevertheless have leaders who recognize that the winds of change are blowing through their industry. They smartly use their organization's size, brand equity, and wealth to embark on a rejiggering of business lines and models. They know that the way to staying competitive in a converged market is to go directly to their existing customers and to build new relationships with them based on these new business realities.

Where things can get really interesting is when a business remodeler successfully accomplishes transformation and then becomes more of a market attacker. Or when technology pioneers have command of so many proprietary products that they become ecosystem aggregators. The great thing about converging markets is that they're always changing. So the organizations that are within them must transform themselves as well. If not, they'll essentially be allowing competitors to transform them out of existence.

October 28, 2013

Automation Innovation Changes Banks

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:10 AM

TEDx - Simon Dixon - Changing The Rules of Banking @TEDtalks [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUl9nOqaU8s]

A wrap is more than just a tasty sandwich rolled up within a soft tortilla shell. And it's more than what a director of a movie yells when they film the final scene. In the financial services world, a wrap is another term for a banking innovation known as the Unified Management Account (UMA).

Up until recently, a money manager who was doing the bidding of his clients - to build a diverse portfolio of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds - would open up a separate account for each asset class. The UMA, or wrap account, allows the banker to place all of these diverse assets into one account. Doing so saves a lot of time and money. In turn, the bank has the ability to serve more clients, so it can be more profitable.

Indeed, the "wrap revolution" is an exciting development in how the financial services sector is evolving to meet the needs of its individual clients. It used to be that it was relatively inefficient for a bank to concentrate a lot of time on a single individual when it could be catering to a large institutional client instead. The development of innovative products like wrap accounts allow single consumers to get the kind of attention only the big institutional players would otherwise receive.

In a recent exposé on new wealth management techniques, the act of maintaining a separate account for each asset class and each money manager translated into severe limitations as to what the general audience of investors could access in the capital markets. Not surprisingly, it became a back office issue. Few banks had the manpower to handle a huge number of multiple accounts.

The warp innovation reminds me that there's truly no value in doing things that aren't simple anymore. This statement might seem a bit obvious. But think about the bank situation. Enterprises often go through a business process that's outdated and filled with unnecessary functions because that's all they've ever known. It's often very difficult for an organization to slam on the brakes and reassess age-old methods and best practices.

With the advent of automation, the financial services sector is evolving more rapidly than it has in the past three decades. Remember what happened 30 years ago with the introduction of automated teller machines (ATMs)? People didn't have to wait in order to get in front of a teller. IT services, especially as they refer to the financial sector, are becoming automated as well. The back office triumph of the Unified Managed account is just one of many financial sector innovations that depends on automation to fuel back office functions.

The entire sales and trading functions of banks have become a lot more nimble because of automation. In the old days (meaning not even 10 years ago), a customer's "buy" order for a stock would have to be relayed to a broker on the floor of an exchange, where that broker would do his best to settle on a price nearest to what the customer wanted. The deal would involve a lot of interpersonal back and forth on the floor of the exchange. Once the broker bought the stock, the customer would have to pay a commission for his efforts. And the back office functions could be Byzantine. Huge "clearing houses" had to verify each and every transaction of the trading day.

With the preponderance of automation, a customer is closer to becoming his own market maker. Have you heard about the phenomenon of the last decade called "dark pools"? These are pools of capital in which prices that are set for certain securities aren't transparent to those outside or even inside the pools. So in a way, the exchanges themselves are being pushed aside by financiers who use automation to create their own markets. And very lucrative markets at that because they cut out the middleman and automate those complicated back office functions.

Who knew that when the friendly ATM hit the scene some three decades ago that the banking world was on the verge of an automation revolution? And once again, putting technology into the hands of individual customers has helped them invest bigger...better.

October 25, 2013

Corporate Leadership Involves Growing Pains

Posted by Simon Towers (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:36 PM

Drew Dudley "Everyday Leadership" - TED Talks [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HR2UnsOuKxo]

It's a fairly fine line we business leaders walk. On one side are shareholders and directors who scrutinize the bottom line. On the other are the people in our organizations whom we expect will create and maintain a pipeline of innovative offerings.

The issue is that the innovation process can be relatively expensive and unpredictable. Major shareholders and company directors obviously want the same results as your R&D people, but they prefer those results to happen within a specific set of cost guidelines. The reason you're in the C-suite to begin with is that you can presumably bridge those two outlooks and make the organization work as one.

When Eric Schmidt, the hard-driving CEO of Google, first joined that company in 2001, one of the young founders, Sergey Brin, told a reporter that Schmidt's appointment was to bring "parental supervision, to be honest" to the company. To me, that remark captures the essence of the kind of organization many of us are attempting to build in the digital world. We want to be as competitive as possible, especially with fierce, new upstarts nipping on our heels every day.

We also have a responsibility to ensure that the organization embraces best practices and is soundly managed. In fact, I'm eagerly awaiting Eric Schmidt's new book, to be published next fall, titled No Adult Supervision Required: How To Build Successful 21st Century Companies. After announcing that he would be stepping down as Google's CEO, Schmidt tweeted that "day-to-day adult supervision [was] no longer needed" at the company.

However, many of us - depending on where we were during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s - recall all too well that many technology start-ups fizzled not because of their lack of smart people or innovative ideas. They couldn't survive because there was nobody to execute the big, day-to-day decisions an enterprise needs to grow. Even Schmidt recently said that getting products right requires attracting and managing a new breed of technically savvy workforce. His new book, he said, offers a practical and accessible guide for how to do that.

Therein lies the secret to creating an effective organization for the long-term: knowing how to manage the new breed of technology workers. Just as technology itself is changing rapidly, so, too, are the innovators behind it. The fine line that we walked as business leaders even five years ago won't cut it anymore. We need to be more responsive to the needs and concerns of their younger, more dynamic workforce.

The good news, I think, is that we are increasingly aware of these new realities. We're more responsive to the challenges that a business leader must face in a marketplace defined and shaped by new technologies.

October 23, 2013

Mounds of Data Vs. Useful Knowledge

Posted by Lokendra Shastri (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:39 AM

Introducing the Knowledge Graph [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmQl6VGvX-c]

The volume of digitally available data is growing by leaps and bounds. Estimates of this volume have exceeded astronomical scale and introduced words in our lexicon such as peta, zeta and exa. But at the same time, this abundance of data has widened the gap between available data and the knowledge we're able to glean from it.

Not surprisingly, there has been a steady rise in the number of Internet experts who think there is a tectonic shift from online search to online discovery. If this shift is indeed taking place, enterprises will begin to experience a boom in actionable intelligence. To put it another way: They will be able to transform data into knowledge and actionable intelligence.

As it stands now, social media produces an enormous amount of unstructured data within both companies and society as a whole. Add to that the semi-structured data that companies find scattered across emails, activity logs, and enterprise applications. It's important for organizations to understand the meaning of all this data and to discover its various connections and relationships in order to derive value.

We're constructing what we describe as an advanced knowledge-graph technology stack to track events originating in different data sources. This technology has its antecedents in the work on 'semantic networks' in Artificial Intelligence dating back nearly five decades, and it shares features with Google's use of knowledge-graphs. This technology allows systems to connect the dots, so to speak.

At the heart of this graph technology stack is a data set. It stores entities, events, and their relationships in a graph. A graph database - as opposed to a normal relational database - provides us greater flexibility in discovering new dependencies and relationships. Surprisingly, only a few companies are currently looking to automate their operations in a way that exploits knowledge buried across multiple sources. True, it's ambitious to resolve a majority of issues using these techniques. But even automating 30 to 40 percent of the resolutions will significantly transform IT operations by shifting to near-real time issue resolution.

Today, when someone raises an alert via search, a subject matter expert is assigned to the ticket and resolves it by manually reviewing various system and device logs and consulting with other experts within the IT operations team. Now, imagine instead of a subject matter expert the system identifies similar problems and their solutions by scanning the graph technology stack. This is the future we are building.

When used in conjunction with an Internet search, visualization, semantic and inference technologies can help boost operations risk management. Some of the world's largest telecom companies have already deployed graph-based technology to solve connected data issues. They've applied the technology to areas like customer accounts, social gaming, and contextual messaging.

In the old days (meaning up until a year or two ago), finding things online required using Web-based string and keyword searches. That meant matching user queries in very large, indexed data sets to provide the user with a near-match. Google's Knowledge Graph is attempting to make its searches smarter by shifting focus from strings to things. Knowledge Graph uses a combination of advanced technologies like Natural Language Processing and Semantic Extraction to understand the searcher's intent.

Here's roughly how it works: Google Knowledge Graph encodes data about entities such as individuals, places, organizations, and teams. It not only shows information about famous people; it tracks items about you and me. In fact, Google says it tracks some 570 million entities connected by 18 billion facts. Recently, Google released a new set of improvements. The system, for example, will anticipate what your next question will be and add relevant statistics to the response. If, say, you want to know more about how many people live in India, Knowledge Graph will also show you statistics for another large, Asian country like China or Indonesia.

These exciting developments bring to reality what Tim Berners-Lee, considered the father of the World Wide Web, elaborated more than a decade ago. He believed that computers would someday be able to understand the meaning of things. Over the last few years, this idea has gained more and more ground, primarily with the advent of dictionary-like knowledge websites like Wikipedia, not to mention the growth of social networks and the adoption of shared vocabulary standards.

October 21, 2013

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!

Posted by Rajesh K. Murthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:52 AM

O'Reilly- When something is commoditized, an adjacent thing becomes valuable [Source:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Uy51k-x9MI]

As business leaders, we're faced with what often seem like endless opportunities to get out of the office and view our organizations from a fresh perspective. We attend retreats, conferences, and team-building days, just to name a few. These off-site gathering allow us to hear about the experiences of other executives.

One such executive is a veteran manager who was chosen as a fellow this past year at a prestigious business school. She has some extremely interesting reflections on what it takes for an established, long-serving company officer to stay innovative. Here are some of her insights, along with my additional comments.

First, know your customers. If you've seen the results of our sweeping survey, Engaging Digital Consumers, you're quite familiar with what we've been saying to our colleagues and clients alike: The digital world has empowered customers to such an extent that it's time to rewrite the playbook. The extent to which a company's consumer base can help it gain new insights has never been greater. That's why it's vital to make sure you have the best information-gathering tools at your disposal. But your organization should also be prepared to give your loyal customers something in return - be it a special deal on merchandise or a heads-up on an upcoming sale.

Today, there is also the need to "fight" technology-led commoditization. Commoditization is an interesting thing. It's indeed helpful and efficient for executives in sectors like retail and financial services. When you focus on technology-led customer engagement, however, sometimes you'll come to the conclusion that they feel as though technology separates your business from their interaction with the company. It's important, therefore, to add a human touch to your continuing business relationship.

The next pointer: Make sure your organization is the most efficient it can be at any size and scope. We all have dreams to build our enterprises into the most expansive on the planet. We also look to be proponents of creative disruption. Make certain that the larger your company becomes, the better its chances will be to transform the market. If you're a big company, go ahead and think like a small start-up. But use all of the advantages of your large scale to keep competitors at bay. Larger firms tend to implement new technologies and strategies more efficiently than the small ones.

Next, try to expand your inner circle. The longer we occupy our offices, the more removed we become from the day-to-day action in our laboratories and corporate campuses. We tend to surround ourselves with a small, loyal group of colleagues. Doing so can feel reassuring. But ask yourself if you're really getting all viewpoints when you assess a situation. Get out of the office and speak to the rank and file of employee at your company. You'll be happy you did when you start to hear an entirely new set of opinions and perspectives.

I've saved the best for last. "Done is better than perfect." I will be the first to admit that I'm guilty of obsessing about getting a service offering downright perfect before I meet with clients. But we live in a fast-paced world where aggressive competitors make the most of the additional time you take to pore over last minute delays and amendments.

If you're reasonably confident that you have a transformational service on your hands, then get it to market. Don't over obsess over dotting 'i's and crossing 't's. Beat your competitors to the punch. Then reflect and refine the service offering as necessary. You'll get more credit for being a bold presence in the market than hesitating in order to work out all of the offering's kinks.

I hope these insights come in handy. Remember: It's not how many management rules you memorize. It's what you put into practice.

October 18, 2013

How the Private Sector Boosts Emerging Markets

Posted by Upendra Kohli (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:25 AM

Gates: 'No Doubt' Wealthiest Have to Pay More Taxes [Source:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1oVeU3igrY]

For decades, public aid agencies have raised money and attempted to boost the economies of emerging markets. Their formula was fairly standard: They donated funds to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that in turn funded various local projects.

But two things happened. First, the global economy soured and a lot of the money raised by public aid agencies dried up. Second, NGOs began to see the limitations of what public funds could do to make a difference in the emerging markets. That's because public sector funding usually involves a specific goal like professional training in a certain industry.

Public efforts obviously had the best of intentions. But economists will tell you that an attempt to build a market artificially by training people for a certain task only goes so far. It's more effective to allow the forces of supply and demand to take hold. One of the reasons the emerging markets have become so vibrant is that private funding is becoming more popular. Unlike public sources, private funding usually targets an economy in such a way that it creates demand for goods and services.

As the Infosys Foundation has demonstrated, private sector funding places more emphasis on raising the overall standard of living in a particular region. When people are learning skills across the board and earning more money, they naturally demand more products and services. That's when global enterprises fill the void by entering those markets. The result is that the local economy has grown organically. It's not dependent on more outside funding because the companies that have entered that market have a vested interest in making sure a local market remains strong by their sheer presence.

Another advantage of private sector efforts is that enterprises in the emerging markets become all too aware that they must improve themselves both financially and technologically if they are to compete effectively for contracts. When multinational companies enter a particular market, they often prefer to partner with a local organization because its executives know the lay of the land. But sometimes the multinational is hesitant because the local company's management techniques or technological prowess are not up to par.

Even after an NGO or corporate foundation has left a region, the effect of private funding lingers on, say experts. If a bunch of local companies are vying to win a lucrative contract to work with a global company, that suggests they've been influenced by the market-making powers of private funding. In the old days, public agencies would train people for specific tasks, leave the region, and then those people would be left with their new-found expertise -- but nowhere to utilize those skills.

I heard about an amazing example in an African country. Private sector funding of NGOs helped stimulate the local economy in such a way so that after about five years there were more than 100 contracts up for bids. In turn, a host of local African companies raised the level of their game in an attempt to win those contracts. One study estimated that the process helped create more than $250 million in economic activity, no small feat in a frontier market like sub-Saharan Africa.

Another advantage of private corporate foundations is that they tend to work with people on the ground. Who do you suppose knows more about the needs and concerns of a region's local businesses - a businessman from that country or the head of a public agency who sits in London or Washington?

Western companies are finding it increasingly challenging to expand rapidly in developed markets like North America and Western Europe. So it's in their best interest to ensure that the emerging markets have the proper economic infrastructure to support their expansions. Some authorities say that as much as 80 percent of NGOs are funded by private concerns, up from 10 percent just a couple decades ago. That shift is an indication that the exciting story of the emerging markets has just started to play out.

October 17, 2013

All the Right Money Moves

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:22 AM

Ben Milne: Breaking the Bank [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmOxaHno_Sk]

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Let's all be honest here: Each of us has muttered this to ourselves at least once this week. Or maybe it was as recently as today. Either way, we sometimes have to rely on our own push and perseverance even though we work in large organizations where teamwork stands as one of our guiding principles.

If you ever get a chance to meet Ben Milne, a young entrepreneur from America's Midwest, he'll unabashedly tell you that his entrepreneurship has succeeded because he never waits for other people to pick up the slack. His philosophy is that if there isn't a business solution to a particular problem, solve the problem on your own. And then move on with confidence to the next set of seemingly impossible challenges.

One of the things that irked Milne early on in his career involved credit card fees. He had created a red-hot business selling his own line of audio speakers. But he was racking up more than $55,000 each year in credit card fees. He reckoned that was a pretty high cost of moving money around.

So Milne got to thinking: What if he could singlehandedly create his own financial network? He would bypass traditional networks that have for decades administered non-cash transfers. By making his own system, he wouldn't have to pay the kind of fees for moving money around that he believed were debilitating to many small businesses.

His innovation, which he calls Dwolla, is a case of creative disruption. That's because Milne invented a digital way to move money around in real time. He works directly with banks; his service charges 25 cents for each transaction over $10, but nothing for transactions below that amount. By comparison, the Automated Clearing House network used by credit and debit cards, typically takes 24 hours to settle. Not to mention the fact that credit cards and online payment services can charge as much as 3 percent plus 30 cents for each transaction.

One of his "secrets" - which is not so secret ever since he was interviewed by a prominent magazine - is that he strikes deals directly with banks. That might sound like a logistical nightmare; the world is filled with plenty of banks. But the customers who are utilizing his new network don't notice because he's doing that legwork for them. If you want something done right ... well, you get the idea.

Milne's story is both instructive and inspirational for anyone thinking of building a better financial services company. Although the network is based on proprietary technology that takes a high degree of engineering prowess, the overarching idea is pretty simple. So is his strategy. Whenever someone bases his business on taking care of his consumers, he's off to a solid and promising start.

This past month marked the fifth anniversary of the global economic crisis. In the years since, most of the world has continued to look with a bit of suspicion upon enormous banks that took big bets and then required even bigger bailouts. At least that's how a chunk of the general public perceived events. It's encouraging that those banks have largely committed themselves to rebuilding the trust of their consumers by creating better banking tools and improving customer service.

One of my favorite pieces of payment technology is known simply as the "square" to many entrepreneurs and budding retailers. This plug-in has become very popular because of its ability to swipe credit cards on any mobile device. So not only are retailers reducing the time it takes to make money transfers; it takes the costly credit card registration process out of the picture. Merchants have until recently had to "pay to play" with credit cards. The square presents new and limitless possibilities.

What's also evident, five years after the crisis, is that inventive entrepreneurs have stepped forward and begun to innovate their own banking solutions from the ground up. There's nothing wrong with a healthy dose of competition in the financial services industry. It keeps everyone on their toes.

When individuals and organizations alike can move money around more cheaply and efficiently, it means that the value of their money rises. That's one guiding principle with which we can all live.

October 15, 2013

The Time To Connect With Online Consumers Is Now

Posted by Sandeep Dadlani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:27 AM

digital consumer circle infographic

The phantom email address. If you're like me, you probably have one.

These are the email accounts we use for the sole purpose of registering for online offers and services. A phantom address allows us to fill in a "required field." Yet we have no intention ever to email friends and colleagues using these accounts. Or even to check their inboxes. If we did, most of what we'd encounter in those inboxes would be mass email blasts from retailers - electronic spam that's of no use to us.

Infosys recently surveyed 5,000 digitally savvy consumers to come up with answers that address vexing issues like why so many of us feel the need to use phantom email accounts. What would it take for you to use your regular email address when registering for deals online? The answers we received as part of the Engaging Digital Consumers survey are a wake-up for major players in the financial services, retail, and healthcare industries. The verdict: In order to get actionable data from your customers -- and for them to use their real email accounts -- your company needs to offer them something attractive in return.

We've crossed the precipice when it comes to Big Data. There's no longer any doubt as to our ability to gather enormous amounts of information from various digital sources. Now the question is how to utilize all that data. How does it transform into the kind of knowledge that our organizations can use to grow? Well, companies need consumers more than ever before. But not just to buy things. They need them to help make sense of all that data.

The EDC survey suggests that consumers are quite willing to share a lot of insights if they perceive the company as working with them towards a goal. That might mean anything from better seats on an airplane to a customized offer for a mortgage. I'm thinking of an airline in particular that has come to know me and members of my family quite well. The company knows where we like to travel and during what time of year. We receive online promotions based on that specific knowledge. Not only will we often take advantage of upgrades or travel deals; we're more than willing to share additional pieces of information about ourselves such as the ages of our children. Not surprisingly, the airline will follow up with deals that focus on children and their favorite destinations.

Think back to the late 1990s, when online retailing was new. Customers tended to be hesitant about using their credit cards online. There's been a significant cultural shift since then because companies have demonstrated that their credit card numbers are safe on their sites. That same kind of cultural shift is beginning to happen with the sharing of personal information online. What we're seeing is the development of a back-and-forth, give-and-take dynamic between companies and customers. Those companies that work hardest for their consumer insights are the ones that will be rewarded in the long run. One of my colleagues estimates that as many as eight out of ten companies are currently not maximizing the information consumers are ready and willing to provide them. Ask yourself what your company is doing to build online relationships with consumers.

That's not to say, of course, that there is a magic pill that any organization can swallow in order to give it instant online credibility. Depending on your industry and client base, you have to utilize the right Information Technology to suit your particular organization. The EDC survey shows that customers largely think that marketing efforts from retailers haven't been effective in speaking to them on a personal level. Exploiting the huge differences in the perceptions between consumer groups - such as how Millenials see access to privacy on social media and how Baby Boomers view it - is one of the keys to innovating through mountains of Big Data.

In the financial services sector, half of all respondents said they wanted banks to provide them with updates and insights through social media and email. Nearly 65 percent of those polled said that they wanted banks to communicate transaction and account information over their smartphones. If you're a bank, does your complement of online tools help you build up a seamless connection with your customers? Banks can use specific digital interactions to devise customized marketing and service functions. By creating closer relationships with individual consumers, successive requests for new information aren't perceived as intrusive. They simply become part of a natural method of gaining actionable consumer insights.

The sooner your enterprise recognizes how to connect with savvy, digital consumers, the sooner you'll have an edge over competitors. The digital paradigm has created market dynamics that, once mastered, will help companies derive new value from their online activities.

October 11, 2013

Unlocking Balance In Decision-Making

Posted by Simon Towers (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:45 AM

Heart over Head- Recognising Emotion in Decision Making: Rebecca Stephens MBE at TEDxSPS [Source:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNFJ3Zhy0Z4]

It's strategic planning time, ladies and gentlemen. So put on your decision-making caps.

As long as many of us can remember, corporate strategy has been all about decision-making of a rational, structured nature. We crowd into a room with a whiteboard and chart out where we want the organization to go. This activity is as old as the hills. It's not to be confused by a parallel development in the corporate world - the creative brainstorming session. Whether we're aware of it or not, we wear a different cap for this process.

Is it possible to put on the two caps at once? What I mean by this question is if we're able to make decisions that combine the tried and true structure of rational thought with intuition. There's a new school of thought that says business leaders are at their best if they can use both parts of their brain at once - the conscious half that governs rational thought and the subconscious, where we make our gut decisions.

Easier said than done, right? The sheer act of consciously balancing your decision-making process suggests you're allowing the rational, structured side to dominate. There's a trick to letting the subconscious mind work its wonders as well, say neuroscientists. And that's by giving your brain a well-deserved vacation.

Have you ever faced a momentous decision in your professional or personal life? Maybe it was deciding on which house to buy, or whether to hire someone to fill a significant position within your company. Many of us have approached such a decision by "sleeping on it." Delaying a major decision so that your subconscious mind can analyze the pros and cons of a situation can help you make a far better assessment.

Scientists and management gurus alike say that the part of the brain that governs subconscious thought has a far greater capacity to process information. One expert I read about likens the brain to an iceberg. The conscious part of your decision-making is above the water line. It's impressive enough. But below the water lies a far bigger chunk of decision-making power.

By combining these two capacities you're getting the whole iceberg, as it were. You start out by making a careful, rational analysis of the situation and then follow it up with a short break to let your creative juices flow. This method of decision-making might not be earth shattering. But it does play on a relatively recent school of research known as the "new consciousness." I find it interesting that management theorists are as taken by this new research as psychologists are.

Every big enterprise has its own core set of management principles. Some Silicon Valley firms focus on innovation. Industrial companies try to stick to productivity measures and quality control. Whatever the industry or sector, executives are taking a fresh look at those corporate principles. They're aware of the "new consciousness" area of research and its focus on the interconnected and complementary nature of all parts of the brain.

So the next time your colleagues finish writing on the whiteboard and declare that it's time for your committee to make a decision, suggest that everyone reconvene the meeting after a 10-minute break for coffee. Don't force big company decisions.

Without even being aware of it, you and your colleagues will be continuing to bat about the elements of strategic analysis in your subconscious minds. Once that part of your brain is allowed to take a swing at the issues at hand, your decision-making will be of a higher quality than had you not taken a short respite.

October 9, 2013

Learn to Succeed in the Machine Age

Posted by Mohit Joshi (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:12 AM

TEDxDirigo - Paul Josephson - Why We All Need to Be Neo-Luddites [Source:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsKHaCIwyaY]

Think back to how the garment workers of early 19th-century England must have felt. Technological advances and the mechanization of textile looms were making their centuries-old jobs pretty much obsolete.

The garment workers were frightened that the onset of even more mechanized looms would leave them unemployed. Led by a young worker named Ned Ludd, the rebellion of garment workers - or "Luddites" - included smashing the mechanical looms in hopes that their human skills would continue to be of value to the owners of the country's wool mills.

A funny thing, the march of progress is. Despite the best attempts of Luddites to put a wrench in the mechanized looms, those factories did indeed modernize. Although their fear was that they would be out of work, the people in England's industrial trades experienced a century of economic expansion and industrial growth. It seems the age of the machine helped create more jobs that were of a higher quality as well.

For some of us, it's easy to associate with the Luddites. We live in an age in which computing platforms are becoming more powerful and easier to carry by the day. We hear of great strides made in the field of Artificial Intelligence. In our capital markets, financiers trade stocks using algorithms that would astound a floor trader even a generation ago. Some of the algorithms are so effective and the computers that execute the trades so powerful that some traders says they're in danger of not finding any arbitrage opportunities in the markets anymore.

Consider, too, that most people in the world have access to some kind of electronic communications device that allows them to manage their money, their businesses, and their personal lives. Many facets of the modern enterprise have become automated to the point that some of us wonder if our human skills and services will be needed even a decade from now.

I suggest that we not get sucked into the mental trap of the Luddites, however. For instance, an economist makes a startling comparison between two types of aircraft - a manned F-16 fighter jet and an unmanned drone. The manned aircraft requires at least one person in the cockpit and a team of some 100 people on the ground every time the jet takes off. The unmanned drone, however, requires 168 humans to keep it aloft. Much like the concerns of the 19th century mill workers in England, concerns about mechanization are often unfounded. What technology does, on the other hand, is to expand old markets and create new ones.

No where is this concept more apparent than in the field of education. Up until now, access to a top university was a rarified thing. Not only would a teenager need to have the academic skills to be accepted, but then he or she would have to come from a family with enough money to pay for tuition and board. At some Western colleges these costs can top $60,000 a year. But with the globalization of the workforce, we're seeing two phenomena. The first is that students from other countries where the higher education system isn't nearly as expensive are applying to the same sorts of high-end jobs in Western markets. That calls into question the exorbitant fees that the Western schools feel justified in charging.

Second, a quality education has become far more accessible. Young people of any means can study at online universities at fairly economical rates. Economists says that in the workplace of the future, employers will care less about where a prospective employee went to school and more about what she learned there. It's the skill set, not the alma mater, that will matter more.

And why shouldn't it? Business leaders want translatable and actionable skills to keep their companies nimble in the digital age. If there's one thing the rise of the machine has taught us, it's that technology is an equalizer of sorts. It gives everyone a level playing field so that the very smartest and most ambitious people come to the forefront. As business leaders, those are the people we want to join our organizations.

October 7, 2013

Thinking Outside A Box ... Any Box

Posted by Vaibhav Bakre (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:43 AM

Sergey Brin: Why Google Glass? [Source:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IessjPY9gwI]

The exception to the rule that electronic devices get smaller as the technology proliferates is nowhere more apparent than in the world of television. What began in the mid-20th century as a tiny screen fueled by vacuum tubes is now a sophisticated device that merits a so-called "home theatre" in many households. Why go to the movies when you have a TV in your den that's the size of a commercial movie screen?

Advances in Web technology are finally making TV hardware fall more in line with the path that its other electronic entertainment counterparts have taken: streaming video to the relatively smaller, cheaper screen of a smartphone. (Even just a few weeks ago, Samsung announced plans to sell a "smart wristwatch.") This development builds upon an exciting innovation that already has been with us for a few years: OTT (or Over The Top) television. It's a fancy way of saying that you won't require a cable or satellite dish, much less an antenna, to enjoy live broadcasts.

Most of us weren't thinking of an OTT format even as recently as five years ago. It's because when we think of TV, we invariably think of the hardware first and then the content. The simple fact of the matter is that we're not that far removed from the debut of television in the mid-20th century as far as hardware is concerned. A box is a box, even if it means a sleek, flat screen.

Bring in what I like to call the genie in the bottle. As informed consumers, we're ready to let this genie out of the bottle. I hope we get more than just three wishes, but if we don't, one will be the ability to watch your favorite shows without a screen. This technological advancement is not so much about the next new thing as it is the absence of something; namely, hardware. Imagine a television without a box or screen, projected wherever the user finds it most convenient. Plus, we can summon our make-believe genie to produce, say, a news program with a verbal command.

Don't think this is possible? Check out what Google is already doing with its wearable computing platform, Google Glass: http://www.google.com/glass/start/what-it-does/. Without having to unfold a map or take your eyes off the road, the wearable device gives you directions in a visual tableau that compliments and therefore doesn't detract from what you're already viewing. So if you can see a map in the air without having a screen in front of you, why not watch TV without having a TV box?

Innovators are already re-thinking the meaning of hardware, especially as it relates to human physiology. The visible world in front of us can be a screen of sorts if a wearable platform like eyeglasses or a wristwatch places images in front of us in such a way that no additional external box is required. In German, the word for television is "der Fernseher." The literal translation into English is "something that can see a far-away image." Wearable computing platforms are offering the exciting proposition that the image you are seeing is immediate and close, even if the program originates in a TV studio on the other side of the planet. Might the Germans need a new word for this technology a few years from now?

It's only a matter of time, I think, when I'll be able to say something to the effect of: "Genie, I want to watch Anderson 360." And voila, the program appears, without a box, in front of me. Of course, this is all part of a larger trend of convergence, where people won't need separate pieces of hardware for separate functions.

I was reading in the news recently that Jeff Bezos, the innovative chairman of Amazon, wowed employees of the Washington Post when he visited their newsroom for the first time. (Bezos used part of his personal fortune to buy the venerable newspaper.) One of the items the reporters were tweeting was all the guessing going on as to how many pieces of communications hardware Bezos carries with him. It's a fascinating question given the fact that the Amazon founder is more likely to be ahead of the convergence curve.

One day the answer to the speculation about the amount of electronic communications hardware that innovators carry around will be one ... or none. And it's quite interesting that Bezos purchased a media property that includes an old-line newspaper. Much like the potential to watch television without the box, wearable platforms will undoubtedly enable loyal readers to see traditional newspaper pages laid out in front of their eyes without the actual paper and ink.

Except for those of you who enjoy getting ink on your fingers, the ability to summon that special communications genie is an impending and promising innovation that we're all awaiting with great anticipation. Genie, are you listening?

October 4, 2013

Why Your Employees Can Be Your Best Customers

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:23 AM

Consumerization of the Enterprise [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7ZfvAQSOB4]

The customer is always right.

For decades we've heard retail establishments proudly proclaim their commitment to placing customers first and making them the cornerstone of their business models. Today many large enterprises are waking up to the realization that their employees might be their most loyal customers. If that's the case, they should be listening to what the various members of their workforce have to say.
Doing so, of course, is a bit of a leadership conundrum for many C-suite executives. Everyone in the organization, from the twenty-something at the reception all the way up to the chairman of the board, has a voice in expressing what they think about corporate life. And employee thought about the organization carries more weight in the digital age. With the "bring your own" device trend gaining acceptance, employees are accomplishing the many facets of their jobs on computing platforms that might or might not be property of the company, and there's less control over the workforce. Therein lies the triumph of the consumerization of the modern workforce.

The influence of consumerization over just about everything in modern-day society has been growing for years. Companies found that digital consumers can provide them with lots of information about their buying habits. Now that phenomenon is an undeniable part of most businesses. Consumerization is happening within the walls of your company.

The advantage, of course, is that the overhead companies had to face regarding items such as real estate, equipment, and technology has decreased considerably because of the preference of their employees to use their own computing platforms - wherever they might be. They can also communicate a lot more efficiently over company Intranets and external social media. So what used to take days to get a team into a boardroom, to discuss a project, now takes minutes.
The disadvantage is management's loss of a certain level of control over the entire company. Consumerization of the workforce translates into more power and independence to employees. If not monitored properly, a company that relies on proprietary technology, products, and information can suffer from leaks over devices and networks it doesn't own or control.

I think a way for leaders to deal with the challenges that come with the consumerization of the workforce is to build an organization that takes many of these new elements into account. I admire Google, for instance, for its employee-friendly (read: consumer-friendly) headquarters. It's a campus that many other companies have studied because it exerts a level of friendly, upbeat control over employees that they don't seem to mind. I'm talking about the daycare center, coffee shops, and casual meeting spaces. Maybe their workforce doesn't even perceive it as a control function.

Nevertheless, companies are beginning to do with employees what they've successfully done with their external customers: use the fact that they've embraced their own mobile, digital platforms as an enormous opportunity to learn more about them. Savvy companies have seized on Big Data and behavioral analytics to tap into the minds of their external customers. Now they're seeing a similar opportunity to do so with their consumerized workforce. Consumerization is power. But so is knowledge.

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